Posts Tagged ‘China’

Emerging Eurasian alliance: a new power balance

October 6, 2014

Silk-Road-Map1

While the attention of the USA is focused on the ISIS terrorists in Iraq and Syria, the most important thing going on in international affairs is the rising power of China, its ties with Russia and the future of the heartland of the Eurasia continent.

Pepe Escobar, the roving correspondent for Asia Times, sums up the situation in a new article for TomDispatch.  If things keep going the way they are now, China will be the world’s strongest industrial power, with Russia as its supplier of oil and gas and maybe Germany as its machinery supplier and India as its back office.

Vladimir Putin has the ambition of restoring Russia as one of the world’s great powers.  To do that, it is to his interest to have good relations both with China and with the nations of the European Union.   But United States and NATO policy are driving him into the arms of China.

New cold wars between NATO and Russia, and between the USA and China, give both Russia and China all the more reason to join forces across the interior of Eurasia.

The framework of a Russian-Chinese alliance is the Shanghai Cooperation Agreement, which includes Russia, China and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia.   This is not yet a tight military alliance such as NATO or a formal economic union such as the European Union. but it could become either or both.  India, Pakistan and Iran have expressed interest in joining.

One of the ways the Obama administration seeks to offset a Eurasian alliance is through the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (aka the Transatlantic Free Trade Area).

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The passing scene: Links & comments 10/1/14

October 1, 2014

Why I Hope to Die at Age 75 by Ezekiel Emanuel for The Atlantic.

Bioethicist Ezekiel Emanuel, who’s now 57, wrote that he won’t undergo any medical treatment for the purpose of prolonging life after age 75.  He added that this is a personal decision, and not a recommendation.  But he sees the years after 75 as a period of decline that will add nothing to his life.

I am impressed that someone would be so satisfied with their life that they would be willing to wind it up at age 75.  I’m 78, going on 79, and I have unfinished business.

But it is true that, if I live long enough into years of decline, I will find life no longer worth living.  One disappointment is that I probably won’t be around to see if Emanuel carries through on his resolution.

[Added 10/2/14]  I note that Emanuel is a bio-ethicist.  In my opinion, the job of bio-ethicists is to rationalize doing things that physicians and others intuitively feel is wrong.

Another subtext to Ezekiel Emanuel’s “Why I Hope to Die at 75″: Hillary’s Too Old by Steve Sailer for The Unz Review.

If elected President in 2016 and 2020, Hillary Clinton would be 77 when she stepped down on Jan. 19, 2015.  Joe Biden would be 82; Jerry Brown, 86; Elizabeth Warren, 75 1/2; and Bernie Sanders, 83.  But Ezekiel’s brother Rahm, the Democratic mayor of Chicago, would be a vibrant 65.

ISIS at the Gates of Baghdad: Why Airstrikes Are Failing by Patrick Cockburn for Counterpunch.

Middle East correspondent Patrick Cockburn wrote that the only forces in Iraq capable of fighting ISIS are the Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim militias.  But they terrorize Sunni Muslims, who look to ISIS for protection.  Cockburn doesn’t see any good way out of this dilemma for the United States.

World should not be oblivious to Russia’s calculated shift toward China by Hisayoshi Ina for Nikkei Asian Review.

Russia, China court India for regional bloc by Takayuki Tanaka for Nikkei Asian Review.

The world balance of power is changing, as the Russian government responds to pressures in Europe by strengthening its ties with Asia.

Andreatta: Cops and Manners on Short Street by David Andreatta for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, NY.

I think that if I was a policeman, I would find that every prejudice I had concerning any group of people would be confirmed by my experience, because the police see the worst of any group of people and see people at their worst.

This column by David Andreatta shows just how difficult it is to overcome such attitudes.

The powerful and precarious rise of China

September 26, 2014

The rise of China is one of the most important historical events, maybe the most important, of our time.

Jonathan Fenby, an experienced reporter and former editor of the South China Morning Post, gave a good account of China’s rise in his 2012 book, TIGER HEAD, SNAKE TAILS: China Today, How It Got There and Where It is Heading.

I finished reading Fenby’s book a week or so ago.  It reminded me of histories of the United States in the late 19th century, the era of the so-called robber barons.

Like the USA then, China has sweatshops, child labor, pollution, slums, suppression of minorities and rampant bribery and corruption.  But also like the USA then, China is full of energy and optimism, growing in wealth and power, and a land of opportunity for its entrepreneurs.

fenby.tiger.headWhen I was a boy, most Americans thought China was eternally doomed to upheavals, poverty and famine.

