Trump’s confirmation hearings: nominees in the spotlight

A series of confirmation hearings for president-elect Donald Trump’s controversial cabinet nominees began in the Senate this week, with Democrats eager to grill candidates. How smooth is the process likely to be and who is vulnerable? Gideon Rachman puts the question to Courtney Weaver, the FT’s White House correspondent, and Barney Jopson, the US policy correspondent in Washington.

By Gideon Rachman

James Jesus Angleton, who ran counter-intelligence for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1954 until 1975, once described his world as a “wilderness of mirrors”. The heads of America’s intelligence agencies must have felt a similar sense of surreal disorientation, when they briefed Donald Trump last week. Read more

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Latin America, like the rest of the world only with greater geographical intimacy, is bracing itself for the presidency of Donald Trump. Read more

Turkey battles political turmoil and terrorists

The new year began with a terrorist attack on a nightclub in Istanbul which left 39 dead – the latest blow to hit a country still reeling from the aftermath of a failed coup last year and the political purges that followed. Gideon Rachman discusses Turkey’s prospects with Daniel Dombey and Mehul Srivastava

By Gideon Rachman

America is used to setting global trends. But long before Donald Trump vowed to “Make America Great Again”, China, Russia and Turkey had already established the fashion for nostalgic nationalism.

How will the events of 2016 play out in the coming year?

Daniel Dombey asks Gideon Rachman, the FT’s chief foreign affairs columnist, and Fred Studemann, features editor, how the big events of 2016 – Brexit, the US election, and Syria – will play out on the world stage in the coming year.

By Gideon Rachman

So which is it to be: “hard” or “soft” Brexit? Maybe neither. There is a third possibility that is little discussed but increasingly likely: “train-crash Brexit”. In this version of events, the UK and the EU fail to agree a negotiated divorce. Instead, Britain simply crashes out of the EU — with chaotic consequences for trade and diplomatic relations.

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It’s the time of year for dewy eyes, tolerance and a belief in fairy tales. But not in Argentina. Mauricio Macri, Argentina’s president with the steely blue stare, has just come back from a beach side retreat with no more stars in his eyes. He had, he admitted, generated unrealistic expectations of “magical” changea year ago, on taking office. But there was nothing fantastic about the industrial production and construction data for October, which shrank 8 and 19 per cent respectively compared with last year. Mr Macri needs to pull some rabbits out of hats, pronto. Read more

Trump’s Taiwan foray

Donald Trump created a diplomatic storm earlier this month by speaking on the telephone to Taiwan’s leader – the first such official communication since 1979. He then suggested he might ditch US adherence to the One China policy – a bedrock of ties between the two world powers. Does he really mean to change US policy and if so what will the consequences be for US-China ties? Ben Hall puts the question to the FT’s James Kynge and Demetri Sevastopulo.

By Gideon Rachman

Donald Trump seems to have brought the techniques of Twitter to the construction of his government. “Trolling” on Twitter is defined as “making a deliberately offensive online posting with the aim of upsetting someone”. In this spirit, Mr Trump has placed a climate-change denier in charge of environmental protection, an opponent of the minimum wage as labour secretary, a conspiracy theorist in charge of the National Security Council and a protectionist at the commerce department. The pièce de résistance could be the appointment of Rex Tillerson, a recipient of the Kremlin’s Order of Friendship, as secretary of state.

Reuters

The European Central Bank has scaled back its quantitative easing programme from €80bn to €60bn a month from April 2017 and will extend it to the end of next year, in a move that responds to hawks’ concerns about ultra-loose monetary policy but which could unsettle markets. It has held rates as expected.

The ECB insists the step is not equivalent to the US move to gradually “taper” QE that unsettled markets in 2013, instead it argues the move could see it buy more bonds under the extended programme.

Key points

  • ECB holds rates at 0% but extends QE to December 2017
  • Level of bond buying programme cut to €60bn per month from April 2017
  • Asset purchase parameters broadened, including halving of minimum maturity to 1 year
  • Sovereign bond prices recover as Draghi insists tapering has not been discussed
  • Euro slides against the dollar

By Gemma Tetlow and Gavin Jackson

 

By Gideon Rachman

Europe’s fightback against populism was going well for a couple of hours. On Sunday afternoon, it emerged that the far-right candidate had lost the Austrian presidential election. But the good news from Austria was drowned out by bad news that same evening, from the other side of the Alps. Matteo Renzi, the Italian prime minister, had lost his referendum on constitutional reform and confirmed that he will resign.

Donald Trump’s telephone conversation with the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen was a massive break with established policy – which will be greeted with shock in Beijing. When the US re-established diplomatic relations with the People’s Republic of China in 1979, it also severed diplomatic links with Taiwan. Since then there have been no direct conversations between the leaders of the US and Taiwan.

The stakes involved in the triangular relationship between Taipei, Beijing and Washington could not be higher. The Chinese government has repeatedly stressed that it is prepared to go to war, rather than accept Taiwanese independence. The US, while it does not promote the independence of Taiwan, has also promised to resist any attempt to incorporate Taiwan into China by force. I have personally witnessed a conversation between Chinese officials and high-ranking Americans, in which the US side has said openly that a Chinese attack on Taiwan would lead to war between the US and China. Read more

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Here’s your weekly US politics wrap-up:

President-elect Donald Trump embarked on a victory tour on Thursday, with a plan to stop in the swing states that had unexpectedly delivered him the White House. Read more

Cuba after Castro

Will Fidel Castro’s influence over Cuba outlast his death, and will the Trump presidency reverse the detente with the US begun by Barack Obama? Gideon Rachman puts these questions to John Paul Rathbone, the FT’s Latin America editor, and Geoff Dyer, Washington correspondent.

By Gideon Rachman

People who are worried by the prospect of President Donald Trump are often reminded of the checks and balances in the American system. The US president is not a dictator. He is constrained by the constitution, the courts and the Congress.

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Events in Latin America this week signalled that tempestuous times in the region show no sign of abating – literally and figuratively. Read more

Fillon is surprise favourite of French conservative voters

François Fillon, a former prime minister, looks on course to become the surprise presidential candidate of the centre-right in next year’s French presidential elections. James Wilson asks Anne-Sylvaine Chassany, Paris correspondent, and Ben Hall, world news editor, what his appeal is and how he would fare in a contest against the far-right populist leader Marine Le Pen.

By Gideon Rachman

This time last year, I wrote that “I have a nightmare vision for 2017: President Trump, President Le Pen, President Putin.” So, after Donald Trump’s victory, the next question is whether Marine Le Pen can indeed capture the French presidency?

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Plan B. That was the recurring theme in Latin America this week as Mexico tries to prepare for whatever a Donald Trump presidency will bring; China tries to recalibrate Asia-Pacific trade; and Colombia and Farc rebels try another stab at peace. Read more