US foreign policy

Hillary Clinton Testifies Before House Select Committee On Benghazi Attacks

Hillary Clinton faced her next big challenge in her quest for the 2016 US presidential race with an appearance before a Republican led congressional committee to testify about the 2012 Benghazi attack that left four Americans dead, including US ambassador Christopher Stevens. Barney Jopson followed the action from Washington with Demetri Sevastopulo, DC Bureau Chief and Emiliya Mychasuk, US Online News Editor. A link to the live stream of the hearing is here  

Britain has long built its foreign policy around a special relationship with the US. The coming week will witness an attempt by the UK government to build another special relationship — this time with the People’s Republic of China. The government of David Cameron will be straining every sinew to honour President Xi Jinping, during his five-day state visit to the UK. The Chinese leader will be the guest of honour at a banquet at Buckingham Palace, he will give a speech at Westminster, he will spend time with the prime minister at Chequers and will travel to Manchester with the chancellor of the exchequer.

President Xi’s visit has been meticulously planned to provide images that will play well in China. But all this pomp could well be disrupted by some unplanned circumstances. The US Navy has let it be known that, over the next few days, it intends to challenge China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea. Beijing has been bolstering these claims in recent months, by “land reclamation” exercises that have created artificial islands — some of which now host airstrips. The Americas are expected to sail within 12 miles of these new islands — to make the point that they do not accept that China has established new territorial waters in the Pacific Ocean. Read more

What the TPP means for US-Asia ties
The US reached agreement this week with Japan and 10 other Pacific Rim economies on a Trans-Pacific Partnership. Gideon Rachman discusses the scope of the pact and what it will mean for those who have signed up, and those left out, with Shawn Donnan and Geoff Dyer

By Gideon Rachman
American and Chinese presidents do not really know how to talk to each other. They are like computers running on different operating systems.” That was the verdict once offered to me by a US official, who has watched many US-China summits from close quarters.

By Gideon Rachman
Muslims have replaced Hispanics as the focus of verbal attacks on the US campaign trail with Donald Trump shifting his anti-immigrant focus to people of the Islamic faith.


The 2nd Republican presidential debate saw Donald Trump face off against 10 other GOP contenders for the White House, as the challengers tried to gain ground against the bombastic billionaire, who has surprised the pundits by leading the field by a long way. Carly Fiorina made her debut in the big league, joining the main debate for the first time. 

Barack Obama’s first trip to Beijing as president in 2009 took place at a moment of great weakness in the US during a deep recession, and apparent strength in China, which had rapidly engineered a return to growth.

The roles seem oddly reversed ahead of Xi Jinping’s state visit to Washington later this month. In contrast with steady if unspectacular US growth, Chinese leaders are struggling on multiple fronts, to calm a wobbly stock market and maintain output in a slowing economy. Read more

If you think that getting fast-track authority from Congress to negotiate trade agreements is hard, just wait for the deal that it is designed to pass.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the US, Japan and 10 other economies in Asia and Latin America has run into a barrage of criticism. Some of it is probably justified; some of it is not. The problem is that we don’t really know.

The governments involved, and particularly the US administration, have gone to extraordinary lengths to keep the negotiating texts secret. Even senators and congressmen are only allowed to look at them in a secure location without taking away notes.

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  © Getty Images

Have the US and its allies in Asia reached a tipping point in their relations with China? The question posed by US China scholar, David Lampton, in a speech in Shanghai in March looks disturbingly prescient after a whirl of diplomatic and security offensives in recent weeks in the region.

The US and Japan substantially upgraded their defence alliance in a high profile summit meeting in Washington earlier this month. Japan, in turn, held its first naval exercises with Vietnam and the Philippines in the South China Sea. This week, the US announced (and then later denied) it would station B-1 bombers in northern Australia, also with an eye on balancing China in the region.

Then, just in time for John Kerry’s weekend visit to Beijing, the Pentagon made it known it was contemplating limited military options in the form of naval patrols and surveillance flights in contested areas in the South China Sea to reinforce its opposition to Chinese actions. Read more

Obama seeks to cement Japan ties
Siona Jenkins, Gideon Rachman and Lindsay Whipp discuss the Japanese prime minister’s visit to Washington as the US seeks to cement defence and trade ties with Japan, a key ally in its bid to push back against growing Chinese influence in Asia.

King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud

King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (Getty)

Over the past few weeks I’ve asked several western officials whether Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen signalled a fundamental change in Riyadh’s behaviour. Should we expect a far more aggressive kingdom under recently installed King Salman, or is Yemen a one-off war to blow off steam? Are we facing a new Saudi Arabia?

