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Brexit, China, Japan: Your Thursday Briefing

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Good morning.

We’re covering political surprises in Britain and Italy, the complicated breakup of Japan and South Korea and the masochistic marsupials of Australia.

ImageCreditWill Oliver/EPA, via ShutterstockBoris Johnson throws Brexit a curve

The British prime minister, looking to stifle growing opposition to Brexit, cut short the time that Parliament has left to prevent a “no deal” departure from the E.U. — a surprise move that opponents derided as undemocratic and possibly unconstitutional.

The maneuver sets up a showdown with lawmakers in the coming weeks and thrusts the country into further political uncertainty as the Oct. 31 Brexit deadline looms.

Details: Parliament is scheduled to come back from summer break on Tuesday for two weeks and then break up again for annual political party conferences. It was then scheduled to reconvene around Oct. 9.

But now, Parliament will resume on Oct. 14 instead, leaving just over two weeks for lawmakers to fashion a deal with the E.U. to soften the exit. A departure without such terms could plunge the country into a recession, critics say. Here’s our explainer of what comes next.

Analysis: Mr. Johnson’s surprise gamble revealed another side of the bumbling, mischievous leader: a pugnacious, ruthless tactician.

A political surprise in Italy too

Warring political parties struck a deal late Wednesday to form a new coalition government that sidelines Matteo Salvini, the hard-right politician who is by far the country’s most popular, and puts the outgoing Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte back in power.

The deal brings together the anti-establishment Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party — vicious foes until just days ago — but the marriage of convenience might not be any more stable than the previous government.

Bigger picture: The turnabout in Italy’s politics offers some relief for the European establishment after more than a year of its euroskeptic, anti-migrant government.

ImageCreditAhn Young-Joon/Associated PressCan Japan and South Korea really decouple?

As Japan formally cut South Korea from a preferential “white list” for trade on Wednesday amid escalating tensions, both nations are finding breaking up is hard to do. Their economies have become deeply intertwined, with a trade relationship now worth about $85 billion a year.

The stakes: Any serious attempt to break trade ties “would be a disaster,” one economist said, leaving the two countries with little choice but to stick together, at least for the near future.

Japan can’t afford much economic pain either, with its global exports steadily declining since December.

Details: Virtually all of Japanese exports, including raw materials and components essential to South Korea’s tech sector, will be restricted under the new trade terms.

After the government announced its plan in July, Seoul responded by removing Japan from its own list of trade partners and abandoning an intelligence-sharing agreement with the country. South Koreans have also boycotted several Japanese brands, like Uniqlo.

China’s currency weakens further

As the trade war between Beijing and Washington drags on, the renminbi continues its descent: It has dipped 4 percent this month, on Wednesday reaching its weakest level against the dollar since 2008.

When the renminbi declined to 7 per dollar in early August — a symbolic level that the Chinese authorities had long kept from crossing — it was seen as a deliberate effort by Beijing to blunt the impact of the Trump administration’s tariffs.

The continuing drop could also reflect investors’ uncertainty about China’s economic health: More than $60 billion fled China in May and June. But there’s also evidence that Beijing has been trying to prop up the currency.

Related: Beijing denied an American warship permission to visit the Chinese port Qingdao, a common stop for the U.S. Navy, in a possible reflection of trade tensions.

In Australia: President Trump’s trade war and a wobbly global economic forecast have reached the country’s shores.

If you have some time, this is worth itWhere does affirmative action leave Asian-Americans?ImageCreditPhoto illustration by Joan Wong.

A high-profile lawsuit against Harvard College, filed by an organization representing Asian-American applicants who claim they had been victims of discrimination and bias, has split the student community.

Our writer spoke to several students for The New York Times Magazine about their feelings on affirmative action and about the case, which is expected to be decided in the coming months.

Here’s what else is happening

Hurricane Dorian: The storm, upgraded to a Category 1 on Wednesday, was hitting the Virgin Islands and barreling toward the southeastern U.S. By Monday, it could threaten Florida as a stronger Category 3 hurricane.

