Archive for the ‘China’ Category

JC

This week’s State of the Union Address by President Obama gives us another opportunity to peek into how America’s propaganda system works. While there are many places to observe this — foreign policy, the economy and employment — it is the constant isolationist drumbeat driving our country into a renewed Cold War with Russia that I’m going to focus on today.

Undoubtedly there will be those who will pooh-pooh me for a variety of reasons, but so be it. While our domestic situation with the economy, employment and debt is dire, I think that it is the specter of what the new Cold War brings that is paramount. So it is with interest when I hear that Barack Obama proclaims that Russia is isolated, and Congress and the American people cheer.

Except that it ain’t necessarily so. Thursday brought headlines that would surprise even the most ardent Russian isolationist:

“China, Russia Plan $242 Billion Beijing-Moscow Rail Link”

bullet-train

Yes, we have isolated Russia so well, that it entered into an agreement with China to build a 7,000km high speed rail linking Moscow with Beijing, and augmenting a major section of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Yep, Moscow to Beijing in 30 hours. That would be the equivalent of getting on a high speed rail in San Francisco, going to Seattle, and then cross country to Washington D.C. in 30 hours. Oh, well, we’ve still got Amtrak, America’s version of the old Trans-Siberian Railway. And it carried a “record” 31.6 million riders in fiscal 2013.

The story is remarkable enough in its technical achievement. It will be the longest, largest high-speed rail system in the world, carrying over 200 million passengers a year. And the cost is phenomena, $242 billion dollars. Imagine what our country could do if it were to invest a like sum in 4,000 miles of high-speed rail! Montreal to D.C. to San Francisco and L.A. and down to Mexico City.

Sound like a country that is isolated? While Obama drives wedges between Russia and the west for failing to submit to American hegemony, Russia is furiously building relationships with the rest of the world: BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa); Turkey (oil pipeline deal to replace SouthStream through Bulgaria); SCO (Shanghai Cooperative Organization), Eurasian Economic Union, etc.

Russia and China are currently working out a deal to replace SWIFT, the western bank system for working out trade payments between countries and businesses. The petrodollar is moving to the petro-yuan/ruble. So sure, we’re succeeding in isolating Russia, but just from the west: Europe and the Five Eyes (Canada, U.S., New Zealand, Australia, U.K.).

Russia has already declared in many, many ways that it will not submit to western sanctions. So while the sanctions may work to create the appearance of isolationism in the west, it only serves to drive Russia into alliances more quickly with the rest of the world. We are assisting in the creation of an economic and military union between Russia and China that will most effectively counter the military of the U.S. and its allies.

[Russian Foreign Mister Sergei] Lavrov also opined that he considered the United States’ approach to international relations “outdated” and “not a proper thing for a great power.”

“I should like that all countries choose the path of cooperation, not the path of diktat disguised in some diplomatic form,” he said, adding the charge that the U.S. was actually too weak to go it alone – which is why it tries to form coalitions, as in Iraq.

Lavrov also expressed more doubts than hope that the United States’ approach would change anytime soon.

“It’s in their blood and flesh, they believe they are first, and this philosophy, this genetic code, is very hard to change,” Lavrov said, before expressing faint confidence that “the logic of partnership” between the United States and Russia would ultimately prevail.

While there are those “isolationists” who believe that what we are doing will suffice to intimidate Russia sufficiently so that we and NATO can consolidate Europe into one solid block to work to break Russia up and/or change its leadership, others more keenly tuned into Russian sentiment disagree. Unfortunately, the average American has little knowledge of Russia by which to gauge the effectiveness or appropriateness of such a strategy.

Dimitri Orlov recently wrote an excellent piece for the westerner to get a realistic look at how Russia views western expansionism and hegemony:

Recent events, such as the overthrow of the government in Ukraine, the secession of Crimea and its decision to join the Russian Federation, the subsequent military campaign against civilians in Eastern Ukraine, western sanctions against Russia, and, most recently, the attack on the ruble, have caused a certain phase transition to occur within Russian society, which, I believe, is very poorly, if at all, understood in the west. This lack of understanding puts Europe at a significant disadvantage in being able to negotiate an end to this crisis.

Whereas prior to these events the Russians were rather content to consider themselves “just another European country,” they have now remembered that they are a distinct civilization, with different civilizational roots (Byzantium rather than Rome)—one that has been subject to concerted western efforts to destroy it once or twice a century, be it by Sweden, Poland, France, Germany, or some combination of the above. This has conditioned the Russian character in a specific set of ways which, if not adequately understood, is likely to lead to disaster for Europe and the world.

