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Why Belt and Road rules need makeover

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | December 6, 2017

Over the past 24 hours, the narrative by India’s self-styled “China watchers” regarding the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has been shown to be quixotic. The Pakistani media has carried speculative reports that China is holding up the funding for certain road projects coming within the orbit of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) due to a revision of financial rules.

So, the BRI, after all, is not a devious geopolitical strategy but is also about money. And money doesn’t grow on trees – even yuan. Clearly, BRI is expected to be cost-effective and self-financing. And it is not about investing in unsustainable projects in basket economies with an ulterior agenda to surreptitiously acquire ‘equity’ or to entice those moth-eaten countries into a “debt trap” that eventually forces them to pawn their national sovereignty to the pawn broker in Beijing – which is what our China watchers have been propagating.

Indeed, trust the Chinese to put money only where the mouth is. The BRI is, after all, far more profound than a theatrical imperialist adventure in foreign lands. It’s about money, creation of wealth, primarily. Read up China’s current history to understand that China’s priority has never been any different.

For sure, China has excess industrial capacity and needs to export. But as with any complex architecture, it is impossible to distinguish one thread in the BRI matrix as pre-eminent. If at al, the core element of BRI is about galvanizing the “backward” regions of China. It doesn’t need explanation that China’s economic miracle has created regional imbalances in development.

In a bold statement at the party congress, Xi Jinping pledged to remove poverty from the face of China by 2020, which means lifting 70 million people above poverty line. The CPEC focuses on the development of Xinjiang (spanning a mind-boggling landmass of 1.6 million square kilometers endowed with vast mineral resources but sparsely populated.) China has been encouraging foreign investment in that region. With greater connectivity and market access, Xinjiang can be yet another locomotive of growth for the Chinese economy. Equally, the CPEC is also about creating an access route to the world market that is far more economical than the sea route.

Meanwhile, the CPEC’s second phase is about to begin, which concerns the setting up of special economic zones along the newly-laid infrastructural grid. Again, trust the Chinese to make investments that guarantee returns. That is one thing. China is open to inviting partners from third countries. Pakistan is also an increasingly attractive investment destination for western countries. General Electric is showing interest in power projects in the CPEC.

Make no mistake that Pakistan too is eager to attract US investments. During an animated discussion yesterday at the Carnegie in Washington, Pakistan’s ambassador Aitzaz Ahmad Chaudhry highlighted this aspect. He said:

  • Pakistan’s relationship with China is not at the expense of its relations with the US.
  • The US still remains Pakistan’s single most important country. It stood by Pakistan for 6 decades and is perceived as a highly benevolent country.
  • The US involvement in CPEC not only brings in technology but will also “balance out” Pakistan’s relations with China.

On the other hand, China too hopes to make the BRI a template of its relations with western countries. The Chinese Prime Minister Li Keqiang held a brain storming session with 250 top Japanese business executives two weeks ago in Beijing to flesh out ideas. Japan anticipates the Chinese motivations, which explains the plan it has drawn up to support participation by Japanese companies and funding for BRI projects.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made a dramatic announcement on this in Tokyo on Monday at a 2-day gathering of Japanese and Chinese business executives. “Meeting robust infrastructure demand in Asia through cooperation between Japan and China will contribute greatly to the prosperity of Asian people, in addition to the economic development of the two countries,” Abe said. He added that he hoped that Xi will visit Japan “as early as possible.” (Straits Times, South China Morning Post )

Clearly, time is not far off when China becomes the “co-investor” – rather than sole investor – in BRI projects. Therefore, China will continuously upgrade the BRI concept and its rules and regulations with a view to ensure conformity with high western standards. If the Pakistani reports are accurate, a major revision of the financial rules of CPEC projects is already going on.

China takes immense pride in the BRI. It is enshrined in China’s constitution now. The bottom line is that BRI enhances China’ stature as the flag-carrier of globalization. China hopes to create a new supply chain where its standards get global acceptability. Which means that the BRI needs to be transparent and accountable and is on par with (or even excel) western financial and banking norms and business practices.

Time is running out for our pundits who spite the BRI out of Sinophobia and keep making apocalyptic predictions. But the tragedy is that they have done immense damage to India’s interests already by propagating falsehoods and prejudices. The BRI could have been — and should have been — a template of PM Modi’s development agenda. The residual hope now will be: “When Abe goes, can Modi be far behind?”

December 6, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump holds the line on foreign policy

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | November 13, 2017

For the first time since US President Donald Trump took office, a reality check is possible on the foreign policy platform he espoused during the 2016 campaign. Most of the key elements of that platform faced the litmus test one way or another during his 11-day Asian tour, which concludes today. How does the scorecard look?

On a scale of 10, one can say it stands at 8-9. Trump’s performance through the tour of the 5 Asian states – Japan, South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines – shows that there has been a remarkable consistency in terms of the foreign policies he pledged to deliver if elected as president.

The first key element in the Asia-Pacific context has been Trump’s total rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, which the Obama administration had negotiated. The Asian tour put to test whether he’d hold the line to scrap the TTP. The pressure was immense, led by Japan and Australia, that the TTP should be revived in some form.

But Trump stuck to his ‘Nyet’. In his speech at the APEC summit in Da Nang on Friday, he reiterated that his administration would only seek bilateral trade agreements with the Asian countries. In fact, he let loose a volley on the WTO as well. That leaves Japan to lead a coalition of 11 countries originally a part of TPP – Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, New Zealand and Brunei – to make their own deal.

It is unlikely that the effort to revive the TPP will go very far after Trump made it clear that the US has no interest in it. In any case, the latest development – Canada’s decision last week to pull out as well – virtually means that the efforts to revive the TPP in some form are unraveling.

Now, the TPP was supposed to have provided the vital underpinning for the Obama administration’s containment strategy against China (known as ‘pivot to Asia’.) This brings us to another Trump platform. During the 2016 campaign, it was apparent that Trump had no interest in pursuing a containment strategy against China.

Of course, candidate Trump was highly critical of China. But that was for other reasons – over the issue of trade deficit, currency manipulation, breach of intellectual property rights, market access, taking away US jobs and so on. The criticism continues. But then, Trump intends to sort out the issues directly with the Chinese leadership.

The point is, a containment strategy against China is unviable and unsustainable sans the TPP, but Trump couldn’t care less. The Asian tour has further confirmed his panache for transactional diplomacy, which he thinks is the optimal approach from the perspective of ‘America First’.

Trump is not a grand strategist; nor is he professorial like Barack Obama. He has no time or patience for geopolitics woven onto the tapestry of a comprehensive Asia-Pacific strategy. The Asian tour brings this out very clearly.

Nonetheless, it has been a most productive tour for ‘America First’. In Japan and South Korea he pushed arms exports. He got South Korea to increase its share of the financial cost of maintaining the big US military bases. He has lifted the cap on South Korea’s missile development program. These are in line with his approach to the importance of cost sharing and burden sharing by the US’ allies.

The “state visit-plus” to China was of course the high noon of the Asian tour. Trump wrapped up deals worth $235 billion, which ought to translate as tens of thousands of new jobs in the US economy.

Was he perturbed that China is overshadowing the US as the region’s principal driver of growth in Southeast Asia? Trump’s APEC speech showed no signs of it. He never once berated China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Ironically, he complimented the Chinese leadership for serving the national interests effectively! He didn’t show signs of competing with China for the ASEAN’s friendship, either.

