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Not on my usual beat, but worth linking to today's cover on The Independent.
The paper does have a penchant for these sudden 'issue-based' covers and analytical features, and long may it continue. This week, as the title suggests, it's the question of water.
Triggered by a speech from the UK Secretary of Defence, the articles and editorial (reprinted below) discuss in detail the water issue. The conclusion sums it up nicely:
...the combined effect of population growth, pollution and climate change will probably be enough to bring world water supplies to a critical point.
Although the issues of water and sanitation are now on the international agenda, thanks to being included in the Millennium Development Goals, the UN believes that the true scale of the potential world water crisis is still eluding world leaders. A nasty wake-up call may be on the way.
Great news that UK leaders acknowledge the issue. But we don't know what they, or anyone who actually matters, are going to do about it.
Continue reading "Water Wars" »
So, the National Unification Council of Taiwan/Republic of China has 'ceased to exist'. So what?
So, it's a massive provocation in an already delicate situation. Chen Shui Bian knows that.
But I sympathise with him. The Taiwan issue is basically pretty simple. Since 1949, there have been two different governments in that part of the world - the PRC, led by the CPC, and the ROC, led first by the KMT and now by a democratically elected government.
Here's Hu Jintao's response.
"We will continue to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification, but never tolerate the secession of Taiwan from the motherland," Hu said. "Anyone who moves against historical trend is doomed to failure."
What 'historical trend'? The historical trend of China to swallow up its neighbours?
Whether Taiwan is 'a part of China' or not is irrelevant. States change their borders. That's the historical trend. That's how the world works. It happened to the UK, the US, the USSR, the EU and every other similar union or empire you could care to mention. It just does.
The fact is that regardless of PRC rhetoric, it has no direct power over Taiwan. The ROC is de facto independent, and de jure independence is a mere formality - albeit political dynamite.. The only way that China could regain control is by military conquest.
You can read the BBC report either here or below, but ironically, official organ Xinhua sheds far more light on the situation. You don't need to be a trained journalist or political analyst to see the one-sidedness here:
BEIJING, Feb. 28 (Xinhuanet) -- The Chinese mainland said Tuesday that the "de jure independence" activities, pushed by Taiwan leader Chen Shui-bian through the so-called "constitutional reform", poses grave threat to peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and in the Asia-Pacific region in general.
"The level and danger of 'de jure independence' activities, pushed by Chen Shui-bian through 'constitutional reform', continues to rise," says a joint statement issued by the Taiwan Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and the Taiwan Affairs Office of the State Council with authorization from above.
"If his aim is achieved, it will inevitably create intense tension of cross-strait relations and gravely imperil peace and stability across the Taiwan Straits and in the Asia-Pacific region in general," says the statement.
It says to resolutely oppose and check Chen Shui-bian's activities to push "de jure independence" through "constitutional reform" is the most important and most urgent task at present.
No need to read between the lines - just between the quote marks.
The threat to peace is not Taiwan, since Taiwan is not going to resort to violence to achieve its aims. It can't - it simply isn't powerful enough. And it doesn't need to. The armed conflict occured in 1949. It's not like there's a rebel insurgency going on.
The threat to peace is the PRC, since it is the one that indicates that it will resort to violence. It's very very simple. The aggression with which the PRC tries to force home its own truth is fascinating only up until the moment it becomes frightening.
Oh yeah - if you're wondering where this picture is from - you've guessed it, it's from China Daily, via Xinhua. Those websites are not blocked on the mainland, while the BBC is. Read into that what you like.
See also this nicely-done piece from the Daily Kos.
Continue reading "Read Between the Quote Marks" »
So, is BP about to tie up with Sinopec? (BP is the UK's biggest company and is in the world top five - Sinopec is China's biggest oil company.) The Observer appears to think so, and there's some significant implications for both the UK and the PRC.
...a deal will put BP at a strategic advantage, making it the most significant overseas player in what will shortly be the most voracious energy-consuming country in the world. If successful with a tie-up, BP will rival Exxon as the world's biggest energy firm. For Sinopec, a deal with BP will help with its exploration activities - an area where it currently lags behind its two national rivals.
