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| October 2006 »
But would the CCP be able to implement the solutions named below quickly enough to stem internal revolt?
Asia Times Online :: Asian news and current affairs - When the US falls, China stumbles
A sharp slowdown or contraction of real personal consumption expenditure growth in the US in 2007 will lead to much slower economic growth in China. China's export growth could be flat or even negative while investment growth could be cut in half. In addition, rationalization in China's export sector could lead to much higher urban unemployment, especially among China's migrant workforce. This could heighten already increasing social instability, further undermining private consumption growth and economic growth in China.
A US economic downturn next year will undoubtedly have a strong negative impact on China's economy. However, this impact could be mitigated by the government's marshaling of China's considerable resources, including the country's nearly US$1 trillion of foreign exchange reserves. In addition to these reserves, China has enormous fiscal resources that it can employ to boost the economy either directly or indirectly through the country's massive state-owned banking system - not exactly music to the ears of foreign investors who have poured money into China's banks.
Though dependent on consumer demand in the United States, China's economy could easily withstand a US economic recession because of its vast resources and its ability to extend these resources through the still-dominant state-owned economic structures. As a result, slowing US economic growth does not imply a significant reversal in global commodity prices, especially oil prices. Even if economic growth in China slows to 5% in 2007, demand for energy and crude oil in China will remain quite strong.
Comment is free: Fighting the wrong war
It is ironic that an administration fixated on the risks of Middle East oil has chosen to spend hundreds of billions - potentially trillions - of dollars to pursue unsuccessful military approaches to problems that can and should be solved at vastly lower cost, through R&D, regulation, and market incentives. The biggest energy crisis of all, it seems, involves the misdirected energy of a US foreign policy built on war rather than scientific discovery and technological progress.
Though there are prospects for co-operation, it may just be a short term measure in a more permanent pattern of conflict.
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - India-China work out new energy synergies
While China has been accommodating to India in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, most agree that it is just some leeway to keep burgeoning Chinese trade exports to India well oiled. New Delhi knows that the battle for Central Asian energy resources will be bitter. Delhi has been developing independent links with Central Asian countries, with India's first military base to be operational in Tajikistan soon.
Some observers have drawn a parallel between US-China policy and Beijing's engagement of India. Washington has looked at China as a potential rival whose growth momentum cannot be contained and hence must be engaged in a constructive way that is good for business.
The latest no-brainer from US intelligence - fighting Muslims makes them hate us:
The intelligence estimate, completed in April, is the first formal appraisal of global terrorism by United States intelligence agencies since the Iraq war began, and represents a consensus view of the 16 disparate spy services inside government. Titled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States,’’ it asserts that Islamic radicalism, rather than being in retreat, has metastasized and spread across the globe.
An opening section of the report, “Indicators of the Spread of the Global Jihadist Movement,” cites the Iraq war as a reason for the diffusion of jihad ideology.
The report “says that the Iraq war has made the overall terrorism problem worse,” said one American intelligence official.
Duh. Even better, a public document also cited in the New York Times article reminds us again that the war has not actually made us safer but put us in more danger than ever:
“The ongoing fight for freedom in Iraq has been twisted by terrorist propaganda as a rallying cry,” it states.
The report mentions the possibility that Islamic militants who fought in Iraq could return to their home countries, “exacerbating domestic conflicts or fomenting radical ideologies.”
Fantastic. We can look forward sooner or later to lots of radicalised and combat-experienced Muslims coming back to set Europe alight, though with its tiny Muslim population America itself won't have that problem. With Iraq now the terrorist academy of choice, whether Osama bin Ladin is alive or dead is of less relevance than ever.
At least the intelligence assessment on Iraq is uniform: everyone knows what the score is:
“New jihadist networks and cells, sometimes united by little more than their anti-Western agendas, are increasingly likely to emerge,” said Gen. Michael V. Hayden, during a speech in San Antonio in April, the month that the new estimate was completed. “If this trend continues, threats to the U.S. at home and abroad will become more diverse and that could lead to increasing attacks worldwide,” said the general...
Original article below.
Continue reading "Iraq Worsens Terrorism" »
"We are used to thinking in terms of conventional warfare between nations, but energy is becoming a weapon of choice for those who possess it." Such is the assesment of Senator Richard Lugar, and it is not a bad one at all.
There's a long piece about energy security in Asia Times, coming from an unusual angle. Should the US ally with the big four Asian economies - China, Japan, South Korea and India - rather than Europe?
Here's the most interesting paragraphs, paraphrased from an expert from China's Institute of Contemporary International Relations, Su Jingxiang:
...if only Washington were savvy enough to "revalue the tremendous market potential" in China and "abate unnecessary doubts toward China", closer cooperation between Beijing and Washington on international energy issues could be realized...
He pointed out that gunboat diplomacy was no longer workable either in the Middle East or Latin America as it produced only terrorism and resistance. At the same time, Su acknowledged that growing dependence of energy imports "weakened the competitiveness and injured the economic security of the US"...
Su advised that the US should "steer away to more cooperation" with other major oil consumers (such as China and India). "The new type of strategic partnership will consolidate the negotiating capacity of oil consumers in their talks with the oil producers, thus helping boost the economic boom and national security of the US," he wrote.