Candidate Trump had shown an aversion toward US interventions in foreign countries except when American interests are directly involved. Indeed, North Korea was the only ‘talking point’ in his agenda.

Incredibly enough, Trump didn’t even mention the territorial disputes in the South China Sea in his remarks at the US-ASEAN summit in Manila earlier today. Instead, Trump’s focus was on economics. He said in the speech:

  • We have the highest stock market we’ve ever had. We have the lowest unemployment in 17 years. The value of stocks has risen $5.5 trillion. And companies are moving into the United States. A lot of companies are moving. They’re moving back. They want to be there. The enthusiasm levels are the highest ever recorded on the charts. So we’re very happy about that, and we think that bodes very well for your region because of the relationship that we have. (Transcript)

The most controversial part of Trump’s tour came on Thursday when he was expected to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin but didn’t – apparently due to scheduling difficulties. (Putin later told the Russian media that functionaries will be ‘disciplined’ for the botch-up.) But what stood out was the Trump-Putin joint statement on Syria that was eventually issued on Friday, reflecting Trump’s intention to take Putin’s help in ending the war.

Trump is unwavering that it is in the US’ interests to engage with Putin. This is despite the civil war going on back home where critics are braying for his blood for being ‘soft’ on Russia. We get a glimpse of the classic Trump in his dogged persistence all through that the US and Russia ought to have a productive relationship and Russia’s help is necessary for solving regional and global issues. He rubbed it in in while speaking to the White House press party aboard Air Force One.

Indeed, Trump’s remarks have raised a furious storm in the US with Senator John McCain leading the pack of wolves. Read the transcript of Trump’s remarks on Russia here.

November 13, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Iran’s snub to US has meaning for India

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | November 2, 2017

Only Tehran could have punctured US President Donald Trump’s massive ego with just a delicate deflection by the wrist. It all began in the weekend with an innocuous media disclosure in Iran that Trump had sought a meeting with President Hassan Rouhani during the latter’s visit to New York in September to address the UN General Assembly, but the latter spurned the overture summarily. On Sunday Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahran Qassemi commented crisply, “A request indeed was made by the US side, but it wasn’t accepted by President Rouhani.”

Of course, Washington went into a tizzy with White House struggling to deny the Iranian report at first, but belatedly realizing, perhaps, that a lie might boomerang, allowed the State Department spokesperson to tamely confirm it on Tuesday. Trump’s request was apparently transmitted to the Iranian side when the US secretary of state Rex Tillerson and his Iranian counterpart Mohammed Javed Zarif were closeted together on the sidelines of a meeting of the foreign ministers of the P5+1 and Iran to review the implementation of the Iran nuclear deal in September.

The episode speaks volumes about Trump, the man and the statesman – and his times in the White House and the US foreign policies in such extraordinary times. Countries such as India or China must draw appropriate conclusions. Indian analysts, in particular, are still crowing about Tillerson’s recent rhetoric at the CSIS conjuring up from thin air a quadripartite alliance between the US, Japan, India and Australia to contain China, while Trump on the other hand is preparing for a momentous state visit to China looking for some foreign-policy trophy as outcome in his barren presidency.

The point is, Trump could so blithely befool the wily Saudi King Salman and the pompous Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in one go, sending them into wild ecstasy that he is about to go after the jugular veins of the Iranian leaders, while in reality also desiring to cultivate them on the quiet or at least keep open a line of communication to them – and, perhaps, even do some business with Tehran for ‘America First’.

The bad part is that the US is also intruding into India’s Iran policies. Did India have to cut back oil imports from Iran and replace it with US shale oil? For the US (or Israel), it is important that India-Iran relations remain sub-optimal for as long as their own relationships with Iran remain problematic. India’s interests, on the other hand, lie in forging a strategic partnership with Iran that can be highly productive and beneficial for advancing its development strategy as well as for strengthening regional security. To borrow the American expression, Iran is India’s ‘natural partner’.

Nothing brings this home as when Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei proposed to the visiting Russian President Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Tehran on Wednesday that a transportation corridor could be built connecting the Iranian port of Chabahar with St-Petersburg. India cannot miss the point that Russia and Iran could be meaningful partners in fostering regional connectivity. Simply put, geography dictates geopolitics and geo-economy.

The bottom line is that the Iranian snub to Trump also highlights its strategic defiance of the US’ attempts to (re)impose hegemony in what the Americans call the ‘Greater Middle East’ – stretching from the Levant to the Central Asian steppes. Delhi should pay serious attention to the remark by Khamenei to Putin yesterday when he said that the “good cooperation” between Iran and Russia in Syria has proved “meaningful” and bore “important results”, and above all, “this cooperation showed that Tehran and Moscow can realize common goals in difficult situations.” (Tehran Times )

Khamenei didn’t specifically refer to Afghanistan, but the thought couldn’t have been far from his mind. The US’ plans to consolidate an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan is actually aimed at encircling Iran and Russia and containing them. It is useful to recall in this context that the then Iranian and Russian foreign ministers – Ali Akbar Velayati and Evgeniy Primakov – had worked closely together to bring the Tajik civil war to an end in 1997. Equally, Iran and Russia were on the same page in supporting the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan during 1997-2001.

No doubt, the preference of Tehran and Moscow once again will be to carry Delhi along with them in the struggle for strengthening regional security and stability through regional initiatives – as Khamenei’s remark on connecting Chabahar with St. Petersburg implies.

November 2, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Russia-China Tandem Changes the World

By Gilbert Doctorow | Consortium News | October 23, 2017

Much of what Western “experts” assert about Russia – especially its supposed economic and political fragility and its allegedly unsustainable partnership with China – is wrong, resulting not only from the limited knowledge of the real situation on the ground but from a prejudicial mindset that does not want to get at the facts, i.e. from wishful thinking.

Russian President Vladimir Putin (UN Photo)

Russia may not be experiencing dynamic growth, but over the past two years it has survived a crisis of circumstance in depressed oil prices and economic warfare against it by the West that would have felled less competently managed governments enjoying less robust popularity than is the case in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Moreover, as stagnant as Russia’s GNP has been, the numbers have been on a par with Western Europe’s very slow growth.

Meanwhile, Russian agriculture is booming, with the 2017 grain harvest the best in 100 years despite very adverse climatic conditions from early spring. In parallel, domestically produced farm machinery has been going from strength to strength. Other major Industrial sectors like civil aircraft production have revived with the launch of new and credible models for both domestic and export markets.

Major infrastructure projects representing phenomenal engineering feats like the bridge across the Kerch straits to Crimea are proceeding on schedule to successful termination in the full glare of regular television broadcasts. So where is this decrepit Russia that our Western commentators describe daily?

The chief reason for the many wrongheaded observations is not so hard to discover. The ongoing rampant conformism in American and Western thinking about Russia has taken control not only of our journalists and commentators but also of our academic specialists who serve up to their students and to the general public what is expected and demanded: proof of the viciousness of the “Putin regime” and celebration of the brave souls in Russia who go up against this regime, such as the blogger-turned-politician Alexander Navalny or Russia’s own Paris Hilton, the socialite-turned-political-activist Ksenia Sochak.

