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The US Trade War: How China Should React

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During the presidential campaign 2016, Donald Trump had made more than 280 promises. However, the pollpromises were formalized through the “Contract with the American Voter,” on October 22, 2016, listing out about the 60 promises for action, the day President would be in office. Out of these promises, currently the plan to curtail Chinese trade was put in practice by the initiating the trade war with China to bridge up the trade deficit with China. In this context, the new trade war has already been set in by imposing a higher tariff against China, particularly its steel and aluminum. It will remain interesting to see how the trade war will unfolds and how China would react?

Out of the  280 poll promises made during the presidential campaign (2016), Donald Trump formalized the same through the “Contract with the American Voter,” issued on October 22, 2016. Realizing the drastic consequences out of trade deficits with China, Trump rolled out a  plan to curtail Chinese trade was the key plank of “Make US Great Again” policy. At the domestic front, the US administration has repeatedly acknowledged that economic slowdown and unemployment in the country are attributed to the trade deficit with China.Trump criticized frequently the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He has taken it as, “the worst trade deal the US has ever signed.” He has also called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as “the death blow for American manufacturing.” Donald Trump in a video message (November 21, 2016), introduced an economic strategy of “Putting America First.” The main focus of the strategy would be to negotiate  the “fair, bilateral trade deals that bring jobs and industry back to American shores.” Only after the three days after becoming president (January 23, 2017), the President Trump withdrew the US from theTrans-Pacific Partnership with the conviction to strengthen the U.S.economy.

The most serious concern for Donald Trump is China and hence he avowed to turn the trade balance in the US favourby imposing high tariffs and other non-tariff trade barriers to resuscitate its economy and creation of job opportunities.

Trade Between the US and China

As per the office of US Trade Representative (USTR),China is the largest trading partner of the US. China is the largest goods trading partner of the US, the quantum of whichwas standing at $578.2 billion in two way during 2016. The trade in services between the US and China is stood at an estimated quantum of  $70.3 billion (2016). The exports of the services on part of the US is $54.2 billion while the imports of the same were $16.1 billion having services trade surplus in its favour of the value of $38.0 billion (2016).The exports of goods on part of the US is totaled at $115.6 billion, whereas the imports of the same is  $462.6 billion. Therefore, as far as the trade balance is concerned, it is in favour of China,totaled at  $347.0 billion in 2016.

As far as the US export of goods is concerned since 2001, it has shown exponential growth i.e., 503%. In 2016, it was reached to $115.6 billion, however, the same has shown somewhat minor slump i.e., 0.3% ($330 million) during the year of 2015. The top goods include in the export category are agriculture ($ 21 bn); grain, seeds, fruit ($15 billion); aircraft ($15 billion); electrical machinery ($12 billion);  machinery ($11 billion) and vehicles ($11 billion). In the services category, the export was estimatedat$54.2 billion (2016). It is said that it was increased roughly 908% since 2001. The leading services exports from the U.S. to China are intellectual property (trademark, computer software),travel, and transport sectors.

The US is the largest destination for Chinese exports. The Chinese goods export to the US is totaled $462.6 billion (2016). However, it has shown somewhat decline at the rate of 4.3% ($20.6 billion) from 2015, but it has shown continuous increased growth at the rate of  60.8% since 2006. The Chinese contribution in the overall US goods import accounts for 21.1% (2016). The Chinese goods export list included electrical machinery ($129 billion), machinery ($97 billion), furniture and bedding ($29 billion), toys and sports equipment ($24 billion) and footwear ($15 billion). China is the 3rd largest agricultural goods exporter to the US i.e., $4.3 billion (2016).

The major concern on part of the US is the trade deficit, which is in favour of China. In 2016, the same was stood at $367 billion (2015), however, it was decreased at the rate of 5.5% decrease ($20.2 billion) totaling at $347 billion in 2016. Again, the trade deficit reached $375 billion (2017). The US exports to China were only $130 billion, whereas its imports from China were $506 billion. Moreover, China is the largest lender to the US. The debt of the US from China as of January 2018, is $1.17 trillion. The leadership of the US percieved that it gives a massive political leverage to China over the US fiscal policy.

Trade War Between the US and China

The major root of the trade war been the US and China has been embedded in the trade deficit. Even being a major power, the US has not been able to bridge up the gap of trade deficit. It has been argued that trade war originates from Chinese trade and industrial policies. Apart from these policies, Chinese currency manipulation has further put the both countries on confrontational mode. However, Trupms’s being one plus year in office, the trade deficit has not been showing any positive sign in the US favour. Ultimately, hehad  to launcha salvo of tariffs against China as in the year of 2017, the U.S. trade deficit with China is stood at US$   375 billion in 2017. The  U.S. exports to China is only $130 billion, whereas it imports stood at $506 billion.

