Tag Archives: China

Let’s talk about BRICS

Some time ago, aspirations were high for setting new standards for social, political and economic developments in the BRICS countries. The hope was that these developments would diverge from those of America and Germany, from an increase in authoritarian behaviors in China, and from the lack of cohesion observed in the EU.

But now, as we scrutinize the state of affairs in the BRICS countries more closely, we find that Brazil has become notorious for hyper-corruption. Russia has become well known for breaking international rules and for its addiction to energy resources. India currently stands out for its bureaucracy and a fundamentalist Hinduism revival. China shows evidence of increasingly volatile cultural cleavages, and South Africa is plagued by significant uncertainties in governance. In short, where we previously expected to see new models for the future, there are multiple causes for concern.

Our questions are thus: Does it still make sense to address these five countries as a group, to see them as having numerous and significant similarities?

And, given the current characteristics of populism in these BRICS countries, are there any indicators for future trajectories of development that may support our previous expectations?

-Klaus Segbers

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Are We on the Brink of a Trade War?

Since David Ricardo and other economists outlined the advantages of free trade about 200 years ago, it seems like recently, many of his lessons remain unlearned. In a time period where we see the advancement of populist movements on several fronts, “unfair trade” has become an easy scapegoat for right-wing grievances.

The suggested recipe – most recently proposed by the current U.S. President – is introducing higher import tariffs, which are protectionist tools against free competition. The effects of these measures are debated among economists, but the majority is skeptical that the potentially ensuing trade wars can lead to anything positive. On the contrary, sometimes they have led to real wars.

So now, at the threshold of a possible new trade war, what is the outlook? Will and should China and the EU react in kind to the introduction of new customs fees for steel and aluminium? Is it plausible that trade deficits are an issue of “national security”, as the U.S. president claims? Should concerned countries accept trade imbalances and customs fees, or should they risk further escalation by implementing further tariffs in response?

– Klaus Segbers

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What are the three most relevant, potentially destabilizing challenges the world is facing in 2018?

Like every year, we will have a look at the year to come:

Dear experts,

what are the three most relevant, potentially destabilizing challenges the world is facing in 2018?

And what are the three developments you would welcome most in global politics next year?

Given the coming holidays, I would appreciate it if many of you would respond. It may be short.

Season’s greetings, and – despite your maybe skeptical forecasts: Happy New Year.

– Klaus Segbers

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The Chinese Way – Our Model?

Western perceptions of China were recently quite ambivalent. On the one hand, Chinese leaders were quick to exploit President Trump’s contempt for liberal organizations and institutions, and to offer Chinese leadership in defending liberal values, especially open trade (see President Xi’s speech in Davos last spring). At the same time, there are more and more indications that China is moving with breathtaking speed toward a more illiberal, authoritarian form of governance.

A new state agency against corruption will double the existing intra-party body addressing the same task, with competencies contradicting existing laws and the constitution. Apparently there are provisions allowing for arbitrary arrest (NYT, China anti-graft plan criticized, NYT, December 2, 2017). This has triggered an unprecedented wave of protests by Chinese lawyers – so far to no avail.  In an unrelated development, a harsh campaign against migrant laborers living and working in the Beijing suburbs is disrupting their living conditions, compelling them to leave on very short notice. This campaign is allegedly directed at preventing new fires in communities with hazardous fire protection, but its manner of execution is being criticized even by established Chinese citizens.

The conditions for external actors being active in China are worsening as well. The law on foreign NGOs is well known. And it gave headaches to many foreign organizations looking for one of the few available Chinese partners, and the new rules for their work. In addition, the Chinese government is now trying to stipulate that Communist party cells must be established in all mostly foreign owned private enterprises. The rights of these cells are impressive, up to co-deciding or overruling investment and other issues, thereby infringing on property rights. The normally quite hesitant chambers of commerce (like the German ones) sent out clear official warnings that German companies may have to withdraw from China if this policy is enforced. Along similar lines, academic cooperation also is becoming more difficult. President Xi gave at least two speeches stating that there are too many foreign professors and foreign textbooks in China, apparently ignoring the fact that Karl Marx also was (and remains) a foreigner, with lots of ‘textbooks’ still in use in China that carry an official imprimatur.