As a Brit who spent a while in China, I'm not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand it will be mutually benficial for both nations, in economic and political terms. They'll get more oil. We'll make a lot of money.
On the other hand, however, I have to admit to concerns. PRC companies are notorious for 'leveraging' (ie. stealing) technology from their Western counterparts in all these JVs. So in the long run the UK will lose out. However, if BP transfers some clean fuel technologies to China, then despite the short-term loss then at least in the long term it'll help alleviate some of the problems of the environment.
As my students were forever telling me - every coin has two sides...
Continue reading "Tying Ourselves to China" »
With all the death and suffering in the world this weekend - most obviously in Iraq - it's good to see that Dave and I are not the only ones to think that Chinese prime minister Wen Jiabao is actually a good bloke.
I'm always swift to criticise China, but trivial as this story about Wen's old coat may be it is refreshing to see that there is at least one person at the top of the PRC hierarchy who isn't just a corrupt authoritarian autocrat bent on the victory of the Chinese nation at the expense of just about everything else on the planet.
And a memorable jacket, as Mao Zedong also know, is more than just apparel - it is a symbol of personality, something that Hu Jintao, China's president, lacks in the extreme.
Photo on the left - 2006. Photo on the right - 1995. And in both, he's smiling. A genuine smile, not a politician's smile.
Good on you, Wen.
Continue reading "Wen's He Getting a New Coat?" »
Everyone's talking up 2006 as India's year, and the Bush trip is going to be a big part of it.
The Economist leads with an editorial on the visit (reprinted below), and has a special report too.
But is it really India's year? And is India really the 'new China' as many writers put it these days?
Both views are very simplistic. Yes, it might be India's year - that's because the media want it to be. There's no obvious political or economic reason that stands out at the moment, though in India things can change in the blink of an eye, and often do.
It's also a mistake to view India solely in terms of its strategic position with relation to other countries - most notably China and Pakistan, and also Iran - a position which the editorial seems to advocate. India is an extremely important and volatile country in its own right, and needs to be dealt and understood with as such.
I'll end with a prescient remark from the special report by novelist Arundhati Roy. It's a vision I as an argumentative person-of-Indian-origin agree with entirely.
For Ms Roy, India is a land where gangs of emaciated labourers dig trenches to lay fibre-optic cables by candlelight. India's “progress” of the past decade and a half, she reckons, is like two convoys of trucks: a tiny one “on its way to a glittering destination somewhere near the top of the world” and a huge one that “just melts into the darkness and disappears.”
Continue reading "Bush in India" »
Just over ten years ago, there was a comedy series on the BBC called 'The Day Today'. It wasn't so much a satire on current affairs as a spoof on the whole TV news industry. We had the video cassetes - this was before CDs - and we watched them all a couple of times.
In one memorable episode, a hapless reporter made some accidental remarks which led to him nervously stating that there might be a war. All of a sudden, the mock-up of the studio went into overdrive: flashing lights strobed the anchors; the screens and panels revolved; giant maps and ranks of armchair generals appeared; all under an enormous banner declaring in four-foot letters - 'WAR!'.
This is the way I feel that the media is behaving today. As if the attack on the the Al-Askari shrine wasn't bad enough, the media are now in a feeding frenzy over this incident and are exacerbating the confrontation even further.
It's a little sad to see, especially as a journalist myself. This is the other side of 'sexing up', the way in which the media spins a story to milk every ounce of truth from it, regardless of the consequences. They are speaking as if there is already a civil war, and the more they do so, the more likely it becomes.
Look at the headlines. At the BBC, the usually sober Jeremy Bowen's acutely-considered report has been titled (possibly not by he himself) 'Iraq's civil war nightmare'. Over at The Guardian, it's 'Iraq slips towards civil war'.
Turning to the news itself, then, admittedly it's not good. At the time of writing there's 80 or so dead, and there will be more, I'm certain. Al-Sadr's mobs are back on the streets and reprisals are widespread.
