The Weekly Rundown: Hong Kong's Persistent Protests, Unrest in Iraq and the New EU Commission's Ambitious Plans

7 MINS READOct 5, 2019 | 20:17 GMT
In this photo, an Iraqi protester flashes the V sign during an anti-government demonstration in Baghdad on Oct. 2, 2019.
(AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)

Anti-government demonstrations broke out in Baghdad and other Iraqi cities this week, with dozens of people reported killed in clashes between security forces and protesters. The unrest could force the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi's year-old government.

Stratfor's geopolitical guidance provides insight on what we're watching out for in the week ahead.

On the Record

People are asking can Hong Kong go back to normal? Is Hong Kong still a place where we can have our sweet home?

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam

On Our Radar

Hong Kong Invokes Emergency Law to Try to Control Ongoing Protests. Hong Kong's chief executive, Carrie Lam, announced on Oct. 4 that her government was calling on emergency powers to ban protesters from wearing masks or partially covering their faces. The decision follows a particularly violent protest on Oct. 1, China's National Day, in which a police officer shot an 18-year-old protester accused of attacking police. So far, the government is limiting its use of the emergency ordinance that was first enacted by Hong Kong's British colonial rulers in 1922 to the anti-mask ban. The law is one of the few remaining options left available for the Hong Kong government as it tries to stem five months of chaotic protests. The effectiveness and enforcement of the law are far from certain given Hong Kong's limited number of police officers. Additionally, more radical protesters could ignore the law and adopt even more disruptive tactics; the prospect of a more violent protest cycle, in which both police and protesters escalate their actions in response to each other, can't be ignored. Stratfor will be watching to see if the Hong Kong government is compelled to expand the emergency powers to deal with a situation that at times has seemed irresolvable.

Baghdad's Endemic Economic Woes Ignite Another Round of Unrest. Sizable protests erupted across Iraq on Oct. 1 and will continue to unfold over the weekend and into next week. The anti-government demonstrations have resulted in deadly clashes between security forces and protesters, and could ultimately lead to the current government resigning. Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mehdi has promised to implement piecemeal solutions to the protesters' economic grievances, but it is unlikely that vague talk of job guarantees and the firing of low-level government officials will satisfy angry protesters who have heard such promises before. In the long term, Iraq will struggle to reform its inefficient, energy-dependent economy even as continued unrest drives home the need for such reforms.

The U.S. and Taliban Will Try to Revive Talks in Support of a Limited Afghan Peace Deal. U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and a Taliban delegation arrived in Islamabad on Oct. 2, marking their first meeting since President Donald Trump canceled talks last month and cast uncertainty on a draft peace deal supported by the Taliban. Fighting between U.S.-backed Afghan security forces and the Taliban persists but both sides have strong reasons to support an eventual deal, even if dialogue remains intermittent: The United States maintains a political settlement as the ultimate goal of its policy in Afghanistan, while the Taliban view dialogue as a means to extract the withdrawal of all 22,000 foreign forces from Afghanistan, the paramount aim of their insurgency. A limited peace deal, however, will not end the war in Afghanistan until the Taliban and the Afghan government sign a comprehensive cease-fire as part of their own negotiations.

U.S.-North Korea Talks End Abruptly After Opening With Hope for a Compromise. Working-level nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea on Oct. 5 in Sweden had offered a glimmer of hope for a compromise interim deal, but Reuters reported that the North Korean delegation broke off the talks after spending much of the day in negotiations with the American delegation. North Korea's chief negotiator, Kim Myong Gil, said the decision to end the talks was based on the view that U.S. negotiators would not "give up their old viewpoint and attitude," Reuters reported. Leaks emerged earlier this week from Washington that the Trump administration was weighing offering a compromise deal to North Korea that would see some U.N. sanctions suspended in exchange for some North Korean nuclear site dismantlement and a freeze of uranium enrichment. Any such "small" deal would largely be a means of trust-building and kicking tougher strategic issues down the road. North Korea has long insisted it needs not only sanctions relief but also a security guarantee, which the United States will find harder to credibly fulfill.

On Our Minds

The Next European Commission Signals It Is Willing to Open Multiple Battlefronts With the U.S. and China. The European Union's next commissioner for the economy, Paolo Gentiloni, said on Oct. 3 that Brussels plans to introduce a continental tax on digital companies and a tax on foreign companies that have lower environmental standards than the European Union. While Brussels will likely struggle to introduce the taxes — tax issues in the bloc are decided by unanimity, which means that each member state has veto power — their discussion shows that the next European Commission, which takes over next month, is willing to target American and Chinese companies and risk retaliation from the White House and Beijing. Brussels is also working on higher tariffs for American products in reaction to the coming U.S. tariffs connected to the case over subsidies for Airbus that the White House recently won at the World Trade Organization. As competition between the world's superpowers increases, the incoming European Commission is sending signals that it is willing to enter the fight.

The U.S. and China Remain Far Apart on Fundamental Trade and Security Issues as Trade Talks Near. World markets will be closely watching the next two rounds of trade talks between China and the United States: a deputy-level negotiation on Oct. 7-8 and a high-level round attended by chief negotiators on Oct. 10-11. With the small goodwill gestures from China on soybean purchases and mixed threats and upbeat tones from the White House, the upcoming round is critical to determine the outcome of the Trump administration's threat to leverage additional tariffs on Oct. 15. Even though there might be some hopes for another tariff truce, significant disagreements that remain between Beijing and Washington on trade issues and more complicated national security issues will make any possible detente a frail one.

The Winner of Afghanistan's Presidential Election Will Shape a Fundamental Debate Between Competing Models of Governance. Two and a half million Afghans turned out to vote in Afghanistan's presidential election on Sept. 28, a steep fall from the 7 million votes cast in the contentious 2014 election that led to a tenuous power-sharing agreement between incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah. Preliminary results aren't expected until later this month but Abdullah's declaration of victory elicited a rejoinder from Ghani's camp, suggesting another controversial tally of votes. The two men also harbor competing visions of power: Ghani, a member of the historically dominant Pashtun, supports a strong centralized government under a presidential system, while Abdullah, a member of the influential Tajiks, supports a decentralized model under a parliamentary system that devolves power to the regions. The winner will also presumably lead government negotiations with the Taliban whenever the Afghan peace process reaches that milestone.

In Case You Missed It

South Korea's Economic Doldrums Have Taken the Wind Out of Moon's Sails

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Pakistan Strives to Switch to Natural Gas

On Our Calendar

In the coming week, Portugal and Tunisia hold parliaments elections, Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Saudi Arabia and Chinese President Xi Jinping visits India. For more, see our Geopolitical Calendar.

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