Saturday, the 3rd of March
In 1992 the American theorist Francis Fukuyama wrote a now infamous line: "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War... but the end of history as such: that is the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalisation of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."

At the time the excitement was understandable: Deng Xiaoping's market reforms had opened China to the world, and Mikhail Gorbachev had lowered the hammer and sickle in the Kremlin for the last time. Many believed that a new era of trade liberalisation and liberal democracy would transform the world. And in the intervening twenty years it certainly has. But this week Xi Jingping's self-promotion and Donald Trump's new trade tariffs illustrate that the arc of history is long and that few things are truly final.
It may be time to dust off the honorific 'Chairman'. PHOTO: AFP / Getty
Farewell Xixian
Deng Xiaoping's leadership can be fairly credited with dragging China into the modern era after the horrors of Mao Zedong's Cultural Revolution. With Mao's personality cult in mind, Deng implemented new rules within the Communist Party to ensure that no single ruler could attain the same level of power.  This week Xi Jinping undid that legacy.

The Communist Party has recommended that the key presidential limit (a maximum of two five-year terms) be scrapped. It's absolutely clear that the country's legislature (due to meet next week at the Chinese National People's Congress) will rubber-stamp the new policy. It leaves Xi with an indefinite horizon beyond 2023. This is a watershed moment in not just Chinese, but world history. Xi is not Mao, but the effort to undo Deng's (uniquely Chinese) checks and balances is a step backwards. 

Fleeting disagreements
Xi's decision triggered a rare outbreak of public criticism which was promptly obscured. A state-run publisher came up with a novel way to praise the power play; explaining it as a necessary step to "ensure people live happier lives". In typically overzealous style, Beijing's censors scrubbed the words "disagree", "personality cult", "Xi Zedong", "lifelong" and "shameless" from the web. However, the most ludicrous moment came when censors removed any mention of George Orwell's novella 'Animal Farm' (reaching whole new levels of self-referential irony) and even, temporarily, the letter 'N'!

Dissent often takes on imaginative and coded forms in authoritarian countries. A common image on social media is Winnie the Pooh (a sly physical allusion to Xi), this week an image made the rounds of the cartoon bear hugging a honey-pot with the headline "Find the thing you love and never let go". Xi's new authoritarian direction hasn't been lost on anyone.

Leaving the past
Those proclaiming the end of history certainly didn't foresee China striding boldly into the global arena of trade only to then take a sharp illiberal political turn. Trade liberalists have often describe their economic agenda in not just economic or political, but also moral terms. Their assumption has always been that a globalised economy also has an inherent democratising influence on society. But with China's ascendency in global trade (and institutions like the World Trade Organisation or International Monetary Fund) it may be time to discard that assumption.

American protectionism
In the local parlance America not only 'won' the Cold War but also then promptly began shaping the world in its own image. Free trade deals became canon. But now President Trump is backing away from the global economy at a rate of knots. Hopeful whispers of America rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership have been smashed by Trump's latest salvo in his promised trade war with Beijing. At a press conference the president announced a 25% tariff on foreign steel and a 10% tariff on imported aluminium, taking even some of his own advisors by surprise.

The Dow Jones reacted predictably with a 500-point (2%) drop. American industries that use imported metals (like car manufacturers) swiftly voiced their protests. While China has dumped surplus steel in America for a generation, this latest reaction is difficult to explain. US steel manufacturers aren't collapsing under the weight of cheap Chinese products, in fact the major producers are in strong financial positions. The secondary and tertiary effects of the barriers will likely leave local industry worse off; hence many congressional Republicans are lobbying against the import tax. In fact, George W. Bush's steel tariffs in 2002 cost the country up to 200,000 jobs.

Overseas the backlash has been resounding: China, the European Union, Canda, Brazil and several other major economies have announced retaliatory tariffs and restrictions. This at time when Washington is attempting to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement in its favour and to reclaim a trade surplus with China. 

While Trump's tariff announcement may be more reflexive than considered, it still goes against both the letter and the spirit of trade liberalisation. It also casts light on the other side of the coin: that democracies can retreat from the globalised economy just as promptly as autocracies can.

It's telling that even Francis Fukuyama himself believes that the liberal international order is now under threat.
Walking away has never been this hard. PHOTO: Getty
Borderline disorder - Turning to Western Europe we are once again alarmed by the non-progress of Brexit negotiations. That British Prime Minister Theresa May must face the cameras  on Friday with a comprehensive plan for post-Brexit trade ties constitutes a form of cruel and unusual punishment. However, it must be recognised that the punishment is self-inflicted: May's speech in Rome last year confused more than it clarified. The rhetorical weapons deployed by Britain are as empty as they are perplexing: Brussels and London should perhaps pursue a closer relationship between their two separate systems rather than simply trying to reconcile the two systems. 

