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May 28, 2013

Challenges for China-Africa Relations

April 18, 2013 by

President Jacob Zuma addresses the China-Africa roundtable meeting hosted by China’s President Xi Jinping in Durban, South Africa. Image via GovernmentZA

Adapted from Amb. David H. Shinn’s Speech to the Cosmopolitan Club in Manhattan.

Before making any predictions it is important to begin with a few basic assumptions about China that will also impact its relations with Africa. I believe China’s leadership will remain stable and in full control of the country through at least the Xi Jinping era. China’s focus will remain on ensuring domestic political stability and economic development. But structural challenges such as its aging demography, continued migration to cities, higher population growth rate as a result of loosening restrictions on the one child policy, higher labor costs, dangerous levels of income inequality, lack of a universal social security system, worsening environmental conditions, more severe weather events due to climate change, increasing domestic pressure for input on decision-making by ordinary Chinese, and growing global competition from other emerging nations will take their toll on China’s society and system of governance.

Nevertheless, China’s GDP growth rate will continue to out-perform the world average, but at a less impressive rate than during that past three decades. China will also maintain a high savings rate and contribute disproportionately to global economic growth. While it will try to change elements of the existing international order, it will operate within this system rather than try to replace it.

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The “Cyber Weapons Gap”: What do we really know about China’s Cyber Warfare Capabilities?

December 22, 2012 by

The journalist, Joseph Alsop, was not mincing words in his syndicated column on August 1, 1958: “The Eisenhower Administration is guilty of gross untruth concerning the national defense of the U.S.” The reason behind this vitriol was the now infamous (and fictional) missile gap—a presumed strategic advantage for the Soviet Union over the United States in bombers and nuclear missiles—that Alsop believed was factual.

When Ike read the paper he supposedly threw it across the room. The president knew the gap was fictional due to top secret, U-2 spy flights over the Soviet Union, but he could not inform the public about the non-existing missile gap due to the top-secret nature of the flights. Alsop had received incomplete intelligence from the Air Force and a couple of US senators. For years the fear of a missile gap poisoned the discourse about Soviet capabilities and led to an increase in military spending under the Kennedy administration.

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The GOP: Retrograde or Reformist?

November 5, 2012 by

The Republican Party Today and the Romney Campaign

The Republican Party is in a state of disarray and needs to change. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign, and the extreme positions from which he is now trying to distance himself, provides insights into this situation. It is not surprising that Governor Romney tacked hard to the right during the Republican primary and is now emphasizing a more moderate brand in his latest incarnation of himself.

Nonetheless, I am concerned about a range of public policy issues: the deficit, a disastrously dysfunctional Congress and the rising cost of higher education. I am also worried that there is no overarching strategy that underpins American foreign policy today. Yet, as this election cycle painfully draws to a close, what bothers me the most is the current state of the Republican Party and its dismal prospects for the future.

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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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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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America’s Challenging Cyber Defense Policy

October 15, 2012 by

In a speech on October 11, 2012 on Pentagon responses to evolving cyber threats, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, revealed both the strengths and shortcomings of United States public policy on issues of national cyber defense. The forum for the speech was not necessarily the place where Panetta might have been expected to give a full exposition of policy, yet in his need to brief and to summarize complex issues of his audience of Business Executives for National Security, the Secretary allowed a glimpse into where the United States is and where it is going.

Panetta set the scene by mentioning the threat of a “crippling cyber attack” every bit as serious as the terrorist attacks of September 11. He addressed three tracks the Pentagon is following: new capabilities, policies and organization at DoD level, and alliance building with other countries and with the private sector.

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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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Does India have the Potential of Besting the Chinese?

September 9, 2012 by

A Chinese soldier gestures as he stands near an Indian soldier on the ancient Nathu La border crossing between India and China. Diptendu Dutta/AFP/Getty Images via Washington Post

In China’s struggle to rise to its perceived natural place at the “center of the earth,” its key competitor is not the United States but India. Of China’s neighbors, only India can challenge China as a regional hegemon. This regional conflict has the potential of escalating into a military confrontation over the sovereignty of the South China Sea.