The trade deficit of the US vis-a-vis China has been percieved as a consequence of the latters’restrictive trade practices. The restrictions include a wide array of barriers to foreign goods and services. Although, China has introduced its open market economy in 1978 and even expanded the scope of the same after becoming the member of the WTO (2001). However, China  has introduced the market economy but its trade and industrial policies are aimed at protecting the state-owned enterprises by levying the high tariffsover the imports. Moreover, the other restrictions such as theindustries required special permission to import goods, inconsistent application of laws and regulations, transfer of technology from the foreign firmsfor the Chinese market access etc. Apart from these restriction, the lack of transparency and currency manipulation on part of China have been emerging as major concerns for the Trumps’regime. Therefore, it has become a major compulsionon part of the Trump regime to take a hard-line stance against China.

Within the seventy-day in administration, the President Trump  in his administration’s annual trade policy report to Congress (March 2017), had openly challenged the World Trade Organization (WTO)particularly for “China’s unfair advantage.” He went further with the accusation of  Chinese dumping of  steel,  aluminum and chemical products. In the same month, the US Department of Commerce had announced two antidumping (AD) and countervailing duty investigations (CVD)against China. Even the pre-Trump regimes have also been engaged with China over the dumping casesin the WTO. The Obama administration had become frustrated over Chinese economic reforms and increasingly skeptical about the prospect for future reforms. Till date, the US has registered 16 cases against China, to address its concerns such as Chinese Ads, CVDs, industrial policy and the dominance of state-owned enterprises.In this background, China has turned to the Dispute Settlement Mechanism (DSM) of the WTO to address such perceived unfairness use of such investigations. China had filed 11 cases against the US at the WTO as the former percieves per se the leading target of the USs’ AD and CVD investigations. Robert ELighthizer (United States Trade Representative) has also givenan indication that the U.S. may take action against the WTO for its alleged failures not to check the Chinese unfair trade practices.

President Trump has aired portentous signals with the beginning of the year of 2018. The salvo of high tariffs had launched against its trade deficit with China. President Trump by using the Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974, had unilaterally imposed trade tariffs on China. In January, he imposed tariffs on solar panels and washing machines. In a tweet issued on March 2, 2018, Trump asserted that “Trade wars are good and easy to win.” President Trump had signed an executive memorandum on 22 March 2018 to enforce  25 percent tariff on steel and a 10 percent tariff on aluminum imports. The measures have been designed to counter the Chinese unfair trade practices as the administration believes that it involves stealing of the US companiesintellectual property. Trump gave signals that the tariffs would cover at least cover  $60 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods.

Chinas Reactions

China has reacted very aggressively to the US’s new trade war. It has been seen that China is in assertive mode and not going to budge to the US pressure. The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said, “We don’t want a trade war, but we are not afraid of it.”If we unfold the statement, it clearly conveyed the message to the US, how China is likely going to take the sanctions? Moreover,  the Chinese Commerce Ministry has  also used the same tone and tenor while asking  the Trump regime on 28 March not to go ahead with such planned tariffs. It can be taken as a warning signal to the Trump regime as China could set off a same chain of  reactions. Moreover, the Xi governemnt has given clear signal that China would,“fight to the end.” Although, the US economically and militarly is in stronger position but at the same time China has also been following the suit. China has been emerged a stronger economy, moreover, it is a major lender to the US which gives its stronger position vis-a-vis the US. If the trade war lingers on, the losses or gains are not unilateral. One can percieve  that the US has to suffer more losses as compared to China. The developing countries have already opened up and messed up their economies under the global instituions’ pressure. In this milieu, loss of employment opportunities, health services and education, suicides of the farmers, loss of local industries and many more challanges have become the part and parcel of the people’s life.  In this miliu, it should be left to the individual countries’ decision, how much its economy is to be opened? Moreover, if any country is asked for the same, it should be under the international laws, not as per the invidual countries’s whimsical and impulsive actions.

Dr. Bawa Singh is teaching in the Centre for South and Central Asian Studies, School of Global Relations, Central University of Punjab, Bathinda, India-151001. bawasingh73[at]gmail.com

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East Asia

Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

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image credit: kremlin.ru

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.

Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.

However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.

Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.

During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.

Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.

Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.

If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.

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Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?

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Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.

One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.

In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.

To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.

The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.

Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.

From our partner RIAC

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Kishida and Japan-Indonesia Security Relations: The Prospects

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image source: twitter @kishida230

In October, Japan had inaugurated Fumio Kishida as the new prime minister after winning the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) presidential election earlier. Surely this new statesmanship will consequently influence Tokyo’s trajectory in international and regional affairs, including Southeast Asia.

Not only that Japan has much intensive strategic cooperation with Southeast Asians for decades, but the region’s importance has also been increasing under Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). Southeast Asia, as a linchpin connecting the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, is key to Japan’s geostrategic interest and vision.

Since the LDP presidential election debate, many have identified Kishida’s policy trajectory, including in the defense and security aspect. Being bold, Kishida reflected its hawkish stance on China, North Korea, and its commitment to strengthening its alliance with Washington. Furthermore, Kishida also aimed to advance the geostrategic and security initiatives with like-minded countries, especially under FOIP.