Orlov’s piece is a great primer for any westerner that wants to get some context about U.S.-Russian relationships outside of Obama’s isolationist propaganda. It is this sort of propaganda that Obaba is advancing that jeopardizes world safety by falsely implying that his overt foreign policy of sanctions is succeeding, and eggs on neocons and Congress to double down.

It will be a continuation and expansion of these policies that will further drive Russia from any sort of meaningful engagement with the west, and into the solidification of alliances with China and India that will pit nearly half the world’s population and economy against the U.S. and Europe’s. Is this what we and the world really need?

And lastly, after beginning this piece talking about the newly approved high-speed rail link between Moscow and Beijing, and all of the symbolism it encompasses, I would be remiss in not mentioning how it all will be financed. After all $242 billion dollars is nothing to sneeze at.

First off, the new railway alliance has dumped the French contractor it had agreed to work with last year on developing the system. It isn’t hard to see that when the U.S. forces France into doing things like breaking its contracts to build and deliver two helicopter-carrying Mistral naval vessels, there would be some blowback.

So instead of paying France’s Alstrom around $40 billion for it’s part in the project (utilizing conventional wheeled high-speed rail), they awarded the contract to CRH (China Railway High-speed) and added on another 100 billion dollars to use state-of-the-art maglev technology to increase safety and speed.

But the coup de grâce appears to be that Obama’s “isolated” Russia is a little less isolated than it might seem in other areas:

Gennady Timchenko, a well-connected billionaire who after appearing on Western sanctions lists earlier this year was appointed head of the Russian-Chinese Business Council, told reporters on Thursday that he was optimistic that China would provide financial support for the project, which he said could carry more than 200 million passengers a year. 

China holds over $2 trillion in U.S. Treasury bills that offer no real returns, but “investment in the railway would pay for itself,” Timchenko said. “Maybe not overnight, but we would create infrastructure connecting Asia with Europe for future generations.”

Yes, Russia and China are going to use China’s U.S. T-bond holdings to finance the railway. That’s some real isolationism for ya. Way to go, Obama!

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By JC

I realize I was a little snarky with my comments yesterday about the U.S. – Chinese deal on cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Maybe it is my inherent distrust of “gentlemanly handshake” agreements between two of the worlds’ three leaders-in-contest for world hegemony. Maybe it was because our own ex-Senator Max Baucus has been eerily silent during his stint as the new U.S. ambassador to China.

Run a google on Baucus’ accomplishments and statements on his work in China, and you come up with nothing. So of course, after watching him and seeing how he rolled in Congress, it’s easy to see him taking a back-room role in all this, and twisting it somehow to someone’s ($$) benefit. No matter (maybe), I digress.

But this agreement was no watershed moment to me, as there were no treaties signed, no Congressional approval, no third party involvement. It was strictly a political maneuver with a lot of side stories. But taken at its face value, here is what Frank Melum, Senior Point Carbon Analyst at Thomson Reuters had to say:

“We do not expect these new targets to significantly alter the world’s trajectory for emissions growth, but the joint announcement will probably alter the pace of negotiations, and could in time could lead to improved ambition levels”.

“Improved ambition levels.” Nice political double-speak! So, that’s all and good and symbolic, and pressure-setting for other countries and emerging economies. And of course, I remain highly skeptical that either the U.S. or China will meet the expectations set for them by 2030. Continue Reading »

By CFS

Really the only thing that gets people excited about high oil prices is the prospect that suddenly American manufacturing might once again become competitive.

The reason this is wrong is the expansion of the Panama Canal. A great deal of our trade in America comes from Asia which means great big ships with a hell of a lot of shipping containers. Before the expansion much of this shipping container traffic was dropped off on the west coast, transferred to an awful lot of 18 wheelers or trains and shipped east. But now, According to the latest edition of the Planning Magazine with the “new and improved” Panama Canal the size of ships that can be accommodated just tripled and conversely lowered the cost of shipping a single container to the Midwest and East Coast where most of the cheap shit from China ends up.

A journey from Hong Kong through the port of LA and on to the East Coast costs $3,500/container. With the new ships the Panama Canal will now allow up to $1,000/container to be knocked off the cost of shipping.

I’m sure the shareholders of Walmart are very happy about this news, after all, none of us have enough plastic crap in our lives.

by jhwygirl

Oh, the places I could go with that….

The Missoulian has an Associated Press story reporting that Governor Brian Schweitzer is heading to China to tout Montana wheat, beer, tourism and coal.

That’s a good thing, and hopefully the Governor does well. Montana has its own special draw, and hopefully he’s taking a bunch of old cowboy boots and hats with him to hand out. They’ll love that stuff.

Let’s hope he leaves the bolo tie at home, though.

It’d be nice if Brian pushed on China for real investing here in Montana – something more than just building a railroad that required condemnation of private lands so that they can get their coal. Thing is – if Montana is going to strip mine the Tongue River Valley for China’s benefit, they should be giving us something more than a handful of jobs.

