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Egypt: The Role of The Internet and Why Beijing is Watching

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There’s nothing the social media and tech mavens like doing more than talking up social media and its influence.

In Iran, that influence turned out to be overplayed, and the ‘Green Revolution’ fizzled out. But in Tunisia and Egypt, it seems like it did indeed play a major organizational role, at least in catalyzing the original clashes. The Iranian police state proved itself much more adept at manipulating social media for its own ends. Plus it had the added advantage of dealing with a rebellion that was bourgeois in origin. The Egyptian riots seem to have a far wider social base, which may prove to be crucial. It’s interesting to note that in both Tunisia and Egypt, satellite cities away from the capital played a big role in fomenting the rebellion.

But regardless of the social pattern, it’s clear to Thereisnoplan that the internet is a crucial part of the equation in Egypt, which explains why it was cut off. Washington has been watching closely, but I’m guessing that Beijing has been taking note too.

China has overheated its economy pretty nicely. A real estate bubble, a more educated, and connected population with vastly increased expectations, inflation levels near the tipping point, and a depressed international consumer economy are adding real pressure for political change. And while China’s conciliatory approach to human rights and democratic change is probably just talk, unlike their distaste for the current Nobel Peace Prize recipient – they’re getting closer and closer to a time when concrete decisions will have to be made.

Capitalism is unsettling. It makes poor people want what richer people have, it makes richer people want more, and it makes both rich and poor think that they can attain their goals. Everyone is restless, nobody is happy, and when they’re not satisfied they want to be able to express that dissatisfaction, and to have their grievances heard and acted upon by their representatives – usually elected. The apparatus of the Chinese Communist Party isn’t built like that. Up until now, China was so poor that it could catch up with the rest of the world and maintain Communist power. But those times are coming to an end.

And the wild card, even the potential decisive factor, is the Internet. The Internet gives the masses the two things Beijing least want them to have – knowledge and the ability to communicate quickly, efficiently, and laterally.  It’s clear that China’s leaders are terrified by the Internet. They censor it, block it, cajole its leaders, but they can’t ultimately control a fluid, ever changing phenomenon. Ultimately, it will prevail, because people want it to. What’s happening in Egypt is probably sending chills down the collective Communist Party spine.

If the Chinese economy melts down in the next decade, which is a distinct possibility, another Tiananmen Square could be cranked up by Social media, the internet and cellphones really, really easily. The student flashmob could grow and grow and get noisier and noisier, very fast. And if they refuse to go home like they refused to do twenty-two years ago, new demonstrations could pop up in other major Chinese cities in hours. Suddenly, the Communist Party would be faced with a nationwide scenario where its authority is threatened, and the party would face an intolerable choice. Fire or back down. If they fire, they could fan the flames and ultimately be consumed by them in which case China enters a period of instability and potential chaos which would reverberate across the entire planet. If they don’t, they open the door to the vagaries of change which could also very conceivably swallow them up.

The Internet is a beast that Beijing can’t control, and ultimately they know it. Access to it is a privilege a new Chinese generation accepts as a right. Remove it or choke it off and you pay the price. Allow it to grow and you lose control. The choices that Chinese leaders are going to be forced to make are choices they will most decidedly not like like making.

Add in festering economic issues and there’s a heady cocktail brewing.

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Written by coolrebel

January 29, 2011 at 1:15 am

Welcome to the Bullshit Era

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In the old days, policy used to have at least some potential to become reality, but it’s becoming increasingly clear that in America at least, those days are over. Nothing anybody seems to suggest from the President on downwards seems to mean a hill of beans anymore. It’s as if the country is set on a course for planet “slow decline into mediocrity” (or worse) and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it. All this despite some soaring rhetoric from the President, and plenty of hot air from just about everyone else.

Here’s a rundown of the current bullshitian landscape.

Jobs.