Perhaps the saddest thing is that this is turning Moslem against Moslem, Iraqi against Iraqi. But at the end of the day it's not about interpretation of religious doctrine - it's about power.
The Sunni extremists who perpetrated this blast are gunning for civil war. It's up to the Shia majority politicians - not to mention US and UK forces - to calm the situation. They may have only hours to do so.
It's perhaps a similar situation to the Danish cartoon riots - the flames are being fanned by the oxygen of publicity. Despite the media's duty to report the facts, it also has a responsibility to report them objectively. Of course, all this being said, it was terrorists who destroyed the dome, not journalists.
There is no civil war. Yet. But by tomorrow, there probably will be.
Guardian article below.
Continue reading "War. Again." »
The true realist, according to Dostoevsky in The Brothers Karamazov:
...if he is not a believer, will invariably find within himself the strength and the ability not to believe in miracles either, and if a miracle stands before him as an incontrovertible fact, he will sooner disbelieve his sense than admit that fact...
In this early stage of my MSc, at the core of the study is the difference between realism and liberalism. Basically, realists believe that mankind is inherently selfish and that there will always be war and conflict, while liberals believe that mankind can progress through co-operation and mutual trust, if only it tries.
Each of these of course dissolves into a multitude of subdivisions: classical realists; neo-classical realists; neo-realists etc. etc.. So where do I fall?
At first I believed that I was firmly in the realist camp. Perhaps when I was 18 I was a liberal idealist, but age and experience have made me firmly cynical. On the other hand, there are branches of liberalism that make a lot of sense, for example the newer liberals who remark that interdependence and democracy are lessening the potential for conflict.
The simple answer is that as yet I don't know. But what I do know is that to impose a theoretical straightjacket on the study of International Relations is not going to help us as the human race to move forward.
We need instead to assess with a mixture of cold pragmatism and ambition the situation that is current at the present time. And only once the ideological shackles are thrown off can we then aim to improve upon it - as much as we (realistically) can.
Quite apart from the privacy issues - which to me are clear cut - this Guardian story raises the question of what role, if any, the royals have in diplomacy.
I quite like Prince Charles, as I have stated before, but I do fear for his relevance in the modern world. Today's comments will probably only serve to isolate him further.
There's two problems that basically present themselves: Charles's right to privacy, as a private individual, which is more or less inviolable; and his right as the future king of the UK and commonwealth to comment on what he thinks.
Anyway, to the case in point. The Prince snubbed a Chinese banquet, as stated in the story, as a protest against the regime and also made a number of frank comments about the Chinese. Look at the strain and incredulity on his face as he meets Jiang Zemin during the 1997 handover of Hong Kong
Contrast this with the government's earnest pandering to China, to the extent of suppressing public protests during state visits.
Surely it is better this way; that, while the government attends to the realism of international diplomacy, we have in the Prince a voice of what many of us truly think?
Read the article below: Update - discussed here at length on The Guardian's Newsblog.
Continue reading "The Heir an Errant" »
Inevitably, inexorably, Israel and Palestine move towards all-out conflict.
Hamas will not recognise Israel. Israel now will not deal with Hamas, the legitimate, democratically-elected government of Palestine. Thus the ruling party in Israel effectively no longer recognises Palestine.
The imposition of sanctions is the next step on the road to full-scale war. Palestine's only neighbour is Israel, and effectively it will become a nation under siege.
Nations under siege tend to lash out at the one besieging them, and Hamas will do so with rockets, mortars and suicide bombs. Israel will retaliate with gunships and missiles.
Foreign intervention will take the shape of increased smuggling of weapons and militants - and eventually, I expect, food and water - via the Gaza Strip's coastal zone. To which the Israeli Navy will have to react with gunboats and a blockade.
And the cycle of death and suffering will continue. Which, ultimately, is what they all want.
Continue reading "The Road to Hell" »
Unusually, I'm not going to comment too much on this story from The Economist since it's basically got everything covered.
