Gringo Lost

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Posts Tagged ‘China

The leading back page headlines…

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Here are some news stories that deserve more main stream coverage.

India-China face-off in South China Sea

[The Financial Times] termed the actions of the Chinese warship as the latest example of Beijing’s assertiveness which had irked India and Vietnam. China claims South China Sea in its entirety, rejecting claims by other nations like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan over the resource rich region.

Maritime disputes between the world’s two most populous countries are a growing concern, especially as China grows more confident in its military capabilities.

The deadly dilemma of Libya’s missing weapons

At one unguarded facility, empty packing crates and documents reveal that 482 sophisticated Russian SA-24 missiles were shipped to Libya in 2004, and now are gone. With a range of 11,000 feet, the SA-24 is Moscow’s modern version of the American “stinger,” which in the 1980s helped the US-backed Afghan mujahideen turn their war against the Soviet Union.

Though Libya’s SA-24s are reportedly the variant without the “gripstick,” which means they cannot be man portable and shoulder fired, they are still a major air defense weapon. In in the wrong hands they could be used as an offensive capability by guerrilla fighters or terrorists.  The small arms and light weaponry looted from Libyan stockpiles is a growing security concern, especially with regards to the missing remnants of Qaddafi’s chemical weapons program.  John Brennan worries that Libya could become an “arms bazaar” for terrorist organizations.

NATO official says alliance won’t stay in Libya for long

“Currently, the situation is so-called post-Gaddafi. And it is not NATO’s intention to stay on top of this situation. The UN should take the reins in its hands, and we are ready to support it, should we receive such a request,” NATO Assistant Secretary General Dirk Brengelmann told reporters.

The UN and NATO are likely to have a major hand in the development of post-Qaddafi Libya. Yet, there has not been an established framework on how they are going to conduct state building in the country and help Libyan rebels create viable governing institutions. Sooner rather than later this needs to be addressed by all the interested parties.

Afghan Army Attracts Few Where Fear Reigns

Afghan and NATO officials have long struggled to entice young men in the heavily Pashtun south — the Taliban heartland — to join the Afghan Army. Despite years of efforts to increase the enlistment of southern Pashtuns, an analysis of recruitment patterns by The New York Times shows that the number of them joining the army remains relatively minuscule, reflecting a deep and lingering fear of the insurgents, or sympathy for them, as well as doubts about the stability and integrity of the central government in Kabul, the capital.

Building a professional and representative Afghan National Army is one of the top priorities of America’s strategy in Afghanistan. However, serious problems remain regarding professionalism, recruitment of quality soldiers, and abuses by ANA personnel such as thievery.  Many parts of Afghanistan are skeptical of the rank and file ANA because they are viewed as miscreants from across the country who are sent into the army by tribal leaders tired of having them in their village.


Written by gringolost

September 10, 2011 at 11:09 am

This week in odd international news

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It’s been a slow news week for some. But in parts of the world it got interesting. Here’s a short roundup of some of the oddball news stories going on throughout the world. Feel free to fill me in on any stories I might have missed.

  • The front page absorbing spy saga finally comes to an end with completed “spy swap“. Hopefully, our newspapers will cover important news now, so we don’t have to get lame James Bond references and pictures of the red-headed femme fatale who infiltrated the secret world of the Manhattan party scene.
  • Foreign Policy magazine examines the “sleaze factor” of five politicians from democratic countries to see if there is “an epidemic of corruption in the world’s democracies”.
  • And perhaps this is the most uplifting news story: Female members of the Czech parliament posed for a provocative, yet classy calender to highlight the growing presence of women in Czech politics. Below my favorite.

Lenka Andrysova shows off her legislative body of work and toothbrushing

Written by gringolost

July 13, 2010 at 11:55 am

Two posts on an overloaded national security strategy and China’s angering behavior

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In back-to-back posts, Professor Dan Drezner talks about strategy. In the first case, Drezner talks about President Obama’s National Security Strategy, which last month was released and meant to detail everything that the president thought was a national security risk and, consequently, the actions his administration could take to reduce those risks.

Drezner’s assessment of the document is that it is “mostly harmless,” if maybe a bit contradictory on nuclear policy with a stated aim at retrenchment (which requires a strong deterrent) and nuclear disarmament (which nuclear weapons provide the best/cheapest deterrent). Drezner also points out the deficiencies in President Obama’s plan to get America’s fiscal house in order, saying that it is short on actions that could improve American economic strength.