The answer has been consistent: we don’t know yet.

Early this morning, at the curious hour of 4 am Riyadh time, King Salman went some way towards providing an answer. In a bombshell announcement, he sacked crown prince Muqrin, who had been close to the late King Abdullah, and elevated Muqrin’s deputy, the security-minded interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef, to crown prince. More importantly – and controversially – he appointed his favourite son, the young Mohammed bin Salman, as next in line for the throne after bin Nayef. Read more

By Richard McGregor

Shinzo Abe’s visit to the US this week is by any measure a significant moment. Japan’s prime minister will with President Barack Obama consecrate revised guidelines for the US-Japan security treaty, described by one close observer of Japan as the longest surviving alliance between great powers “since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia”.

The pair will also oversee the final negotiations of one of the largest trade pacts in two decades that will bring together 12 Asia-Pacific countries. Finally, Mr Abe will become the first Japanese leader to address a joint session of Congress.

In a week of landmarks, then, it may be surprising that much of the focus ahead of Mr Abe’s visit is whether he will “apologise” for Japan’s role in the second world war, which ended in Tokyo’s crushing defeat nearly 70 years ago. Read more

  • Despite being accused of naivety in his foreign policy, Barack Obama is showing qualities associated with Henry Kissinger – the arch-realist of US diplomacy, writes Ed Luce
  • Whether by design or accident, Athen’s Syriza-led government has achieved deep European harmony – but this has not produced agreement on a strategy for dealing with the Greek crisis
  • Dubai is hoping to be a bridgehead for deals with Iran as international investors prepare for a gold rush with the prospect of an end to nuclear sanctions in sight
  • Secret files from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) show how former officials under Saddam Hussein helped design a blueprint for the militant jihadi group’s meteoric rise (Spiegel Online)
  • Who or what abdicated power in Grimsby, once the largest fishing port in the world and now a target for the UK Independence party, leaving swathes of it to rot? (London Review of Books)

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Obama’s rapprochement with Cuba: how far can it go?
Gideon Rachman is joined by Geoff Dyer and John Paul Rathbone to discuss the rapprochement between Obama’s America and Castro’s Cuba. How far can it go and what are the international implications?

By Gideon Rachman
Rome fell. Babylon fell. Hindhead’s turn will come.” George Bernard Shaw’s bon mot in Misalliance was a reminder to British theatre audiences in 1910 that all empires eventually decline and fall. The fact that Hindhead is an English village was a light-hearted cloak for a serious point.

Rush to join China-led bank embarrasses Washington
It seems odd that an international bank for building roads and airports in Asia should become a yardstick for the rise of China as a global power and of the relative decline of the US. But that is what Beijing appears to achieved with its Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank. Some of Washington’s closest allies have signed up even though it had lobbied furiously to dissuade them from doing so. Ben Hall discusses the development with Alan Beattie and Ed Luce.

  • As the US moves closer to a nuclear deal with Tehran that could end decades of estrangement, it simultaneously finds itself scrambling to curb Iran’s influence in the Middle East
  • The contours of Russia’s new national ideology have become clear in the Ukraine crisis; its foundations are nostalgia for a glorious past, resentment of oligarchs, materialism and xenophobia
  • Despite being engulfed in news about corruption, Latin America is showing advances in strengthening institutions and holding the powerful to account
  • Uzbekistan president Islam Karimov has upgraded his country from pawn to rook as central Asia’s chess master uses the rivalry between China, Russia and the US to its advantage (Foreign Policy)
  • The provision of an hallucinogenic drug to inmates in the middle of the rain forest reflects a continuing quest for ways to ease pressure on Brazil’s prison system (New York Times)

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  • Lee Kuan Yew, the founder and patriarch of modern Singapore who has died at the age of 91, was one of postwar Asia’s most revered and controversial politicians
  • In a fight between whales, the shrimp’s back is broken, according to a South Korean expression that sums up the country’s struggle to balance its strategic relationships with China and the US
  • Can economic optimism return quickly enough in Europe to prevent the further rise of extremist political parties? asks Gideon Rachman
  • Despite brutal punishments under Saudi justice drawing comparisons to Isis, avenues for mercy are built into the system that allow reprieves (New York Times)
  • It is used by almost a tenth of the world’s population, gives a buzz equivalent to six cups of coffee and is a symbol of love. But the humble betel nut is also sending tens of thousands to an early grave (BBC)

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By Gideon Rachman
The story of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is turning into a diplomatic debacle for the US. By setting up and then losing a power struggle with China, Washington has sent an unintended signal about the drift of power and influence in the 21st century.