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May 8, 2013

Beijing and Moscow: Pyongyang’s Silent Partners

April 3, 2013 by

Photo released by KCNA news agency on March 29, 2013 shows top leader Kim Jong-Un

As tension mounts on the Korean Peninsula, consider the two most reluctant participants, Russia and China. Russian involvement in Korean affairs can be traced back to the 19th century and China has been involved for several centuries. Both states are trapped into supporting Pyongyang for economic and diplomatic rewards.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin gambled that the cancellation of economic aid would lead to better economic relations with the Republic of Korea. The gamble failed because China entered the void that Russian influence had once filled and consequently it partly restored its traditional suzerain relationship with Korea. Yet to gain this influence, China took over the burden of aid to Pyongyang, which now accounts for 70% of energy and regular donations of over $1m in food aid.

Without significant influence over Pyongyang, the weakest partner in the Six Party Talks, President Putin and Medvedev have both attempted to rekindle relations. This has gifted Kim Jong-Un an opportunity to take advantage of Sino-Russian competition for influence. He and his father, Kim Jong-Il, exploited this opportunity by continually refusing to settle Cold War era debt, stating that they were donations.

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Petulant Child: North Korea and Chastisement

March 15, 2013 by

Kim Jong-Un arrives on Mu Islet, located in southwest North Korea on the border with South Korea. Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)

Kim Jong-Un arrives on Mu Islet, located in southwest North Korea on the border with South Korea. Image via Korean Central News Agency (KCNA)

It is treated as a petulant child, the infelicitous member of the world community, and devoid of fidelity. Fareed Zakaria in The Washington Post, struggling with his crystal ball gazing, tries to find the tempo the DPRK clicks to. He decides that Karl Marx’s remark about history repeating itself a second time as farce after tragedy requires a third phase: North Korea.

The assumptions, for there are only assumptions, are many. The decisions are not coming from the leader himself, the seemingly child-like steward Kim Jong-Un. No, that would be too much. As with previous ideologies of watching, be it with China, or with the Soviet Union, leaderships can be hostages to factions, to cliques, Mikado-like in their ceremonial impotence. The “experts” are, however, often the last to know.

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Consequences of Obama’s ‘Asia Pivot’

March 11, 2013 by

President Barack Obama at the White House

In the kaleidoscopic world of power politics in Asia, the United States’ pivot to that region may yield the unintentional consequences of fostering closer strategic ties between the two Asian giants - China and India – which could result in a strategic alliance ostensibly hostile to Western interests in the region.

Analysts will be quick to point out that the ‘all weather friendship’ between the two countries, has hit a natural ceiling due to the strategic competition between the (re)emerging powers. For example, China is deepening its ties with Pakistan militarily (both countries signed a military cooperation agreement in September 2012), provides nuclear support, and has finally taken over management of the port of Gwadar on Pakistan’s Makran coast. India on the other hand is trying to counter China’s influence in Asia by fostering closer ties with the countries of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), especially in the field of naval cooperation, which adversely affects China’s position in the Indian Ocean and South China Sea. Both countries’ increasing energy demands also put the two giants on a collision course.

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Washington’s Asia Pivot

December 26, 2012 by

In March 1990, Time Magazine titled an article “Ripples in The American Lake.” It was not about small waves in that body of water just north of Fort Lewis, Washington. It was talking about the Pacific Ocean, the largest on the planet, embracing over half of humanity and the three largest economies in the world.  

Time did not invent the term—it is generally attributed to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, U.S. Pacific commander during WW II—but its casual use by the publication was a reflection of more than 100 years of American policy in this immense area.