These criticisms aside, the National Security Strategy has some other major flaws. Principally, it includes too much. There are sections covering the economy, environment, “international science partnerships”, and promoting democracy abroad. These things are well and good, but their placement on a national security document waters down its purpose: to identify security threats and formulate plans to address those threats.

In his second post, Drezner writes about how China’s behavior over the past nine months – angering officials at international conferences and not placating to the interests of others – is stupidly endangering their own strategic interests. In a way, I agree with Professor Drezner in that strategic communications are important and China needs to do them better. But, in the end, does how you talk to another country matter if you hold the hard sources of power?

Drezner states:

China’s strategy here is of a piece with their behavior over the past nine months or so, which, intentionally or not, could be characterized as “Pissing Off as Many Countries As Possible.”


This is a long and distinguished list of countries to alienate [Drezner identified numerous].  It certainly signals a shift, intended or not, from the “peaceful rising” approach of the past decade or so.  It also appears to be bad strategy — simultaneously angering the countries that could form a balancing coalition is not an exercise in smart power.  And as I’ve said before, China has badly overestimated how it can translate its financial capabilities into foreign policy leverage.

Here I disagree. Only on the grounds that China’s actions simply exist in the realm of international opinion. What they are doing does not alter global hard power dynamics. The soft power aspect is important but not as much as Drezner implies.

China is making poor strategic communications. Arguably this is a bad move but large powers often say things that anger other countries. While maybe an idealist would want a friendlier dialog, a realist would know that it doesn’t matter so much.

Fear mongering for the day

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China is selling off U.S. Treasury bonds, perhaps spurring inflation. (Perhaps not.)

Diminishing supplies of rare earth elements could thwart innovation in high tech industry.

Tuna is dangerously close to being “threatened with extinction.”

Iran’s military is strange, powerful. (also, Life Magazine has jumped the shark)

Written by gringolost

February 18, 2010 at 9:19 am

Obama’s message of internet freedom in China, censored by China

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Speaking in front of a town hall meeting in Shanghai yesterday, President Obama called for more internet freedom in China and took on the issue of the country’s “great firewall” blocking internet traffic.  While many event attendees seemed to be members of the China Communist Youth League, one lone Twitterer was able to slip in a question about China’s ongoing internet censorship.  In response to the question, President Obama said:

I’ve always been a strong supporter of open Internet use. I’m a big supporter of non-censorship. This is part of the tradition of the United States that I discussed before, and I recognize that different countries have different traditions. I can tell you that in the United States, the fact that we have free Internet — or unrestricted Internet access is a source of strength, and I think should be encouraged.

Reports were that this Q & A was not aired by China’s state owned new agency, Xinhua.  Additionally, Obama’s statements on internet freedom and open communications were being glossed over by more trivial inquiries into his Facebook account.

In my opinion, President Obama should maintain his calls for open communication to “draw the world together,” as he said.  Maybe even 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Obama can echo ex-President Reagan and say: Mr. Jintao, tear down this firewall!

Written by gringolost

November 17, 2009 at 3:13 am

The waning power of India

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In international relations, power can be measured in absolute or relative terms.  When it comes to economic power, a country is mostly likely said to be better off if its economic power increases in absolute terms.  But, when it comes to diplomatic power, a country is more concerned with its relative power vis-à-vis others.

That’s why this article by Brahma Chellaney in Forbes’ Magazine, “Behind the Sri Lankan Bloodbath,” sheds interesting light on the state of India’s power in South Asia.  Because while India may be one of the strongest regional actors in terms of trade, population and military might – it is still struggling to assert itself in the diplomatic arena.

Even the small island-state Sri Lanka, which is proximate to India in many ways, does not operate as a client or as India’s sole beneficiary, instead pledging allegiance to other states (especially China and Pakistan) in return for counterinsurgency support against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

As Chellaney notes, Sri Lanka “practiced adroit but duplicitous diplomacy” which often contradicted India’s interest but was in-line with Sri Lanka’s sovereign interest:

[Sri Lanka] assured India it would approach other arms suppliers only if New Delhi couldn’t provide a particular weapon system it needed. Yet it quietly began buying arms from China and Pakistan without even letting India know. In doing so, Colombo mocked Indian appeals that it rely for its legitimate defense needs on India, the main regional power. It was only by turning to India’s adversaries for weapons, training and other aid that Colombo pulled off a startling military triumph. In any event, Colombo was emboldened by the fact that the more it chipped away at India’s traditional role, the more New Delhi seemed willing to pander to its needs.