Anyone who thinks a $30-40bn Jobs bill is going to pass without being watered down to meaninglessness is dreaming. And it’s not certain why it will fare any better than the $800bn dollar stimulus package which was supposed to rebuild the economy and create, yes, that’s right. Jobs. The problems that the US economy is facing are profound and structural. Just throwing money at the problem without deep and lasting changes to – industrial, fiscal, and budgetary policy – sorry about the ‘P word’ again – needs to rethink very, very quickly. We don’t make stuff here. Some people suggest that manufacturing in the US isn’t “cost effective”, but my question is this. Why is it cost-effective in Germany?

Any-way, moving on to…

Wall Street

The President talks a great game about beating up onWall Street, especially now he’s been sobered up to the problem by the Massachusetts debacle. But it’s a tad too late. In January of 2009 the banks were still sinking in the quicksand. That’s the time to make them an offer they can’t refuse. After we’ve pulled them out, and they’ve put on fresh $500 shirts is not the time to be making a deal with them. And yet this is what we did. We had our boot on their necks and we blew our chance to make the single most destructive force in this country pay. And now, in the cold light of day, is anyone in the 41 strong Republican Senate caucus going to vote for meaningful financial reform? Uhh, Nope. Will Wall Street be constrained from ruining the nation again? Nope.

Healthcare

What was once a burning need is now a footnote that’s about to be buried ahead of the mid term elections. The Democrats thought that Healthcare reform was a winner, but after being thoroughly outmaneuvered by GOP demagoguery that idea is now going the way of another smart idea…

Stopping Global Warming.

Let’s get this straight. The world is waiting for America to get its act together on controlling greenhouse gases. But is 41 strong Republican Senate caucus going to vote fr meaningful climate legislation? Uhh, Nope. It will die.

Education

Ah, what’s the point. Nobody cares.

Finally, on domestic policy, my personal favorite…

High Speed Trains

California just got $2bn dollars of Federal Stimulus funding to build a high speed train network. Sounds great, right? Except for the fact that the total bill (and that’s before the usual corruption, incompetence, delays and overruns) is $42 billion. Chances of this happening in a state with a perennial budget crisis? Nil.

Moving abroad now…

Iraq

At a certain point in time, the United States is going to have to face the rather unpleasant moment when our last grunt gets on the last transport plane out of Baghdad Airport. Cue the bombs. Cue the resurgence of the insurgents and the reemergence of the Mahdi Army. Hello, reality.

Afghanistan

One day conference in London. Karzai tells us he’s going to end corruption and undo a millennia’s worth of being a basketcase that’s swallowed up empires, as well as buying off the Taliban recruits without guaranteeing their protection. He’s got 18 months before the troops we’re about to land there ship out. You do the math.

Iran

Sanctions work. And if you believe that, you think Sarah Palin is a closet liberal. Will the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009 be able to justify NOT attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities? Unlikely.

Haiti

Will the outpouring of aid from Americans be matched by a long-term commitment to fix Haiti? Watch the BS flow. Ain’t nothing gonna change in Haiti.

So you see, on just about every front, there’s an awful lot of talk about how we’re going to fix things.

And then there’s reality.

Welcome to the Bullshit Era.

Written by coolrebel

January 28, 2010 at 11:57 am

Sudan’s Al-Bashir Indicted. Time to Save Darfur.

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tispdarfur2

Human rights isn’t exactly China’s strong suit, so their exhortation to the UN to back off the International Criminal Court (ICC) warrant for the war-crimes arrest of Sudan’s President Al-Bashir seems pretty much par for the course. China’s in deep in Sudan, as they are all over Africa spreading around their wealth and patronage and laying waste to the land.

Chinese style colonialism is very much your run of the mill old-school exploitation without the actual raising the flag bit (it’s always the silly part that really pisses off the locals). Their MO? Bribe the hell out of the government, bosses and warlords, put some personnel with big smiles and bigger wallets on the ground and grab every shred of natural resources they can get their hands on. So far the world has been far too preoccupied with other issues like our Iraq disaster and the small matter of the economic meltdown to get a bead on China’s resource-grab, but as of today that might just change.

