On the Record
These accusations show that (Catalan leader Carles) Puigdemont not only is against the law, but also is outside reality.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy
On Our Radar
The Age of Xi Begins. The Chinese Communist Party ended its landmark 19th National Congress on Oct. 24, where it enshrined "Xi Jinping's Thoughts" as the Party's guiding theory, effectively placing the Chinese president on the same level as Chairman Mao Zedong. A new Politburo Standing Committee was introduced to guide the country over the next five years and beyond. No clear successor to Xi has been named to the committee, which could allow Xi to extend his term beyond the next Party Congress in 2022. Though Xi has consolidated power, the task ahead is daunting. Because of China's profound socio-economic and diplomatic changes, Xi and his team will face many challenges before they realize their ambitious goals. By exalting Xi's status, Beijing is attempting to ensure continuity in its leadership as it navigates its critical transition.
Baghdad Moves to Stake Its Claims. Iraqi security forces and aligned militias have continued to push into territory disputed between the federal government in Baghdad and the Kurdistan Regional Government. Since launching military operations on Oct. 16, Iraqi federal forces have regained control of key points in Kirkuk, Diyala and Nineveh provinces. Baghdad has nearly reclaimed all of the disputed territories, and it is now aiming to take control of Fishkhabor, a vital oil pipeline hub and border town that is technically in the Kurdistan Regional Government's undisputed territories. It is a point of tension between Arbil and Baghdad that likely will come to a head over the next week.
Separately, Iraqi security forces kicked off fresh operations in Anbar province as they seek to continue to reclaim territories and towns from the Islamic State. Iraqi operations are not happening in a vacuum; similar operations are occurring on the Syrian side of the border as Islamic State militants face a pincer attack from both directions. The question now for the Islamic State is to what extent — and with how much success — will it move toward engaging in more terrorist-style attacks as opposed to holding territory.
Tensions Flare in Catalonia. The crisis will continue to deepen after the Catalan Parliament declared independence on Oct. 27 and the Spanish government decided to dismiss the regional government and take direct control of several of its institutions. We expect political uncertainty to increase in the coming weeks, especially as Madrid struggles to enforce its coercive measures and Catalans strike, protest and disobey the central government's orders. Madrid's coercive tools range from controlling Catalonia's money to managing a large security apparatus. But from a logistical point of view, Madrid could struggle to fully enforce its measures on Catalonia, a territory of 20,000 square miles and 7.5 million people. Political uncertainty probably will continue to have a negative effect on the Catalan economy. In recent weeks, more than 1,500 companies have moved their legal seats outside Catalonia. The crisis is likely to continue as Madrid seems hesitant to take direct control for too long, but new elections, set for Dec. 21, could lead to a regional government made up of similarly separatist-minded members. In addition, Madrid's handling of Catalonia as it takes control of the region will have a corresponding effect on how inflamed the separatist movement stays.
On Our Minds
Trump's Tour of Asia Begins. The United States has begun moving military assets in the Pacific before President Donald Trump's 12-day trip to Asia beginning Nov. 4. Trump's leg in Northeast Asia — Japan, South Korea and China — will focus on North Korea, as Washington has delivered a clear message it won't allow a nuclear North Korea. Trade issues will add another friction point during Trump's visit to China. Japan sees the chance for firming up U.S.-led security alliances with other partners, including India and Australia. However, Trump's decision to cut his trip a day short and skip the East Asia Summit in the Philippines only reinforces the perception of U.S. uninterest in the region.
Kenya's Electoral Drama Drags On. Official results of Kenya's heated Oct. 26 election do-over may be released this week. An opposition boycott, protests, extensive flooding and other issues marred the contest and drove down voter turnout. Moreover, voting has been delayed in at least four counties, with protesters looking to again disrupt the proceedings. Because of Kenya's key role as East Africa's economic, political and security hub, and because of its status as a contributing member of the African Union Mission in Somalia, it will be important to track how the government, opposition and international community react to best understand the next stage of the country's simmering political crisis.
Twitter Bans Russian Ads. The Kremlin spoke out against Twitter's Oct. 26 decision to ban advertisements from Russian media outlets RT and Sputnik but did not specify how it plans to respond. As a private company, Twitter's actions don't indicate a coordinated response as of yet, but they indicate that we are likely to see one evolve over time as Russia continues its cyber strategy and as the strategy continues to have effects.
Saudi Arabia Dreams Big. Saudi Arabia launched its Future Investment Initiative last week, which showcased unprecedented investment opportunities as well as development initiatives, including the futuristic city of Neom. Saudi Arabia will struggle to achieve even a small percentage of the plans it announced. Riyadh has a pattern of announcing massive development plans and only partially achieving them, and many of its new plans will have direct regional competition.
Brent Crude Spikes to Two-Year High. For the first time since July 2015, the price of Brent crude oil topped $60 a barrel on Oct. 27 as oil producers continue to reduce stockpiles by implementing production cuts introduced at the beginning of the year. The price level may not last if it triggers more investment into North American tight-oil production, but the news bodes well for production cuts from Saudi Arabia, Russia and other major oil producers to receive continued support beyond March 2018. All eyes will be on OPEC's Nov. 30 meeting in Vienna, where an extension of the production cuts could be reached.
In Case You Missed It
On Our Calendar
In the coming week, U.S. President Donald Trump will name the Federal Reserve's next chair before he leaves for a 12-day trip to Asia, the White House said Oct. 27; talks to form a governing coalition in Germany will continue; and the Palestinian Authority has called for protests at British embassies worldwide to mark the 100th anniversary of the Balfour Declaration. For more, see our Geopolitical Calendar for the week of Oct. 30.