Although vast amounts of information are available about Russia in open sources, meaning the Russian press and commercial as well as state television, these are largely ignored. The sour grapes Russian opposition personalities who have settled in the United States are instead given the microphone to sound off about their former homeland. Meanwhile, anyone taking care to read, hear and analyze the words of Vladimir Putin becomes in these circles a “stooge.” All of this limits greatly the accuracy and usefulness of what passes for expertise about Russia.

In short, the field of Russia studies suffers, as it also did during the heyday of the Cold War, from a narrow ideological perspective and from the failure to put information about Russia in some factually anchored framework of how Russia fits in a comparative international setting.

Just what this means was brought into perspective last week by a rare moment of erudition regarding Russia when professor emeritus of the London School of Economics Dominic Lieven delivered a lecture in Sochi at the latest Valdai Club annual meeting summarizing his take on the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Lieven, arguably the greatest living historian of imperial Russia, is one of the very rare birds who brought to his Russian studies a profound knowledge of the rest of the world and in particular of the other imperial powers of the Nineteenth Century with which Russia was competing. This knowledge takes in both hard and soft power, meaning on the one hand, military and diplomatic prowess and, on the other, the intellectual processes which are used to justify imperial domination and constitute a world view if not a full-fledged ideology.

Self-blinded ‘Experts’

By contrast, today’s international relations “experts” lack the in-depth knowledge of Russia to say something serious and valuable for policy formulation. The whole field of area studies has atrophied in the United States over the past 20 years, with actual knowledge of history, languages, cultures being largely scuttled in favor of numerical skills that will provide sure employment in banks and NGOs upon graduation. The diplomas have been systematically depreciated.

The result of the foregoing is that there are very few academics who can put the emerging Russian-Chinese alliance into a comparative context. And those who do exist are systematically excluded from establishment publications and roundtable public discussions in the United States for not being sufficiently hostile to Russia.

If that were not the case, one could look at the Russian-Chinese partnership as it compares firstly with the American-Chinese partnership created by Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger, which is now being replaced by the emerging Russian-Chinese relationship. Kissinger was fully capable of doing this when he wrote his book On China in 2011, but Kissinger chose to ignore the Russian-Chinese partnership though its existence was perfectly clear when he was writing his text. Perhaps he did not want to face the reality of how his legacy from the 1970s had been squandered.

What we find in Kissinger’s description of his accomplishments in the 1970s is that the American-Chinese partnership was all done at arm’s length. There was no alliance properly speaking, no treaty, in keeping with China’s firm commitment not to accept entanglement in mutual obligations with other powers. The relationship was two sovereign states conferring regularly on international developments of mutual interest and pursuing policies that in practice proceeded in parallel to influence global affairs in a coherent manner.

This bare minimum of a relationship was overtaken and surpassed by Russia and China some time ago. The relationship has moved on to ever larger joint investments in major infrastructure projects having great importance to both parties, none more so than the gas pipelines that will bring very large volumes of Siberian gas to Chinese markets in a deal valued at $400 billion.

Meanwhile, in parallel, Russia has displaced Saudi Arabia as China’s biggest supplier of crude oil, and trading is now being done in yuan rather than petrodollars. There is also a good deal of joint investment in high technology civilian and military projects. And there are joint military exercises in areas ever farther from the home bases of both countries.

I think it is helpful to look at this partnership as resembling the French-German partnership that steered the creation and development of what is now the European Union. From the very beginning, Germany was the stronger partner economically with France’s economy experiencing relative stagnation. Indeed, one might well have wondered why the two countries remained in this partnership as nominal equals.

The answer was never hard to find: with its historical burden from the Nazi epoch, Germany was, and to this day remains, incapable of taking responsibility in its own name for the European Union. The French served as the smokescreen for German power. Since the 1990s, that role has largely been transferred to the E.U. central bodies in Brussels, where key decision-making positions are in fact appointed by Berlin. Yet, France remains an important junior partner in the German-driven process.

The Russian-Chinese Tandem

One may say much the same about the Russian-Chinese tandem. Russia is essential to China because of Moscow’s long experience managing global relations going back to the period of the Cold War and because of its willingness and ability today to stand up directly to the American hegemon, whereas China, with its heavy dependence on its vast exports to the U.S., cannot do so without endangering vital interests. Moreover, since the Western establishment sees China as the long-term challenge to its supremacy, it is best for Beijing to exercise its influence through another power, which today is Russia.

Of course, in light of the E.U.’s Brexit troubles and Trump’s abandonment of world leadership, it is undeniably possible that China will step out of the shadows and seek to assume direction of global governance. But that would be problematic. China faces major domestic challenges including the transition of its economy from being led by exports to relying more on domestic consumption. That will absorb the attention of its political leadership for some time.

Kissinger, who has been an adviser to Trump, whispers in Trump’s ear about the importance of separating Russia from China, but Kissinger’s limited and outdated knowledge of Russia has caused him to underestimate the powerful motives behind the Russian-Chinese relationship. America’s less gifted and informed pundits are even more clueless.

For one thing, given the sustained hostility directed at Russia from the West in general and from Washington in particular, it is inconceivable that Putin would be wooed away from Beijing by some flirtatious “come hither” gestures from the Trump administration even if that were politically possible for Trump to do. One of Putin’s outstanding features is his loyalty to his friends and his principles as well as to his nation’s interests.

As Putin revealed during his address and Q&A at the Valdai Club gathering this past week, he now bears a deep distrust of the West in light of its having taken crude advantage of Russia’s weakness in the 1990s and by its expansion of NATO to Russian borders and other threatening actions. Whatever hopes Putin once may have held for warmer relations with the West, those hopes have been dashed over the past several years.

Putting personalities aside, Russian foreign policy has a commonality that is rare to see on the world stage: actions first, diplomatic charters later. Russia’s political relations with China come on top of massive mutual investments that have taken many years to agree on and execute.

In the same way, Russia is proceeding with Japan to work towards a formal peace treaty by first putting in place massive trade and investment projects. It is entirely foreseeable that the first step to the treaty will be the start of construction in 2018 of a railway bridge in the Far East linking the Russian island of Sakhalin with the mainland. The general contractor and engineering team is also in place: Arkady Rotenberg and his SGM Group. That bridge is the prerequisite for Japan and Russia signing a $50 billion deal to build a railway bridge linking Sakhalin and Hokkaido. This bridge will draw the attention of the whole region to Russian-Japanese cooperation. It could be the foundation for a durable and not merely paper peace treaty resolving the territorial dispute over the Kurile Islands.

Lost Opportunities

In light of these realities, it is puerile to speak of detaching Russia from China with the promise of normalized relations with the West. The opportunity to do that existed in the 1990s, when President Boris Yeltsin and his “Mr. Yes” Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev did everything possible to win U.S. agreement to Russian accession to NATO immediately following accession by Poland. To no avail.

Then again early in Putin’s presidency, the Russians made a determined effort to win admission to the Western alliance. Again to no avail. Russia was excluded, and measures were taken to contain it, to place it in a small box as just another European regional power.

Finally, following the confrontation with the United States and Europe over their backing of the 2014 coup in Ukraine, followed by the Russian annexation/merger with Crimea, and Russian support for the insurgency in Ukraine’s Donbas region, Russia openly was cast as the enemy. It was compelled to mobilize all of its friendships internationally to stay afloat. No state was more helpful in this regard than China.  Such moments are not forgotten or betrayed.