If nothing else China’s very loyal to Al-Bashir. Not many world powers are going to back a guy indicted on charges of genocide. But China’s sticking its neck out for this guy even though from a PR perspective it seems like a bad idea. Of course, the Chinese don’t do anything without a damn good reason, and that reason usually has to do an awful lot with money. Perhaps the alternative to Al-Bashir is less China friendly, but whatever Beijing’s motivation, China has the ability to neuter the arrest warrant by vetoing it as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. If they do they run the risk of becoming indelibly linked to the Darfur genocide, and not in a good way.

That possibility opens up some interesting avenues for the United States. As the State Department looks to recalibrate our relationship with China – and stop them loading the dice in their favor, this Al-Bashir moment might just give us the focus we need. As mentioned on this blog a number of times, China is our number one adversary, and we need a much more forthright policy that emphasizes what America needs out of the relationship rather than merely what China can offer us. A big part of the problem we face with Beijing is China’s virtual invasion of Africa which has gone on uncontested for far too long. It’s time to shine some light on it, challenge it, and most importantly do what should have been done years ago – use US military forces to stop the genocide in Darfur.

The first thing that many people will say is that US forces are overextended, but if we had a draw-down of 100,000 troops from Iraq, we could spare at least a couple of light combat brigades for deployment to Darfur as the core of an international coalition strike force. As for US air support, we have a major base in Djibouti, and could easily augment its contribution with at least one aircraft carrier.  The Janjaweed on their horses and Toyota pickups would either be smart and bail, or would be foolish and get wiped out in a few serious confrontations, then get smart and bail. We’d impose a cordon which in a matter of months would be handed over to a strong and committed OAS and UN combined force (under the watchful eye of a remaining US and coalition contingent).

Of course, China won’t like the idea of all this one bit, which is a damn good reason to consider it. Now is the time to go to the Security Council and build a coalition to end the Darfur nightmare for once and for all. Of course America would appeal to China to join such a mission and that would put Beijing in an intolerable position. Do they veto a humanitarian mission or join it? Do they abstain and reduce their influence? Or do they aggressively seek to protect their resource grab in Sudan, even as a force is being put together purely for humanitarian reasons.

At the same time as the Chinese fret, the US would boost intellligent and targeted aid to key African countries, mainly in the form of microloans and other support for local private enterprise. We’ll engage with nations that so far have seen very little of us, and way too much of the Chinese, and earn their loyalty and respect as part of a worldwide push to rebuild American power through friendship and largesse. With the help of a President whose father was Kenyan, we have the leader we need to help make that a reality.

In many respects, a push on Darfur would be an aggressive move by the US. But there’s a genuine humanitarian reason to move forward which provides the moral basis and the political cover, as well an opportunity to act in the shape of the ICC indictment of Bashir. Not only that, but the US draw-down in Iraq would free up forces for a Darfur mission. French and British support would be almost guaranteed, Russian support would be likely too. After all, there’s little love lost between Moscow and Beijing, and the US is working on a stronger, more symbiotic relationship with the Russians. That would leave China in a jam, and turn a great big Kleig light on their under the table African colonialism.

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Written by coolrebel

March 4, 2009 at 3:18 pm

Continuing The Neo-Liberalism Discussion

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Badd Bob of Planned Obsolescence has built on my discussion about Neo-Liberalism with a thought-provoking post that asks some fascinating long term questions about where US hegemony could lead. Badd Bob puts China at the top of his list of adversarial states, but he questions how forceful the US can be in establishing and directing its power without generating blow-back.  There’s still plenty of work to be done in shaping the concept. Discussion open.

Written by coolrebel

February 26, 2009 at 4:32 pm

American Power – Redefined.

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The Neo-Cons are dead. Long live the Neo-Libs.