From the Opium Wars to the death of Mao Zedong, that was China’s fate.  But during the past 40 years, the Chinese leaders have made their country one of the world’s great economic powers, brought population growth under control and provided a basic subsistence to all and prosperity to many.

From 1978 to 2012, China’s economy grew 17-fold.  China’s economy is the second-largest in the world, although still far smaller than the United States.  It has a positive balance of trade.   It is the largest trading partner of Australia, the largest trading partner of Africa and a growing presence in Latin America.

Chinese companies compete and expand worldwide, while China’s own territory attracts industry from the USA, Europe and Japan.

The Chinese challenge, however, is much different from the Japanese challenge of the 1980s.  The Japanese challenge was that Japanese companies made products of a higher quality than U.S.-based companies.  This resulted in a competition for quality that was good for both the United States and Japan.

This is a different from the Chinese challenge of making products more cheaply than U.S.-based companies.  This results in a race to the bottom which is bad for most countries.

While many Chinese companies make world-class products, others cut corners.  Chinese companies are noted for cheap imitations of foreign brand name products.  Violation of copyright and theft of patents are common.  Fenby reported that 80 percent of counterfeit goods seized in the USA and Europe originate in China.

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The Eurasian scene: Links & comments 9/15/14

September 15, 2014

Russia fears the eastward spread of the ‘jihadist cancer’ by Vitaly Naumkin for Al-Monitor.

The Islamic State (ISIS) has, according to this writer, established a stable government in the area it controls.  ISIS successfuly operates oil wells, sells oil in international black markets, provides jobs and keeps order, at least for those willing to submit to its rules.  Its horrible atrocities frighten poorly-disciplined and poorly-motivated troops of its enemies.

The Russian government is worried about the growing power of ISIS, especially in Syria.  Unlike the United States, Russia supports the Bashar Al-Assad’s Syrian regime.  Moscow hopes for success of all-Syria peace talks, but is prepared to support Syria’s government by any means short of sending Russian troops.

Uzbekistan: Rattled by Russian Expansionism, Tashkent Looks East by Joanna Lillis for Eurasia.net.

Islam Karimov, Uzbekistan’s tyrannical ruler, worried that the Maidan protests in Ukraine would encourage would-be protesters in his country.  But now he’s more worried about the precedent set by Russian incursions in Ukraine.

Too offset Russia, Karimov is strengthening Ukraine’s ties in China, other east Asian countries and the Persian Gulf states.  This is a blow to Vladimir Putin’s hopes of creating a Eurasian Union, a Russian-dominated economic union of former Soviet nations to offset the European Union.

China’s Island Factory by Rupert Wingfield-Hayes for BBC News.

China is building artificial islands on reefs in the South China Sea in territorial waters that also are claimed by Vietnam, the Philippines and Taiwan.  These islands will become offshore Chinese air bases and naval bases.

American world power: Links & comments 8/1/14

August 1, 2014

A chessboard drenched in blood by Pepe Escobar for the Asia Times.

Parsing the East Asia Powder Keg by Conn M. Hallinan on Dispatches from the Edge.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

Early in his administration, President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, in the hope and expectation that he would pursue a less belligerent foreign policy than President George W. Bush.  I wonder what the Nobel committee is thinking as the Obama administration drifts toward war not only with Russia, but with China.

One of President Obama’s saving graces is that he has been known to pull back from disastrous decisions before it is too late, as in intervention in Syria.  I hope he will pull back from his present course before it is too late.

Orban Says He Seeks to End Liberal Democracy in Hungary by Zoltan Simon for Bloomberg News.

Viktor Orban, the Prime Minister of Hungary says he wants to Hungary to become an illiberal, nationalist state like Russia, Turkey or China.  I don’t know enough about Hungary to know how seriously to take this statement, but I think it is a straw in the wind.

The viability of democracy was severely tested during the Great Depression, and many people looked to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy as viable alternatives.  If Russia and China weather the current economic crisis better than the USA does, much of the world will, unfortunately, find their form of authoritarianism appealing.

The Vulture: Chewing Argentina’s Living Corpse by Greg Palast.

Clintonians Join Vulture Fund Over Argentina by Conn M. Hallinan for TruthDig.  Hat tip to Bill Harvey.