It's not a bad idea, but it does overlook that essential strategic reality - China and the US are competing for the same limited supply. That, after all, is why Russia and the the Middle East have them over a barrel.
But the author does note that the recent visit to China by US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson has resulted in some concessions by either side (another minor Yuan devaluation, and increased voting power for the PRC in the IMF) that must improve the relationship.
In a sense, then, China has jumped at the chance to manoeuvre the US, weakened as it is by Iraq, into a bargaining position.
Meanwhile, Putin is taking the opportunity to buy back some control over the former Eastern Bloc via gas pipelines. You need to read the article to get the full details, but basically Russia is playing a clever political hand in its negotiations over routes for Kazakh oil. Unencumbered with concerns about democracy and human rights, it's also sorted out its difficulties with Turkmenistan too.
The wheeler-dealings have implications for both Asia and Europe:
Curiously, Gazprom struck the deal with Turkmenistan soon after the US assistant secretary of state for South and Central Asia, Steven Mann, visited Ashgabat to lobby for progress on the moribund Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAP) gas-pipeline project, which was supposed to be an integral part of the new grand US strategy of creating a "Greater Central Asia" with a unified energy structure for the countries of Central and South Asia. It was hoped to draw Central Asia into the US sphere of influence and pit Indian interests against Russian influence in the region.
But the TAP and the United States' "Greater Central Asia" strategy are not the only casualties of Gazprom's Turkmen deal. The ramifications of the deal run in far-flung directions deep into the European continent. The deal arguably frustrates the US attempt to reduce the European Union's dependence on Russian energy supplies.
Since Russia looks like it has clinched the stranglehold over Europe's gas supply, a remaining factor is Iran. Europe has to get access to Iranian gas somehow, in order to give itself an alternative to Russian gas:
And this is undoubtedly a critical factor of divergence in the respective approaches of Russia, the EU and the US toward the Iran nuclear issue. Though Russia is certainly interested in a solution to the Iran crisis, Moscow will have reason to worry about an EU-Iran agreement that may lead to an improved energy dialogue between the two protagonists, as that would make Iran a rival to Russia on the European gas market. As for Tehran, it, too, perfectly well understands that its preference should be to settle with Western Europe rather than with Russia. That is why Tehran has opted for independence in its gas policy and has scrupulously kept Gazprom out of its Southern Pars gas fields.
Yet there is another chance - China. China is a key competitor for Central Asian gas and has bought up large holdings of it.
Russia is in control of Central Asian gas routes to the EU
The EU's only alternative is Iran
The US is constraining Iran over the nuclear issue, so that's off the agenda for the time being, which suits Russia fine
Only China can compete with Russia for control of Central Asian energy
Can the US really broker a deal with China and India, or will national interests win through?
Fascinating stuff. Full article below.
Continue reading "Axis of Oil" »
What did Richard Armitage mean by "bomb Pakistan back to the Stone Age?" Surely no-one would notice the difference?
Joking aside, the recently-published remarks reveal a lot about both regimes.
First, let's examine Musharraf's motivation in letting them spill. He may well be trying to attract sales for his forthcoming autobiography, which I wouldn't put past him (and doesn't the publication of memoirs signal impending retirement too?) But more likely, he's using them as a bargaining chip in a relationship that's looking increasingly strained over Pakistan's wishy-washiness over Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.
Fact is that most of the populace in Pakistan are pro-militants and anti-West, and that's scary for both Musharraf and his erstwhile ally Bush. The Pakistani President may well be trying to win back a little popular support.
The remarks also speak volumes about the naivety of the Bush administration. The original "back to the Stone Age" bombing campaign over North Vietnam merely strengthened resolve there, leading to America's ultimate defeat. And to think that high-altitude strikes alone can change a regime or even a policy is also wrong - look at the various post-1991 operations against Saddam Hussein's Iraq before the 2003 invasion.
Finally, for a senior member of the US administration to even entertain such thoughts is clearly a sign of how dangerous it had become. You have to feel a little for Musharraf being put under that kind of threat.
Not to say Armitage's was the only view. There must have been some real infighting over Pakistan at the time. I personally remember speaking to a Pentagon spokesperson who told me that, as far as the DoD was concerned, as long as Pakistan helped in the War on Terror it could buy as many weapons as it liked. That in itself is an equally perilous attitude.
Either destroy a nation or arm it to the teeth. Such seem to be the limitations of US foreign policy. Facilitating development and offering economic, industrial and technological assistance in order to promote a transition to legitimacy? Not even part of the equation.
Guardian story below.
Continue reading "Rolling Thunder Phase II" »
Comment is free: Japan's retreat into nationalism
...over the last decade, Japan has been slowly becoming more nationalist in its sentiments. And the election of Abe as LDP leader and the new prime minister will be by far the most important stage in this process so far. Far from seeking a new kind of relationship with China, it would seem that Japan is being driven by old enmities and new fears. Not surprisingly, there is growing concern in Japan about how China will behave given its new-found power and in the light of how Japan has treated it in the past. A combination of old-style superiority and new-born fear lie behind the revival of a new Japanese nationalism of which Abe is the expression.
