Commentary: How to handle the U.S.-China trade talks

As U.S. and Chinese delegations prepare for upcoming trade talks in Beijing, the two countries’ disputes over tariffs and trade are rattling markets, businesses, governments, consumers and workers across the globe. All of this corrosive uncertainty was entirely predictable – and explains why Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping failed to reach an agreement when they met at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November.

Elaborate negotiations take tenacity, expertise and planning. They also take time.

There are certainly real challenges in the U.S.-China relationship. And virtually all progress Washington makes with its Chinese counterparts has come from an intense series of talks. At one point in the negotiations to allow U.S. beef access into Chinese markets, for example, the battle was down to experts debating a final letter – whether or not to include the letter “s” at the end of the word cow to determine traceability requirements for American cattle.

But this approach works. From these agreements and countless other negotiations, clear lessons emerge. Here are some of them:

PLAN: Negotiations like these require intense preparation. They require input from experts on the region and the issues – and forethought on which of a wide array of options your side would like to resolve, knowing that most will be cast aside and the focus will ultimately center on a handful of true priorities. During a 2014 visit between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi, this planning resulted in agreements on everything from climate to trade to visa validity and more.

KNOW WHERE YOU’LL GO – AND WHERE YOU WON’T: Chinese negotiators come to these discussions immensely well-prepped, with clear knowledge of where they might give and where they won’t. Their American counterparts typically do as well. To not do so is to lose before you walk through the door.

By drawing firm lines on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, freedom of the press and more, the United States has long made clear where defined boundaries exist. It’s when and where the give exists elsewhere that it gets more interesting.

FIND LEVERAGE: When Chinese economic espionage spiked in 2015, Washington threatened sanctions ahead of a U.S. summit with Xi. Rather than face those sanctions and the prospect of a challenging state visit, China sent a special envoy from the Communist Party’s central committee ahead of that visit as it scrambled to undo the damage done.

Like Trump’s tariffs or not, they have provided the U.S. president with leverage. Whether or not that leverage will yield enduring outcomes depends on what he does with it.

USE THAT LEVERAGE: Those cyber negotiations yielded a U.S.-China accord that not only still stands, but reduced cyber incursions dramatically in the years that followed. It was the fear of these sanctions and an underwhelming state visit plus intense negotiations that drove the U.S. success. Some of those same fears exist now.

DETAILS MATTER: This is where experts on the National Security Council and agencies like the State Department matter most. From human rights and civil society concerns on through market access and intellectual property, negotiators can exploit vagaries to deny or delay for months and even years if they don’t want to comply without specific terms and dates.

It took pushing up against too many non-specific promises by Chinese officials claiming “we’ll soon be dining on American beef” for that beef access to finally happen, and even longer to secure approval to sell U.S. biotech. A World Trade Organization decision and countless pushes finally got U.S. credit cards accepted into Chinese markets last year.

PUSH BOUNDARIES, BUT TAKE YES FOR AN ANSWER: When it’s clear, after extensive back and forth, that you can make progress and there’s no more yield, bank the win.

Negotiations to encourage China to join the Paris climate accords took months of envoys flying back and forth before Beijing finally set real emissions targets – and stuck to them. While it wasn’t everything the U.S. side sought, China’s agreement was a stunning development that led other countries to announce emissions reductions and join the agreement as well.

Trump’s approach counters a number of these lessons. He appears to engage in little substantive pre-negotiation planning beyond the stagecraft and has repeatedly squandered his “final say” leverage by trying to solve longstanding crises without the necessary preparation, details or experts on hand to help seal the deal.

That discordant approach is how the Trump administration ended up with a series of purported wins from China that are mainly rehashed promises. It’s why the president bargained for another shot at a Qualcomm-NXP merger that was dead for months and even the companies involved don’t want to revive. And it results in announcements made, clarified, backtracked and more.

The U.S.-China relationship faces real problems. But it takes knowing the issues and the potential outcomes, and the substantive engagement of policy experts, for U.S. negotiators to get real yield. Instead, Americans have been left with a myriad of unanswered questions on issues like auto tariffs and what will happen when the 90-day “truce deadline” expires in March.

Trump was encouraged by his call with Xi in recent days, tweeting that “big progress” is being made. Xi’s message was more tempered, saying both sides had been working hard to reach consensus and that he hoped they “will meet each other halfway.”

The financial world, the global markets and U.S. political allies – not to mention the American public – crave both progress and certainty. In Buenos Aires, Washington and Beijing set a 90-day window to resolve the tariff issue. But much like when the clock began ticking, without a plan going into these negotiations, there won’t be real outcomes emerging from them. The United States can – and should – do better.

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Commentary: Christian revivals prompted less by churches, more by politicians

Christmas is invariably the time for a grouch that neither Christ nor mas(s) feature much in a festival meant to rededicate Christian believers to the worship of the son of God. Materialism, especially for children, swamps, on this view, any reflection on the meaning of a Christian – or religious – life.

To this, there’s the retort – increasingly made – that giving happiness through gifts IS part of Christmas – a festival that was elevated to the supreme Christian holy day, or holiday, of the year in the 19th century. Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” helped a lot in giving it both a moral and commercial boost. What did Ebenezer Scrooge do when he was turned from a miser to a benefactor through a visit from the horrifying ghost of Christmas yet to come? He commissioned a passing urchin to buy the largest and most expensive turkey he could find and deliver it to the family of his much-abused clerk, Bob Cratchit: a present which transforms the family’s usual scanty Christmas dinner to a feast.

Yet, unrecognized by both sides of the argument, a series of diverse Christian revivals are now under way through the world. What this will mean is unclear, but that they are happening is increasingly obvious.

The revivals are largely associated with the political right, in part because the left, though it has religious roots, is largely secular, often perceived as hostile to religious faith. That’s been most obvious, in the past few decades, in the United States, historically a standout among advanced economies in the popularity of Christianity, and where pro-Republican evangelicals carry much political clout. Liberals who are also believers are struggling to get back into the religious debate, but the activity on the right, as the recently founded, campus-oriented Turning Point USA – dedicated to amplifying the voices of conservative students – remains militantly religious, apparently more certain of itself and its beliefs than the left.

Europe has become, comparatively, a less Christian zone, at least in terms of attendance and the salience of the churches. But there are strenuous efforts to change that – coming, curiously, less from the churches themselves, and more from politicians.