The Kremlin understands full well that the West has nothing substantial to offer Russia as long as the U.S. elites insist on maintaining global hegemony at all costs. The only thing that could get the Kremlin’s attention would be consultations to revise the security architecture of Europe with a view to bringing Russia in from the cold. This was the proposal of then President Dmitry Medvedev in 2010, but his initiative was met by stony silence from the West. Bringing in Russia would mean according it influence proportionate to its military weight, and that is something NATO has opposed tooth and nail to this day.

It is for this reason, the failure to seek solutions to the big issue of Russia’s place in overall security, that the re-set initiative under Barack Obama failed. It is for this reason that Henry Kissinger’s advice to Donald Trump at the start of his presidency to offer relief from sanctions in return for progress on disarmament rather than implementation of the Minsk accords regarding the Ukraine crisis also failed, with Vladimir Putin giving a firm “nyet.”

Implicit in the few American “carrots” being extended to Russia these days is its acceptance of the anti-Russian regime in Ukraine and its authority over the heavily ethnic Russian areas of the Donbas and Crimea, concessions that would be politically devastating to Putin inside Russia. Yet, that “normalization” would still leave the much milder but still nasty “human rights” sanctions that the U.S. imposed in 2012 through the Magnitsky Act, driven by what the Kremlin regards as false propaganda surrounding the criminal case and death of accountant Sergei Magnitsky.

The sting of the Magnitsky Act was to discredit Russia and prepare the way for it being designated a pariah state. It came amidst an already longstanding campaign of demonization of the Russian president in the U.S. media. In fact, to begin to find a halfway normal period of bilateral relations, you would have to go back to before George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, which Russia denounced along with Germany and France. The latter two powers got a tap on the wrist from Washington. For Russia, it was the start of a period of reckoning for its uncooperativeness with American global domination.

Demonizing Russia

As for Europe and Russia, the question is very similar. To find mention of a strategic relationship, firstly from the German Foreign Ministry, you have to go back to before 2012. And what constituted normality then? At the time, renewal of the E.U.-Russia cooperation agreement was already being held up for years, nominally over a difference of views on the provisions of E.U. law governing gas deliveries through Russian-owned pipelines. Behind this difference was the total opposition of the Baltic States and Poland to anything resembling normal relations with Russia, for which they received full encouragement from the U.S.

The rallying cry was to put a stop to Russia’s status as “monopoly supplier” to Europe as regards gas, but also oil. Of course, no monopoly ever existed, nor does it exist today, but determined geopolitical actors never let such details stand in the way of policy formulation.

This hostility also played out in the contest of wills between the E.U. and Russia over introduction of a visa-free regime for travel by their respective citizens. Here the opposition of Germany’s Angela Merkel, justified by her vicious characterization of Russia as a mafia state, doomed the visa-free regime and by the same token doomed normal relations.

All of this unfinished business has to be addressed and put right for there to be any possibility of the U.S. and the E.U. ending their hostility toward Russia and for the Kremlin to regain any trust toward the West. Even then, however, Russia would not surrender its valued relationship with China.

In my view, the de facto Russian-Chinese alliance matches the de jure US-West European alliance. The net result of both is the partition of the world into two camps. We now have, in effect, a bipolar world that broadly resembles that of the Cold War, though still in a formative stage since many countries have not signed on definitively to one side or another.

Of course, more-or-less neutral states were also a feature of the Cold War, creating what was called the group of Nonaligned Nations, led back then by India and Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia no longer exists, but India has continued its tradition of let both poles court it, trying to eke out the greatest benefit to itself.

To be sure, a great many political scientists in the U.S., in Europe and in Russia as well, insist that we already have a multipolar world, saying that power is too diffuse in the world today, especially considering the rise of non-state actors after 1991. But the reality is that very few states or non-states can project power outside their own region. Only the two big blocs can do that.

The theoreticians defending multipolarity speak of a return to the balance of power of the Nineteenth Century, invoking the Congress of Vienna as a possible model for today’s world governance.  This is an approach that Henry Kissinger laid out in 1994 in his book Diplomacy.

Within Russia, this concept has found support in some influential think tanks and is most notably associated with Sergei Karaganov, head of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy. Nonetheless, I maintain that everyday realities of power will decide this question. And is there anything inherently wrong with this de facto bipolar world, assuming the tensions can be managed and a major war averted?

In my view, two large blocs are more likely to keep global order because the scope of activities by proxies can be reined in – as often happened during the Cold War – by big powers not wanting their various clients to disrupt a functioning world order. The tails are less likely to wag the dog.

Moreover, as regards the Russia-China strategic partnership or alliance, Western observers should take comfort and not take alarm. The rise of China is a given whatever the constellation of great powers may wish. The close embrace of Russia and China also can serve as a moderating influence on China, given Russia’s greater experience in world leadership.

For all of the above positive and negative reasons, the Russia-China relationship should be viewed with equanimity in Western capitals.


Gilbert Doctorow is an independent political analyst based in Brussels. His latest book, Does the United States Have a Future? was just published.

October 23, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering, Science and Pseudo-Science | , , , , | Leave a comment

International Community Starts Call for US to Ban All Nuclear Explosions

Sputnik – 21.10.2017

For over 20 years, the US has been signatory but not party to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), a 1996 UN ban on all nuclear explosions, for any purpose. With nuclear weapons back in the international spotlight, nonproliferation advocates have called on the US Senate to at last ratify the treaty.

Six of the nine nuclear states have not passed the CTBT: China, India, Israel (although Israel has never admitted to having nuclear weapons), North Korea, Pakistan and the United States. France, Russia and the United Kingdom are the only nuclear states to have signed and ratified the treaty — but the treaty can only go into effect when all 44 Annex 2 countries, nations that had or were researching nuclear power, ratify the treaty. In addition to the six nuclear state holdouts, Egypt and Iran are also Annex 2 states that have not ratified. The other 36 have done so.

Hans Blix, who once headed the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), expressed skepticism that the US would ever pass the treaty, because Washington wished to keep “freedom of action for the United States.” He pushed for the US Senate to ratify the treaty, as it was signed by President Bill Clinton in the 1990s. Bans of nuclear tests “should be the least difficult of all arms control issues,” Blix said to the press on Wednesday.

​On Sputnik Radio’s Loud and Clear, hosts Brian Becker and Walter Smolarek spoke to two prominent figures in the nonproliferation movement: Greg Mello, the executive director of the Los Alamos Study Group, a nuclear disarmament advocacy organization; and Kevin Kamps, a radioactive waste watchdog with anti-nuclear power and nuclear weapon organization Beyond Nuclear.

Kamps chastised former US President Barack Obama and the Democrat-dominated Congress of 2009-2010 for not ratifying the treaty. “It’s not so easy to ratify a treaty,” said Mello. “You need two thirds, in other words, you need 67 [US Senate votes]. Complicating it is that there are some Democrats that are part of the ‘war party.’ Whenever an arms control treaty comes into the Senate, there the war party — in both political parties — wants to attach conditions: benefits to the arms contractors and to the nuclear weapons labs. They demand a very high ransom for ratifying any treaty, and so the ransom required for the CTBT signing was the resuscitation of the nuclear weapons establishment after its bad years after the end of the Cold War.”

Mello also discussed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) signed by the two largest nuclear powers, Russia and the US, in 2010. The treaty was meant to limit nuclear missiles, bombers and launchers. To pass it through the US Senate, Mello said, “the ransom required was basically the modernization and renewal of every single warhead and every single delivery system in the US stockpile, along with the factories.”