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Convergence of US and Chinese interests on African Security? The Case of the Two Sudans

November 2, 2012 by

Liberian children hold Chinese flags before the arrival of China’s President Hu Jintao in Monrovia in 2007. Christopher Herwig/Reuters via Reuters

There has been intense interest in and outright alarm expressed by western civil society and governments on the rapidly increasing Chinese presence in almost all spheres in African life. Many articles paint a picture of a saintly west and a demonic China in Africa, charging the Chinese on the hearsay evidence of abuse of African workers and poor Chinese workmanship of roads and infrastructure projects. The Chinese focus on resources and infrastructure and its pragmatic and self-interest motivated policy of non-interference in domestic affairs is paraded as the smoking gun of Chinese responsibility for a range of African ills from unemployment here in Cape Town where I write, to the Darfur genocide.

The intense interest by the west in China-Africa relations - arguably a natural development of the globalization process - betrays a deep seated unease on the part of the west as Chinese companies, government and Chinese models of development are shown to be more adaptable, better liked and more suitable in Africa compared to the western counterparts.

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Insider Trading, Chinese Style

October 30, 2012 by

China’s Wen Jiabao. Maciej Śmiarowski/KPRM

Regarding the epic financial machinations allegedly practiced by the family of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, his supporters can draw consolation from the fact that the Wen family compares favorably to the Bo Xilai family in the matter of financial sophistication, investment success, and in not murdering its financial adviser.  They may also be heartened by the thought that China’s tycoons are achieving parity with the West in best practices of legalized insider trading and self-dealing.

There is another group that definitely feels thrilled and empowered by the New York Times’ blockbuster revelation concerning an alleged US$2.7 billion nest egg possessed by Premier Wen Jiabao’s family.  That group is not China’s dissidents. It is Western print journalists, who feel under siege around the world, and especially in China.

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Reheating the Beans: The Gillard White Paper on Asia

October 29, 2012 by

Australia’s Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Paul Miller/AAP

It has a familiar ring to it. Australia, that White Tribe of Asia, is now sounding desperate, hoping for recognition in a region it has struggled to comprehend since the days of British colonisation. If human beings are seeking to find the common thread of expression, that elemental language amongst Babel’s sea of tongues, then we can say that the White Paper on the Asian Century seeks to do so – in part.

This is, however, only the start. There are, altogether, 25 speculative objectives. Four “Asian” languages have been selected as priorities: Chinese, Indonesian, Hindi and Japanese. The report deems it fundamental that every child be given the chance to learn an Asian language throughout their education in a school system that “will be in the top five in the world”. Globally, Australia will be ranked in the top five countries for ease of doing business and our innovation system will be in the world’s top 10. Astrology is a superb thing in some ways, but dangerous in politics.

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Raising the Stakes in Asia

October 26, 2012 by

Depending on one’s ideological bent, America’s so-called “pivot to Asia” could be interpreted in varying ways. However, one thing that is increasingly clear is that the Obama administration is intent on re-asserting America’s strategic centrality in the Asia-Pacific. This was very explicit in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s 2011 piece for Foreign Policy, entitled “America’s Pacific Century.”

The U.S. pivot to Asia is motivated and shaped by both economic and military-strategic factors. Essentially, it is still an ongoing process that will depend on the cooperation of regional allies as well as the evolving patterns of Sino-American relations.

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Prelude to Election: The Third Presidential Debate

October 23, 2012 by

Mitt Romney and Barack Obama during the debate. Jim Lo Scalzo/EPA

There were no spectacular implosions, no remarkable points of stumbling. The third and last debate between President Barack Obama and contender Governor Mitt Romney was not the most exciting affair, though it showed Obama to be far more accomplished, and the result for Romney acceptable. Sitting down, Obama could assume the role of academic in viva mode, searchingly probing Romney on vulnerable points.

The theme of the debate was foreign policy, a suggestion that irked some commentators.  Ezra Klein, writing for The Washington Post, put it starkly: we shouldn’t be having a foreign policy debate at all. “Gas prices are set on a global market. Flu pandemics with the possibility to kill thousands or even millions of Americans begin on farms in Asia. Food safety is no longer a domestic question when you’re importing your grapes from Chile.”