A U.S. judge overruled a deal made by the government of Argentina with a majority of its creditors to make a partial payment on its debt and avoid national bankruptcy.  All debtors have to be paid in full, the judge ruled.

The reason a U.S. judge has jurisdiction is that the payments by Argentina to its bondholders go through U.S. banks.  I think a consequence of this decision will be that foreign governments avoid U.S. banks whenever possible.

American soft power rests on the fact that the USA is at the center of a lot of things, from the world financial system to the Internet.  But if our government and our corporations abuse this power, it is within the power of the rest of the world to create new systems that bypass the USA.

China, the USA and the world’s oil and gas

July 30, 2014
us energy independence jones map

China’s oil imports. Click to enlarge.

The other day I read that China has overtaken the USA as the world’s largest oil importer.  Earlier I read that China has overtaken the USA as the world’s largest market for automobiles.  As the world uses up easy-to-get oil, there will be conflict between the USA and China to get what’s left.

Notice this is just OPEC oil, not total oil importsChina needs access to the world’s oil and gas if it is to raise the material standard of living of its people.  But the USA needs access to the world’s oil and gas if it is to maintain what we call the American standard of living.

What this means is that, unlike with the situation between the USA and Russia, there is a real conflict of interest between the Chinese people and the American people.  The world may not have enough fossil fuels to satisfy the desires of both.

China has one of the world’s largest reserves of coal and one of the world’s largest coal industries.  It is a leader in developing solar energy technology, although this as yet serves only a tiny fraction of its energy needs.  China has extended pipelines into central Asia, and recently signed an agreement to build a new oil and gas pipeline into Russia.

0912ChinaSeaTerritory2The quest for energy explains China’s disputes with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and other countries over control of islands in the East China Sea and South China Sea.  Control of these islands not only gives China control over offshore oil and gas.  It enables China to protect its shipping from the Persian Gulf.

Access to oil is a vital interest of the USA.  The Carter Doctrine, back in 1980, said that access to the Persian Gulf was a vital interest of the United States, meaning the U.S. would go to war if necessary to protect it.  The first President Bush said in 1991 was the Gulf War was about “jobs, jobs, jobs,” which meant “oil, oil, oil.”

In recent years, the United States has increased domestic energy production, with fracking and offshore oil drilling (both of which President Obama strongly supports).   But this doesn’t mean the USA doesn’t need imports.  Seeming inconsistencies in current U.S. policy in the Middle East make sense if you think of U.S. policy as a quest for oil rather than a quest for democracy.

The world’s easy-to-get oil and gas have been used up and competition for the rest of the world’s oil is bound to become more intense.  The European Union, in its need for oil and gas, may find itself in conflict with both the USA and China.

I don’t see any obvious way to resolve this.  It would be good if the world’s energy-importing countries could reach an agreement based on compromise.  It would be good if the world could switch to renewable energy.  But I don’t see either one happening anytime soon, and to the extent that either compromise or renewables are feasible, it might entail a more frugal way of life than most North Americans (myself included) would be willing to accept.

LINK

 Whose Oil Will Quench China’s Thirst? by Chris Dalby for Oil Price and Naked Capitalism.

The passing scene: Links & comments 7/19/14

July 19, 2014

Taking Back America: Here, Finally, Is A Chinese Mega-Blooper—And a Chance For The U.S. To Turn The Tables by Eamon Fingleton for Forbes.

Many American universities are hosts to Confucian Institutes for the study of Chinese language and culture, which are paid for and largely controlled by the government of  China.  In terms of money, a Confucian Institute is a bargain.  In terms of academic freedom, it is a disaster.

Since the days of Mao Zedong, the Chinese government has manipulated Western scholarship by allowing access to the country and to its archives only to scholars whose views it finds acceptable.  No American scholar who works for a Confucian Institute will be able to do research the Chinese government finds displeasing.

I think the likelihood of administrators of American universities breaking their ties with the Chinese government is equivalent to the likelihood of their prioritizing the search for truth over the maximizing of revenue.   Which is not likely anytime soon.

Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless by Joseph Stromberg for Vox.

The Myers-Briggs personality test classifies people as extroverted or introverted, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving on the basis of 93 questions, yielding 16 possible combinations of personality types.

The problems are (1) few people are clearly one or the other of the alternativeds, (2) there is no evidence that Myers-Briggs predicts success or failure in any endeavor and (3) about half the people who take the test twice get different results the second time.   Why then is it so popular?  Marketing, plus entertainment value.