“So in other words, the Republicans, which held New START hostage, got everything they possibly could have gotten. To get that thing ratified, the cost ended up being so high that it can completely obviate the original purpose of the treaty, which was thought to be a step by some toward nuclear disarmament. But if you’re adding nuclear armament to get the treaty signed, then you can end up going one step forward, two steps back.”

“There’s a war party,” Kamps agreed. “It has its clutches in the United States Senate and it certainly has its clutches in the Pentagon. There are elements of our government, elements of our military that really like to have that option of nuclear weapons.”

They like it enough, Kamps goes on to say, to openly lie to the American people. “You know, from the early 60s until the early 90s, it turns out — we just found out from the National Security Archives a few years ago — that a lot of those underground [nuclear] tests leaked into the environment. Something like a third of the tests in the United States, a third of the tests in the Soviet Union, a third of the tests perhaps even in a place like China, were leaking through cracks and fissures — and sometimes even intentional venting of the radioactive contamination.”

“All the countries helped the others keep it secret for fear that their domestic populations would then start asking questions about their own nuclear weapons testing. The CIA, for example, helped to keep the Soviet and Russian underground test leaks quiet so that Americans would not ask any questions here about our own.”

Although the heyday of nuclear testing has ended, Mello claims that the tests continue in the form of subcritical tests. These are tests that use a very small amount of fissile material, such as uranium or plutonium, that cannot sustain a chain reaction. These “nuclear tests which don’t involve the significant fission yield are nonetheless nuclear tests just the same,” said Mello, “and they’re taking place in Nevada and also Novaya Zemlya [in Russia] and in the laboratories. With combining the data from these [subcritical] tests with computer models and very fast computers that are available to both countries, fast enough in Russia and plenty fast here, too, it is possible to get a lot of data and do a lot of nuclear weapon design.”

In other words, the superpowers stopped test-detonating monstrous bombs because advances in computer technology meant they no longer needed to. The US and Russia can keep their arsenals cutting-edge without exploding megaton-yield devices as they once did.

Kamps adds that there is a “trillion dollar nuclear modernization plan, under first Obama and now under Trump. They’re dabbling with new designs: new military applications, new military uses. It’s very dangerous, very problematic… we’re really in a race against time to try to abolish these weapons before they abolish us.”

October 21, 2017 Posted by | Environmentalism, Militarism, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Red star over Nepal

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 8, 2017

The Communist Party of Nepal-UML led by KP Oli, Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Centre) led by Prachanda and the breakaway Naya Shakti Nepal led by Baburam Bhattarai have announced on October 3 the formation of a grand leftist alliance for the forthcoming provincial and federal elections in Nepal on November 26 and December 7 under the new constitution. The polarization of Nepal’s fragmented political spectrum on ideological lines makes the forthcoming elections a watershed event.

In reaction to the unexpected development, the Nepali Congress is reportedly planning to assemble a motley coalition of right-wing forces with some smaller parties to counter the grand leftist alliance. Interestingly, the constituents of the right-wing alliance may include the Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, which was formed in April with the merger of six “pro-India” Madhesi parties on the advice of their mentors in India. Even more interesting is the prospect of the Hindu right-wing, cultural conservative and royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party Democratic – a veritable clone of India’s Bharatiya Janata Party – joining the Nepali Congress-led alliance.

It doesn’t require much ingenuity to figure out that the leitmotif of the polarization into two grand alliances lies in their respective disposition toward India. The announcement of the formation of the leftist alliance on October 3 seems to have taken not only the Nepali Congress but Delhi also by surprise. The Nepali Congress is scrambling to come up with a credible contestation – conceivably, with some encouragement from Delhi.

The polarization in Nepali politics is a good thing to happen since it presents a clear-cut choice to the electorate. The blurring of the ideological divide through the period of democratization in Nepal had been a major factor breeding the politics of expediency resulting in instability in the past. The big question is whether political stability as such guarantees good governance and can deliver on growth and development. India’s current experience speaks otherwise.

To be sure, the Leftist alliance is ideologically motivated and can be trusted to be far more cohesive and capable of offering a stable government. It will be campaigning on the plank of social justice, egalitarianism and Nepali nationalism. The alliance hopes to secure a two-thirds majority in the new Parliament which will strengthen their hands to steer future amendments to the Constitution smoothly, unlike in the past. During the general election, 165 members of the National Parliament will be elected by simple vote, while another 110 will be appointed through a system of proportional representation.

Based on the performance of the two main communist parties in the elections for the constituent assembly in 2013 and this year’s local polls, the leftist alliance has a distinct chance of winning a majority in the forthcoming elections. (The communists also have a strong party machinery all over the country.) If so, Nepal will be coming under communist rule – an unprecedented political feat not only for Nepal’s fledgling democracy but for the South Asian region as a whole. Importantly, based on the leftist alliance’s performance in the November elections, they intend to form a united Nepal Communist Party. It will be a big rebuff to the Indian establishment, which succeeded so far in splintering the Left in Nepal by fuelling internecine feuds and personality clashes.

These are early days but a communist government in Nepal will profoundly impact the geopolitics of South Asia. It is useful to factor in that Nepal took a neutral stance on the India-China standoff in Doklam. India’s capacity to influence Nepal’s foreign policies under a communist government will be even more limited. Equally, it remains to be seen how Nepal’s ‘defection’ from the Indian orbit might have a domino effect on Bhutan.

A ‘tilt’ toward China may well ensue under a communist government in Nepal.  The country may embrace China’s Belt and Road Initiative unequivocally. Chinese investments can phenomenally transform Nepal. And comparisons will be inevitably drawn with the neighboring impoverished regions of Bihar and UP, which are run by India’s ruling party.

The forthcoming elections in Nepal assume great importance for India’s neighbourhood policies under the Modi government. The right-wing Hindu nationalist forces mentoring the Modi government will have a hard time in accepting the prospect of a communist government ruling the abode of the god Shiva. Will they attempt to interfere in the elections? Any overt Indian interference risks  a furious backlash, given the pervasive anti-India sentiments in the country.

On the other hand, while the BJP is unable to tolerate a communist government even in the tiny southern state of Kerala, ironically, the Modi government may have to drink from the chalice of poison by doing business with a sovereign communist government in next-door Nepal. Read, here, an interview by Baburam Bhattarai, the well-known Marxist ideologue of Nepal, on the dramatic political developments in the country.

October 8, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , | Leave a comment

‘We need negotiations, not declarations’: Russia stays away from Trump’s UN reform plan

RT | September 18, 2017

As US President Donald Trump officially launched his 10-point reform program for the United Nations, Russian officials say they share many of the concerns it raises, but not the methods Washington is using to advance its solutions.

On Monday morning in New York, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Trump delivered speeches in support of the reform declaration, which has been endorsed by 128 states.

According to the published text of the plan, it would give Guterres greater executive powers “encouraging him to lead organizational reform,” which would “provide greater transparency and predictability” and “promote gender parity and geographic diversity,” while combating “mandate duplication, redundancy, and overlap” and other forms of inefficiency at the international body.