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China’s Dangerous Game: Resource Investment and the Future of Africa

October 9, 2012 by

Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad, part of China’s growing economic presence in Africa. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times via The New York Times

It was an important day for Angola, June 20th, 2006. Amid the diplomatic pomp and handshakes of an official visit Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao opened the Luanda General Hospital and had his picture taken peering into a microscope surrounded by officials in suits and medics in white smocks.  The capital’s General Hospital, a sprawling eighty-thousand square meter complex, was constructed with Chinese funds and meant to symbolize the growing partnership between Beijing and Angola, a symbol replicated across the African continent in countless roads, bridges, and other infrastructure projects funded by Chinese investments.

Premier Wen stayed only 24 hours but the hospital remained; a physical reminder of Sino-African trust and cooperation. Four years later the hospital was in imminent danger of collapse. Deep cracks ran through its walls, bricks crumbled under the structure’s weight. Personnel and 150 patients were evacuated with some forced to live in tents on the hospital grounds. Beijing dispatched an investigatory team and their findings concluded that faulty Angolan surveys resulted in flawed Chinese designs, a diagnosis that has come to symbolize the greater Sino-African relationship: great ambitions built on uncertain ground.

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China’s Deft Sudan Diplomacy

September 28, 2012 by

President Salva Kiir in Juba. Isaac Billy/UN

Beginning in the late 1990s, China made major investments in Sudan’s oil sector. When Sudan was still one country, China developed the oil fields initially discovered by the American company Chevron, built the pipelines for transporting crude from Sudan’s interior to Port Sudan on the Red Sea and built the oil refinery.

China obtained control of 40 percent of Sudan’s oil production and shared the remainder with the governments of Sudan, Malaysia and India. When the oil fields were operating at maximum capacity, China obtained between 5 and 6 percent of its total crude imports from Sudan.

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Japan-China Relations in Rough Waters

September 25, 2012 by

Could Japan and China—the number two and three largest economies in the world—really get into a punch-out over five tiny islands covering less than four square miles?

According to the International Crisis Group, maybe: “All the trends are in the wrong direction, and prospects of resolution are diminishing.”  That the two Asian superpowers could actually come to blows seems unthinkable, but a devil’s brew of suspicion, anger, ham-handed diplomacy, and a growing US military presence has escalated a minor dispute into something that could turn very ugly if someone makes a misstep.  

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Emerging Powers expand ties with Africa

September 17, 2012 by

Chinese and Chadian workers at an oil site in southern Chad, part of China’s growing economic presence in Africa. Ruth Fremson/The New York Times via The New York Times

The end of the Cold War resulted in the strategic disengagement of western countries, including the United States, from Africa. They continued their trade, aid and assistance relationship with Africa, but once the threat of communist expansion disappeared, the West interacted with the continent in a different way. This change permitted an opening for several emerging countries to expand their ties with Africa.

As some of these emerging non-African countries became economically strong, they increasingly replaced western influence and engagement in Africa, particularly in certain countries. This new development has fundamentally changed the relationship between the fifty-four countries of Africa and the rest of the world.

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War By Other Means: Chinese Economic Espionage in the Automobile Sector

September 3, 2012 by

Automobile assembly line in Zhejiang province, China. Image via Business Week

China’s continued development and geopolitical rise, though impressive and seemingly globally-minded, serve as a reminder that its dual economic and security-focused interests remain a threat undermining both competitors and trading partners.

In May of this year, the US Department of Defense released its annual report on China’s military capabilities, entitled, “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2012.” The report outlines a growing and emerging Chinese military focused on obtaining Western dual-use and military technologies by any means.

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Left Behind: Re-Evaluating American Hegemony

August 27, 2012 by

Chinese President Hu Jintao in Washington. Samantha Appleton/White House

Over the past decade, amidst appalling civilian casualties in one war of questionable legality and another of dubious wisdom, American foreign policy became the great bogey-man of the political left the world over.  For liberal Americans, the bullish behavior of the Bush Administration induced the pretension of Canadian citizenship abroad and a previously unimaginable mainstream audience for leftist favorites Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky at home.  Polled Europeans named the United States as the greatest threat to world peace.

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