The Pentagon’s $300 Billion Plane to Nowhere by Kate Brannen for Foreign Policy.

When Lockheed Gives You Lemons by Scott Beauchamp for The Baffler.

The U.S. government plans to spend nearly $400 billion to buy 2,443 F-35 fighters, an advanced new warplane that has the disadvantage of being unsafe to fly and almost certainly ineffective in combat.

But if Lockheed Martin’s aeronautical engineering is inadequate, its political engineering is superb.  There are F-35 subcontractors in 45 of the 50 states, and a congressional caucus organized to make the F-35 contract goes through.

Kate Brannen of Foreign Policy quoted a former Pentagon acquisitions officer as saying, “A upfront question with any program now is:  How many congressional districts is it in?”

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Iraq, spies, defense: Links & comment 6/21/14

June 21, 2014

Is Iraq Actually Falling Apart? What Social Science Surveys Show by Mansoor Moaddel for Informed Comment.

Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Iraqis oppose a breakup of their country, and that they think of themselves as Iraqis first and Sunni and Shia second.   They desire a government that will work for the good of the nation and follow the wishes of the people more than they want a government that follows religious law.  A majority of Iraqi Sunni Arabs, but not of Iraqi Shiite Arabs, believe that religion should be separate from politics.

In other words, most Iraqis want for their country the same things that I want for the USA.  The Iraqis might have a stab at getting it if not for foreign interference.  A majority of Iraqis think of both Americans and Iranians as bad neighbors.

Who has the power to give the Iraqis what they want?  If anyone, it is not Barack Obama.  It is the wise Iraqi leader, the Ayatollah Sistani.   Remember that it was peaceful demonstrations led by Sistani that pressured the American occupation authorities to allow elections in Iraq.

Cross-national intelligence and national democracy on Crooked Timber.

I have written before that multi-national corporations, and the international agencies such as the WTO and IMF, are the closest thing there is to a world government.  But there is another candidate, which is the world’s interlocking intelligence agencies.

My idea of the mission of an intelligence agency is to discover the military secrets of foreign governments.  But in the present day, intelligence agencies co-operate across national borders to spy on their own citizens.  The German BND can’t legally spy on German citizens, but the U.S. NSA can legally do so and share information with the Germans, while the British GCHQ can legally share information about American citizens with the NSA.

The danger of this is that the intelligence agencies have their own political goals, which are not necessarily what the people of their respective countries want, and, so long as they operate behind a veil of absolute secrecy, there is no way of reining them in.

Why Is the Defense Department Buying Weapons With Chinese Parts Instead of US Parts? by Victoria Bruce for TruthOut.

The reason is that many high-tech components depend on “rare earths,” a raw material that China produces and that the United States could produce but doesn’t.  The deeper reason is that the big U.S. military contractors also do business with China, and don’t want to disturb that relationship.

Fukushima’s Ongoing Fallout: an unprecedented radiation disaster by John LaForge for CounterPunch.

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China, Mao and historical amnesia

June 6, 2014

A Chinese man recalls:

Twenty-five years ago, before the Tiananmen massacre, my father told me: “Son, be good and stay at home, never provoke the Communist Party.”

My father knew what he was talking about.  His courage had been broken, by countless political campaigns. Right after the 1949 “liberation,” in his hometown Yanting [in Sichuan] they executed dozens of “despotic landowners” in a few minutes. 

That wasn’t enough fun for some people.  They came with swords, severed those broken skulls, and kicked them down the river bank.  And so the heads were floating away two or three at a time, just like time, or like the setting sun always waiting for fresh heads at the next ferry point.  My father left my grandfather, who had made money through hard work, and fled in the night.

mao.famineAfterward he never said a bad word about the Communist Party.  Even at the time of the Great Leap famine, when almost forty million people starved to death, and when I, his little son, almost died.  He did not say anything.  It was hell on earth. 

People ate grass and bark.  They ate some kind of stinking clay; it was called Guanyin Soil [after the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy].  If they were very lucky, they would catch an earthworm; that was a rare delicacy.  Many people died bloated from Guanyin Soil.

My grandmother also died; she was just skin and bones.  Grandfather carried her under his arm to the next slope, dug a small pit, and buried her.  But Mao Zedong, the great deliverer of the Chinese people, would never admit a mistake.  He just said it was the fault of the Soviet Union. 