“In recent years, the United Nations has not reached its full potential because of bureaucracy and mismanagement. While the United Nations on a regular budget has increased by 140 percent, and its staff has more than doubled since 2000, we are not seeing the results in line with this investment,” said Trump, who previously emphasized that the US is the biggest contributor to United Nations funds.

“To serve the people we support and the people who support us, we must be nimble and effective, flexible and efficient,” declared Guterres, the former Prime Minister of Portugal, who assumed his current post this year.

Countries that were hesitant or unwilling to sign the document – which include Russia, China, Brazil and South Africa – were not invited to the launch.

“There was no consultation either prior or following the publication of the declaration,” said Vassily Nebenzia, Russia’s envoy to the UN, in an interview with TASS news agency, published Monday. “We are all for increasing the role of the UN on the international arena, and raising its efficiency. The organization needs reform, even if not a fundamental overhaul. But the reform itself should not come through a declaration, but through inter-governmental negotiations between members.”

State-owned daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta cited officials in the Russian delegation in New York, who criticized the US for hijacking the ongoing UN General Assembly for its own purposes, noting that the declaration “had nothing to do with the United Nations” and that Washington “has developed a bad habit of using the UN building during General Assemblies to push its own foreign policy agenda.”

Some were altogether suspicious of Trump’s motives, considering his previously dismissive attitude to the UN.

“Trump’s reform is a landmark move towards a unipolar world, and the reduction of the role of the UN in the international architecture that is forming in the 21st century. We are not ready to support or participate in this process,” Leonid Slutsky, the Chairman of the Committee on International Affairs in the Russian parliament, told RIA news agency.

“The US should start not with behind-the-scenes coalition-forming,” wrote Konstantin Kosachev, who heads in the Foreign Affairs Committee in the upper chamber of the Russian parliament, the Federation Council, on his Facebook page. “Instead, it should begin by acknowledging its mistakes, when it bypassed the UN in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria.”

September 18, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , , , | 1 Comment

Iran nuclear deal becomes an atomic cocktail

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | September 14, 2017

The unscheduled trip to Russia by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif as the special envoy of President Hassan Rouhani and his meeting with President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday can be seen as indicative of an inflection point arising in regional and international security. There is growing concern that the Trump administration could be moving in the direction of reopening the US-Iran nuclear deal of July 2015.

During the campaign for the November election, candidate Trump disdainfully threatened to tear up the Iran accord. But as president, he has twice already certified to the US Congress that Iran is implementing its part of the deal. He is obliged to do it a third time by mid-October. Of course, Trump is not a stickler for consistency. He promised to wind up the Afghan war, but approved a strategy for open-ended war. Increasingly, he has exposed himself to be a man of straw.

All indications are that he doesn’t have the courage to upfront abandon the deal. So long as Tehran continues to observe the terms of the deal, Trump lacks an alibi to jettison it. Yet, he wants to resuscitate the sanctions regime of the past era so that Iran is deprived of the tangible benefits accruing to it legitimately under the nuclear deal, especially, as regards its integration with the world economy. This is one thing. Besides, the nuclear deal enjoys the overwhelming support of the world community. On the other hand, Trump is surrounded by “hawks” on Iran. The Israeli lobby also keeps him on a tight leash.

Hence Plan B. The White House recently deputed Nikki Haley, envoy to the UN, to Vienna to sound out the International Atomic Energy Agency about renegotiating the terms of the 2015 deal. Specifically, the White House would like to extend the scope of the IAEA inspection to also include, apart from Iran’s nuclear establishments, that country’s military bases.

Interestingly, the White House’ choice fell on Haley to undertake the mission to Vienna (rather than Secretary of State Rex Tillerson). It speaks of the backstage role of Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law. Clearly, Israel is manipulating the Trump administration. Israel is paranoid that for the first time since the 1967 War, it has lost its pre-eminence militarily in the Middle East. The US and Israel’s defeat in the Syrian conflict brings about a historic shift in the military balance. Simply put, Israel lacks the capability to stop Iran’s inexorable surge as regional power. What is unfolding is a high-stakes game for Israel.

Tehran has made it clear that it is not open to renegotiation of the deal. Specifically, it rejects the notion that its military bases should be opened to allow foreigners to “inspect”. Simply put, Iran is unlikely to allow the US and Israeli spies masquerading as IAEA inspectors into its sensitive military installations.

Now, all indications are that the US is softening up the resistance of its European allies to the idea of reopening the 2015 nuclear deal. If past history is any evidence, it is a matter of time before the UK, France and Germany (who were part of the P5+1 negotiating with Iran) fall in line. Tillerson has called a meeting of his counterparts from the P5+1 and Iran for a meeting in New York on September 20 to broach the subject. A defining moment is approaching – least of all that Tillerson for the first time comes face to face with Zarif.

For Iran, the role of Russia and China will be of crucial importance. China may become wobbly when its self-interest is likely to be affected. The point is, all this ultimately would go into the alchemy of the ‘new type of relationship’ China hopes to work out with Trump. Also, Kushner happens to be Beijing’s point person in the White House. (China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi met him Wednesday to discuss father-in-law’s state visit in November.)

After meeting Putin in Sochi, Zarif said that the discussion was “substantial and positive.” Zarif hinted that Russia also would agree that the 2015 nuclear deal is “non-negotiable and that all sides to the agreement must fulfil their obligations.” The situation developing around Iran will throw light on the ground realities as regards Iran’s integration into the Eurasian space. The Kremlin readout gave no details, but it stands to reason that given Russia’s quasi-alliance with Iran in regional politics, Zarif’s optimism is justified. Above all, Russia and Iran are working together as “guarantors” to stabilize the situation in Syria, as the latest development in regard of the de-escalation zone in Idlib in northern Syria highlights once again. To be sure, “multipolarity” in the world order is facing the litmus test.

September 14, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Moscow ‘preparing inevitable response’ as US hits Russians with new sanctions over N. Korea

RT | August 23, 2017

Moscow has fired back at the latest round of US sanctions targeting Russian interests, as Washington blacklisted one Russian company and four individuals for their alleged dealings with North Korea.

On Tuesday, the US Treasury revealed it had imposed sanctions on 16 Russian and Chinese nationals and companies for their alleged dealings with North Korea. The Treasury claims the sanctions are in line with the internationally agreed measures against North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs. The companies are accused of working with blacklisted individuals, helping develop the North Korean energy sector, help it place workers abroad or move money from abroad. As a result, their US assets are frozen and Americans are forbidden from doing business with them.

“It is unacceptable for individuals and companies in China, Russia, and elsewhere to enable North Korea to generate income used to develop weapons of mass destruction and destabilize the region,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

“We are taking actions consistent with UN sanctions to show that there are consequences for defying sanctions and providing support to North Korea, and to deter this activity in the future.”

Reacting to the sanctions, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov issued a statement expressing disappointment, and warning Washington that Russia was working on a response.

“Against such a depressing backdrop, the lip service from American representatives about the desire to stabilize bilateral relations is extremely unconvincing,” Ryabkov said. “We have always and will always support resolving our existing differences through dialogue. In recent years, Washington in theory should have learned that for us the language of sanctions is unacceptable, and the solutions to real problems are only hindered by such actions. So far, however, there doesn’t seem to be an understanding of such obvious truths.”

“Nevertheless, we do not lose our hope that the voice of reason will sooner or later prevail, and that our American colleagues will be aware of the futility and detrimental nature of further sliding down the spiral of sanctions.”