Britain, it appears, would like to have its cake and eat it too: they want a strong independent Britain with close European trade ties and all the benefits of the customs union but without the costs or obligations of actually remaining in it. Little wonder then that in a particularly scathing review one EU politician urged May to find a less ambitious plan "based on the foundation of realism". Meanwhile, the issue of Northern Ireland's border with the Republic has again reared its ugly head. As we've written before; this impasse will break either Theresa May's government, the Brexit process itself, or the Good Friday Agreement. We're watching developments closely (through our fingers).
Another few bite the dust. PHOTO: Washington Post
Departure Lounge - White House Communications Director Hope Hicks resigned this week after less than a year in the job, triggering a flood of theories and criticisms. A long-time employee, confidante and friend of the president, Hicks became Trump's fourth CD after Anthony Scaramucci's comically short tenure (10 days). Sources close to the administration have noted that although she had been embroiled in two recent sagas (admitting lying before the House Intelligence Committee and being drawn into the Rob Porter affair), Hicks had already made the decision to leave months earlier.

The other White House departure was not quite as dramatic but may be just as damaging. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly achieved a long-awaited goal; stripping Jared Kushner of his 'Top Secret' access to sensitive government information. The president's son-in-law and close advisor had drawn venemous criticism from Kelly for using his clearance to promote business deals. Kushner's pursuit of commercial interests, including his failed bid to sell his Manhattan tower at 666 5th Avenue, have been widely questioned by ethics experts. It goes without saying that Kushner's wife, Ivanka Trump, is incensed.
Venetian gondolas blanketed in snow. PHOTO: The Atlantic
  1. A freezing blast of Siberian winter air blanketed Europe in snow causing at least 24 deaths; 'the Beast from the East' is the result of a weakened jet stream and soaring Arctic temperatures
  2. American media powerhouse Comcast muscled in on the Murdoch family's bid to buy out the remaining stake of European broadcaster Sky
  3. Russian President Vladimir Putin revealed a number of new nuclear weapon delivery systems, including a supersonic missile that apparently cannot be intercepted
  4. As regime artillery continued to flatten Eastern Ghouta local residents mocked the non-existent Russian-enforced ceasefire
  5. The exiled Catalan independence leader Carles Puigdemont gave up any claim to leadership in Barcelona just weeks after being re-elected
  6. The revolutionary music streaming app Spotify announced its plans to go public; company executives are seeking north of $1b for the shares
  7. South Korean President Moon Jae In fired another salvo at Japan over the long-festering issue of WW2 'comfort women'
  8. The Trump administration's effort to unwind DACA protections was frustrated when the Supreme Court declined to hear its case
  9. King Salman of Saudi Arabia continued a sweeping purge of 'old blood' within the country's military and intelligence services
  10. Italy prepared itself for Saturday's national elections and many pondered the improbably question: is Silvio Berlusconi on his way back to the top office?
The deepest green. PHOTO: ORPIO / The Guardian
Amazonian preservation - Peru is on the path to creating the largest indigenous reservation in the world. Some 2.5m hectares of jungle is being cordoned off to protect the delicate balance that the country's indigenous (and barely contacted) tribes exist within. It's a laudable policy that we hope will be implemented in its entirety.

Kicking the habit - An Ekoplaza supermarket in Amsterdam has opened a novel new shopping experience: a plastic-free aisle. Some 700 products will be available for purchase sans plastic packaging. The sooner this is adopted everywhere the better. Disposable plastic pollution has become a key focus for environmental sustainability groups in recent years.
Pay attention to these photos while they can still be taken. PHOTO: AP
No right answers - The entire population of North Atlantic right whales is a step closer to extinction this week. Researchers claim that not a single new calf has been born this mating season (which is due to end imminently). Distraught marine biologists have noted that there are fewer than 100 potential mothers left in the species. 

Help thyself - The United Nations has become the latest organisation to face claims of fostering a culture that allows and ignores sexual harassment. One prominent critic has said she was sexually assaulted by the UNAids' deputy executive director. Her testimony has been backed up by at least six other women with similar experiences.
Your weekend long read... A fascinating piece from Foreign Policy on the implications of mobile technology in future warfare. Absolutely worth reading just for the memorable photograph. 

And another thing... The inkl team is gathering some recommendations for your bookshelves and podcasting apps. Whether you are departing summer or on your way into it we'd like to suggest David Fromkin's 'A Peace To End All Peace'. It's a penetrating look into the implosion of the Ottoman Empire and the shaping of the modern Middle East. A masterful dive into the decisions that continue to plague some countries in the region a century later.