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

The EU package for Turkey agreed at the latest Brussels summit on the refugee crisis looks pretty desperate. The situation of Syrian refugees, the bulk of those braving death to try to make their way to Europe, is very desperate. Syria’s neighbours, Turkey, Lebanon and Jordan, which together have taken in more than 5m refugees, once the unofficial tally is added to those registered by the UN, know that very well.

Now, the EU is offering Turkey three main things to get it to prevent Syrians transiting to Europe and keep them inside its borders. Stalled EU accession negotiations will be re-energised. Talks will start on liberalising EU visa rules for Turks. And Ankara will be offered something like €3bn in aid for refugees (about half the sum it has already spent) and border control. Read more

Turmoil in Turkey
Turkey suffered its worst terrorist attack at the weekend, but rather than uniting the country in grief, it has exacerbated suspicions that the ruling AK party is intent on stoking ethno-sectarian tensions ahead of next month’s elections. Ben Hall discusses the crisis with Daniel Dombey and David Gardner.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Hold First Debate In Las Vegas

Welcome to our coverage of the first Democratic presidential debate. My colleagues – Gina Chon and Shannon Bond – and I will provide the live updates from the debate hosted by CNN in Las Vegas. Here is our primer on what to watch in the debate.  

By Gideon Rachman
How long can a country that represents less than 5 per cent of the world’s population and 22 per cent of the global economy, remain the world’s dominant military and political power? That question is being asked with increasing urgency in the Middle East, eastern Europe and the Pacific Ocean.

Tunisia is a small country with a population of just less than 11m. But it has played a big role in the upheavals that have shaken the Middle East.

It was in Tunisia that the popular uprisings against autocracy that became known as the “Arab spring” began in December 2010, setting an example that shook the region.

Zine el-Abidene Ben-Ali, Tunisian president, became the first autocrat to be toppled when he fled the country in January 2011. Mr Ben-Ali’s fall helped to electrify the rest of the Arab world as slogans and ideas that had first appeared in Tunisia spread to countries such as Egypt, Libya, Syria and Bahrain.

Four years later, Tunisia is still important — but for different, sadder reasons. Read more

Michael Horn, head of Volkswagen’s US operations, is the first senior executive from the German carmaker to appear before US lawmakers in the wake of the scandal that broke last month. The US Environmental Protection Agency has exposed VW for fitting software in some of its diesel engines to deliberately cheat emissions tests.

The deception has plunged the company into crisis, put it under regulatory scrutiny around the globe and and left owners wondering if their vehicles are affected.

By Mark Odell and Andy Sharman

 

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
In the 1930s, the Spanish civil war sucked in outsiders, with Nazi Germany backing the nationalists, the Soviet Union backing the Republicans and foreign idealists flocking to the country to fight on either side of the conflict.

George W Bush famously said that he had looked into Vladimir Putin’s eyes and “got a sense of his soul”. Maybe he did – for the former US and current Russian presidents are beginning to look like soulmates, when it comes to the idea of a “war on terror”. Like President Bush, President Putin has decided to deploy his country’s military in the Middle East, as part of a war on terrorism. And like President Bush, the Russian leader has argued that he is engaged in a struggle on behalf of the whole civilised world, while appealing for global support. Read more

Merkel under pressure
Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel is facing an array of problems ranging from the scandal at Volkswagen to the arrival of up to a million refugees in the country. Gideon Rachman discusses the extent of Germany’s difficulties and whether it amounts to a crisis with Stefan Wagstyl and Andy Sharman.

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.

Alexis Tsipras, Greece’s re-elected prime minister, is finding the first few days back in government anything but plain sailing.

On Thursday this blog reported how Mr Tsipras had demanded the resignation of a deputy transport minister barely 24 hours after having appointed him. The minister, Dimitris Kammenos, was from the rightwing nationalist Independent Greeks party, the junior coalition partner to Mr Tsipras’s leftwing Syriza party. Embarrassingly, his social media accounts contained anti-Semitic content.

Now some curious details are emerging about another deputy minister, this time from inside Syriza itself. Read more

Pope Francis has just delivered his speech to a joint session of Congress. He is the first Pope, and the first religious leader, to speak on Capitol Hill – in many ways the epicentre of US politics. Sitting behind him during the address were John Boehner, the Republican speaker of the House of Representatives, and Joe Biden, the US vice-president. Both are Catholic. Read more

Questions are already being raised about the competence of Alexis Tsipras's government

Two days into the new Greek government led by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, and tensions are already showing. They will probably be manageable, for the moment, but troubling questions about the competence of the ruling coalition are already being asked.

Late on Wednesday Mr Tsipras felt obliged to ask for the resignation of a deputy transport minister whom he had appointed only 24 hours earlier. The minister, Dimitris Kammenos, belongs to the rightwing nationalist Independent Greeks party, with which Syriza, the leftwing party led by Mr Tsipras, is in coalition. Read more

Russia raises its profile in the Middle East
Russia has moved fighter jets, tanks and troops into a base in Syria, meanwhile Vladimir Putin, Russian president, is gearing up to make a major speech at the United Nations. What are the Russians up to? Gideon Rachman discusses this question with Neil Buckley and Geoff Dyer.

While the US prepares to welcome Pope Francis, his new world origins, drive for Vatican reform, and calls for social justice and action against climate change have enthused – and shaken – Catholics around the world. The Argentine pontiff arrives for his first trip to America at a time of declining Catholic congregations and with a society that has become more liberal than the church on many social issues.

The Catholic share of the US population has been declining at a slow rate in recent decades, but a Pew study released this year raised fears that the pace of the drop has accelerated since 2007. According to the survey, it had fallen to 20.8 per cent in 2014, from 23.9 per cent seven years earlier underlining the challenge facing Pope Francis. Read more

Pope Francis landed in the US around 4pm on Tuesday afternoon after a three-and-a-half hour flight from eastern Cuba, to be greeted on the tarmac of Andrews Air Force Base in suburban Maryland by the Obamas and Bidens. The Argentine pontiff then hopped into a black Fiat 500L – an incongruous sight in a motorcade of SUVs and another symbol of Francis’ modest ways – headed to the residence of the Vatican envoy to the US, on Massachusetts Avenue in northwest Washington, where he will spend the night.

His schedule will be packed over the five days of his first ever visit to America: there will be high-profile speeches to Congress and the UN, a series of masses, and appearances at a prison, a homeless shelter and an inner-city school. Read more

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.

Australian politics is so cut-throat and brutal that it is easy to treat it simply as a spectator sport – without much wider international significance. But that would be a mistake. The fall of Tony Abbott and his replacement as prime minister by Malcolm Turnbull may well herald a shift in Australian foreign policy that will be noticed in Beijing, Tokyo and Washington.

Put simply, Turnbull is likely to take a softer line on China. Abbott was a firm supporter of America’s pivot to Asia and the effort to push back against Chinese territorial ambitions. But Turnbull seems to be more sceptical. The evidence for his scepticism is set out, in this informative post from the Lowy Interpreter. It is interesting, in particular, that Turnbull has sympathetically reviewed the work of Hugh White, an Australian academic who has argued that the US should do more to accommodate a rising China – and that the alternative might be a catastrophic war. Read more