On September 3 and 4, Chinese President Xi Jinping will host the 7th Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Beijing. Happening every three years, past FOCAC’s have been used as a platform by Xi to announce new Chinese commitments to deepen economic links with the continent—in 2015, President Xi pledged $60 billion in aid and financing, and he has already recommitted the same amount again this year. Dozens of African leaders have made the trip to Beijing, with the aim of bolstering political and commercial ties with China. FOCAC, coupled with Xi’s trip to the continent in July 2018, is thrusting the question of how the United States should compete with China in African markets back in the spotlight.

Three common misconceptions in Western media and policy circles about the nature of China’s involvement in Africa interferes with US policymakers’ ability to craft and implement an effective Africa strategy. Debunking these myths will foster a more constructive understanding of Beijing’s interactions with the continent and allow the United States to focus on areas of competitive advantage.

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History will recall this week’s passing of Senator John McCain, freedom fighter and democracy defender, as either the passing of an era or the rekindling of American purpose. 

McCain himself would humorously dismiss much of the lionizing of his life’s contributions in the few days since his passing, culminating in this weekend’s memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral. Yet he would also concede there’s dramatic timing to his death, coinciding as it does with new threats to US global leadership and the principles for which it should stand: democratic rule, protection of individual rights and equal justice before law.

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Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad’s regime, backed by Russia, appears to be preparing for a major offensive on Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold located along Syria’s northwestern border with Turkey.

The population in Idlib has almost doubled to around three million as tens of thousands of Syrians trapped in other parts of the war-ravaged country were evacuated there under various ceasefire agreements with the Assad regime. An assault on Idlib would trigger an even greater humanitarian catastrophe as there are few safe spaces inside Syria to which civilians can be evacuated.

Here’s a look at the warning signs leading up to a possible offensive.

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NATO never had it easy. From the day the Washington Treaty was signed, when the Washington Post quipped that the ceremony might be “more spectacular than the act itself,” observers have been skeptical about the viability of the Alliance. In 1982, at the peak of the “Euro-missile crisis,” the Economist saw the Atlantic Alliance “in the early stages of what could be a terminal illness.” In 1994, when the Allies were hesitating to get involved in the Balkans conflict, the director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies argued that NATO was in terminal decline and probably would not even reach the end of the decade. Again, in 2002, when the Allies disagreed on whether to join the United States in trying to topple Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, some lamented “the end of Atlanticism.”

The Cassandras always got it wrong. For one, they misunderstood political debate as a sign of NATO fatigue, not realizing that tackling difficult policy issues and ironing out disagreements is one of the most basic functions of an alliance. They also mistook debate about the future course of the Alliance for disagreement over its fundamental value.

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in has prioritized mending ties with North Korea. His high-stakes diplomacy is playing out on the sidelines of a US effort to get Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons. Moon’s effort has been marked by a historic meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and a rare, albeit brief, reunion of families divided by the war six decades ago. There are, however, limits to how far Moon can proceed absent progress in US-North Korean diplomacy.

Moon has staked his presidency on achieving peace with North Korea. These stakes are especially high. That’s what a lot of us are worried about,” said Robert Manning, a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, referring to the political risk facing Moon. “The South Koreans have tried to walk right up to the edge of doing things that advance North-South relations without going over the line. The stalemate of our policy is putting them in a really difficult position,” he added.

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US President Donald J. Trump on August 24 abruptly cancelled Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s planned trip to North Korea. Explaining his decision in a tweet, Trump wrote: “because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Days later, on August 28, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the United Nations, said it appeared the North Koreans were having second thoughts about denuclearization.

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Interview with Alexander Vershbow, an Atlantic Council distinguished fellow and former US ambassador to South Korea

The recent setbacks to US efforts to get North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons hold a lesson for US President Donald J. Trump’s administration: “It is a reminder that we need to engage with Kim Jong-un with our eyes open, and not put so much faith in the value of good personal relations,” according to Alexander Vershbow, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security.

Trump and Kim participated in a summit in Singapore on June 12. Trump has since lavished praise on the North Korean dictator, describing him as “a very worthy, smart negotiator.”  In his August 24 tweets in which he announced his decision to cancel US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang because he felt the North Koreans have not made enough progress on denuclearization, Trump made sure to send his “warmest regards and respect” to Kim.

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Campaigners in favor of Brexit made a famous claim in 2016 that leaving the European Union (EU) would allow the United Kingdom to pour its £350-million-a-week contribution to Brussels back into the nation’s National Health Service. Now the “remainers” have their own numbers to throw around: £3 billion may be necessary to keep the United Kingdom’s access to vital technology in space. The UK government confirmed on August 29 that it is exploring the possibility of creating its own satellite navigation system—which experts say could potentially cost several billion pounds—due to growing concerns that it will be locked out of the EU’s existing system, known as Galileo, once the United Kingdom leaves the bloc next year.

Westminster’s concern stems from opposition in Brussels to allowing the United Kingdom to continue its participation in Galileo’s Public Regulated Service (PRS), which provides a separate satellite navigation service with higher security for government and military use. EU officials have said that without EU membership, it would be improper for the United Kingdom to have access to this system or for its businesses to participate in its construction and maintenance. A recent British government study warned that being locked out from Galileo could cost the country as much as £1 billion a day in economic activity, prompting the discussion of replacing the EU’s system with a fully-domestic one.

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On August 27, US President Donald J. Trump and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto announced an initial agreement on a new bilateral trade relationship. The negotiations were initially intended to be a start for wider conversations on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), including the third treaty partner, Canada. During the announcement, however, Trump implied that he may choose to negotiate bilaterally with Canada instead of reviving the tripartite agreement.

Trump openly criticized NAFTA during his August 27 call with the Mexican president and declared his desire to rename the new deal “the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement.”

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Officials in US President Donald J. Trump’s administration have repeatedly described the ongoing conflict in Yemen as a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, hence justifying the United States siding with a country that many US officials view as “our strong ally” against Iran.

Ironically, the Yemen policy of Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, was also Iran-centric, lending the Saudi-led coalition vital logistical and intelligence support in order to get grudging support from Riyadh for his nuclear deal with Iran.  

Both administrations have been guilty of looking at Yemen solely through the prism of Iran policy. In both cases, Yemen has suffered the consequences.

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