Not in the economic sense, but in terms of America’s entire place in the world

It’s not just conservatives who believe that the continued hegemony of the United States is critical to the wellbeing of human-kind.  But the Neo-Lib prescription veers from the Neo-Cons very substantially after that. We neo-libs do not feel that military power is the key to our continued dominance. Instead Neo-Liberalism calls for a Wilsonesque revival of America’s power through goodwill and largesse, backed by  a Rooseveltian (and I mean Teddy) “big stick”. For too long, under the Neo-Cons, we talked loudly and carried a stick that frankly got smaller and smaller the deeper we fell into the morass of Iraq and Afghanistan.

It may seem like an odd time to be talking about American hegemony.  Our nation is in an economic crisis unlike any it has experienced in decades. The threat to our continued power is probably at its highest point since the Second World War, which would seem a perfect time to reassert it. Fortunately, our adversaries around the globe aren’t in any better shape than we are, and in many respects have further to fall. Even more fortuitous is the presence of a new President who could be the beacon for Neo-Liberalism. While Obama may have shown some early weakness on the domestic policy front, particularly with his reluctance to detach himself from tried-and-failed centrism, but on the foreign stage, he has an opportunity to rebuild and reinvigorate US power.

So let us begin to forge a plan for the rebuilding of American power. Here’s how.

China: Our main adversary is China. Indeed there may be a developing zero-sum relationship developing in Sino-US relations. America must stop its policy of appeasement towards Beijing and use the threat of internal dissent in the Chinese hinterland to drive a rebalancing of our trading and military relationships with China – to our advantage. We must regain the political and financial initiative in our dealings with Beijing, and expose their charlatnism and double standards for our own ends, and those of our allies. Finally, we must seek to compete with China in Africa, and not cede ground there.

The Middle East: Instead of segmenting the various theatres, from East to West, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, and the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis, we should see them as part of an ongoing war (whether cold, diplomatic, economic, or hot) for stability in the region. The interconnectedness of every part of the Mid East to virtually every other, requires a more supple diplomatic and economic approach, sharpened by the use of economic warfare for pursuit of our political ends. Our priorities in the region should be a) a rapid two-state solution to the Palestinian issue, forcing Israel’s hand if necessary. b) normalization of trading and diplomatic relations with Iran regardless of their nuclear ambitions c) The weakening of the Taliban by choking their opium funding. d) achieving stability and strength in Pakistan by developing close ties with the Pakistani Army and undermining the ISI.

Europe: We must actively seek to reforge our partnership with Europe in trading terms, while recognizing the political differences we have with the EU, particularly on diplomatic and military strategy. Europe is not a viable military partner, and must not be seen as such. However, the US must commit itself to preserving European stability in the face of rising internal terrorist threats, and current and future economic instability. Our main conduit to influence in Europe will continue to be the UK. Our relationship with London should be strengthened.

The World Environment: In the face of global warming, America must take the lead on the Environment, forcing China and India to follow suit, or face international consequences. We must make massive investment in a post-fossil fuel economy, and aggressively export and control world innovation in the green economy. It will also strengthen our domestic economy.

International Bodies: America should begin to withdraw its support for the UN and over time should seek to replace it with a new international body with less of an accent on peacekeeping and cooperation, and more on effective military and political action. The various UN agencies need to reconstituted and folded into a new international structure. The IMF and World Bank need to be repackaged, with greater authority, under US auspices, to preserve financial and economic stability.

International Communications: America must maintain its control of the Internet, and be responsible for its regeneration and development. It remains the bedrock of America’s innovation advantage, which the US must leverage to the maximum degree by being highly competitive in the world marketplace.

Foreign Aid: We have just committed nearly a trillion dollars to a “stimulus package”. Half of that money carefully invested in our more strategic allies, such as Pakistan, Afghan farmers, and Iran, over a presidential term will help to drive America’s campaign to rebuild its goodwill, and give us a powerful foothold in what could otherwise be troublesome nations.