I will, however, pull out the most pertinent paragraph:
The most troublesome issues may concern people rather than objects. One campaign aims to improve the manners of Beijing's notoriously courtesy-free residents, so that hawking, spitting and queue-jumping do not make a poor impression on outsiders. Chinese officials likewise risk looking bad if they fail to reform their own behaviour. Most of the 21,000 journalists set to cover the games will expect more openness than Chinese officialdom usually grants. Human-rights activists and other campaigners may well try to seize the Olympic spotlight. The police will have to handle any ensuing difficulties with restraint. Anything like their usual thuggish response will not go down well abroad.
Not to mention the threat of a political move by Taiwan. Read on below.
Continue reading "An Olympian Task" »
Sometimes reading the news just makes you weep. Not just because of the death and suffering and tragedy, but because it reminds you of just how stupid and petty people can be.
Take a look at this one for example - 'Iranians rename Danish pastries'. If it's not sad and pathetic enough that a score of people have died over this incident, and that Danish embassies have been evacuated around the world because of the actions of a couple of irresponsible individuals, now Iranians have to make their point known semantically.
Or pedantically, should I say.
To rename Danish pastries 'roses of the Prophet Muhammed' is nothing new, of course: we all remember the silly season story about 'freedom fries' in the US.
On the one hand it's just a bit amusing, something of a harmeless joke to defuse the tension. But on the other this kind of behaviour serves to reinforce and promote nationalistic and xenophobic sentiment in a far more insidious way than mere newspaper reports.
Consider also China's kneejerk reaction to the film 'Memoirs of a Geisha'. Poor Zhang Ziyi can't even step into the PRC these days due to her taking on the role of a Japanese woman in the movie.
Give me strength. She's an actress, for God's sake! It's her job to pretend to be people she is not. Just because she played a Japanese in a film doesn't mean she condones the Rape of Nanking - any more than Ralph Fiennes promoted anti-Semitism and the Holocaust by playing a Nazi in 'Schindler's List'.
How utterly ridiculous. Read the report below.
Continue reading "How Foolish People Can Be" »
The Peking Duck thinks that this story is 'designed to fan the flames of fear' and 'hysterical', but as someone who quite enjoys being paranoid and hysterical I quite enjoyed it.
Read the original Washington Times piece here.
Unusually, I have a bit of sympathy with China here. How does a country with 1.3 billion people and an economy growing at 9% per annum deal with its energy needs? America doesn't care about Kyoto and the like, so why should the PRC?
On the other hand, one of the things which truly frightened me about China was the pollution. Visit the east coast megacities and you will see no blue sky. It's not just humidity - it's pollution. It stings your eyes and gets into your skin. You can taste it in the air. And it won't just go away. The atheletes at Beijing 2008 are going to freak.
And I support China's efforts to develop sustainable energy... to a point. The Three Gorges Dam is hardly an example of environmentally friendly energy. It's an ecological catastrophe. I even have a feeling that the sudden appearance of such a huge body of water is directly affecting China's microclimate. It's not meant to snow in Shanghai - it did twice while I was there.
Moreover, surely China is exposing itself to massive risk. When the 3GD goes wrong - which it will, this is China - what then? Why don't they build lots of smaller dams instead - more expensive, I accept, but surely more viable?
And lastly, damming a river doesn't just end within China's borders. Take the Brahmaputra - a deeply significant entity in Indian culture to say the least. Dam that and what happens to India? Remember last year when glacial melting in Tibet threatened to flood northern India?
The power game is one that readily crosses international borders. China needs to get responsible, fast.
BBC story below.
Continue reading "Feeding the Dragon" »
The French are not the types to mince their words, and foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy is no exception:
"No civil nuclear programme can explain the Iranian nuclear programme. It is a clandestine military nuclear programme," he said.
But is he right? Probably. The only chance Iran has of proving its benign intentions is to accept the Russian offer to assist with uranium enrichment on Russian soil. Otherwise, it's a pretty certain thing.
