News Timeline: March 2018


March 4 – Europe: GERMANY
After five months of political negotiations, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her Christian Democrats (CDU/CSU) form a coalition government with Social Democrats (SPD). The SPD has been internally divided with its more radical part opposing the coalition, but 66 percent of its members voted in favor. Angela Merkel, who has been in power for the last 12 years, will keep the position of the Chancellor.[1] She faces strong opposition in the parliament especially from the nationalist and anti-immigration party Alternative for Germany (AfD), which won almost 13 percent of the seats.[2]

March 4 – Europe / North America / International Organizations:
Former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter are critically ill after being found on a bench in the United Kingdom’s city of Salisbury. The British authorities determined that the couple was poisoned with a rare military-grade nerve agent developed in secret by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and 1980s. It is part of a group of nerve agents known as Novichok. It was designed to escape detection by international inspectors, but its existence was revealed by defectors.[3] Russia denies any involvement. Sergei Skripal is a retired Russian military intelligence colonel who was jailed for 13 years by Russia in 2006 for passing secrets to the British intelligence. In 2010, he was given refuge in the UK as part of a “spy swap” in exchange for Russian spies arrested by the FBI.[4]
(March 15): The leaders of the UK, the U.S., France, and Germany sign an extraordinary joint statement that holds Russia responsible for the attempted murder of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter on British soil. It also urges Russia to provide full disclosure about the Novichok nerve agent and its program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.[5]
(March 26): The UK expels 23 Russian diplomats in response to Russia’s alleged use of a nerve agent to poison Sergei Skripal, a British citizen, on British soil. In a joint action, more than 100 Russian diplomats from 22 European countries, the U.S. and Canada are expelled.[6] NATO also expels seven Russian representatives and limits the size of Russia’s mission to 20, down from 30.[7]
What is the Novichok nerve agent?
Putin, power and poison: Russia’s elite FSB spy club

March 5 – East Asia: CHINA
China announces 8.1 percent increase to its military budget, the largest in three years.[8] It plans to modernize its military and expand its air and naval capabilities. In 2016, China’s military spending, the second highest in the world, was at $215 billion. The United States spent 3 times as much, $611 billion in 2016. In fact, the US military spending is larger than the next 8 biggest military spenders combined. Global military spending in 2016 was $1.69 trillion. The 10 countries with the highest military spending – the USA, China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India, France, UK, Japan, Germany and South Korea – accounted for nearly 73 percent of this total.[9]
Explore interactive military expenditure data

March 10 – Latin America: COLOMBIA
The results of the Colombian parliamentary elections are fragmented, with no party winning more than 16 percent of the vote. This is the first election in which the former FARC militants participated as a new political party, but they only receive 0.4 percent of the total number of votes. However, they will receive 5 seats in each of the two chambers of parliament as guaranteed by the peace agreement. President Juan Manuel Santos and his government were criticized for leniency towards the peace agreement with FARC, and thus his Social Party of National Unity won only 14 seats in the Senate and 25 seats in the lower house. The Democratic Centre party of former president Alvaro Uribe, which vehemently opposed the terms of the peace deal with FARC, emerged as the largest party, with 19 seats in the country’s Senate, and another 32 in the lower house of representatives.[10]

March 11 – East Asia: CHINA
China’s National People’s Congress abolishes presidential term limits that have been in place for more than 35 years. This will allow current President Xi Jinping to stay in power indefinitely. The move overturns a system put in place in 1982 to prevent any lifelong dictatorships like that of Mao Zedong. The lawmakers also add Xi’s personal political philosophy into the preamble of the constitution, which emphasizes the Communist Party’s leadership. Xi is simultaneously the head of state, leader of the ruling Communist Party, and commander in chief of the armed forces.[11]

March 18 – Europe: RUSSIA
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin is reelected for another six-year term with 76 percent of the vote with the 67 percent turnout.[12] International election observers determine that Russia’s presidential vote was conducted in an orderly fashion but lacked genuine competition.[13] The main opposition leader, Alexei Navalny, was not allowed to participate because of an embezzlement conviction that he said was manufactured by the Putin government.
Vladimir Putin: Russia’s action man president

March 22 – North America / East Asia / Global Issues:
The United States President Donald Trump signs a memorandum that authorizes imposing tariffs of $50 billion on Chinese goods. Trump states the tariffs are needed due to Chinese theft of U.S intellectual property and other unfair practices in trade, such as those that pressure US companies to share technology with Chinese firms[14]
(March 23): President Trump’s steep tariffs on steel and aluminum come into effect. They include a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum. He grants temporary exemption to several countries: Canada, Mexico, the European Union, Australia, Argentina, Brazil and South Korea.[15] President Trump has long been saying that the U.S. is treated unfairly by its trade partners, and claimed America had a trade deficit of $800 billion in 2017. However, this figure is $566 billion, while trade deficit with China itself amounts to $375 billion.[16] He also cites national security as a reason as these materials are used for military weapons and equipment. This argument is being questioned by experts who say that 70 percent of the steel that is used in the United States is produced in the United States. The tariff move sparks concerns that businesses that buy steel and aluminum such as automakers will face higher production costs because of the tariffs, leading to higher prices for customers and job losses.[17] There are also concerns that other countries will retaliate, leading to bigger trade battles and losses for other U.S. businesses and farms that rely on exporting their products.[18] For example, China purchases 61 percent of total U.S. soybean exports, and more than 30 percent of overall U.S. soybean production.[19]
(March 24): China responds with retaliatory tariffs worth $3 billion on a variety of U.S. goods, including pork and wine. It says the move is to safeguard its interests and balance losses caused by the U.S. steel tariffs.
(April 3): The U.S. announces $50 billion worth of tariffs on Chinese goods.
(April 4): China responds with retaliatory tariffs of 25 percent on 106 types of U.S. products worth $50 billion. They include soybeans, planes, automobiles, chemicals, corn products, orange juice, whiskey, and beef. American Soybean Association says that a 25 percent tariff on U.S. soybeans into China will have a devastating effect on every soybean farmer in America.[20] China has also initiated a World Trade Organization dispute procedure against the U.S.[21]
Trade deficit isn’t always a bad thing