Foreign Debt: Over time the US should seek to reduce and restructure its debts away from adversarial creditor nations, such as China, and Middle Eastern Sovereign Funds and towards friendlier debtor nations such as the UK, Taiwan, and Japan.

Domestic Policy: Strengthening US infrastructure, developing a viable universal health care system, boosting effective education, rebuilding the middle class, and reforming the US regulatory framework are a keystone to projecting US power abroad. The new President should use his virtual lock on Congress to push through required reforms.

The broad framework of neo-liberalism is simple. We believe that the goal of US hegemony is worthwhile, achievable, and necessary for the stability of the globe. Achieving our ends will be through rebuilding and projecting US economic power, the extension of US economic, diplomatic and technological influence, and the development of a more supple, lethal military to back-up our ambitions.

Time For A Change – China Policy

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Sometimes it takes an aging rock band to make a great point. Take Guns n’ Roses new album, its first for seventeen years. The band’s insightful leader created a fabulous oxymoron, bringing together the words “Chinese” and “Democracy” for it’s title. Now that’s comedy.

The Chinese authorities did what they always do in these situations and censored everything about the album they could get away with at the same time as lashing out at the band for its insulting stance on the People’s Republic. How dare some old rock stars attack China’s non-democracy?

But does the vast plastic toy police state protesteth just a little too much? The irony seems completely lost on most of the world’s leaders, who are busy toadying to the Chinese to keep them buying the mountain of freshly issued Western debt. The British have backtracked on their decades-long fudge about Chinese control of Tibet to appease Beijing, and America, which has been pushing democracy like Avon pushes makeup is simply too scared to issue any kind of statement about censorship or human rights abuses in China. We allowed them into the World Trade Organization even though they brazenly broke its rules before and after they joined. Slowly but surely, we seem to be handing China superpower status on a plate. Another word for it is appeasement. And just like back in Munich in 1938, it strikes me as a very bad idea.

The West has to end this sorry, unspoken policy of appeasement to China. China is not our friend. It is our adversary. It does not have our interests at heart. It is a wilful, nationalistic, unscrupulous behemoth that believes solely in preserving and expanding its power. It will soon be a greenhouse gas disaster and the world will suffer as a result. Our debt to China has serious national security implications, and it has mercilessly exploited it. China does not play on a level playing field with the rest of their global trading partners, on currency or import/export terms. Oh, yeah, and they are very undemocratic.

When you introduce economic freedom, political progress is sure to follow. Up until Deng Xiaoping opened up China in the late eighties that was the golden rule. But to suggest that China’s profoundly bucking the mantra is only half true. Firstly, China is a very big place where historical change happens slowly, and it hasn’t been that long from a historical standpoint since the Communists went into the cheap crap business. And secondly, the world needs China right now in a variety of unpleasant ways. But there’s going to come a time, in the not too distant future, when the Communist Party’s ability to prevent social unrest will be compromised. Another Tiananmen, another over-reaction by the Party and the unreast could take hold. And the Chinese Communist party fear internal unrest more than anything else. That’s why they always overreact to those minor slights – from aging rock stars among others.

All over backwoods China, outside the seething economic speical districts unrest is already brewing. And large scale social upheaval in China is very, very possible. The threat of it is the West’s unseen trump card in its dealings with Beijing. In the next twenty years, increasingly scarce energy resources are going to cause massive inflation within China and reduce the labor and manufacturing cost differential with the West. We’re already seeing a move towards manufacturing in Cambodia and Vietnam because of this. To feed its economic beast and prevent economic distress China might start doing what Japan did in World War Two and try to control energy supplies.

Flashpoints of civil disobedience will be crushed with standard Chinese heavyhandedness. And the more the Party crushes dissent, the more pops up. That’s the “whack-a-mole” golden rule. The more you whack, the more you get. And as for censorship, it doesn’t really work. When you give people the internet, they find a way to use it. Rabid Chinese nationalism which is seen as a stabilizing force could also backfire. The Chinese love of Country could easily turn into a weapon against the corrupt and self-serving Communist Party. Just think of the recent melamine crisis.