The consequences are likely to look something like this. Japan will deepen its military alliance with the United States out of its fear of China, a process that the US will be happy to encourage, as indeed it already has. With similar American encouragement, Japan will continue to play a wider geographical role as its global ally. Meanwhile, Japan will reject the possibility of seeking a different kind of relationship with China and its other neighbours, while at the same time reasserting its own past and seeking to slowly rehabilitate its role and actions during the last war. The result will be growing tensions with its neighbours, above all China. That is bad news for east Asia and indeed the world.
At first, the coup in Thailand seemed like a benevolent, bloodless yellow counterpart to the recent 'Orange Revolutions'; a welcome and necessary reaction against the increasingly erratic behaviour of maverick leader Thaksin Shinawatra. I hope and expect that this picture is not incorrect.
It's certainly not in Thailand's interests to rock the boat of its economic growth, fulled by FDI and foreign tourism. But worrying signs have begin to emerge, for example the clampdown on freedom of information, and today's ban on political action. It's beginning to sound less like a temporary bump on the path to transition as the setting up of a roadblock.
The Economist is also wary:
...things can go badly wrong, as they did in Thailand the last time the men in khaki seized power: opposition to the 1991 coup eventually resulted in bloodshed and military rule collapsed in 1992 after the intervention of the king. Which is why the Thai armed forces' latest escapade, on the night of September 19th, is so alarming. Although the coup was apparently bloodless and accompanied by promises of an election in a year or so, no one has any real idea what will happen next.
Quite. The article also correctly points out that Thailand's polity has been looking shakier by the day this year, what with the anti-Shinawatra demonstrations, the confused snap election and the ambivalence over his stepping down. The military coup, while a shock to many, in retrospect was rather predictable.
What is not predictable is what happens next. Can we really trust the coup leaders on thei promises to return to democracy - and even if we can, what kind of 'democracy' do they mean?
The Economist's assessment, as usual, is grim:
More instability, not less, is the likely outcome. Nor is turmoil likely to help clean up political life. Corruption flourished under a succession of military-favoured prime ministers and was bad, too, under the opposition Democrats in the late 1990s.
The malign consequences of the coup may not be confined to Thailand itself. Most governments, with the honourable exception of Australia's, have been limp-wristed in their condemnation of the assault on Thailand's democracy. Others in the region may yet draw lamentable conclusions from that.
Exactly. Who's going to fly the democratic flag if things don't progress as promised? China? Don't make me laugh - they'd like nothing better than another easily-manipulated regime like Burma on their doorstep.
If the spirit of malcontent does spill over to the Phillippines and Indonesia, the consequences for the region will be dire. It seems that whatever the pundits may say, there is still, even today, a different style of politics in Asia. ASEAN is no closer to emulating the EU than it is to winning the World Cup.
Story reproduced below.
Continue reading "How Now, Yellow Coup?" »
Sorry, couldn't resist the facetious title. But there's an extremely interesting counter-argument to all the 'revalue the yuan' talk.
Be careful what you wish for | Economist.com
Even if the Chinese central bank does, as some expect, let the yuan strengthen more than previously anticipated, this will not be the panacea that many hope for. As Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, points out, China imports many of the components it assembles into finished products; a strengthening yuan will make these components cheaper, eroding some of the effect on export prices. Nor is China’s competitive advantage limited to a cheap currency. And although China is one of the big funders of America’s current-account deficit, it is certainly not alone. Unless Americans curb their appetite for imports bought with borrowed money—and start making more things other countries want to buy—the deficit will continue to be a problem. This is roughly what the Chinese government has been saying.
A rising yuan will have some negative effects on the West, not limited to a shortage of cheap electronics. Cheap Chinese imports have kept a lid on inflation in many countries, letting central banks keep interest rates low without worrying about their economies overheating. As Mervyn King, the governor of the Bank of England, has warned, once the yuan begins to strengthen, central banks will face higher inflationary pressures. With oil prices already pushing inflation to worrying levels, Mr Paulson may not be as eager as he seems for a rising yuan.
Comment is free: Can China go green?
Dongtan is to be built on Chongming island in the Yangtze river delta, over an area three-quarters of the size of Manhattan island - 86 square kilometres. It has been commissioned by the Shanghai Industrial Investment Corporation (SIIC) and is designed by the global consultancy Arup which boasts of its green credentials. It will be largely powered by renewable energy, and will consist of village neighbourhoods linked by public transport: polluting vehicles will not be allowed in the city. It will incorporate local agriculture and generate new clean industry to provide jobs for a target population of 80,000. It will also act as a buffer zone between the rest of the island and the Dongtan wetlands which are a migration route for rare birds including the hooded and red-crowned cranes.
BBC NEWS | Have Your Say | Peace Day: Balochistan
Even as I write, I am afraid of that knock on my door.
I am afraid that I may be picked up and lost to the world forever. Since 1945, the people of Balochistan have been waiting for the day when the world will finally wake up to their suffering.
Today's what, in the business, they call "a fast news day". Stuff happened. Lots of it.
We awoke to images of anti-government protests in Hungary, sparked by the Prime Minister's admission of misconduct. Though rain stopped play today, the storming of the TV station (always the fist thing to go down in a revolution) was eerily reminiscent of the end of the Cold War back in 1989.