One of the like-minded countries for Japan is Indonesia, which is key Japan’s key partner in Southeast Asia and Indo-Pacific.

This article maps the prospect of Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia under the new prime minister. It argues that Prime Minister Kishida will continue to grow Japan’s security cooperation with Indonesia to adjust to the changing security environment in Indo-Pacific.

Japan – Indonesia Common Ground

In its basic principle, Japan and Indonesia shared the same values in democracy, rules-based order, and freedom of navigation in developing strategic cooperation, especially in the maritime security aspect. 

In the geostrategic context, Japan and Indonesia also have significant similarities. Both countries are maritime countries and seeking to maximize their maritime power, as well as having formally synchronized geostrategic vision. While Japan has FOIP, Indonesia has Global Maritime Fulcrum (Poros Maritim Dunia) and leading initiator for ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP).

In capitalizing on this shared vision, since Shinzo Abe and Joko “Jokowi” Widodo era, Japan and Indonesia have initiated much new security cooperation ranging from a high-level framework such as 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting in 2015 and 2021 to capacity building assistances and joint exercises. Furthermore, defense equipment transfers and joint technology development were also kicked off under Abe-Jokowi.

Kishida’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Profile

Compared to his predecessor, Suga Yoshihide, Prime Minister Kishida is more familiar with foreign affairs.

Personally, Kishida comes from a political family and spent several years living in the United States, reflecting his exposure to the international and political environment from an early age. This is significantly different from Suga, who grew up in a strawberry farmer family in a rural area in Akita Prefecture.

Politically, served as foreign minister under Shinzo Abe, Fumio Kishida is the longest-serving foreign minister in Japan’s history. This reflects his extensive understanding of current world affairs, compared to Suga who spent most of his prime political career in the domestic area such as being chief cabinet secretary and minister for internal affairs & communication.

Specifically, in defense and security posture, Prime Minister Kishida is willing to go beyond the status quo and not blocking any key options in order “to protect citizens”. During his policy speeches, he stated that he is not ruling out the option to build attacking capabilities due to the severe security environment surrounding Japan. Also, Kishida will not limit the defense budget under 1% of Japan’s gross domestic product if necessary.

Future Security Cooperation Trajectory with Indonesia 

In short, policy continuity will play a huge role. One of the reasons why Kishida was able to win over more popular Kono was due to his moderate liberalness, demonstrating stability over change. This was more preferred by faction leaders in LDP.

In defense and foreign affairs, the continuity is boldly shown as despite appointing entirely new ministers in his cabinet, the only two ministers retained by Kishida are Foreign Minister Motegi and Defense Minister Kishi. By this, it sent the narrative to the international community that there will not be significant turbulence caused by the changing leadership on Japan’s side.

As a background context on Indonesia, Fumio Kishida was the foreign minister from the Japanese side behind the 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministers’ Meeting with Indonesia in 2015. Indonesia is the only country Japan has such a high-level security framework within Southeast Asia. This framework has led Japan and Indonesia to have a second edition of the 2+2 meeting in 2021, resulting in many practical cooperation deals in defense and security.

The other setting supporting Kishida’s policy continuity, especially in the context with Indonesia is that his foreign minister’s counterpart, Retno Marsudi, was still in charge from the last time Kishida left the foreign minister post in 2017, until today. Initiating the 2+2 framework together, it will be easier for Kishida to resume his relationship with both President Jokowi and Foreign Minister Retno in advancing its strategic cooperation with Indonesia, especially in the defense and security area.

The prospect of continuity is also reflected in Kishida’s commitment to continue the geostrategy relay of both his predecessors, Shinzo Abe and Suga Yoshihide, in achieving the FOIP vision.

Not only that Indonesia is having a similar vision of maritime prosperity and values with Japan, but Indonesia is also concerned with South China Sea dynamics as it started to threaten Indonesia’s remote islands, especially Natuna Islands. As this is a crucial cooperation opportunity, Kishida needs to continue assisting Indonesia to improve the security and prosperity of its remote islands. Thus, as Kishida also admitted that Indonesia is a major country in ASEAN, having favorable relations with Indonesia is important for Japan’s geostrategy.

Challenges

To capitalize on the potentials with Indonesia, Kishida needs to support Indonesia’s strategic independence as well as to make the best of his position as one of the United States’ allies in Asia.

Despite his tougher stance on China and Taiwan issues, Kishida cannot fully project Japan’s rivalry with China to Indonesia. In addition to its strategic independence, Indonesia has and needs strong strategic relations with China to support many of the vital development projects surrounding Indonesia. This cannot be touched.

Also, Japan needs to bridge Indonesia, as well as other like-minded Southeast Asian countries, with the Quad and AUKUS proponents. Indonesia is formally stated that it is concerned about the ownership of nuclear-powered weapons by its neighboring countries. On the other side, Japan supported AUKUS and is a close ally of the U.S. Kishida’s ability to grab this opportunity will solidify Japan’s credibility and position among Southeast Asians.

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