Here’s some of the activity. In Hungary, authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has shifted from defending “illiberal democracy” to proposing a new, less liberally-inclined “old-school Christian Democracy”. He sees the Christian Democratic parties of Western Europe – in Germany, Italy, Sweden and elsewhere – as having succumbed to leftist influences and wants a return to the time when the movement began at the end of the 19th century, as a political opposition to socialism.

Poland is still the most religiously-inclined state in Europe – though even there, a once-fervent Roman Catholicism is declining and the priesthood was sharply criticized in a recent much-viewed film, “Kler” (“Clergy”). Still, the dominant political figure, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, strongly supports the church as the moral basis of the state, saying those who fought the Catholic church “favored nihilism.” For the conservative part of the electorate, Catholicism, even if not actively practiced, remains the default moral precept.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, former KGB officer and communist, who saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as the 20th century’s greatest tragedy, now embraces the Russian Orthodox Church, especially its imperial pretensions, with widely-publicized fervor. The church and its leader, the Patriarch Kirill, have been supported and enriched by the state; attendance in the gorgeously-restored churches remains low, though baptisms, weddings and funerals are often routed through them.

In these former Communist countries, state power seeks a kind of fusion with the church. In Western Europe, the signs of an attempted revival remain largely on the right – but are more scattered, less developed.

In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio, following the example set by Poland, has announced plans to close large shopping centers on Sundays, arguing that liberalization of opening hours was “destroying Italian families.” The plan has yet to be put into practice.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, like British Prime Minister Theresa May, a pastor’s daughter. Neither made any political capital of that, nor of their Protestant faiths, but Merkel’s chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is a Catholic conservative, and is opposed to same-sex marriage.

In France, the rising star on the far right, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, niece of the National Rally (formerly National Front) leader Marine Le Pen, is at the center of a network of new right activists and thinkers, many proclaiming their Christian faith. Writing of this group, the U.S. scholar Mark Lilla observes that their rise “may indicate that the relationship between religious and political identification is reversing in Europe—that it is no longer religious affiliation that helps determine one’s political views, but one’s political views that help determine whether one self-identifies as religious.”

Beyond Europe and North America, Christian evangelical churches continue to expand both their congregations and their political power. In Brazil, most recently, they strongly endorsed the election of the rightist ex-army officer Jair Bolsonaro – though he is a nominal Catholic – seeing in him one who would reverse the liberal legislation and expansion of the state under the previous Workers’ Party government, which the evangelicals saw as threatening their conservative morality.

In Africa, Pentecostal Christianity spreads rapidly still, with mega-churches often linked to sponsoring institutions in the United States. The church also wields increasing political power on the continent, as it does throughout the world. In Africa – in contrast to the North American and European churches – the power usually comes from below, the churches successfully gathering large congregations which then become attractive to politicians seeking endorsement and votes.

This is not (yet) a revolution: there is no coordinating center, no one group or figure directing the very varied initiatives – which are Catholic, Orthodox and various kinds of Protestant. Common to all, however, is a recoil from secularism and a search for a moral authority more powerful, because more traditional, than that of the state or of liberalism. For the adherents to these faiths, Christmas really will be a mass for Christ – even if the more powerful supporters in governments and presidential palaces look to material and political benefits in this, as well as the next, world.

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Commentary: Congo election shows flaws in Trump’s Africa strategy

There are good reasons that Joseph Conrad called Congo “The Heart of Darkness” in his vast and utterly disturbing novel of Africa. And most of his reasons have been much on display in the run-up to the country’s long-delayed national elections, set for Dec. 23 and now postponed again for another week.

Violence in the streets, demonstrations, police shootings of opposition demonstrators and chaos throughout the nation have marred the campaign. Ten days ahead of the scheduled ballot, the national electoral commission announced that 8,000 of the country’s 10,368 voting machines were burned in a warehouse fire of mysterious origin in the capital of Kinshasa. On Thursday, the commission president summoned candidates to a meeting in parliament and said the shortage of ballot papers after the fire made it necessary to hold off on voting until Dec. 30.

There is much at stake in this election, but its outcome seems in little doubt. The Democratic Republic of Congo, a Belgian colony until 1960, has been ruled by the Kabila family for almost 20 years – first by Laurent, who came to power in a coup, and then by his son Joseph. The younger Kabila, elected twice since 2006, is not running again. His power and influence, however, look likely to remain intact.

For decades, Washington has paid little real attention to this nation so critical to Africa’s future. The new U.S. ambassador, Michael Hammer, who arrived in October, is not an Africa expert and his resumé does not mention any service on the continent.

This should hardly be surprising. On Dec. 13, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton unveiled the Trump administration’s new Africa strategy, without a single word about Congo. It was all about the United States, focusing largely on the bitter competition with China and Russia for hegemony and how to take them on and win.

The deeper problem of the Trump-Bolton doctrine, however, is its fundamental premise that what’s good for America is good for Africa – in short, what Washington wants, not what Africa needs. “Every decision we make, every policy we pursue, and every dollar of aid we spend will further U.S. priorities,” Bolton began. “All U.S. aid on the continent will advance U.S. interests,” he said. “In Africa, we are already seeing the disturbing effects of China’s quest to obtain more political, economic, and military power.”

Congo, together with its vast problems but even vaster resources, is already a focus of the new East-West war – one that the United States is losing. By its position in the geographic center, Congo is a key beachhead for any assault on Africa. Bordered by nine other nations, its territory – nearly the size of Western Europe – stretches across the continent, spanning two time zones. Its lavish natural resources are the prime reason for major power competition. Indeed, the value of Congo is all but incalculable, and apparently barely appreciated by the United States. Not so for China.

Estimates of Congo’s mineral wealth run to $24 trillion. It sits on nearly half of the world’s reserves of cobalt and vast quantities of high-grade copper ore. A consortium of 35 Chinese companies have joined to begin mining both minerals in multi-billion deals. Yet the country remains one of the poorest in the world.

So, it was hardly surprising that the government welcomed China’s agreement, in return for access to its mineral resources, to build $3 billion worth of roads, hospitals and universities. This money is the root of a problem that’s unlikely to be resolved at Sunday’s polls.

