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Vox Sentences: The Trump administration’s relationship with China just started off badly

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US presidents and presidents-elect hadn't talked to the presidents of Taiwan for 37 years. You'll never guess what happened today.


The very, very wrong foot

Taiwan's leader AFP / Sam Yeh via Getty
  • President-elect Donald Trump held a congratulatory diplomatic phone call with the president of Taiwan on Friday — breaking, with apparent nonchalance, 37 years of non-contact from US presidents and presidents-elect with the head of the Taiwanese government. [Demetri Sevastopulo and Geoff Dyer]
  • China, of course, does not recognize the sovereignty of Taiwan or its government — and it's very important to its relations with the US that the US not do so either. So Trump has started off his administration's relationship with China on the very, very wrong foot. [Vox / Jennifer Williams]
  • It's not clear if this was an intentional statement of policy on Trump's part. Earlier Friday, he did meet with former UN Ambassador John Bolton (a potential candidate for secretary of state) — who has called on the US to do more to recognize Taiwan. [WSJ / John Bolton]
  • Or it could be some sort of bankshot attempt for him to improve his own business dealings in Taiwan, where he apparently wishes to expand his empire. [Shanghaiist / Avery Davenport]
  • The problem with both of these theories is that diplomats abroad — including in China — are likely to write it off as Trump being Trump, because he's famously dismissive of the exhaustive preparation that typically goes into any conversation between world leaders (just check out this classic article about the State Department's switchboard). [Washington Post / Laura Blumenfeld]
  • Furthermore, it's consistent with a bunch of other minor scandals he's caused on diplomatic phone calls this week: from a weirdly warm call with Pakistan (which will likely upset India)... [NYT / Mark Landler]
  • ...to inviting Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, currently overseeing the mass killing of low-level drug users, to the White House in 2017. [Reuters / Martin Petty and David Brunnstrom]
  • Trump's allies and advisers love to chide the press for taking Trump "literally," while his supporters know he should instead be taken "seriously." [BBC / Sarah Smith]
  • But that is, quite simply, not how diplomacy works. And while Trump isn't going to start a nuclear war with China over a phone call, it's not clear he has any intention of changing his tactics — rather than forcing everyone else around him to constantly scramble and hope for the best. [Washington Post / Dan Drezner]

Aleppo reaches endgame

Aleppo Anadolu Agency / Yasir Al Ahmed via Getty
  • Syrian forces have captured half of eastern Aleppo — greatly reducing the last foothold in the city available to rebel forces. [AFP / Karam al-Masri and Rana Moussaoui]
  • Renewed fighting since November 15 has brought big gains for the forces of Bashar al-Assad, while displacing tens of thousands of civilians; the UN estimates more than 31,000 have been displaced in the past week alone. [AP / Sarah El Deeb]
  • The offensive has drawn international outrage, and the UN started considering a resolution on Friday demanding an end to the fighting (which Syrian ally Russia would be extremely unlikely to endorse). [AP]
  • Russia itself is currently in the midst of peace talks with rebel groups ... in theory. The rebels say the Russian government is hardly taking them seriously. [Reuters / Tom Perry]
  • Arguably, it doesn't have to. Assad — partly, though not entirely, thanks to Russian assistance — is winning the war. [Politico / Barak Barfi]
  • The question is what, after a gruesome, debilitating five-year conflict, he will inherit when it's all over. [NYT / Alissa J. Rubin]

Italy votes on something it may or may not understand

Matteo Renzi LightRocket / Nicoló Campo via Getty
  • Italy goes to the polls this weekend to consider a referendum to make changes to the country's constitution — but which, in the way referenda tend to do, has become in the public mind a referendum on the current government of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
  • Renzi proposed the constitutional changes earlier this year, as a way to make it easier for the prime minister to get things done. He was so convinced reforms would be necessary to govern effectively that he staked his office on it — promising to step down if the referendum failed. [WSJ / Deborah Ball]
  • He and everyone else in Italy is somewhat in the dark right now. The country banned late polling (though some enterprising bloggers have found ways to evade the ban). [Washington Post / Anna Momigliano]
  • And many Italians probably still don't understand what it is, exactly, they're voting on; earlier this fall, only 11 percent said they "fully" understood the referendum, and a startup attempted to sell lessons in decoding it. [The Telegraph (UK) / Chiara Palazzo]
  • But before the polling blackout, the "no" side of the referendum had a consistent lead. That would be a huge victory for the populist Five Star Movement — and a huge defeat for Renzi, who some observers believe really will step down (though others are skeptical). [Reuters / Gavin Jones and Philip Pullella]
  • The referendum itself wouldn't tank Italy's struggling economy. But if banks throughout the rest of Europe see it as a sign that Italy, too, is moving toward populism and away from the euro, they might be unwilling to invest in the country — which would cause a huge economic crisis in Italy likely to reverberate throughout the continent. [Vox / Timothy B. Lee]

Miscellaneous

  • 2016 is the year of the shock election: Gambia's dictator just conceded defeat after 22 years of rule. [BuzzFeed News / Monica Mark]
  • The jury in the trial of Michael Slager, the North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer who killed Walter Scott as he ran away in 2015, is adjourning until Monday; one juror has said he cannot convict Slager. [CNN / Jacob Hanna and Steve Almasy]
  • Davíd Vázquez has made it his life's work to expand access to Nahuatl — the language of the Aztecs, suppressed for centuries in Mexico but still spoken by 1 million people today. [OC Weekly / Gabriel San Roman]
  • The UN reintroduced cholera to Haiti in 2010. It's killed 9,000 people since then. And while Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has expressed a "moral responsibility" to help eradicate the disease again, he didn't actually apologize for the UN's role in causing it. [Just Security / Ryan Goldman and Kate Brannen]
  • Radioactive waste at the site of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster is now being covered by a $1.5 billion hat. [NYT / Ivan Nechepurenko and Henry Fountain]

Verbatim

  • "An increasing number of African elephants are now born tuskless because poachers have consistently targeted animals with the best ivory over decades, fundamentally altering the gene pool." [The Independent (UK)]
  • "We've made our own little safe space on frat row." ["Chandler" to BuzzFeed News / Anne Helen Petersen]
  • "There is no movement for right-wing Americans to be more empathetic because they won." [NYT / Amanda Hess]
  • "The pair apparently stumbled on their theory when interviewing a villager in China’s northern Shaanxi province in 1996. The man had two daughters and a son and referred to the younger daughter as 'the nonexistent one.'" [Washington Post / Simon Denyer]
  • "In 2013 and 2014, nearly every deadly pursuit triggered by an illegally tinted window, a seat-belt violation or the smell of marijuana involved a black driver." [USA Today / Thomas Frank]

Watch this: All maps are wrong. I cut open a globe to show why.

Spoiler: It is mathematically impossible to translate the surface of a sphere onto a plane without some form of distortion. [YouTube / Johnny Harris]

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