Then, though perhaps we should have seen it coming, a military coup in Thailand. Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had been on shaky ground ever since calling a snap election to prove his credibility, and tacitly admitting defeat and withdrawal from politics yet never really letting go of the reins (Tony Blair - something to ponder there. But the sight of tanks in Bangkok is still quite a shocker.
All this distracted attention from the backdrop of UN headquarters in New York, where world leaders are gathering for Kofi Annan's final session in charge. It's not been a day of minced words, with prominent personalities calling for moves to end the Israel-Palestine conflict and even the sight of Bush - commendably - demanding action on Darfur:
Mr Bush said that if the Khartoum authorities did not do so quickly, the UN had to act. "Your lives and the United Nation's credibility are at stake," he added, addressing the people of Darfur.
The US president also announced the appointment of a special US envoy to the region.
Fine words then, but not much action for now. But Bush was also struggling to justify his increasingly isolated position on the Middle East, the bigger fish being fried at the expense of Sudan.
All this and also a shake-up in Saddam's trial: continued protests in Taiwan; and bombs in Somalia. Anchors across the rolling news channels were looking somewhat out of breath.
What does all this mean? Well, for now it is of course too early to tell. But I think that today has dealt quite a blow to the institutionalising agenda of neo-liberalism. Hungary's problems stem from economic failure that has, if anything, been exacerbated rather than assuaged by EU membership:
Since the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the biggest problems facing governments in former Eastern Bloc countries has been how to marry the expectations of the electorate with the harsh realities of running free-market economies that aspire to join the single European currency.
Even worse in Thailand, one of the leading lights of ASEAN but also the source of the 1997 financial crisis. I expect that investors will be watching events with dismay: the image of Asia as a stable region for trade has been shattered once again.
China, on the other hand, will probably be laughing all the way to the bank as foreign companies get the jitters and pull out.
And finally, the UN as an institution is once again under the microscope. It came out of the Lebanon fiasco somewhat bruised, and the mainly European contingent of peacekeepers have yet to prove their worth under any major test. Now there is a growing onus for it to engage with the fractious Israel-Palestine conflict, an issue at the very root of much of the tension in the world today.
What happens with Sudan and Darfur is an even graver immediate issue: can this embattled institution stand back yet again and allow genocide in our own time? We shall see.
A couple of stories lost in the ether of today's bigger events:
BBC NEWS | Business | IMF reforms give China more power
China will, in effect, become the IMF's sixth most powerful member behind the US, Japan, Germany, France and the UK.
China currently has fewer votes than either Belgium or the Netherlands, even though its economy is twice the size of the two combined.
And also China yuan central parity rate set at new high of 7.9342 to dollar vs 7.9431 - Forbes.com
BEIJING (XFN-ASIA) - The National Foreign Exchange Center said the central bank has set the yuan central parity rate at a record of 7.9342 to the dollar.
The rate, published on the official Chinamoney website, compares with a midpoint of 7.9431 set the previous trading day.
The yuan yesterday strengthened to its highest levels yet against the dollar in intraday trade, peaking at 7.9200 on the exchange-traded market before ending at 7.9450.
Both are tokens of China's increasing influence in world economic affairs - and the influence of those affairs on it.
Asia Times Online :: China Business News - Tibet: China's little treasure
Once in place, the infrastructure network will speed up the exploitation of the Tibetan plateau's rich deposits of gold, copper, zinc, coal and other resources. Copper is regarded as particularly valuable as it is an essential component in the generation and transmission of electricity.
China has also invited transnational oil giants such as BP and Shell to explore for oil and gas equivalents after realizing that its own companies lacked the expertise to drill in a region known for its complex geology...
Perhaps one of the most controversial Chinese plans to tap Tibetan resources to date is Beijing's new water scheme, called the "the big Western Line".
Encouraged by the success of its civil engineering triumph with the Golmud-Lhasa railway, Chinese planners have come up with an even more audacious scheme to build a series of aqueducts, tunnels and reservoirs that would carry water from Tibet to the parched plains of northern China.
Asia Times Online :: China News - Commerce greases EU-China 'partnership'
The EU presents a complex challenge for China. On the one hand, the EU itself, which conducts the European relationship with China in many areas, is undoubtedly an important body. But the individual member states play a crucial role in determining its policy, and also pursue their own interests, including on many issues concerning China. China therefore needs to cultivate its relations at both the supranational and national levels in Europe.
BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | China ups Lebanon force to 1,000
Mr Prodi said it showed China was taking on a greater diplomatic role.
"This shows that China is assuming more and more international responsibility," he said.
In the past, China has been reluctant to play leading roles in UN peacekeeping missions.
But as its economy has grown more powerful, it has faced calls from the US and EU to play a greater role. It own foreign policy has shifted so that ensuring access to natural resources like oil is now a priority.
I confess to having thought that the Non-Aligned Movement died a quiet death sometime around the 1980s, but this week's summit in Havana tends to disprove that, even if the best picture I could find was of Nasser, Tito and Nehru in 1956.
But what is the movement's relevance in the post-Cold War context of globalization and the War on Terror?