Then again, why shouldn't Iran develop nuclear power? Sure, it has massive oil reserves. But it realises that in a way it is just as reliant on oil exports as other countries are on imports. Anything goes wrong, and it's down the sink. It's just as well to have an alternative, just in case. Besides, one day the oil will run out too.
Perhaps the greatest significance of this story is the apparent unity of the UNSC, plus Germany as the 'three' of the EU3 of Britain and France. As Mr Douste-Blazy points out, it's not often that the US, UK, France, Russia and China are agreed on something.
Perhaps, however, this goes beyond the Iran nuclear issue. France and Russia are both keen to assert their presence on the international stage, and this is a PR-friendly way to do it.
Most interesting is China, in the past a serial abstainer from these kind of debates. And China has a lot to lose - it is a big importer of oil from Iran. Could it be that the dragon has awoken and wants to play the UN game at last?
Article form the BBC reprinted below.
Continue reading "United Against Iran?" »
Something which entirely slipped me, and a lot of others, by when it came out last week is this new US National Military Strategic Plan, part I believe of the Quadrennial Defense Review.
I remember writing an analysis of the QDR back in 2000, some time after the USS Cole attacks, when I worked for Jane's - some confusion about the title? Anyway, since the US armed forces have an unusually open policy on some of their documents at least, PDFs of the strategic plan and the QDR can be downloaded from the DoD website.
The Guardian also has an analysis of the plan, which can be read by clicking on the link and/or below.
It's pretty significant. Basically, the 'War of Terror' doctrine, which was pretty much rhetoric coined off-the-cuff in September 2001, has been replaced by this 'Long War' model.
Looking beyond the Iraq and Afghan battlefields, US commanders envisage a war unlimited in time and space against global Islamist extremism. "The struggle ... may well be fought in dozens of other countries simultaneously and for many years to come," the report says. The emphasis switches from large-scale, conventional military operations, such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq, towards a rapid deployment of highly mobile, often covert, counter-terrorist forces.
Moreover, in terms of long-term spending and boots-on-the-ground there has been a massive shift away from previous policy. The US at last recognises that it has to create what some might call a 'medium-to-lightweight capability' and others could term 'guerrilla forces'. There is a great emphasis on intelligence and information technology too - good old C4ISR.
As well as big expenditure projects, the report calls for: investments in signals and human intelligence gathering - spies on the ground; funding for the Nato intelligence fusion centre; increased space radar capability; the expansion of the global information grid (a protected information network); and an information-sharing strategy "to guide operations with federal, state, local and coalition partners". A push will also be made to improve forces' linguistic skills, with an emphasis on Arabic, Chinese and Farsi...
..."Long duration, complex operations involving the US military, other government agencies and international partners will be waged simultaneously in multiple countries round the world, relying on a combination of direct (visible) and indirect (clandestine) approaches," the report says. "Above all they will require persistent surveillance and vastly better intelligence to locate enemy capabilities and personnel. They will also require global mobility, rapid strike, sustained unconventional warfare, foreign internal defence, counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency capabilities. Maintaining a long-term, low-visibility presence in many areas of the world where US forces do not traditionally operate will be required."
All well and good. I haven't read the full report yet, but I'll make two observations:
1. To me this is indicative that we are indeed in a new phase of international relations, one dominated by the US's 'Long War' to maintain its hegemonic position. It's not World War Three, though, it's something different.
2. The focus is too narrow. Political Islam is significant, true, but it doesn't pose a direct threat to the West. The Mussulman hordes aren't going to sweep into Europe and North America, scimitars shining in the dawn sunlight. The threat basically comes down to energy resources - we are running out of oil, and most of it is still contorlled by nations where Islam is the dominant force.
Bush may have admitted in his State of the Union address that America is "addicted to oil" but the measures the US is taking may be too little too late.
The competition is not Islam; it is China. Islam is merely a powerful piece on the chessboard, not the game itself.