Accordingly Chellaney reports, “India’s waning leverage over Sri Lanka” manifested itself in how “it has to jostle for influence there with arch-rivals China and Pakistan.”  As an example, Chellaney uses the billion-dollar seaport being built by Beijing in Sri Lanka’s southeast as a symbol of China’s strategic challenge to India.

In a broader sense, India’s inability to exert diplomatic leverage over other powers becomes apparent with the global influence China has compared to India despite their approximate similarities in demographics, military capability and economic strength.  India’s waning regional influence is exemplified by the Sri Lanka case.

Now, what are the reasons for India’s lackluster ability to project diplomatic power?  In regards to Sri Lanka, Chellaney believes India’s foreign policy suffered because it was not driven by “resolute, long-term goals, but by a meandering approach influenced by the personal caprice of those in power.”  Additionally, I would add that India’s foreign policy is hindered by domestic and border concerns that often receive paramount attention.  And India’s “meandering” approach can be explained by its inability to overcome these critical constraints at home. ♦

Who competes over failed states?

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Jakub Grygiel in this American Interest article argues that failed states are power “vacuums” that could lead to Great Power confrontation.  *Hopefully, this will not happen in California.

According to Grygiel, “[t]he interest of these great powers is not to rebuild the state or to engage in ‘nation-building’ for humanitarian purposes but to establish a foothold in the region, to obtain favorable economic deals, especially in the energy sector, and to weaken the presence of other great powers.”

Grygiel uses the term “nation-building” but that is primarily a lexicon used by the U.S. to describe its robust  involvement with governments in troubled or post-conflict regions.  The principle U.S. government apparatus overseeing these operations is the Department of States’ Office of the Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization (S/CRS).  This Office’s operations are augmented with support from the  DoD, Department of Agriculture, Department of Commerce, amongst others.  Altogether these agencies work to “help stabilize and reconstruct societies in transition from conflict or civil strife, so they can reach a sustainable path toward peace, democracy and a market economy.”

This is the U.S. approach to “nation-building” but Grygiel argues that these operations are part of a larger strategy to claim neo-colonial possessions before other equal or growing powers do so.  Thus, if we were to combine this theory with practice, we could look at where the S/CRS nation-builds and see if there is competition from other foreign powers for regional clout.  Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan provide three cases of S/CRS assistance. With the most obvious example of Great Power “competition” over clout within these states coming from China.  To be sure, there are plenty other states where competition to fill power vacuums could occur but these three examples are a good test of Gyrgiel’s theory.

To keep this post short, we’ll take at face value that U.S. assistance in these states is, at least in part, conditional; meaning aid-receiving governments must comply with a certain level of American influence on their political system. Now in comparison, China’s support (foreign direct investment) is mostly unconditional.

Contrary to the U.S., China’s primary reason to become involved with these states is economic instead of security-oriented.  Seemingly, this is why China cares less about the character of the political system and more about absolute resources gains.  In essence, China pursues a moral-free foreign policy agenda while the U.S. sees its interests as more comprehensive entailing free markets, stabilization, and regional security.

Returning to the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sudan examples, we can see how China’s involvement is less competitive with the U.S. in a security sense.  This is not to say that competition over resources will never occur, but that resource competition is more likely to occur between countries such as Russia and China or India and China, than it is to occur between the U.S. and other great or growing powers.

  • Iraq: China’s National Petroleum Corporation won the first petrol licensing bid worth $3 billion.
  • Afghanistan: The China Metallurgical Group win’s the largest bid in Afghanistan history (worth $3.5 billion) to develop the Aynak copper field.
  • Sudan: Despite the ICC arrest warrant for Omar Bashir, China still engages in an arms trade with Sudan and develops its oil fields.

These Chinese investments are clearly intended to resource China’s growth needs.  And despite the exuberant investments, there has been no competition between China and the U.S. that could be called destabilizing to international security.  Of course, who knows what the future holds and if competition would arise eventually.  But it’s a leap to say power vacuums will automatically lead to competition between all Great Powers.