Iran: A secret U.S. cyberattack in June wiped out a critical database that Iran used to target oil tankers, American officials said.

Prince Andrew: A woman who said in legal filings that she was lent by Jeffrey Epstein to the prince for sex on multiple occasions issued a clear appeal for him to “come clean” about his relationship with the disgraced financier.

Canada: A court ordered a veteran Chinese dissident deported, saying he is a danger to the public, despite testimony that he had mental health problems and faced certain prison time in China. He is expected to arrive in Beijing today.

China: Msgr. Antonio Yao Shun was installed as the Catholic bishop of Jining in the northern autonomous region of Inner Mongolia, after a landmark deal signed last year with the Vatican that enabled both sides to nominate and approve new clergy.

ImageCreditMike Segar/Reuters

Snapshot: Above, the 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg arriving in New York, after a two-week journey across the Atlantic on an emissions-free yacht. She will be attending a U.N. climate change summit in the city next month.

Masochistic mammals: Male kalutas, small mouselike marsupials found in the arid regions of Northwestern Australia, die shortly after they mate, according to a new study. For them, sex is suicide.

Jeremy Lin: Seven years after “Linsanity” took over the N.B.A. and months after he became the first Asian-American to win a championship ring, the athlete has now signed with the Beijing Shougang Ducks in China, where he already enjoys celebrity status.

California dhaba: A food truck 100 miles outside Los Angeles serves a growing population of Punjabi truck drivers the same kind of no-frills meals they would find at dhabas (roadside restaurants) back in India and Pakistan, from parathas to butter chicken.

Obituary: Wang Guodong, 88, who painted an enormous portrait of Mao Zedong that gazed down on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, died last week. His paintings were among the most recognizable in the world, but because official portraits in China are anonymous, few have heard of him.

What we’re reading: This Harper’s article. Stephen Hiltner, an editor on the Travel desk, calls it “a fascinating look at the politics of archaeology — often a ‘handmaiden of nationalism’ and a source of historical legitimacy — in Jerusalem.”

Now, a break from the newsImageCreditAndrew Scrivani for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Iah Pinkney.

Cook: Use your ripest tomatoes for this summertime risotto recipe.

Listen: For our writer, there’s one rhythm — a world-traveling, chart-conquering boom-ch-boom-chk deployed by the likes of Daddy Yankee, Justin Bieber and Drake — that defines summer.

Read: How an unexceptional swath of suburbia came to rule the world is the central question animating “The Code,” Margaret O’Mara’s new chronicle of Silicon Valley.

Go: Our 52 Places columnist found Puglia, Italy, to be the perfect place to go with the flow.

Smarter Living: People who look different — because of a health condition or an injury — know they attract attention. Our “Crowdwise” column, which crowdsources solutions, collected their advice about how to handle your child’s natural curiosity. In short, give a straightforward, kind explanation. As for adults, if you make eye contact, smile and move on.

And we have six tips on creating a regret-free wedding registry.

And now for the Back Story on …Soybeans in the Amazon

The fires in the Amazon rainforest that are raising alarms about climate change and causing diplomatic feuds actually have a lot to do with soybeans.

The crop, which originated in East Asia and is used to make soy sauce and tofu, is now largely grown in the Americas, with the U.S. and Brazil as the world’s top growers. Soybeans are most commonly used as cheap, high-protein animal feed.

ImageCreditPaulo Whitaker/Reuters

The U.S.-China trade war has caused a huge shift, with China spurning U.S. crops and turning to Brazil to feed its livestock, especially pigs. That in turn has created incentives for Brazilian farmers to expand their already vast soybean fields on the changing margins of the Amazon, including setting fires to clear land.

“Brazil has turned certain states like Mato Grosso into Iowa,” one satellite analyst told The Times. “You’ve got rainforest, and then there’s just an ocean of soybean.”

That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Alisha

Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. Adam Pasick, on the briefings team, wrote today’s Back Story. You can reach the team at [email protected]

• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the fires in the Amazon.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Tea sweetener (five letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Anastasia Marks, a 20-year-old summer intern at The New York Times, wrote up her reflections on the experience for our Reader Center.


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