Even the BBC's coverage of this 'rogue's gallery' is a little tongue-in-cheek:
In the corridors behind the meeting halls, I found wry smiles and uneasy reassurance from diplomats who looked as though they were guests who had somehow turned up at the wrong party.
But the reporter does identify the fact that this is a forum where, in the absence of the US and Europe and without the framework of the UN or WTO, these countries can talk about their own agendas.
It appears to be paying positive dividends already in the shape of the resumption of India-Pakistan peace talks over Kasmir - Musharraf has been quite the international diplomat this month (I note he is scheduled to speak at the Oxford Union in two weeks too).
Any deal in the subcontinent has to be positive. Let's not knock it any further.
BBC article below.
Continue reading "Non-Aligned Against the World" »
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn - Nobel Lecture
...there are no internal affairs left on our crowded Earth! And mankind's sole salvation lies in everyone making everything his business; in the people of the East being vitally concerned with what is thought in the West, the people of the West vitally concerned with what goes on in the East.
International Crisis Group - Pakistan: the Worsening Conflict in Balochistan
With the federal government refusing to compromise with its Baloch opponents, intent on a military solution to a political problem and ignoring local stakeholders in framing political and economic policies, the directions of the conflict are clear. The military can retain control over Balochistan’s territory through sheer force, but it cannot defeat an insurgency that has local support.
Still, the conflict could be resolved easily. Free and fair elections in 2007 would restore participatory representative institutions, reducing tensions between the centre and the province, empowering moderate forces and marginalising extremists in Balochistan. In the absence of a democratic transition, however, the militancy is unlikely to subside. The longer the conflict continues, the higher the costs – political, social and economic for a fragile polity.
For all the talk of liberalization and the gradual opening of Chinese society, at the moment it appears that censorship is growing worse. The latest clampdown has been on foreign press distributing news and pictures within China without Xinhua's permission (ie. censorship).
Todays reports in The Guardian and Asia Times Online are in stark contrast to a recent Economist article, 'We'll Jolly Well Say What We Want To'. Do that now, says The Guardian, and you risk censorship, investigation arrest, beatings or imprisonment.
There seems a case for the idea that China is spring cleaning in anticipation of the 2008 Olympics:
The Chinese government has crammed together a series of controversial trials, arrests and policies, presumably in the hope of getting critical overseas coverage out of the way in time for the Olympics in 2008 and an important Communist party congress next year.
Last month, the three court cases with the highest international profile of the past two years were settled in little more than a week. A blind activist, Chen Guangcheng, was sentenced to four years in prison, a New York Times assistant, Zhao Yan, to three years, and a Straits Times correspondent, Ching Cheong, five years.
The official statements are notable for their disingenuous tone:
Arriving in London for an official visit, Premier Wen Jiabao said he believed foreign news agencies in China would abide by Chinese laws, though he also added that the country would ensure the free flow of financial information.
In Beijing, Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, said: "The regulation is to standardize the release of news ... and to protect the intellectual-property rights of the foreign news agencies ... The release of the regulation is a demonstration of the spirit of the rule of law ... China is a country ruled by law. There is no absolute freedom in any country."
Lucky that financial information is unrestricted, since anything that curbs economic growth is a definite no-no; even luckier that intellectual property will be respected - I'm sure Xinhua won't be tempted to plagiarise anything at all.
All this being said, with Wen meeting a lame-duck Blair weakened by recent political wranglings, these issues will certainly not be addressed during the current visit - if ever.
Guardian story below.
Continue reading "Clampdown on Free Speech in the Name of Free Speech" »
In rupee terms at least, though perhaps not in dollars. However, to whom the benefits will accrue is not stated.
Pakistan News Network article below.
Continue reading "Balochistan 'Mega Projects'" »
Even now, five years on, the events of 11 September 2001 possess a certain surreality, a lack of context in the state of things then and the state of things now.
It's certainly one of those 'Kennedy moments', which we will all look back upon decades from now. For me it was doubly unreal, since I was at that time on a military exercise up in the wilds of Scotland, at Garelochhead, an army base near Faslane submarine station. Our SOPs were to remain isolated from external influences, even other units, and when the news broke all we has was a tiny transistor radio that could only pick up the crackly local Scottish station.
The fumbling attempts of those underfunded reporters to take stock of the situation were typical of all media outlets, in a way: CNN didn't do much better. It was weeks before I got to see the footage, by which time its impact had faded; it felt like it hadn't really happened, it was just another late-night disaster movie on repeat showing.
But it was real, and the world we live in now is as much a consequence of 9/11 as 9/11 was a consequence of the world we lived in then. But no-one saw it - it was impossible - even if we had effectively (in the words of IR professor Steve Smith) "sung that world into existence".
The world we are singing into existence now is certainly a bleaker one than we thought we had in 1989, the year of revolutions. It's telling that despite the failure of China's 1989 pro-democracy revolution and the success of those in Europe, it's China that is leading now while Europe is swiftly falling behind.
But that's by the by. The new world disorder is one where terrorist attacks are more, not less, likely. Afghanistan seemed to be a success for a while, but that image is fading fast. Post-Iraq the suicide bombers there and elsewhere have added motive and impetus. This year's 'spectacular' failed, but there'll be another.