China does not as yet present a serious military threat, but if it sees the need for militarism to create a diversion from shattered domestic expectations, this might change. Already the Chinese are investing in at least one aircraft carrier, and it’s probably not for show. The US needs to focus on preventing the expansion of Chinese influence throughout the world. In Africa, China is embarking on a virtual recolonization of weak, resource-rich African countries, and we just sit and watch. Bad mistake.

The irony is that Russia is much more of a thorn in the West’s side because of the size of its nuclear arsenal, proximity to the Middle East and its petro-authoritarian ways. And yet China seems to be the nation we fear most, despite the fact that it isn’t yet a major military threat. Sure they’re too big to fight with guns and ammunition, but guns and ammunition are outmoded.

We are entering the age of Economic warfare and the best way to combat China is economically. They need to keep growing to feed domestic demand, and the only way we get leverage over them is to find a way to hit them in the wallet. My guess is that the dollar is the most important strut of their plan to prevent social unrest. In short they need us to protect the Party from being weakened or even toppled.

We pull the plug on them, and they might begin to realize they need us. Economic warfare might sound like a very tall order, but a good dose of, shall we say, targeted protectionism could help. For example, we could re-import jobs to the US to build our economy merely by saying that we demand fairness in our dealings with China or we’ll institute import controls of our own. Sure, US business might scream, but the American public will love the idea that we could develop a manufacturing sector again.

And we might see real concessions from China.

Written by coolrebel

November 25, 2008 at 10:31 am

Lost Opportunities at State

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Sounds like her ladyship, Hilary Clinton is going to get the nod at the State Department. There are two far better choices out there, one of whom didn’t get a look-in, the other who was sold short.

Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke

Richard Holbrooke

Holbrooke is the only person to have held Assistant SOS positions for two different world regions and has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize seven times. He is highly respected on the diplomatic scene and has been involved in some of the most successful and delicate negotiations in recent memory. He’s thoughtful, highly intellligent and probably the single most experienced diplomat of the Clinton era, with hands on experience unlike any other. Perhaps his one mistake was to hitch his wagon to the wrong team during the Presidential contest. He was an advisor to Clinton’s campaign during the primary season. He’s a professor at Brown, and while that’s a great place to be, it’s a huge waste of his talents.

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson

Bill Richardson has the perfect resume for State. He has been Energy Secretary and UN Ambassador. He publicly broke from the Clintons to endorse Obama after he dropped out of the Presidential race, when it was by no means certain Obama would prevail, and as a result would be a proven ally to the new President, who keeps his own ambitions studiously hidden. Richardson is engaging, forthright, and very savvy. His Hispanic (“brown”) roots will help him with connect with many leading developing nations as global power begins to drift in that direction. His reward for his loyalty for Obama, not to mention delivering New Mexico to the Democratic column for decades to come? The Commerce Department. Not even sure if the appointment comes with a limo.

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Hillary Clinton

Hillary Clinton

Former First Lady and vanquished Democratic candidate for President 2008, Hillary Clinton is heavily associated with an outmoded brand. Her own. She most certainly doesn’t shout out ‘change’, while her ‘no bull’ approach might rankle in more sensitive negotiations with adversaries. To make matters worse, she clearly has her own agenda, so it will never be certain she’s acting solely on the wishes of the President. She has no experience of day-to-day diplomacy. It’s not certain how “knowing world leaders on first name terms” qualifies her over others. Finally, the appointment is going to be seen as political by the world, and may undermine Obama’s diplomatic influence in international eyes.

Most of Obama’s cabinet choices have been cautious and pragmatic, but the apparent decision to nominate Hillary Clinton seems fraught with political considerations at a time when we need to rebuild America’s diplomatic credentials. It may be a decision he will come to regret.

Written by coolrebel

November 21, 2008 at 11:30 pm