Today’s Congolese politics are a direct outgrowth of the Cold War, when the brutal, corrupt, Mobutu Sese Seko government was supported by the United States as a bulwark against Marxist insurgents led by Laurent Kabila, father of the incumbent. Mobutu was overthrown in 1997; Laurent was assassinated by a teenage bodyguard four years later and Joseph came to power at 29. That was 17 years ago. The nation has barely known a real moment of peace or government honesty since.

Kabila has done little to stop that. With close backing from the military, as Jason Stearns of the non-profit research project Congo Research Group describes it, there’s little incentive for Kabila to end these wars. Under the military’s pay structure, wartime bonuses are the only viable way to earn a living – often a lavish one – in the army. With Kabila and his entourage getting rich, it would be hard to persuade him to relinquish power. Still, to appease outsiders and many of his people, he agreed – after two years of delays – to hold an election.

Moreover, Kabila has agreed to hew at least to the letter of the constitution, with its ban on more than two consecutive terms. But, perhaps taking a leaf from Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who selected his proxy Dmitri Medvedev for a single term, then returned to power, Kabila has tapped the former interior minister, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, under sanction by the European Union for alleged human rights abuses, to fill his shoes. That means Kabila can rule from the shadows of his vast estate and private safari park.

At least three major opposition candidates are on the ballot – Martin Fayulu, leader of a coalition of Kabila opponents, Vital Kamerhe, and Felix Tshisekedi, a career politician. An October cell phone poll of 1,179 people in all 26 provinces by a consortium including Stearns’ Congo Research Group shows Shadary trailing the last two. Still, Stearns says he and other observers still expect Shadary to win the single-round, first-past-the-post race.

In the end, the biggest question and the greatest challenge for America and the West is how to bring Congo into the Western sphere of values. Yet, the real poison to the entire system will remain the vast sums of money sloshing through the economy.

Finding a way to gradually channel such resources productively, rather than stumbling blindly into the midst of a superpower battle for supremacy, will be a far better way to advance America’s interests in Congo or Africa as a whole. Otherwise, Washington will certainly be perceived as no better than China, Russia – or, for that matter, Kabila.

(Editor’s note: This column has been updated to include the news of the one-week delay in the election.)

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Commentary: Will China go to war over Taiwan?

In the first week of 2019, as China grabbed headlines for landing a spacecraft on the far side of the moon, a New Year’s Day editorial in the nation’s official military newspaper told its readers that “war preparations” should be a top priority for the year. The following day, President Xi Jinping offered a forceful reminder of what Beijing considers its most likely focus of conflict to be: Taiwan.

China’s rulers have long regarded the island as a rogue province, with regaining control a point of honor for the ruling Communist Party and military alike. In a major speech on Wednesday, Xi warned the “problem” could not be held over for another generation. While he talked primarily of “peaceful unification,” he said Beijing reserves the right to use force if necessary. The speech brought a sharp rebuke from Taiwan, where residents remain strongly opposed to rejoining China, even under a Hong Kong-style “one country, two systems” deal.

Nothing in Xi’s speech suggested China sees conflict as imminent. However, Xi’s comments about support for peaceful “reunification” included a warning that “we do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures” to prevent Taiwan’s independence. Ultimately, if Beijing truly wishes to reassert control over the island, military force may be its only option. That would be a risky step for a government that has not fought a war against a foreign state since a brief and unsuccessful conflict with Vietnam in 1979. It would also put Beijing on a collision course with Washington, which does not support Taiwan’s independence but has what the U.S. State Department describes as “a robust unofficial relationship” with Taipei.

To invade the island successfully, most military analysts argue that Beijing would either have to deter the United States from intervening or defeat nearby U.S. forces and prevent others from entering the region. China may not yet be strong enough to do this, but its military enlargement means that may not always be the case. Certainly, Chinese military thinking increasingly revolves around just this kind of potential war, in which Beijing would want to grab territory while keeping U.S. forces back.

Much of China’s military buildup has been based around ships, aircraft, and arms systems that appear suited for the type of conflict needed to take Taiwan. As well as landing ships to carry assault troops, that includes a focus on missiles designed to destroy U.S. aircraft carriers – or prompting Washington to keep out of range of the conflict. How well those weapons would work is another question, but they would be central to any conflict over Taiwan or disputed islands elsewhere in the South China Sea.

To an extent, much of this is grandstanding geopolitical ballet. Beijing has been unable to stop Taiwan from acting as a de facto country over the last half century, but remains desperate to prevent the island from making an outright declaration of independence. To an extent, this posturing – like Beijing’s increasing military assertiveness with warships and jets around Taiwan – is about reminding those in power in Taipei that any vote on independence might bring war. But there’s more to it than that. As China asserts itself as a global power, Beijing wants to show the world that it is strong enough to take Taiwan at any point it wants.

Domestic Taiwanese politics also remain a factor. In the run-up to Taiwan’s November elections, Taiwanese officials accused China of a Russia-style messaging campaign to undermine support for  President Tsai Ing-wen’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). Those elections saw a serious setback for the DPP and a strong performance by the pro-Chinese Kuomintang opposition, but Xi’s comments last week suggest Beijing still sees military posturing as the best way of pressuring the island.

Taking Taiwan militarily would not be a simple operation. Chinese forces would face sophisticated Taiwanese missile, mine, submarine and air attack if they tried to cross the 110-mile (180 km) Taiwan Strait. The island’s highly populated cities and densely forested mountains would prove a guerrilla fighter’s paradise. A botched Taiwan invasion, potentially with tens of thousands of casualties, could prove an international humiliation as well as kickstarting a domestic political crisis for Xi.

Taiwan, for its part, clearly wishes to persuade China that it is not an easy target. Taipei intends to spend $11 billion on defense this year, a six percent increase from 2018. Much of that will be spent on cutting-edge U.S. and Taiwan-made equipment – on Jan. 2 , Taipei unveiled its latest domestically-built anti-ship missile, capable of inflicting serious casualties on any Chinese invasion force.

For Washington and Beijing alike, most of the military posturing for now is likely to remain limited to the Taiwan Strait. Last year, the U.S. Navy sent several ships through the Strait in what a U.S. Pacific Fleet statement described as a demonstration of the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific. In 1996, President Bill Clinton sent two U.S. aircraft carriers – a much more potent force – through the same route during a crisis with China; some argue Washington should again take similar action. That would outrage Beijing – no U.S. carrier has sailed through in more than a decade, although China’s aircraft carrier has sailed the same waters in its own show of force.