North Korea and Iran are both enjoying their spell in the limelight due to the nuclear issue, and post-Lebanon, Israel and Palestine are further than ever from reconciliation while Britain and Blair are now looking like the lame ducks of international affairs.
Ultimately, it looks as if the bigger picture is one where the enemies of the US are winning. In the past five years it has lost so much of the legitimacy it built up since World War II, and squandered the sympathy, solidarity and support of 12 September. It's almost as if 9/11 didn't happen: Bush started it, didn't he?
Perhaps the world didn't change on 9/11; perhaps we just perceived it to have done. If anything, it's a massive distraction from the real underlying and interlinked problems of the planet: overpopulation, poverty, pollution.
But what is happening now and what happens next is and will be the result of the changes that we have wrought. Let's hope that we can turn the tide before that cycle spins out of control.
BBC NEWS | Europe | China and EU to hold treaty talks
China and the EU are doing more business together than ever before.
Now they have agreed to start talks on updating the framework which governs their relations.
Political and economic negotiations will be partially split but not entirely.
China says it disapproves of linking human rights questions to trade talks.
As usual, nothing gets in the way of business.
BBC NEWS | Asia-Pacific | Taiwan leader faces mass protest
Organisers say more that 200,000 people joined Saturday's rally outside the presidential offices in Taipei - but police put the number at 90,000.
The BBC's Caroline Gluck, at the scene, says it is a sea of red.
There are four big red balloons, representing righteousness, integrity, prosperity and honour.
The protesters say these virtues have been lost in today's Taiwan, and Mr Chen should stand down.
Asia Times Online :: South Asia news - Pakistan: Hello al-Qaeda, goodbye America
Pakistan, the leading light in the United States' "war on terror" and a "most important" non-North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally, is returning to the heady times of before September 11 when it could dabble without restraint in regional affairs, and this at a time when Afghanistan is boiling.
"The post-September 11 situation [in Pakistan] was draconian," a prominent militant told Asia Times Online on condition of anonymity. "All jihadi organizations were informed in advance how they would be [severely] dealt with in the future and that they had better carve out an alternative low-profile strategy. But some people could not stop themselves from unnecessary adventures and created problems for the establishment. This gave the US the chance to intervene in Pakistan, and over 700 al-Qaeda mujahideen were arrested.
"Now the situation changed again ... we know the state of Pakistan is important for the Pakistan army, but certainly we know that the army would never completely compromise on Islam."
The Great Helmsman, Chairman Mao Zedong, an individual responsible for creating a nation and for the deaths of millions, passed away 30 years ago. The BBC has a short retrospective, in which little new is said, but it is interesting for the divergence of views presented:
"I think that now we can safely say that Mao made many mistakes," said Mr Chen, who was visiting the small museum next to Mao's house....
"I think Mr Chairman Mao was a great guy. To us he is not a person, he is a god," according to Mr Cai, now in his thirties, and was just a child when Mao died....
In my view this is unusual. Despite the horrors they lived through, it was my belief that the older generation were the ones that revered Mao as the founder of the PRC, while the younger generation viewed him as an irrelevance from history. The true architect of modern China is Deng Xiaoping, Mao's rival.
And despite the facts that Mao's face still adorns the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) at the entrance to the Forbidden City, not to mention every banknote in circulation and billions of tacky tourist trinkets, it is pretty obvious to all contemporary visitors that he leaves scant few real legacies.
So isn't now a good time for China to take a look at the mistakes of the man who was at least "30% wrong", in order to learn from the past and reconcile for the future?
Perhaps. But under the current climate, with the CCP's fragile legitimacy still anchored to its father figure, it doesn't look like that moment will come for quite a while yet.
Continue reading "Mao Zedong: 26 December 1893 – 9 September 1976" »
In China, Living With the Unspeakable
An article on a Cultural Revolution survivor, now a successful academic, via The Peking Duck:
Wu is aware of the Faustian bargain he's made to live - and live well - in the People's Republic of China. It's a bargain that millions of people like him in China's growing middle class have made. They inhabit a system that many despise, but it's also a system they believe they can't live without. The cost of moving forward is forgetting the past, Old Wu would say, including the dream of bringing to justice the people who killed your parents.
China wants the 21st century to become the Chinese century, yet history has a way of sneaking up on countries, just as it does on people. The late Chinese writer Ba Jin lobbied hard in the last years of his life for a museum to commemorate the victims of the Cultural Revolution; it was never built. I asked Wu what he thought about such a museum. Forty years after the Cultural Revolution, he said, "China isn't ready for it." in China.
Reflecting its increasingly proactive stance in international affairs, China has called for the WTO to re-open the Doha round.
BBC NEWS | Business | China urges trade talks revival
After meeting Mr Lamy, the WTO's director general, Chinese commerce minister Bo Xilai said Beijing hoped to play a "constructive" role in getting the talks back on track.
But he said the onus was on the US and the EU to revive the talks.
"At present, we need the developed members to take the lead in making substantial concessions in order to create conditions for the quick resumption of the negotiations," he said.
"Only by changing the unbalanced situation between the developed and developing members can we advance the sustained and healthy development of global trade."