In the meantime, we are beginning to work out the inevitable response to this situation.”

The companies under sanction include Gefest-M, a Moscow-based firm accused of acquiring metals for a North Korean company, and Mingzheng International Trading, a Chinese and Hong Kong-based bank that supposedly conducted transactions on behalf of North Korea.

Andrey Klimov, a senior Russian senator, said that the US sanctions against Gefest-M and the others lack legitimacy.

“These sanctions are illegal in themselves, because the only thing recognized by international law is the sanctions of the UN Security Council,” Klimov told Interfax. “We must react in principle to this insane and confrontational policy. The toolbox is rich, let’s hope that we will act consistently, reasonably, professionally and effectively.”

Klimov’s words were echoed by the Chinese government, with a spokesperson saying Beijing “opposes unilateral sanctions out[side] of the UN Security Council framework.”

“We strongly urge the US to immediately correct its mistake, so as not to impact bilateral cooperation on relevant issues,” the spokesperson said, as quoted by the Financial Times.

At the same time, the US Department of Justice also filed two complaints to forfeit over $11 million from two Asian companies for allegedly laundering funds for North Korea.

The DoJ alleges that the two companies violated the international sanctions against North Korea and indirectly supporting its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

“The United States filed two complaints today seeking imposition of a civil money laundering penalty and to civilly forfeit more than $11 million from companies that allegedly acted as financial facilitators for North Korea,” read the statement.

Proceedings have been launched against Velmur Management Pte Ltd., based in Singapore, as well as the Chinese company Dandong Chengtai Trading Co. Ltd.

READ MORE:

US embassy in Russia temporarily halts issue of non-immigrant visas

August 22, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 1 Comment

A ‘new normal’ in South China Sea

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | August 16, 2017

India’s ‘Look East’ policy, which shifted to ‘Act East’ under the Modi government circa 2015, may now have to quickly shift again – to, say, ‘Watch East’. It will be on the one hand a judicious shift in tune with the rapid stabilization of the ASEAN’s relations with China and on the other hand a cathartic experience insofar as the rapid flow of events in the south-east Asian region holds some useful lessons for Indian diplomacy.

Looking back, the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s award of 12 July 2016 on the South China Sea (SCS) has turned out to be a turning point, opening a new page of cooperation between the ASEAN and China. A fair amount of ground has been covered in the past year with the hotline at foreign ministry level to manage maritime emergencies, the operationalization of the observance of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea, and the framework of the Code of Conduct in the SCS. Sourabh Gupta at the Institute for China-America Studies in Washington sums up:

  • In fact, every member of Asean, with the exception perhaps of Singapore, yearns for the success of Asean-China political relations – but not at the inadmissible cost of having to capitulate to Beijing’s unilateral and non-conforming sovereign rights claim to oil and gas resources in their respective exclusive economic zones in the South China Sea.
  • The current easing cycle, rather, will lend itself to a period of strategic calm in this critically important waterway. Without an agitated local claimant on whose behalf it can claim to be intervening to uphold the stability of the South China Sea, the US has few other tools at its disposal to assert its relevance and authority in this body of water other than to endlessly navigate its length and breadth.

No doubt, the announcement in Manila on Wednesday of a new “modus vivendi” or a new “way to get along” is in sync with the trend outlined above by Gupta. It appears that there has been a diplomatic breakthrough between the Philippines and China. “The Chinese will not occupy new features in the South China Sea nor are they are going to build structures in Scarborough Shoal,” Philippine Defense Minister Delfin Lorenzana told lawmakers in Manila on Tuesday. Cayetano also said the Philippines was working on a “commercial deal” with China to explore and exploit oil and gas resources in disputed areas of the SCS with an aim to begin drilling within a year. (Reuters )

To be sure, when the “frontline state” that is Philippines leaves behind standoffs and brinkmanship with China, something has fundamentally changed in the SCS. There are lessons here for other countries having territorial disputes with China. The Philippine approach under President Rodrigo Duterte is strikingly similar to India’s under the leadership of former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh – “compartmentalizing” different templates of the relationship with China whereby hugely beneficial economic engagement is possible without forfeiting the prerogative to uphold national security interests.

The East Asia Forum has featured a riveting analysis of Duterte’s policy by Prof. Aileen S P Baviera at the University of the Philippines, who writes,

  • By de-linking economic relations from management of the disputes, Manila can benefit from Beijing at a time when sustained high growth and investor confidence in the Philippines coincides with a massive investment drive by China as part of BRI… Duterte’s China policy shift also reduces disagreement within ASEAN over the handling of the disputes.

Of course, the success of the policy also depends on China. To quote Baviera, “China would have to downplay nationalist emotions and restrain military adventurism. This could give Duterte breathing space both for repairing relations with China and reorienting the US alliance towards more convergent objectives.”

Ironically, Duterte’s new thinking bears striking similarity with the former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s policies toward China. Yet, Duterte’s political personality happens to have more in common with Prime Minister Modi than with Manmohan Singh. Like Modi, Duterte is also a strongman populist. Both thrive on polarizing domestic politics and both pursue controversial approaches to social problems. Neither can claim to have a sophisticated understanding of international affairs. But where Duterte leaves Modi miles behind is in his pragmatism to eschew confrontation and megaphone diplomacy to leave the territorial disputes as a stalemate and instead maximise the economic benefits of the China relationship .

These are early days, but according to reports from Hanoi, the Spanish drilling ship, which has been prospecting in the disputed waters in in Vietnam’s Block 136/3 last month, has left the area after pressure from China. Interestingly, according to reports citing a “diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the situation”, Hanoi’s decision to suspend the drilling followed the visit of a Vietnamese delegation to Beijing.

The big question is whether the tidings from Manila and Hanoi presage a “new normal”. Though the Code of Conduct between China and the aggrieved members of the ASEAN is not yet a done deal, a future order of the SCS based on international rules and norms seems a near-term possibility. The Global Times newspaper carried on Tuesday a “preview” of what a future SCS order might look like – based on principles of “equality”, “balance” and “openness”. Read it here.

August 16, 2017 Posted by | Economics | , , , , | Leave a comment

‘Africans will be biggest losers after letting foreign military into their continent’

RT | August 9, 2017

Africa has become a staging ground where foreign countries can show off their military capabilities against one another away from their country of origin at the expense of Africans, says African affairs expert Ayo Johnson.

Turkey is gearing to open its largest overseas military base in Somalia.

The United Arab Emirates are building a military base at the port of Berbera, in the self-declared Republic of Somaliland.

Africa is an attraction to foreign militaries: China opened its first overseas military base on August,1 in Djibouti on the Horn of Africa. Djibouti is also currently housing Americans, Japanese and French troops.

RT discussed why Africa has become so popular with the foreign military with Africa affairs expert Ayo Johnson who believes the world powers are turning the continent into the latest theater of military confrontation.

“Back in colonial days, we saw Africa being cut up and carved up by the Western nations. Now we are seeing Africa again being the center ground for the new verge of a proxy war because all these different countries which are founding military bases on the African continent. It is a huge worry,” Ayo Johnson told RT.

In Johnson’s opinion, “it is showing that Africans can’t protect themselves and it is also showing that Africans can’t control their own affairs and ultimately it is finders keepers.”

“We have China who already has a military base of its own, the excuse is that it ultimately wants to protect its own investment which we know it has on the African continent. Also, it says it wants to prevent piracy and to be able to launch against such events,” Johnson said.