Butte has silicone recycling that has been doing quite well. That should pair up well with China’s forward thinking and growing solar cell industry. There’s just one example of investment potential for China.

MonTech, MSU and UM could probably benefit immensely with partnerships with China…as would Chinese universities. Let’s hope he goes there, too.

Last year, China bumped from ranking #5 in the world’s economy, to #2. That’s crazy growth, but I als think that it is a whole bunch of smoke-and-mirrors given the overall lack of quality in their infrastructure along with the manipulation of their currency and heavy subsidy of basic industries. Regardless, that kind of lead should not be ignored.

Nor should their their serious and thorough disregard for human rights.

I have a love-hate thing with China. Its culture is beautiful. They suck on human rights. Absolutely SUCK on human rights. They are growing and have the growth potential to blow the whole world out of the water. All of those are things that should not be ignored.

If Montana can have a role that is more than just immediately colonizing ourself for China’s eventual world take-over, then I’m all for it.

Good Luck Governor Brian. Please don’t take Jag with you.

by Pete Talbot

“The era of American global leadership … is over.”

So writes John Gray. First in the Observer of London and reprinted in December’s Harper’s Magazine.

The U.S. economic meltdown is but a symptom of what Gray terms “an historic geopolitical shift, in which the balance of power in the world is being altered irrevocably.”

The paradox in this shift is that the emerging powers, China and Russia for example, spurned the American model of free (or self-regulating) markets. In one of my favorite insights, Gray says, “China in particular was hectored relentlessly on the weakness of its banking system. But China’s success has been based on its consistent contempt for Western advice and it is not Chinese banks that are currently going bust. How symbolic yesterday (Sept. 27, 2008) that Chinese astronauts take a spacewalk while the U.S. Treasury Secretary is on his knees begging for a bailout.”

And further, as American administrations lectured other countries on the necessity of sound finance (Indonesia, Thailand, Argentina, etc.) our country continued borrowing on a colossal scale to finance tax cuts and fund it’s overstretched military commitments.

Gray doesn’t blame one party over another for the financial collapse but “a free-for-all market that American Legislators created.” He continues:

“The irony of the post-Cold War period is that the fall of communism was followed by the rise of another utopian ideology. In American and Britain, and to a lesser extent other Western countries, a type of market fundamentalism became the guiding philosophy. The collapse of American power that is underway is the predictable upshot. Like the Soviet collapse, it will have large geopolitical repercussions. An enfeebled economy cannot support America’s over-extended military commitments for much longer. Retrenchment is inevitable and it is unlikely to be gradual or well planned.”

I’d like to offer some insights of my own:

There’s a little nationalist in all of us, so our initial reaction to the above story is disheartening — especially if you believe that American policy is a force for good around the world. America has done many positive things abroad: from fighting Nazi and Japanese Imperialism in World War II, to foreign aid to impoverished countries, to the Peace Corps. Lately, though, not so much, as evidenced by our loss of grace on the world stage.

So, I don’t believe isolationism (a la Ron Paul) is the answer but maybe it’s time for a little national introspection. Like, how we got where we are today, economically and imperially. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower coined the phrase “military-industrial complex.” We need to take a hard look at just what is driving our foreign policy.

I certainly don’t believe that Communism is the answer. As a matter of fact, to say that China is a Communist country is to do the term “Communism” a huge disservice. China continues to practice the worst aspects of Communism: a rejection of freedom — of religion, speech and the press — while embracing the worst aspects of capitalism: the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, the inability to form labor unions, a disregard for workplace safety and contempt for the environmental.

But the U.S. has lost its way. Maybe a break from number one superpower status isn’t such a bad thing until we can get our country back on the right path.


by Jay Stevens 

One of the fundamental problems with the Bush administration’s foreign policy, and with neoconservative ideology in general, is its belief that a sort of natural determinism propels the world inevitably towards democracy and capitalism.

Under this theory, only a few stubborn and “evil” leaders block their people’s gleeful acceptance of America’s benevolent patronage. In each autocratic country, legions of educated and reasonable citizens of the world’s middle class nurture dreams of a free-market bourgeois lifestyle under the direction of a popularly-elected and gentle government, and only wait for America’s intercession to set themselves and their countrymen free.

On the flip side, any country or people that resist America’s guidance must be savage or barbarous, if they so spitefully reject natural law. It’s such thinking that inevitably leads to the idea of a “culture war” between American Democracy and all of Islam.

It’s an over-simplistic vision, of course, and when applied to real-world problems – like Iraq – it fails.