China may be reaching for the moon, but Xi’s speech was a reminder that its greatest territorial ambitions may lie much closer to home. Even if Beijing isn’t on the verge of attacking the island, his rhetoric raises the risk that there may eventually be outright war. In a world where the risk of conflict between major nations seems to ratchet higher every year, China’s desire to dominate Taiwan may yet be what lights the spark.

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Commentary: Yemen peace efforts miss a critical factor

As Yemen’s warring parties met in Sweden last week, hopes were high that these peace talks – the first since 2016 – would spark a political process to end the ongoing conflict that has left the country on the brink of famine and created what the UN calls a “living hell for millions of children.” At the talks’ conclusion, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced that the parties had agreed to a number of important and encouraging steps, including a critical ceasefire in the port city of Hodeidah, where most aid enters Yemen. But though the leaders of the Yemeni peace process plan to resume talks in January, they continue to overlook a critical strategy that could increase the likelihood of peace: the inclusion of women.

Including women at the peace table is not just a matter of fairness – it is a strategic imperative. Research suggests that when women participate in a peace process, the resulting agreement is 64 percent less likely to fail and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years. Indeed, this data inspired the U.S. government to enact a 2017 law to support women’s meaningful participation in peace negotiations.

From Guatemala to Northern Ireland to the Philippines, women have demonstrated that their involvement in a peace process is crucial. Yet in Yemen, women have had little to no representation in multiple rounds of talks since 2011 – including in the most recent talks outside Stockholm last week.

It’s a gap the United States should address as Congress debates whether to withdraw support for the Saudi-led multinational coalition fighting in Yemen and how to increase the nation’s chances for peace. To achieve the latter, lawmakers should advocate for women’s participation in the negotiations and in the recovery efforts to follow.

Despite ample evidence demonstrating the importance of women’s involvement in peace talks, a Council on Foreign Relations report tracking women’s participation in peace processes from 1990 to the present found that women comprise only two percent of mediators, five percent of witnesses and signatories, and eight percent of negotiators around the world. The negotiators of the Yemeni peace process have an opportunity to improve upon these dismal numbers.

Some may allege that diplomatic pressure to add women to the peace table would be perceived as unwanted foreign interference. In fact, however, the Yemeni people have supported reserving seats for women in similar contexts, committing in 2013 to a 30 percent quota for women on political delegations. And before the Yemeni conflict began in 2015, women’s rights were on the march: after decades of oppression, Yemeni women from all backgrounds were at the center of the 2011 peaceful protests that eventually removed President Ali Abdullah Saleh from power. One of the most visible leaders – Tawakkol Karman, known as the Mother of the Revolution – was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her commitment to a nonviolent pursuit of human rights and opportunity.

Yet once ethnic Houthi rebels from northern Yemen seized Sana’a and the Saudi-led multinational coalition launched its counter-campaign, women’s rights were once again under assault. Within the first five months of the war, documented cases of gender-based violence, including rape, increased by 70 percent. Child marriage rates rose as well, and today, two out of every three Yemeni girls are married before the age of 18. Of the two million people displaced from their homes, 75 percent are women and children, forced by war to provide for their families with little training and limited job prospects.

Despite these difficult odds, Yemeni women have overcome their political marginalization to contribute to peace efforts on the ground. Including Yemeni women in the negotiations to end the war in their country would reflect the contributions they are already making, from facilitating humanitarian access to assisting in the release of detainees to leading the reintegration of child soldiers. Here are three ways they have already made a difference:

First, they work across divides. Yemeni women from all backgrounds have formed new coalitions, including the Yemeni Women Pact for Peace and Security and the Women’s Solidarity Network. Working across political lines, they have activated local truce committees to prevent fighting over water and land resources, risked their lives to rescue families trapped by the conflict and evacuated schools held by armed groups.

Second, they promote local security. Hundreds of women-led initiatives to provide education and food to their communities also promote local security. They have facilitated humanitarian access in areas aid convoys have had difficulty reaching, supported reintegration programs for child soldiers (filling a gap left by the UN’s own suspended effort), led efforts – in the face of ongoing abuse – to release over 300 detainees and tracked bombings and medicine shortages.

Third, they are seeding the ground for post-conflict recovery. Women have advocated that the negotiation process address issues that can improve the durability of peace agreements, including the establishment of an international fund for reconstruction, investment in income generation opportunities, and the revival of the judicial system. Women have also pushed for disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration programs to respond to the needs of female and child soldiers, and have called for the inclusion of more women in the security sector – all measures which have been shown to strengthen post-conflict recovery and stability.

Including women at the peace table is not just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.

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Commentary: How to handle the U.S.-China trade talks

As U.S. and Chinese delegations prepare for upcoming trade talks in Beijing, the two countries’ disputes over tariffs and trade are rattling markets, businesses, governments, consumers and workers across the globe. All of this corrosive uncertainty was entirely predictable – and explains why Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping failed to reach an agreement when they met at the G20 summit in Buenos Aires in November.

Elaborate negotiations take tenacity, expertise and planning. They also take time.

There are certainly real challenges in the U.S.-China relationship. And virtually all progress Washington makes with its Chinese counterparts has come from an intense series of talks. At one point in the negotiations to allow U.S. beef access into Chinese markets, for example, the battle was down to experts debating a final letter – whether or not to include the letter “s” at the end of the word cow to determine traceability requirements for American cattle.

But this approach works. From these agreements and countless other negotiations, clear lessons emerge. Here are some of them:

PLAN: Negotiations like these require intense preparation. They require input from experts on the region and the issues – and forethought on which of a wide array of options your side would like to resolve, knowing that most will be cast aside and the focus will ultimately center on a handful of true priorities. During a 2014 visit between Presidents Barack Obama and Xi, this planning resulted in agreements on everything from climate to trade to visa validity and more.

KNOW WHERE YOU’LL GO – AND WHERE YOU WON’T: Chinese negotiators come to these discussions immensely well-prepped, with clear knowledge of where they might give and where they won’t. Their American counterparts typically do as well. To not do so is to lose before you walk through the door.

By drawing firm lines on freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, freedom of the press and more, the United States has long made clear where defined boundaries exist. It’s when and where the give exists elsewhere that it gets more interesting.