Continue reading "The Long War" »
Something of a continuation of the story below, there's two BBC stories today on multinational Internet firms in China. It seems that there is at least a movement now to enforce firms to be more accountable in their dealings with China and not just to view it as a massive profit zone - which it isn't anyway.
The first story concerns a congressional hearing on net firms complicity in China. Now, there are two sides of the argument. The first, which I discuss in yesterday's post, is that it's the PRC government that censors and not the companies. In the words of Yahoo spokeswoman Mary Osako:
"All US and international firms operating in China face the same dilemma of complying with laws that lack transparency and that can have disturbing consequences inconsistent with our own beliefs."
"The choice in China is not whether to comply with law enforcement demands, it is whether to remain in China."
And that is fair enough. However, when Yahoo actually shops Internet dissidents to the authorities, to face imprisonment without fair trail and possible torture, Yahoo is fully accountable for human rights abuses.
Let's turn to the response, also reprinted below. Now, while the US-led Internet firms are acting in a highly dubious fashion, one only needs to read stuff like this to understand the truth of the matter.
'Government official Liu Zhengrong' has the basic attitude that everyone in the west is stupid and that China is perfect. It's typical of Chinese spokesmen to display these kind of sentiments (see this entry on animal abuse too), which in my view are utterly self defeating. Who, honestly, actually believes them? How idiotic do they think we are?
"After studying internet legislation in the West, I've found we basically have identical legislative objectives and principles," Mr Liu was quoted as telling the state-run China Daily newspaper on Tuesday.
"It is unfair and smacks of double standards when (foreigners) criticise China for deleting illegal and harmful messages, while it is legal for US websites to do so," he said.
Give me strength. I know that things are different between China and the West cos I've been to both places and tried to use the Internet, read the papers and watched the TV. Yes, there are limitations on free speech here, but nothing whatsoever comparable to China. And to suggest that 'no-one has been arrested just for writing online content'...
I'd advise Google, Yahoo and their brethren to read both reports, sit back in a darkened room and think very carefully about what they'll say to Congress.
Continue reading "Defending Censorship American-Style (With Noodles)" »
It might be something to do with the cultural gulf between Bohemian Beijing and Seedy Shanghai, but this Guardian report took me aback slightly.
It may well be a sign that things have changed even since I left in July 2005 and are changing still. I certainly couldn't find any copies of 'Seven Years in Tibet' in China, though I obtained it with ease in Kathmandhu. I couldn't find any Tiananmen Square photos on Google while in China either.
And this made me chuckle too:
"I guess about 70% of the stuff we have is pirated," said a sales assistant. "The police come from time to time and we close until they've gone. But they come back in private and ask us to give them free DVDs. Then we open again."
Only 70%? Come on! The only place I ever saw a legit DVD on sale was in Carrefour - a French-owned multinational superstore. Everywhere else was hookey, and openly so, flogged by a million Del Boys in a Peckham market the size of a continent.
As a journalist myself, the way Jonathan Watts gets hold of quotes like this one is also, to me, quite mindblowing:
"It is becoming more difficult to block and monitor web traffic so we need to switch to guidance," said an official responsible for internet surveillance. "Strict management didn't work. It is like trying to control a flood. Guiding is more effective than blocking."
Even with an estimated 30,000 internet police, he said it was difficult to monitor bulletin boards. "The technology hasn't reached a level that will allow us to control them. And we must also consider the trend of democratisation, which cannot be stopped," he said. "China is very big. If you want to control such a large country, mere politics is not enough. You must control minds. You need to win the battle for ideas."
Lastly, on Google. Now initially I was very disappointed with Google's foray into the Chinese market with a heavily censored Chinese-language search engine that throws out sanitised search results. But then I read this post by Danwei (itself once a victim of censorship), and realised that Google is simply being realistic.
It is not Google that is censoring the Internet in China - it's the government. You can't get the results on Google.com, so why should you be able to get them on Google.cn? (Don't try it at home, the Internet filters and firewalls only operate on the PRC mainland).
Besides, if Watts' report is correct, the authorities are fighting a losing battle anyway. And that's good news. Ish.