I linked to a couple of articles on China. In the first, appearing in the LA Times, James Mann spells out the three likeliest scenarios for the future of China: the “Soothing Scenario,” the “Upheaval Scenario,” and the “Third Scenario.”

The upheaval scenario has China undergoing some “cataclysmic” change, economically or politically. The “Third Scenario” is that China pretty much stays course as is. And the “Soothing Scenario” is that China’s growing economy will lead to the liberalization of its government and eventual blossoming into democracy.

The problem with the current U.S. debate about China is that, in public at least, political, business and financial leaders tend to talk almost exclusively about the Soothing Scenario….

[snip]

The idea that China is inevitably headed for far-reaching change has become a staple of U.S. thinking in large part because it has served the interests of important constituencies. In the late 1970s and the 1980s, the belief benefited the U.S. national security establishment, which had aligned itself with China against the Soviet Union. The notion that Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping was reforming his country’s political system helped defuse congressional opposition to U.S. military cooperation with China’s communist regime.

In the 1990s, as trade and investment in China became increasingly important, U.S. companies were asked why they were so eager to do business with a regime that had, in 1989, ordered troops to fire on unarmed civilians. The Soothing Scenario offered an answer: Trade and the workings of “history” would inexorably liberalize China’s political system, whether Chinese leaders wanted it or not.

Of course, no such liberalization is likely to happen. Why not? According to Mann, China’s burgeoning “urban middle class,” the people the Soothing Scenario supporters pin their hopes on, have “the strongest interest in preserving the status quo.” The Soothing Scenario also ignores important – and apparently pesky – factors such as geography, culture, and politics, all of which seem to conspire to preserve the current regime.

(The Soothing Scenario also ignores the more ominous possibility that China’s autocratic habits might actually infect America’s business community, a sort of reverse-Soothing Scenario, if you will, and evident in Yahoo’s willingness to aid the Chinese government in prosecuting a journalist. That is, big business will do anything for a buck, even turn in its customers for political prosecution.

The Soothing Scenario also ignores the growing dissatisfaction among working-class Chinese in China’s major cities due to rising unemployment and increasingly poor working conditions. That is, if there is going to be unrest leading to reform, it will come in reaction to China’s growing economy, not as a result of it. Ironic, eh?)

The lesson here is, of course, there is no natural progression of societies, that each place has its own unique properties, and no two regions are exactly alike, and that there’s no natural progression of society towards democracy through capitalism.

The second article, from Germany’s Der Spiegel, is more provocative in its claim that China’s economic successes indicate a Communist-style planned economy can actually work.

I say “provocative,” because most economists and conservatives claim that government control of business is an anathema to economic growth, and our “victory” in the Cold War was won largely as a result of free-market forces overwhelming the Soviet system.

Der Spiegel’s article on the Chinese economy was as good as I’ve seen, and I recommend a full read for any that are interested. What it shows is that China is hardly a Communist country, but it is one with one-party rule, five-year plans, central planning, and powerful rural governors extending a tight control over business and industry in their regions. What China seems to be is a quasi-capitalist authoritarian state, one that is excelling at economic growth.

The lesson here is that democracy does not necessarily follow capitalism, nor does a vibrant market economy need democracy to thrive.

Does that mean capitalism or democracy are any less for not being the ultimate end of natural forces? To me, if anything, it makes our functioning market-based democracy all the more special. That is, Americans needed to build our society; it didn’t just happen.

That said, it also underscores the fragility of democracy and the market. As China demonstrated, and domestic big energy companies no doubt understand, we don’t need a democracy to thrive economically. In some cases, democracy actually runs afoul of capitalism. It would be easier for capital, say, if there weren’t any local zoning ordinances or environmental regulations, but those were born of the democratic process, whereby towns and counties agreed that clean air and water and designated industrial zones are more important that corporate profit.

While we rampage willy-nilly across the globe, trying to “install” democracy by sowing chaos, we ignore the dangers posed by the Bush administration and big business to erode our Constitutional rights here at home. As Clyde Wilson wrote, defending his “over-heated accusations and exaggerated language to describe the transgressions of George Bush and his regime,”

I reply that tyranny is usually incremental and always presents itself as necessary and for the public good. Thus, it should always be guarded against and opposed at the threshhold. If our forefathers had not observed this rule, there would have been no American War of Independence.

There you go.

If our freedoms are so fragile here, how in the world can we be expected so easily implement them so far from home? You can’t just steam-roll a dictatorship and expect a secular market-based republic to spring up in its place, while your troops roll home on a carpet of welcoming flowers, especially in a region already so rife with political, cultural, and economic tensions.

Realistic foreign policy in a complex world should (as I’ve written before) rely on “compromise, understanding, and cooperation [as] the bedrock to peace and prosperity,” one that follows Bob Burnett’s ten maxims.




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