FIND LEVERAGE: When Chinese economic espionage spiked in 2015, Washington threatened sanctions ahead of a U.S. summit with Xi. Rather than face those sanctions and the prospect of a challenging state visit, China sent a special envoy from the Communist Party’s central committee ahead of that visit as it scrambled to undo the damage done.

Like Trump’s tariffs or not, they have provided the U.S. president with leverage. Whether or not that leverage will yield enduring outcomes depends on what he does with it.

USE THAT LEVERAGE: Those cyber negotiations yielded a U.S.-China accord that not only still stands, but reduced cyber incursions dramatically in the years that followed. It was the fear of these sanctions and an underwhelming state visit plus intense negotiations that drove the U.S. success. Some of those same fears exist now.

DETAILS MATTER: This is where experts on the National Security Council and agencies like the State Department matter most. From human rights and civil society concerns on through market access and intellectual property, negotiators can exploit vagaries to deny or delay for months and even years if they don’t want to comply without specific terms and dates.

It took pushing up against too many non-specific promises by Chinese officials claiming “we’ll soon be dining on American beef” for that beef access to finally happen, and even longer to secure approval to sell U.S. biotech. A World Trade Organization decision and countless pushes finally got U.S. credit cards accepted into Chinese markets last year.

PUSH BOUNDARIES, BUT TAKE YES FOR AN ANSWER: When it’s clear, after extensive back and forth, that you can make progress and there’s no more yield, bank the win.

Negotiations to encourage China to join the Paris climate accords took months of envoys flying back and forth before Beijing finally set real emissions targets – and stuck to them. While it wasn’t everything the U.S. side sought, China’s agreement was a stunning development that led other countries to announce emissions reductions and join the agreement as well.

Trump’s approach counters a number of these lessons. He appears to engage in little substantive pre-negotiation planning beyond the stagecraft and has repeatedly squandered his “final say” leverage by trying to solve longstanding crises without the necessary preparation, details or experts on hand to help seal the deal.

That discordant approach is how the Trump administration ended up with a series of purported wins from China that are mainly rehashed promises. It’s why the president bargained for another shot at a Qualcomm-NXP merger that was dead for months and even the companies involved don’t want to revive. And it results in announcements made, clarified, backtracked and more.

The U.S.-China relationship faces real problems. But it takes knowing the issues and the potential outcomes, and the substantive engagement of policy experts, for U.S. negotiators to get real yield. Instead, Americans have been left with a myriad of unanswered questions on issues like auto tariffs and what will happen when the 90-day “truce deadline” expires in March.

Trump was encouraged by his call with Xi in recent days, tweeting that “big progress” is being made. Xi’s message was more tempered, saying both sides had been working hard to reach consensus and that he hoped they “will meet each other halfway.”

The financial world, the global markets and U.S. political allies – not to mention the American public – crave both progress and certainty. In Buenos Aires, Washington and Beijing set a 90-day window to resolve the tariff issue. But much like when the clock began ticking, without a plan going into these negotiations, there won’t be real outcomes emerging from them. The United States can – and should – do better.

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Commentary: Why Europe fears collapse of the Iran nuclear deal

Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran’s nuclear chief and former foreign minister, has warned that Iranians are running out of patience with the European Union’s pledge to maintain trade with Tehran despite ramped-up U.S. sanctions against its oil and banking sectors. “If we cannot sell our oil and we don’t enjoy financial transactions, then I don’t think keeping the deal will benefit us anymore,” Salehi said ahead of a Nov. 27 meeting with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini in Brussels.

European powers – Germany, France and Britain – have been under enormous pressure from Washington to follow its example and withdraw from the Iran accord, also known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). President Donald Trump has warned that those who help Tehran circumvent sanctions “will NOT be doing business with the United States.” The Islamic Republic has not helped to facilitate effective cooperation with Europe either. Iran has resisted calls to implement the requirements of the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) to combat money laundering and terrorism financing. At the same time, Tehran-affiliated agents have tried to carry out assassination and bombing plots on European soil over the past several months, damaging political and diplomatic efforts to build constructive ties between Iran and Europe.

Why, then, is the EU still so determined to save the Iran nuclear deal? The answer lies in European fears of the security and economic consequences if the JCPOA collapses – and perhaps also in how Tehran might be able to pressure Europe to salvage the deal.

While worries about the unravelling of the JCPOA and Tehran’s possible moves to develop nuclear weapons continue, European powers seem to be less concerned about a nuclear Iran per se than what would happen if the United States or Israel and its Arab allies went to war to prevent that outcome. Despite U.S., British and French objections against Iran’s Dec. 1 test of a medium-range ballistic missile that was reportedly capable of carrying nuclear warheads, neither of the two European nations pushed for punitive action against Tehran during a subsequent closed-door meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). “There is no legitimate reason why Iran should flout the resolution,” said Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Karen Pierce, referring to a 2015 UNSC resolution on the Iran nuclear deal and missile work.

A U.S. or Israeli-led war would be unlikely to involve Europe directly, but any war could still have a significant effect on the continent’s security and economy. Tehran might also resort to tactics that pressure Europe to intervene or help thwart foreign aggressors. During the “tanker war” phase of the Iran-Iraq War, Tehran targeted non-belligerent shipping in the Persian Gulf for similar purposes.

Perhaps the first option at Iran’s disposal is unleashing a massive wave of migration toward Europe. While a war is likely to push many Iranians to flee the country, as they did during the 1979 revolution and subsequent war with Iraq, the Islamic Republic might also use as leverage the threat of making life more difficult for its Afghan refugee population, estimated to number up to three million. This could strain the European Union’s humanitarian and welfare infrastructure. The Syrian civil war demonstrated all too clearly that this is Europe’s Achilles heel, with anti-migrant protests in EU nations leading to governments adopting measures like stricter border control policies or striking a controversial deal with Turkey in March 2016 to halt the influx of those seeking refuge.

Iranian leaders know this well. In an early July speech, Iran’s interior minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli warned that if Tehran “closed its eyes for 24 hours,” over a million refugees and asylum seekers would leave for Europe. “We would not do that on religious and humanitarian grounds and are committed to international rules and peace,” he said, adding, in a tacit reference to the United States and the EU, “but the question is, why others are not committed to these rules?”