March 28 – East Asia: NORTH KOREA / CHINA
The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, pays a secret visit to China in his first ever foreign trip as his country’s leader. He holds talks with China’s president, Xi Jinping, ahead of two planned summits with South Korean President Moon Jae in April and US President Donald Trump in May. China is North Korea’s main ally and practically the only trading partner; 85 percent of North Korea’s exports go to China and more than 90 percent of imports come from China.[22] Kim Jong-un signals his willingness to give up nuclear weapons for guarantees to his regime.[23]

March 28 – Africa: EGYPT
Egypt ends a three-day voting in a presidential election, casting 97 percent of the vote for current President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Despite the government’s threat to fine those who would not vote, turnout was only 41 percent, six percentage points lower than in 2014.[24] Al-Sisi stood virtually unopposed after his challengers have been either arrested on bogus charges, or attacked, or pressured to drop out. The opposition withdrew and called to boycott the poll, saying the conditions did not allow for a fair contest. The only challenger, Moussa Mustafa Moussa, who first supported Sisi’s reelection, registered at the last minute as an opponent. The opposition dubbed him as Sisi’s puppet. In 2013, General Sisi led the military’s overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Mohammed Morsi. Since then, he has been criticized for human rights abuses that include arrests, torture, and killings of the opposition and protesters.[25]
More about torture and disappearances in Egypt under President Sisi
The Shadow over Egypt


[1] “Germany coalition deal: Merkel set to lead fourth government.” BBC News. 4 March 2018. Web. Accessed 27 March 2018.
[2] “Distribution of seats in the 19th electoral term.” Deutscher Bundestag. October 2017. Web. Accessed 27 march 2018.
[3] “Russian spy: Russia demand nerve agent sample from UK.” BBC News. 13 March 2018. Web. Accessed 28 march 2018.
[4] “Russian spy: Attack was ‘brazen and reckless’, says Amber Rudd.” BBC News. 8 March 2018. Web. Accessed 28 March 2018.
[5] “Trump, Macron, Merkel, and May Join Forces to Condemn Russia.” The Daily Beast. 15 March 2018. Web. Accessed 28 March 2018 from
[6] Diamond, Jeremy, Allie Malloy and Angela Dewan. “Trump expelling 60 Russian diplomats in wake of UK nerve agent attack.” CNN. 26 March 2018. Web. Accessed 29 March 2018, from
[7] “NATO Expels Seven Russian Diplomats, Cuts Size of Mission.” The Daily Beast. 27 March 2018. Web. Accessed 29 March 2018.
[8] Neuman, Scott. “China Announces Largest Military Spending Increase In 3 Years.” NPR. 5 March 2018. Web. Accessed 6 April 2018.
[9] The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI). “SIPRI Military Expenditure Database.” 2018. Web. Accessed 6 April 2018 from
[10] Congress of the Republic. “Elecciones 2018.” 11 March 2018. Web. Accessed 9 April 2018 from
[11] Bodeen, Christopher. “China’s Xi Jinping gets expanded mandate, may rule for life.” The Associated Press. 12 March 2018. Web. Accessed 6 April 2018.
[12] “Russia election: Muted Western reaction to Putin victory.” BBC News. 18 March 2018. Web. Accessed 3 April 2018.
[13] PBS. “Putin’s landslide victory lacked ‘genuine competition,’ international observers say.” News Hours. 18 March 2018. Web. Accessed 3 April 2018.
[14] “Trump announces $50bn in China tariffs.” BBC News. 22 March 2018. Web. Accessed 4 April 2018.
[15] Tankersley, Jim and  Natalie Kitroeffmarch. “U.S. Exempts Some Allies From Tariffs, but May Opt for Quotas.” The New York Times. 22 March 2018. Web. Accessed 4 April 2018.
[16] Ibid 15.
[17] Gillespie, Patrick. “Why Trump country is worried about Trump’s tariffs.” CNN Money. 28 March 2018. Web. Accessed 2 April 2018 from
[18] PBS/GPB. “How Trump’s claims that tariffs are needed for national security could set a problematic precedent.” News Hour. 8 March 2018. Web. Accessed 2 April 2018.
[19] American Soybean Association. “Chinese Retaliation is No Longer a ‘What If’ for Soybean Farmers.” 4 April 2018. Web. Accessed 5 April 2018.
[20] Ibid 19.
[21] Horsley, Scott and Scott Neuman. “China Responds To Trump Administration’s Latest Tariff List.” NPR. 3 April 2018. Web. Accessed 4 April 2018.
[22] Central Intelligence Agency. “The World Factbook.” North Korea. 3 April 2018. Web. Accessed 10 April 2018.
[23] “Kim Jong-un was in Beijing, China and NK confirm.” BBC News. 28 March 2018. Web. Accessed 5 April 2018.
[24] “Egypt election: Sisi secures second term on reduced turnout.” BBC News. 2 April 2018. Web. Accessed 2 April 2018.
[25] “Egypt election: Voters to elect president.” BBC News. 26 March 2018. Web. Accessed 2 April 2018.