India’s civilian government has made clear that it views balancing against China a high priority. In late 2011, Vietnam sold blocks of oil and gas rights in the South China Sea to India’s state-owned oil company (ONGC Videsh Limited or OVL).

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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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The Crisis in Mali

August 26, 2012 by

A cholera hospital close to the Mali border in western Niger. Sean Smith

The reports filtering out of Northern Mali are appalling: a young couple stoned to death, iconic ancient shrines dismantled, and some 365,000 refugees fleeing beatings and whippings for the slightest violations of Sharia law.  But the bad dream unfolding in this West African country is less the product of a radical version of Islam than a consequence of the West’s scramble for resources on this vast continent, and the wages of sin from the recent Libyan war.

The current crisis gripping northern Mali—an area about the size of France— has its origins in the early years of the Bush Administration, when the U.S. declared the Sahara desert a hotbed of “terrorism” and poured arms and Special Forces into the area as part of the Trans-Sahal Counter Terrorism Initiative. But, according to anthropologist Jeremy Keenan, who has done extensive fieldwork in Mali and the surrounding area, the “terrorism” label had no basis in fact, but was simply designed to “justify the militarization of Africa.”

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Exploring Sino-Russian Relations: The Dynamic Partnership

August 23, 2012 by

Vladimir Putin with China’s Hu Jintao in Beijing. Image via Kremlin’s Press Office

Exploring the dimensions of Sino-Russian relations reveals a perplexing question, “who is the junior partner?” No definite answer presents itself because Sino-Russian relations change depending on different issues and situations. In the post Cold War era, China has proved to be very adaptable to change while Russia has struggled to restructure to the new order.  However, elements of this relationship afford Russia the facility to reassert authority over the international scene. The equation behind these circumstances is that the relationship benefits Moscow’s interest in the short term and Beijing’s interest in the long term.

Since the Soviet Union dissolved, Russia has been experiencing a national identity crisis. Russia went from being a superpower to a source of regional military and economic instability.

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Post-Assad Syria: A Region in Turmoil

August 21, 2012 by

Syrian fighter during fighting in Aleppo, Syria. Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Syria is in dire straits. The once regal and prosperous cities of Damascus and Aleppo have now become the primary battlefields of the Syrian Army against opposition forces. Since the start of the Syrian uprising in March 2011, the calm and serenity of both Damascus and Aleppo were often touted by the Syrian regime to the world as indicators of Syrian stability.  The swift change from peace to turmoil however, has happened almost overnight, with President Assad describing the current battle in Aleppo as decisive of Syria’s fate.

The massive explosion which occurred on July 18 in the heart of the Syrian regime’s security organization in Damascus killed a number of people within Assad’s security and military inner circle, shocking the Syrian government and severely shaking the stability of the regime’s pillars.

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New Cold War? Rising Tensions between U.S. and China

July 19, 2012 by

President Barack Obama and President Hu Jintao of China attend a meeting in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building of the White House. Samantha Appleton/White House

China and the United States have never been close allies, but do differences between these two respective superpowers run the risk of erupting into a new-Cold War?  Today, Chinese assertiveness on the world stage acts as a counter-balance to American overtures to several Asian-Pacific states: Vietnam, Cambodia and Burma.

American policy towards Taiwan and Japan has always made China uneasy, not to mention a military aliance with South Korea for over fifty years.  An American policy shift away from Europe and the Middle East towards the Pacific has made China unneasy. After a decade or more of influencing China’s neighbors, the United States is seeking an opportunity to develop allies in the region, which will pave the way for renewed tensions.

Since President Barack Obama visited the East Asia Summit in Bali in November 2011, and later concluded a security arrangement with Australia, the United States has cemented its relationship with several Asian-Pacific states.

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