“The Americans have similar bases, not to mention the Europeans. So, on the ground itself, ultimately the African continent is becoming the staging ground for the next possibly violent confrontation between the superpowers of the world in their so-called proxy battles,” he continued.

According to Johnson, such interest in the continent might be explained by its strategic location.

“The Horn of Africa is the gateway for many shipping lanes, the protection of that area because of long term standing piracy issues. But others would say it is about land grab, control; it is about influence.”

“The Americans, the British and other Europeans, not to mention the Chinese most recently, all seem to have a huge stake and might show their muscles and their military capabilities against one another. Africa has now become a staging ground from which they can exploit those opportunities away from their own individual countries, a place where they can prowess their military might at the expense of Africans,” Johnson noted.

Despite the increased foreign military presence, the problem of piracy in the region remains unsettled.

“One thing for sure is that piracy still exists and it will continue and is unlikely to stop or to be slowed down.”

“Again in terms of terrorism, Al-Qaeda and ISIS still have strongholds and control, influence in that part of the world and the military bases that are physically positioned there. If they are there to prevent such attacks, I think in the short term or more long term it could create antagonism, create a problem for locals who may want to join those organizations to attack the military powers that are there. So the protection of Africa becomes the reverse, becomes an area where everyone wants to show each other what they are capable of doing and that is the worry, be it terrorist or be it an American, European or even most recently the Turks are also considering having bases there,” he told RT.

Johnson claimed “that comes at the expense of every single African nation – ultimately the biggest losers will be every single individual on the African continent.”

August 10, 2017 Posted by | Militarism | , , , , | Leave a comment

Why Siding with Washington on Korea May Be Dangerous

By Finian CUNNINGHAM | Strategic Culture Foundation | 10.08.2017

In backing the latest US-led sanctions against North Korea at the United Nations Security Council, both China and Russia seem to have made a tenuous bet to resolve the crisis on the Asian peninsula. By deferring to Washington’s punitive sanctions, Beijing and Moscow are calculating that the US will relent on their proposals for comprehensive talks and a freeze on American military exercises with its South Korean ally.

China and Russia may regret their course of action. Since the imposition of new sanctions on North Korea last weekend, the tensions in the region have ratcheted up to alarming levels. US President Trump has even been accused of using «unhinged» language by members of Congress after he threatened to unleash «fire and fury» on North Korea «with a power the world has never seen before». Some American lawmakers were comparing Trump’s rhetoric with that of North Korea’s fiery leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea, predictably, responded to Trump’s outburst by declaring that its leadership was considering a pre-emptive military strike on the US air base on the Pacific island of Guam.

The region is being put on a hair-trigger for war – a war that would certainly involve the use of nuclear weapons. The American side has come to the conclusion that North Korea has finally mastered the technology to fit a nuclear warhead on its already proven intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability, reported the Washington Post this week. That means that if a military confrontation breaks out, the US will be tempted to use overwhelming force.

Trump’s words about deploying «power the likes of which the world has never seen before» are especially icy given the 72nd anniversary this week of the US dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.

When the UN Security Council convened last weekend it passed Resolution 2371 unanimously with 15 votes to 0. It was a surprise turnaround by China and Russia. Last month, following North Korea’s ICBM test on July 4, both Beijing and Moscow rejected the US call for more sanctions on Pyongyang. They said then that sanctions policy doesn’t work and instead called for all-party dialogue to resolve the long-running Korean crisis. China and Russia also made the eminently reasonable call for the US and its South Korean ally to desist from their frequent joint war maneuvers, which the Communist North perceives as a threat of invasion.

Over the past few weeks, the US and China reportedly engaged in intense negotiations over the Korean issue. Trump accused his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping of not doing enough to rein in allied North Korea. The US also threatened to take punitive action against China over wider issues of trade and intellectual property rights. Before the weekend vote at the UNSC, Trump inexplicably cancelled a speech in which he was expected to lay out tough American actions against China over commercial disputes. That suggests some kind of bargain was done between Washington and Beijing – and that China voting for further sanctions on North Korea was part of it.

Following the unanimous vote at the UNSC, Trump and his ambassador Nikki Haley reportedly could hardly contain their glee over «the united response» against «rogue state North Korea».

What Russia gets out of it is not clear. Perhaps Russia felt that to veto the sanctions against North Korea would have incurred international wrath. But it seems curious that Moscow should go along with sanctions at the very same time that Washington is provocatively imposing similar measures against it too.

What appears to be in the calculus by China and Russia is that by giving a sop to the American desire to get tough on North Korea, they are anticipating that the US will agree to calls for multi-party talks and a freeze on military activities on the Korean Peninsula.

Both the Chinese and Russian ambassadors to the UN coupled the latest resolution for sanctions against North Korea with the reboot of the six-party negotiations involving the two Koreas, China, Russia, Japan and the US. Those talks were abandoned in 2009 when the US and North Korea broke off in recriminations.

Last week, before the UN vote, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made a significant speech in which he said that the US was not seeking regime change in Pyongyang, nor had any intention of going to war on North Korea.

Following the UN sanctions, Tillerson sounded a conciliatory note while attending the summit of the Association of South East Asian Nations in Manila. The summit was also attended by Chinese and Russian counterparts Wang Yi and Sergei Lavrov. Tillerson said the US was open to dialogue with North Korea if the latter stopped its missile tests. That appeared to be a significant concession from the US side towards resolving the Korean problem.

However, this is where the calculation comes unstuck. The backing of more sanctions against North Korea by China and Russia may have softened the stance of the US somewhat, but at what price?

From the North Korean side, the increased sanctions are tantamount to an act of war. The new measures are aimed at banning the country’s top export earning commodities, including coal, minerals and seafood. The new sanctions will reportedly slash North Korea’s annual export revenue by one-third, down to $2 billion a year. Not surprisingly, Pyongyang responded furiously, saying the sanctions were an attack on its sovereignty.

Given Trump’s propensity for Twitter diplomacy, the spiral of rhetoric could lead to disastrous misunderstanding, as this week is tending to show.

In retrospect, it seems astonishing that Beijing and Moscow made the bet they did over new sanctions. The damage cannot be undone. But what China and Russia must do immediately is to insist that all sides proceed to multilateral talks and the standing down of military forces. The onus is primarily on the US to stand down its military power in the region. It needs to cancel its provocative maneuvers with its ally in Seoul – due again later this month – and it needs to halt the ongoing installation of the THAAD missile system on South Korean territory.

It is misplaced for China and Russia to pander to the US over sanctions and to expect something by way of concessions in return. The arrogant Americans don’t know the meaning of concessions, they only perceive weakness and will move to capitalize on weakness.

By indulging American demands for more sanctions on North Korea, the danger comes from emboldening Washington’s hubris and its own sense of impunity. One would think that Russia, above all, should understand that dynamic given its own experience over the US confiscating diplomatic properties and slapping on ever-more sanctions.

What Moscow and Beijing should do as a matter of urgency is to never mind new sanctions on North Korea; they should demand that Washington removes its military threat against North Korea – a threat that has been looming since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Then all sides must open talks without preconditions for a comprehensive peace settlement on the peninsula.

Pandering to a bully is never a good idea.

August 10, 2017 Posted by | Militarism | , , , | Leave a comment