Meanwhile, David Cameron has ideas of his own:
"We must try to restart the Doha round," he told business leaders in Mumbai.
"But if we cannot get a breakthrough, we should consider the possibility of an EU/India free trade agreement."
Tory leader David Cameron, as always endearingly fluffy, has drafted an editorial on his policy towards India. He's even blogging his current trip (oh how modern of you, David, well done) complete with YouTube-style videos. Of course it's a barefaced swipe for the ''ethnic vote'', but note the flipside of the coin that Cameron is handing us here:
Our special relationship with America has been forged through a shared past and a shared understanding of the world. And now, in the 21st century, as the world's centre of gravity moves from Europe and the Atlantic to the south and the east, I believe it is time for Britain and India to forge a new special relationship, to meet our shared challenges in this new era of international affairs.
All well and good, but India isn't going to protect our security or economies in the way that the US has for the last 60 years - it's a badly underdeveloped country with vast problems of its own. Yes, we must recognise the shift in power from the West to the East - India and China - but we must also acknowledge the practicalities.
Otherwise, Cameron is nicely on message:
For most of the past half century we in the west have assumed that we set the pace and we set the global agenda. Well now we must wake up to a new reality. We have to share global leadership with India, and with China. And we must recognise that India has established beyond argument, through its economic and political success, its right to a seat at the top table. India, one of the great civilisations of the world, is truly great again.
India must be greatly enjoying the wave of sycophancy that's headed its way this year, but the fact remains that in terms of international leadership it's China we have to look to. India has far less influence over the region than the PRC; if anything, it has effectively been encircled by it.
In his rhetoric on the environment and globalisation, the man does have a lot of platitudes up his sleeve, but his conclusion is dead-on:
In an ever more connected world, we cannot afford to ignore the forces that are shaping it.
Continue reading "Cuddly Cameron in India" »
The news that Pakistan has signed a deal with pro-Taliban militants in Waziristan may indicate to some a process of realpolitik; if you can't beat them, which the authorities couldn't, then find a compromise.
However, contrast this with the killing last week of anti-Taliban separatist leader Nawab Akbar Khan Baloch and the situtaion is thrown into relief.
The question that would be on my lips if I walked into my office in the Pentagon this morning would be: "So whose side are they on? Are they anti-Taliban or pro-Taliban? How are they going to enforce this anyway?"
The answer to the third question is probably: "They can't":
Under the accord, the Pakistani military promises to end major operations in the area...
Local Taleban supporters, in turn, have pledged not to harbour foreign militants, launch cross-border raids or attack Pakistani government troops or facilities.
Observers say meeting these conditions could be difficult, as the Taleban has support on both sides of the Pakistan-Afghan border.
It's all the stranger when one considers that it's a good bet that Osama bin Ladin and Mullah Omar are both holed up somewhere in Waziristan, harboured by Taliban sympathisers.
As one of the US's key allies in the 'War on Terror' it appears to be something of a paradoxical policy which may only make things more difficult for embattled NATO troops in Helmand, who are taking casualties by the day.
Continue reading "Whose Side Are They On?" »
Kofi Annan is trumpeting, in typically understated manner, his progress in talks with Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad over the nuclear issue. But the question is: -"Who is really holding the cards?"
Annan would promote his success - after all, that is his job. He is the ultimate international diplomat, a soft talker, not an actor. The upshot of the talks is really just that there will be more talks. This is not necessarliy a bad thing: as Churchill said, "jaw jaw is better than war war".
But it would seem that the stick-wielding US is eager as ever to sideline any success by the UN or the EU in favour of its own agenda:
Mr Annan's remarks came in the face of a US-led clamour for sanctions. They appeared destined to further slow the momentum after EU foreign ministers gave Tehran another two weeks to clarify its position and called for negotiations.
The security council is expected to meet soon to discuss a new resolution that could include punitive measures. But hard-hitting sanctions are unlikely because of the opposition of Russia and China, which have strong economic ties to Tehran.
The US is holding the card of sheer economic and military power; Russia and China command the true influence over what happens in the UNSC.
That leaves Iran itself, and it is holding the rest of the cards. Despite its anti-Israel rhetoric (the report also notes a Holocast satire hosted in Tehran, which does at least cast the Danish cartoons in a new light), it is teetering on the moral high ground at the moment. What right does the US really have to deny it a nuclear power-generating capability?
Iran, it appears, can also choose where, when and how to negotiate wth international institutions. And Iran is also aware that the last months have seen its ascendency as a regional influence, especially after the Lebanon conflict.
Ahmedinejad may look like a taxi driver and sound like a little Hitler, but he may be shrewder than we previously imagined.
Original Guardian story below.
Continue reading "Holding the Cards" »
Faith and the State
Remarque Institute (NYU) and ISHSS (UvA) US-Europe Public Forum 2006
A state without the means of some change is without the means of its conservation.
Edmund Burke, 1729-1797
Be afraid. If recent press reports are to be believed, Europe – and Britain in particular – is positively crawling with Islamic terrorists, bent on death and destruction in the name of Jihad.
The media tends to exaggerate, of course, but after the uncovering of plans to destroy 10 aircraft in mid-air, the discovery of terror training camps and the arrests of Al-Qaeda commanders, no-one can deny that something is going on. What lies at the roots of this militancy among Europe’s Muslims, and what, if anything, can be done to assuage it?
