Saturday, the 27th of January
It may have taken him a full year in office but US President Donald Trump this week ticked off one of his most popular campaign promises: starting a trade war with China. The first salvo of tariffs aimed at Asian imports was announced even as world leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum.

In the same week, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (henceforth known as "the trade pact that just won't die") was inked as well. Impeccable timing.
The first battleground of Trump's trade war. PHOTO: Reuters
The protectionist logic of 'America First' has been critiqued ad nauseam in recent months. Now detractors and defenders alike can see it in action. On Wednesday Trump signed into law steep tariffs on solar panels (30%) and washing machines (20-50%); China being the clear target. In his own words, "our action today helps create jobs in America for Americans". It's a simple message, one that resonates strongly amongst Trump's base. However, the numbers tell a slightly more complex story.

Last year two (foreign-owned) solar panel manufacturers in America went under, taking 3,200 jobs with them. Both Suniva and SolarWorld Americas blamed their financial woes on China. The two companies complained to the US International Trade Commission who agreed that Chinese imports had indeed hurt American manufacturers. It's no great secret that China routinely skirts anti-dumping laws all over the world, but it is nevertheless interesting that neither company was required to prove that Chinese exporters had engaged in illegal practices.

The real problem though is that these tariffs are unlikely to resurrect any of the lost jobs. In fact, America's peak solar body believes that the industry will shed a further 23,000 jobs this year alone. And since the tariff on imported panels is likely to be passed on to customers, it could also result in reduced demand.

The washing machine tariffs, meanwhile, are simply a free kick to US white goods manufacturer Whirlpool - at the expense of consumers. The world's largest washing machine producers have signalled significant price increases to ameliorate the damage done by the Treasury. Many within Trump's own party are skittish about using such blunt instruments. They have good reason to be: the intended target (China) isn't even the largest exporter to the US, it is fourth behind Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.

As the US government retreats behind a wall of border taxes, Chinese diplomats are putting ink to free-trade agreements at breakneck speed. In fact, you'd be forgiven for mistaking the White House and the Zhongnanhai some days.

The job of selling America's decision to the world fell to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Speaking at a snowed-in economics powwow in Switzerland, Ross used a mix of triumphalism and victimhood to win over the attendees. Needless to say it largely fell on deaf ears at the famously pro-trade-liberalisation conference. While Ross at least only received a muted response, his colleague US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was harangued by European central bankers for appearing to back a drastically weakened US dollar.

The president himself has used his time in Davos to cajole foreign CEOs to expand their operations in America. While he has evidence of a growing economy on his side; it's yet to be seen whether European executives are as pliant as those stateside. 

But it hasn't been all Trump at Davos. Alibaba's enigmatic CEO Jack Ma shocked crowds with his blunt assessment of automation and artificial intelligence, "it is going to kill a lot of jobs". His counterpart at Google, Sundar Pinchai was significantly cheerier, arguing that AI would be a comparable technological leap to the harnessing of fire by early humans or electrification.

French president Emmanuel Macron continued to win admirers with his strong rhetoric on the topic of climate change, as did Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau on the topic of sexual harassment and equality.

As all this was happening, the long-suffering TPP moved much closer to becoming a reality - without the US. Negotiators from the 11 remaining Pacific rim nations signed a draft agreement ahead of ratification next month in Chile. When Trump withdrew the US from the talks almost exactly a year ago, it appeared as though the TPP would collapse. It's a stunning turnaround, although it should be noted that with America involved the TPP countries represented 40% of the global economy; without America it is just 15%.
Turkish tanks on the move. PHOTO: Khalil Ashawi / Reuters

Syrian misadventure - Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has come good on his promise to snuff out Kurdish enclaves in northern Syria. In a potentially catastrophic move, militias backed by the NATO-member's military are pounding Kurdish-controlled towns and villages around Afrin. Progress has been slow against the battle-hardened YPG who cut their teeth expelling ISIS from most of northern Syria. Given how well entrenched the Kurdish forces are its likely that Turkey will simply lay waste to Afrin with artillery. 

Ankara's plunge into Syria could fracture an already-brittle relationship with the US. Washington has provided significant military support to the YPG and deploys its special forces alongside Kurdish units. In Manbij (next on Erdogan's kill-list) there is a sizeable garrison of American soldiers. The fact that two NATO members may face off on the battlefield is groundbreaking. The international liberal order that emerged after the Cold War appears to be unravelling at a rate of knots.

Mount Mayon is threatening an entire city. PHOTO: AFP

Earthquakes, volcanos, tsunamis - The earth may be trying to tell us something. It's been a great week to be a seismologist or volcanologist. Lava flow and minor eruptions from Mount Mayon (the most active volcano in the Philippines) has been frightening locals and delighting disaster tourists for a fortnight. As of Thursday the government began forced evacuations as all signs point to an imminent violent eruption.

A pair of 6+ magnitude earthquakes rattled Java and Mexico; in Jakarta workers were rushed out of swaying office towers. But the main event was a huge 7.9 magnitude quake that shook the Gulf of Alaska, prompting a tsunami warning in Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest. Although the tremor was felt hundreds of kilometres away the tsunami warning was withdrawn a few hours later.

Congolese security forces cracked down on protesters. PHOTO: Kenny Katombe / Reuters
  1. Congolese police shot dead six demonstrators as protests against President Joseph Kabila intensified
  2. 50,000 Greeks marched in Thessaloniki as Athens and Skopje again locked horns over the name Macedonia
  3. US Democrats capitulated to Republican demands after just three days of the government shutdown
  4. A swollen Seine flooded parks and walkways in Paris when it rose three extra metres after heavy rain
  5. World Bank Chief Economist Paul Romer's abrupt resignation prompted questions about internal divisions
  6. Pope Francis apologised to Chilean church abuse victims for earlier hurtful comments (eschewing papal infallibility)
  7. Chinese scientists successfully cloned two long-tailed macaques; reactions ranged from excitement to terror
  8. Authorities in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia closed Latin America's largest landfill
  9. Residents were warned that Cape Town will run out of water in April as it suffers its worst drought in decades
  10. Trailblazing American sci-fi author Ursula Le Guin died aged 88; leaving behind legions of adoring fans
This is a good start. PHOTO: Georges Gobet / AFP / Getty
Colony collapse spray - Australian supermarket giant Woolworths has joined hardware chain Bunnings in banning the sale of a bee-killing insecticide. Multiple studies have shown that Bayer's 'Yates' branded bug spray contributes to the accelerating destruction of honey-bee populations. Good.

Good morning - There are murmurings amongst the inkl team that this may well be the purest story we've ever carried. Each morning mobile phones all across India light up with elaborate images wishing the receiver a good morning. So many are sent, in fact, that it is slowing the internet and filling up phones all over the country.
Surveying the aftermath in Jalalabad. PHOTO: AFP
Twin attacks - Global charity Save The Children has suspended operations in Afghanistan following a bomb and gun attack on their office in Jalalabad. The assailants engaged in a 10-hour gunfight that left three dead and 25 wounded. It followed another deadly assault on a hotel in the centre of Kabul just days earlier.

School shootings - We are just three weeks into 2018 and America has already suffered 11 school shootings. In Kentucky a 15-year old student walked into his high school common area, drew a pistol and began shooting. He killed two and injured a further 14.
Your weekend long read... Read this. The Financial Times went undercover at one of London's most exclusive charity events. What it revealed caused such a shock that the Presidents Club Charity Dinner has been disbanded for good.