Iran could pressure Europe over drug trafficking too. Situated on the main narcotics transit route that stretches from Afghanistan to Central Asia and Eastern Europe, Iran acts as a bulwark against international narcotics trafficking, when it chooses to do so. In the same speech, Fazli cited the rise in drug production in Afghanistan to over 9,000 tons a year, warning that if Iran looked the other way, “over 5,000 tons of narcotics would leave Iran’s borders for the West.”

Finally, since its birth as a revolutionary state in 1979 and in place of reliable conventional alliances, Iran has systematically tried to foster a regional network of non-state actors and proxies. These groups have historically served as a pillar of Tehran’s strategy to expand its influence and deter aggression. This tactic can be expanded in times of war to threaten European security. In other words, the Islamic Republic can harness its ties with militant organizations such as Hezbollah or condone plots by the likes of al Qaeda to punish its rivals.

In a rare explicit warning to European powers in November, Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister and chief nuclear negotiator, raised the possibility of such a situation. “If Europeans buckle [under U.S. pressure over Iran], they have basically questioned their own sovereignty, credibility and security,” he said. “If Europe thinks West Asia would be safer without JCPOA, well, they are free to try it.” he continued. “Can Europe cope with a new wave of terrorism, migration and nuclear crisis?”

The centrist government of President Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly praised Europe’s “political will” to salvage the nuclear deal, including plans to establish a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) for conducting financial transactions with Iran by skirting U.S. sanctions. The big question now is whether the European Union will be able to deliver on its pledges as American pressure mounts.

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COMMENTARY: Want citizens to care about climate change? Write them a cheque

Climate scientists insist in a recent report that fundamental changes in how energy is consumed and supplied are urgently required to avoid serious damage to life and property from rising temperatures, rising sea levels and greater frequency of extreme weather events (hurricanes, drought-induced wildfires, etc.).

Governments worldwide have barely managed to work towards the modest commitments under the Paris climate accord, and it’s not enough to address the problem.

Climate initiatives are currently under siege from major polluters. The United States and Australia have organized pro-coal events amid climate talks, carbon emissions are increasing again while new political regimes in Brazil and Saudi Arabia have shown worrying signs of climate skepticism. Why is it so difficult for politicians around the world to take the necessary steps to deal with the climate crisis?

Experts commonly offer two options to address climate change: Flexible regulations on polluting sectors like electricity and transportation, and carbon pricing that reflects the indirect cost of pollution.

These are justified economically, since mitigating climate change can result in popular sustainable development opportunities, create new jobs, prevent loss in professions that depend on healthy ecosystems and improve health outcomes at a lower cost. But that may not be enough — there is no bold Green New Deal that is even being contemplated in places like Russia or China at this time.

Political leaders need to care about climate enough to take on polluting entities like fossil fuel companies that supply or generate the vast majority of energy, provide millions of jobs and make political contributions.

Behavioural psychology suggests that politicians are resistant to measures that aren’t popular with voters or donors.

Even moderate efforts to price carbon have sometimes faced political backlash. A prime example is the domestic unrest in France where carbon pricing on top of economic measures exacerbated economic insecurity within society.

As politicians delay decisive action, what could be realistically and quickly done within political systems as diverse as those of the U.S., China, India and Russia? Together, they are the top four polluters, contributing 53 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions in 2017.

Citizens are apathetic too

We argue that the apathy of political leaders reflects the apathy of their citizens. Many politicians, and the people they represent around the world, simply do not view climate change as a crisis. Even when mainstream cable channels are covering it (a rarity in itself), people seem to care more about the next sports showdown or celebrity gossip for entertainment in their daily lives.

Some are also distrustful of the science (an effect of the recent fad of “resistance to intellectual authority,” including climate scientists).

At the extreme are those who associate climate change and carbon pricing with various conspiracy theories. This includes everything from the supposed financial gain of climate scientists to socialist schemes to create a world government to destroy capitalism, and a Chinese plot against Western economies.

Arguably, discussions on climate change under these conditions can sometimes deepen the political divide given proponents of such conspiracy theories are largely immune to evidence and reason.

So how do we get citizens to care about climate?

Any energy transition will need to be preceded by a transition of vocal and influential citizens, or swing voters, away from an anti-climate position. We don’t necessarily need all citizens of diverse socioeconomic and educational backgrounds to understand climate science or proactively support it (though that would be highly desirable), we just need a politically influential section of citizens to not oppose bold climate action.

Presenting the case for climate action on CNN, BBC or CBC is important but leaves out the billions of people across China, Russia, India and a host of other countries with divergent political systems and their own media landscape.

They must also be concurrently convinced to take action. How?

Appealing to citizens via their wallets

If carbon pricing is going to be a significant vehicle for climate action, then the key to securing broader support is through people’s wallets.

We should take advantage of human nature. People care about personal gains like well-paying jobs and pay raises. And they instinctively oppose taxes. But would they oppose a tax if they directly profit from it?

The ideal approach would be to distribute a large portion of the carbon tax revenues back to the working class families to compensate for the higher costs of energy products and services.

This would address real concerns that carbon pricing can disproportionately affect the economically marginalized (as seen in France). But it also dangles a real incentive for citizens to actually demand a carbon tax.

Higher energy prices would still encourage a shift to renewables, and any energy conservation by consumers would financially benefit them even more. This is the core of the “Canadian backstop” proposal.

Carbon taxes could yield cash immediately — and loads of it. An estimated carbon price of US$40 to US$80 per tonne of carbon dioxide is needed by 2020 to achieve the Paris accord goals. Yet, in the 48 OECD and G20 countries (accounting for 80 per cent of global carbon emissions), 46 per cent of emissions are not taxed, while another 13 per cent was charged less than US$6 in 2018.

Science academies should take the lead

If governments are unwilling to convince the public of the personal benefits, the respective national academies of sciences should use their expertise on science and economics to take the lead. Citizens around the world should know how much “carbon dividend” a working family could earn every month if carbon revenues are returned as a dividend.

Even with a modest tax of $20 a tonne, the Canadian federal backstop would return $300 a year more to 70 per cent of the households affected. A more ambitious tax, say $60 per tonne, could be combined with explicit policies to return nearly all the revenue to households with the amount depending on their income levels.

A modest portion from the world’s biggest economies could be earmarked for climate adaptation in the most vulnerable developing countries. At minimum, this might ensure agreement with, or even widespread demands, for a carbon tax.