Download Word file or read main text below. (See Word file for bibliography and footnotes).
This essay is the joint winner of the US-Europe Public Forum 'Faith and the State' competition 2006. You can also read the original blog entry from which the paper was extended.
Continue reading "A Taste of Reality and the State of Things to Come" »
It's not in my usual remit, but the Economist article reprinted below strikes a timely chord.
I used to believe that the Netherlands, and Amsterdam in particular, were havens of peace and harmony in a seething sea of troubles. Safe, if sordid, Holland was 'fluffy'. No longer. After Pim Fortuyn and Theo van Gogh, things won't be the same again.
The apartment complex I've just moved into - in fact the whole area I now live in - is populated predominantly by Turkish-origin and other Muslims. The guy who cut my hair was Moroccan. The woman in the launderette is Kashmiri. And there's a definite tension between the austerity of the hijabs I see among my neighbours and the swinging sexuality of the city centre's red-light district.
The contrast couldn't be greater: it's a tale not just of two cities but of two worlds.
The Economist draws our attention to two books upon this subject - one by Ian Buruma (co-author of Occidentalism) on the death of Theo van Gogh; the other by celebrity politico Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who effectively brought down the Dutch government this year.
Murder in Amsterdam, will deal with the murder; the other is a collection of essays primarily on the plight of Muslim women.
I'd better get hold of a copy; in October I'll have the chance to meet Ayaan Hirsi Ali at a debate at NYU's Remarque Institute having won an essay competition on 'Faith and the State'. That'll be going up soon on a dedicated documents page.
The Economist, however, summarises the basic idea pretty well. It's got to be give and take - it's got to be a bit of both:
Ms Hirsi Ali is a fierce opponent of multiculturalism. She believes it is wrong and even dangerous for the tolerant and liberal to accept the intolerant and illiberal. And she thinks the West should not be afraid to proclaim the superiority of its system.
Yet attempts to coerce Muslims into adopting Western values risk a backlash. Europe needs to come to terms with Islam as a European religion. It is also striking, as Mr Buruma notes, that the most radical Muslims are not immigrants, but the second generation: those born in Europe who grow up disaffected, rootless and (all too often) jobless. These are the people who must be persuaded that they have a stake in a modern, liberal democracy. For the Netherlands, as for all of Europe, that requires better education, better housing, lower crime—and more job opportunities.
Maybe so. There has to be a carrot - but there has to be a stick too.
Continue reading "Dutch Courage, Dutch Fears" »
Pakistan | A quick death | Economist.com
The government calculated that by eliminating Mr Bugti it would undermine the insurgency. This logic underpinned its counter-insurgency strategy, with Mr Musharraf often blaming the war on the rebellious Bugti and Marri chiefs and another aged chieftain, of the smaller Mengal tribe. It reckoned that few Baluchis, nationalist or not, would shed tears for Mr Bugti, who was arrogant and reckless, terrorised dissident kinsmen and political opponents, and betrayed his allies.
It should have reckoned differently. Antediluvian though he was, Mr Bugti was quite successful in casting himself as the champion of every angry Baluch. More progressive Baluch nationalist groups, furiously opposed to the feudal system that enriched Mr Bugti and his dissolute relatives, gave tacit support to his campaign. And indeed, another Baluch insurgent group, the Baluchistan Liberation Army (BLA), is believed to include well-educated, city-raised youths as well as bearded tribesmen.
Full Economist article below.
Continue reading "Balochistan Backfire" »
With the body of Nawab Akbar Bugti seemingly safely interred, Pakistan's leader Musharraf must now be taking stock of the situation. It would appear that what initially seemed like a victory for him may well have been badly mismanaged.
Rather than putting out the fires of Baloch nationalism, the killing of Bugti may well have fanned them further. The aim of the Pakistani military appears to have been to subdue and humiliate the Balochs, and this has backfired. Firstly by concealing the body, and then by refusing to meet the wishes of the family to have him buried in Quetta, the authorities have angered the Baloch further.
In a sense this is the propaganda opportunity the Balochs needed to bring their cause into the international limelight. The killing has featured prominently on mainstream media such as BBC World, and activist groups such as the Government of Balochistan website have seized the opportunity to make a call to arms:
The Government of Balochistan (GOB) in Exile declares the “Baloch War of Independence” in Pakistan. The goal of this war is to secure the freedom of the Baloch people by liberating Pakistani-occupied Balochistan. Every nation in the world that supports the aspirations of the Baloch people for freedom must come forward and assist. Self-determination is a basic part of human rights, and various charters of the United Nations recognize it. Hence, it is the right of the Baloch people to liberate Balochistan that was forcibly occupied by Pakistan.
Just like the KLA back in the late 1990s, the Baloch appears to be utilising media technology to mobilise support; note also their professions to avoid terrorist tactics and the sheer propagandistic tone of the post.
It appears that Musharraf has, for the time being, unwittingly handed his enemies the upper hand. How China, the US and India will react remains to be seen - and will probably stay out of the public eye.
BBC report below.
Continue reading "Bugti Buried: Musharraf on Edge" »