Continue reading "Beating the Censors" »
A rare example of positive news regarding Islam and the Middle East - some very astute remarks by ex-Iranian president Mohammad Khatami at a conference in Kuala Lumpur (entitled 'Who Speaks for Islam? Who Speaks for the West?').
Mr Khatami said that after centuries of struggle between Islamic traditionalists and modernisers, he believes Muslims are ready for a major transformation in their minds and lives.
He spoke of Muslim societies embracing freedom, progress and democracy, and helping to create a calm and secure world for all.
However, despite the encouraging noises, is anyone actually listening? Who actually does speak for Islam?
No-one does. The trouble is that, unlike the US, EU or PRC, the 'nation' of Islam has no obvious voice or leader. Does Khatami have any authority within the Muslim world? I doubt that he has much even in his own country.
A great way to help solve the crisis between Islam and the West would be to appoint some kind of council of leaders, a new Caliphate with enough theological, moral and political legitimacy to make it comparable to similar institutions of the nation state.
But by its very nature, Islam is divided into factions and subgroups as well as various Muslim nations and a vast diaspora. It needs to unite behind someone like Khatami (he did defend Iran's right to nuclear energy, but I'll let him off for the time being), but I doubt that this is a realistic proposition.
Continue reading "But Who Cares?" »
It appears that 15 years after the end of the Cold War, great mother Russia is currently enjoying a resurgence on the world economic stage as a supplier of energy.
There's not much in the way of prescient analysis in the BBC report reprinted below, but it does offer a nice little summary of the situation at present.
A couple of lines worth highlighting:
"Russia is feeling more confident that it has a lot to offer the West," said Yaroslav Lissovolik, chief economist at United Financial Group, a leading Russian investment bank.
"The government seems to have an attitude that the scales are shifting and the West has less to offer Russia now.
"Energy security is the number one problem facing the world economy and Russia knows it can offer part of the solution," he said.
"Perhaps it is feeling that now is the time to take advantage of that."
Russia recognises that it is back in the geopolitical equation in a big way. It remains to be seen whether it can behave with equanimity and responsibility, but in Vladimir Putin it has one of the most acute - if not Machiavellian - of the world's leaders.
Time to add another category to the ever-expanding list on the left hand side: The Former USSR - Gazprom and gamesmanship in the post-Cold War era
Continue reading "Energy on the Agenda" »
The sheer absurdity of the issue burning up the papers at the moment is what bowls me over.
In some ways, the Danish cartoon issue is a very effective red rag to two camps which, in a better world, would be desperately seeking to build relations with each other rather than tear them down.
It has to be said that in the light of the Salman Rushdie fatwah and the Theo Van Gogh murder, to name but two incidents in recent memory, any newspaper editor who knowingly sets out to confront Islam really should know what to expect.
Instead, however, the media is perceiving this all as a debate on 'free speech'. Get real. The idea of 'free speech' is basically a Western sensibility which is not compatible with many elements of the religious right - whether in Islam, the Roman Catholic church or elsewhere.
As deliberate provocations go, it takes some beating. Yes, I agree that the media has an inalienable right to free speech, but this is a trivial and petty way to go about it.
The leader from this week's Economist is reprinted below. As is to be expected, it comes down heavily on the side of the newspapers.
But it ignores the other side of media freedom, which is responsibility. Freedom is not free, and it is the duty of the media in the west to use its freedom responsibly. There are many other ways in which the paper could have tackled the issues it wished to tackle without the blatent disregard for religious sensibilities.
The affair is also an illustration of how events in the globalised world are not necessarily under the control of conventional 'state-based' entities. The Muslim protests are disorganised and spontaneous. The European newspapers' declarations of solidarity were likewise spontaneous and uncontrolled. There is nothing that yet exists to temper either force - either the force of righteous indignation or the force of free will.
11.2.06 - Note - see also this entry by Dave...
Continue reading "Cartoon Violence" »
After a whole lot of messing around, I'm now back online - watch this space from now on.