And so the wretched people all hated the Soviet Union. Just because of their goddamned Revisionism [the label Chinese Communists used for Soviet ideology after the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s], the Soviets had called back their experts and their aid for China!

Mao’s second-in-command Liu Shaoqi couldn’t stand it any longer and mumbled, “So many people have starved to death. History will record this.” For this slip he paid dearly.  During the Cultural Revolution they let him starve to death in a secret prison.  We have a saying: “Illness enters at the mouth, peril comes out at the mouth.”

via NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

Since the death of Mao, the Chinese have raised their material standard of living, and made their country into one of the world’s strongest powers.  Ordinary people are less badly off in a Foxconn sweatshop than their forefathers were in Mao’s communes.  But there are no civil rights or labor rights, or any rule of law or restriction of governmental power.

I wrote in a previous post about how the Confucian tradition strengthens China.  I should add that while the present Chinese government supports the teaching of Confucius that calls for obedience to authority, it does not follow the Confucian  teachings of ethical conduct, respect for tradition and reciprocal obligation.

The philosopher George Santayana wrote that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.   So long as Chinese authorities suppress the historical record of what Mao has done, the Chinese people will be helpless to prevent the rule of a new Mao.

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China’s power is more than military

June 5, 2014

I can remember when people in the West feared invasion by starving hordes from an overpopulated China.   In more recent years we have come to fear China’s growing economic power, which is now being transformed into assertive military power.

In an article in Foreign Affairs entitled The Geography of Chinese Power, the military journalist Robert Kaplan describes how China is building a strong navy with the intention of dominating the South China Sea, much as the USA dominates the Caribbean Sea.

Kaplan stated the Chinese within the next 10 or so years will be in a position to attack U.S. allies in eastern Asia, including Taiwan (which is in international law a part of China, but in fact an independent US ally).   He called for a U.S. naval buildup to counter growing Chinese naval power.

us-chinaBut the USA cannot counter China’s strength merely by building more ships.  We Americans have a trade deficit with China.  We depend on foreigners, including the Chinese, to finance a significant portion of our national debt.   Our economic position in the world depends on the willingness of the Chinese and other nations to do business in dollars.  Much of our electronics production, which is crucial to national defense, is outsourced to China.

The Chinese are increasing their control of the world’s food supply, but not by invasion or immigration.  Chinese corporations are buying up land in Africa, Australia and other parts of the world, and importing the food.

The weakness of China in the 19th century and the breakup of China in the early 20th century were aberrations.   During most periods of history, China has been one of the world’s most powerful nations  by reason of its geography, its demography and its patriarchal culture.

It is the world’s third largest nation in area, behind Russia and Canada.  It has reserves of coal sufficient to maintain its industrial economy for many decades and maybe centuries, and it has access to the resources of central Asia and Russia.

It is the world’s largest nation in population, comparable to Europe or to the entire Western Hemisphere.  This  gives it a flexibility beyond what is possible to smaller nations.   China could surpass the USA, Japan or Germany in the number of scientists and engineers, and in the number of highly-skilled technical workers, and still have reserves of more low-paid sweatshop workers than Bangladesh or Indonesia.

Finally China has a cultural unity based on patriarchal loyalties.  These consist of, on the one hand, the filial obligation of the son, the subject and the student to obey the father, the ruler and the teacher.  In return, there is the partenal obligation of the father, the ruler and the teacher to rightly guide their sons, their subjects and their students.

These cultural values have served the Chinese people well.  Through more than 2,000 years, they have come together, after the fall of each dynasty, to form a strong and united state, which is what happened in the 20th century.

That’s not to deny that the Chinese have problems or that China’s continued rise is inevitable.  There is a great deal of labor unrest, and there have been many strikes in sweatshop factories.   Chinese companies may have expanded too fast, and may be unable to sell all that they can produce.  The Chinese economy is subject to the same boom and bust economic cycle as ours is.   I don’t claim to predict the future, except to say that China will be an important country no matter what.

The problem for us Americans is not the growing strength of China, but the eroding strength of our own country.   Our power is a legacy of the past.  As a nation, we are becoming like an old retired person who no longer earns wages and lives on savings.

We are not building for the future by investing in education, public health, scientific research and physical infrastructure.  Neglect of vital needs is a worse threat to American power, including military power, than the size of the Chinese navy or anything else that foreigners are doing.

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