The best-case scenario is that a critical mass of citizens then starts showing interest in this extra income, and politicians respond with pragmatic carbon pricing design without alienating their core support base. If the estimated carbon dividend could be paid a year in advance, it would only sweeten the deal.

So let’s pressure the politicians across different political systems to act, or they risk alienating citizens who are waiting for their carbon dividend cheque.The Conversation

Abhishek Kar, Ph.D Student, University of British Columbia and Hisham Zerriffi, Associate Professor, Forest Resources Management, University of British Columbia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Commentary: Christian revivals prompted less by churches, more by politicians

Christmas is invariably the time for a grouch that neither Christ nor mas(s) feature much in a festival meant to rededicate Christian believers to the worship of the son of God. Materialism, especially for children, swamps, on this view, any reflection on the meaning of a Christian – or religious – life.

To this, there’s the retort – increasingly made – that giving happiness through gifts IS part of Christmas – a festival that was elevated to the supreme Christian holy day, or holiday, of the year in the 19th century. Charles Dickens’ “Christmas Carol” helped a lot in giving it both a moral and commercial boost. What did Ebenezer Scrooge do when he was turned from a miser to a benefactor through a visit from the horrifying ghost of Christmas yet to come? He commissioned a passing urchin to buy the largest and most expensive turkey he could find and deliver it to the family of his much-abused clerk, Bob Cratchit: a present which transforms the family’s usual scanty Christmas dinner to a feast.

Yet, unrecognized by both sides of the argument, a series of diverse Christian revivals are now under way through the world. What this will mean is unclear, but that they are happening is increasingly obvious.

The revivals are largely associated with the political right, in part because the left, though it has religious roots, is largely secular, often perceived as hostile to religious faith. That’s been most obvious, in the past few decades, in the United States, historically a standout among advanced economies in the popularity of Christianity, and where pro-Republican evangelicals carry much political clout. Liberals who are also believers are struggling to get back into the religious debate, but the activity on the right, as the recently founded, campus-oriented Turning Point USA – dedicated to amplifying the voices of conservative students – remains militantly religious, apparently more certain of itself and its beliefs than the left.

Europe has become, comparatively, a less Christian zone, at least in terms of attendance and the salience of the churches. But there are strenuous efforts to change that – coming, curiously, less from the churches themselves, and more from politicians.

Here’s some of the activity. In Hungary, authoritarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has shifted from defending “illiberal democracy” to proposing a new, less liberally-inclined “old-school Christian Democracy”. He sees the Christian Democratic parties of Western Europe – in Germany, Italy, Sweden and elsewhere – as having succumbed to leftist influences and wants a return to the time when the movement began at the end of the 19th century, as a political opposition to socialism.

Poland is still the most religiously-inclined state in Europe – though even there, a once-fervent Roman Catholicism is declining and the priesthood was sharply criticized in a recent much-viewed film, “Kler” (“Clergy”). Still, the dominant political figure, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, strongly supports the church as the moral basis of the state, saying those who fought the Catholic church “favored nihilism.” For the conservative part of the electorate, Catholicism, even if not actively practiced, remains the default moral precept.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, former KGB officer and communist, who saw the collapse of the Soviet Union as the 20th century’s greatest tragedy, now embraces the Russian Orthodox Church, especially its imperial pretensions, with widely-publicized fervor. The church and its leader, the Patriarch Kirill, have been supported and enriched by the state; attendance in the gorgeously-restored churches remains low, though baptisms, weddings and funerals are often routed through them.

In these former Communist countries, state power seeks a kind of fusion with the church. In Western Europe, the signs of an attempted revival remain largely on the right – but are more scattered, less developed.

In Italy, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi di Maio, following the example set by Poland, has announced plans to close large shopping centers on Sundays, arguing that liberalization of opening hours was “destroying Italian families.” The plan has yet to be put into practice.

Outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel is, like British Prime Minister Theresa May, a pastor’s daughter. Neither made any political capital of that, nor of their Protestant faiths, but Merkel’s chosen successor, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, is a Catholic conservative, and is opposed to same-sex marriage.

In France, the rising star on the far right, Marion Marechal-Le Pen, niece of the National Rally (formerly National Front) leader Marine Le Pen, is at the center of a network of new right activists and thinkers, many proclaiming their Christian faith. Writing of this group, the U.S. scholar Mark Lilla observes that their rise “may indicate that the relationship between religious and political identification is reversing in Europe—that it is no longer religious affiliation that helps determine one’s political views, but one’s political views that help determine whether one self-identifies as religious.”

Beyond Europe and North America, Christian evangelical churches continue to expand both their congregations and their political power. In Brazil, most recently, they strongly endorsed the election of the rightist ex-army officer Jair Bolsonaro – though he is a nominal Catholic – seeing in him one who would reverse the liberal legislation and expansion of the state under the previous Workers’ Party government, which the evangelicals saw as threatening their conservative morality.

In Africa, Pentecostal Christianity spreads rapidly still, with mega-churches often linked to sponsoring institutions in the United States. The church also wields increasing political power on the continent, as it does throughout the world. In Africa – in contrast to the North American and European churches – the power usually comes from below, the churches successfully gathering large congregations which then become attractive to politicians seeking endorsement and votes.

This is not (yet) a revolution: there is no coordinating center, no one group or figure directing the very varied initiatives – which are Catholic, Orthodox and various kinds of Protestant. Common to all, however, is a recoil from secularism and a search for a moral authority more powerful, because more traditional, than that of the state or of liberalism. For the adherents to these faiths, Christmas really will be a mass for Christ – even if the more powerful supporters in governments and presidential palaces look to material and political benefits in this, as well as the next, world.

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Commentary: The power and the glory of Mexico’s populist president

If you really want to understand contemporary Mexico, skip “Narcos” and watch the series “Un Extraño Enemigo” instead. The drama about the horrifying crackdown on the student movement on the eve of the 1968 Mexico City Olympics captures the essence of one-party authoritarianism under the long-ruling PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party. Its characters are the commander of internal security forces, student protest leaders, the slithery CIA station chief, then-president Gustavo Díaz Ordaz, and the cabinet members jockeying to succeed him. But at heart, the protagonist of “Enemigo” is the unvarnished, omnipotent power radiating from the presidency.

“Enemigo” may seem like an odd introduction to the era of Andrés Manuel López Obrador (known as AMLO), the populist Mexican president sworn into office on Saturday to succeed PRI president Enrique Peña Nieto. AMLO says he is assuming power to represent Mexico’s powerless, the millions left behind by the nation’s fitful modernization. And one of the central paradoxes of populism, even in its well-intentioned version, is that it takes an awful lot of power and force to vindicate the interests of the powerless against entrenched elites. AMLO is determined to reconstitute the awesome power of the presidency, not to crack down on the disaffected left as Díaz Ordaz did, but to champion it.

Mexico opened up to the outside world a generation ago, the generation between the period depicted in ”Un Extraño Enemigo” (“An Unknown Enemy”) and the current moment, embracing free trade and an electoral democracy. The results were positive for Mexico’s educated elite, and for the considerable number of families who joined the global middle class and turned the country into a massive buyer of U.S. goods. Voters invested in the steady development of this more globalized Mexico turned down AMLO’s retro vision of a more statist, self-contained Mexico in the 2006 and 2012 elections. He finally won on his third try in July, an unexpectedly resounding, mandate-conferring triumph, as a result of previous governments’ failure to broaden and deepen development, not only to lift more Mexicans out of poverty, but to temper rampant corruption and establish peace and the rule of law in the parts of the country rendered ungovernable by violence and insecurity. The gap between the country’s First World modernity and connectivity in some parts of its economy, and its Third World inequality and governance in too many areas, had become too glaring, too unsustainable. And so plenty of centrist independent-minded voters decided to roll the dice on the populist candidate clamoring for the interests of “the people” all these years, figuring that he might close the gap without necessarily being able to reverse Mexico’s decades-long opening to the outside world. 

 These voters might be proven wrong. As AMLO said in his inaugural address in the Mexican Congress, his will be a “profound and radical transformation” of Mexico. By winning substantial majorities in both chambers of Congress and in a majority of state legislatures for his “Morena” movement, AMLO will preside in a manner more reminiscent of Classic PRI all-powerful rulers than more recent presidents, pursuing what he immodestly has coined the country’s “Fourth Transformation” (the third, if you’re wondering, was the revolution of 1910).

In a speech at the “AMLOfest” in Mexico City’s iconic Zócalo (the city’s main square) that followed his swearing-in, the new president went through a mind-numbing recitation of 100 campaign promises that he will now act upon (#42, no government official will be able to close down streets, ignore red lights, or park illegally!). Many of his more popular pledges have been about cracking down on the corruption, impunity and privilege of those AMLO decries as the “power mafias.” He is abolishing pensions for ex-presidents, selling the presidential Boeing 787, reassigning the commander-in-chief’s security detail, refusing to live in the presidential mansion, and cutting the pay of some senior federal employees. The popularity of this ostentatious austerity is understandable, but it also represents an assertion of power, a move to transcend established institutional norms and practices and make clear who gets to set the rules.

AMLO’s most decisive act during the transition was to signal to the nation’s globalized elite that they’d be grounded until certain things changed in the country. The president-elect in October scrapped plans for a new $13 billion international airport outside Mexico City, never mind the fact that construction had begun back in 2015, contracts had been signed, commitments made, and experts insisted it was needed. AMLO had railed against the project as candidate and his dislike for it was ratified by an impromptu “consulta popular,” an informal pop-up referendum he organized to allow “the people” to weigh in. That move, and AMLO’s admonition that such consultas displacing technocratic governance will become the new normal (including the alarming promise of a biennial vote for people to weigh in on whether he should stay in office), triggered a decline in the Mexican stock market and in the value of the peso. But on Sunday, a day after the inaugural euphoria, reports surfaced that the government would proceed for now with the new airport’s financing and work until it had a better handle on the legal consequences of pulling the plug.

AMLO is also establishing an office of federal “super delegate” in each state to coordinate federal spending, alarming remaining non-Morena governors who see in this a usurpation of their sovereignty. After flirting with the idea of an amnesty for drug traffickers during his campaign, AMLO shocked his own base after the election by proposing a new National Guard to take on the fight (subject to an upcoming consulta, of course). Conversely, after spending much of his campaign promising to make the ruling “power mafias” accountable for their past corruption, AMLO is now saying he isn’t inclined to prioritize such prosecutions, for the sake of national unity. Sometimes, power is asserted through magnanimous restraint.

Depending on who you ask, AMLO is a cagey pragmatist or a determined ideologue, an amiable uncle or a steely father. But as a man who learned his politics as a young PRI man in the era of ”Un Extraño Enemigo” (before subsequently breaking with the party), there is no doubting his masterful understanding of power.

Mexico’s recent opening to the world will not be overturned overnight, or possibly at all. Despite his years attacking the North American Free Trade Agreement, AMLO as president-elect blessed the signing of its modest revision by his predecessor in Buenos Aires last Friday. AMLO has also signaled he is in no rush to overturn the energy reforms his movement so strenuously opposed, though he says certain aspects might need to be revisited. On both the night he was elected and the day he was sworn in, AMLO reassured financial markets by insisting that he would respect the independence of the central bank. But as Mariana Campero, executive director of the COMEXI think tank in Mexico City, pointed out to me recently, that statement could be read in a different light, as an assertion that it is up to the president whether to deign to respect the bank’s independence… or not.

It’s in his interactions with the media that AMLO seems most intent on stoking class resentments to refute the legitimacy of opposition and criticism. His version of discounting bad press as “fake news” is to mock “la prensa fifí,” a curiously dated term that connotes an affinity for fancy, Frenchy living. In October, AMLO said the term harkened back to the conservative press’ support for the dictator Porfirio Díaz and its opposition to the 1910 Revolution. It was a telling leap: equating any critical AMLO coverage with opposition to the fabled 1910 revolution by Díaz cronies.

One of the striking features of AMLO’s project is how inward-looking it is, and how well he has avoided making the United States, or its president, his convenient nemesis. For the first time in memory, an American president is more obsessed with Mexico than a Mexican president is with the United States.

That could soon change, of course. Mexico’s economy, whether AMLO likes it or not, remains tethered to the American market. Donald Trump’s constant rants against Mexico and its immigrants, and U.S. companies that invest in the country, will likely provoke a sharper response from AMLO than from his predecessor. Restraint has its limits, and the colossus to the north will make a handy scapegoat if and when the Fourth Transformation hits any speed bumps.

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