A very worrisome trend is the Chinese strategy of making international companies bow to special Chinese rules. Big U.S. IT companies are all under pressure to allow Chinese state authorities access to their customers’ data, a debate also common in Western countries. The big five are open to accommodating these ‘wishes’ to different degrees; if they do not comply they are blocked (like Facebook). What is more specific is that publishers, especially academic ones, are also under a lot of pressure to make certain journals inaccessible for Chinese customers. Last summer, Cambridge University Press agreed to remove 300 articles from its Chinese website. The same goes for Springer Nature publishers. Later this year, Cambridge UP reconsidered. Even more surprising, in Australia the publisher Allen & Unwin withdrew a book (Silent Invasion: How China is Turning Australia Into a Puppet State) from the Australian (!) market, after China ranted against the publication.

In the international arena, China is continuing to broaden its ‘One Road One Belt’ initiative. This ‘New Silk Road’ has implications far beyond economics, and is often tied to political interests. Recently, there was another meeting of the ’16+1′ format, where eleven EU members and five Balkan states, plus China, came together in Budapest. It is not stretching the imagination too much to claim that some of the Eastern and Central European participants enjoy the presence of China in this format – not only as an investor, but also as a partner who does not issue reprimands about their human rights practices and worsening separation of powers.

The most frightening trend is the introduction of an all-Chinese ‘social credit point system’, where not only social, health and work-place relevant data and parameters are collected and combined for each Chinese citizen, but also assessments of peoples’ social and political activities, opinions, and social network activities. When people move beyond a threshold of negative points, they are punished by, for example, being unable to buy train or plain tickets, or to send their kids to school. This is a combination of (in Western parlance) ‘big government’ and ‘big business’ data parameters and algorithms, leading to immediate consequences for the person’s well-being and mobility options. This resembles a super-Matrix, where hardly anybody can escape from total control. Orwell 3.0.

While properly assessing all these trends, we should not overlook that in some instances there are responses and criticism inside China. I do think one only can admire the risk-taking of these individuals.

But the question this week is: Are these trends now unstoppable, and is this what we have to anticipate for other parts of the world as well? Is this our future? I know that this post may be not so well suited for advent time; or maybe, it is?

– Klaus Segbers

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Tweets from the Oval Office – How should we react to Trump’s foreign policy?

As expected, the first two weeks of the new US government were erratic. While governance by Twitter (and intermittently by judges) is something of a new political science concept, these first economic, social and cultural decisions are quite consistent with pre-election statements.

There is an ongoing debate in western and Asian capitals on how to respond. Wait and see? Making bold statements to indicate limits of the accessible? Trying to be friendly? What is your take?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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The South China Sea Ruling – A Political Decision?

“An international tribunal in The Hague overwhelmingly backed the Philippines in a case on the disputed waters of the South China Sea, ruling that rocky outcrops claimed by China – some of which are exposed only at low tide – cannot be used as the basis of territorial claims. It said some of the waters in question are “within the exclusive economic zone of the Philippines, because those areas are not overlapped by any possible entitlement of China”.” (The Guardian)

China has said from the beginning that it wouldn’t accept the ruling of the tribunal, no matter the outcome. But this ignorance doesn’t matter much – there is loss of face, and reputational damage. China has always been interested in demonstrating its rise as peaceful, harmonious, and within the framework of international rules. This claim has been weakened by regional aversion to China’s unilateral moves and now, additionally by the Den Haag ruling.

What does the international community do with this court decision and Beijing’s insistence on moving forward? Is it legitimate and prudent policy to hedge against Chinese assertiveness politically, or even militarily? Or is it more sound to accept that China is now a global power that doesn’t care much about court rulings?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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Can Coups Ever Be Acceptable?

World history couldn’t be written, or understood, without the history of coups (real and attempted ones). So last weekend’s events in Turkey fit into a pattern. 25 years before, in the hot summer of 1991, another attempted coup in Moscow was the beginning of the end of the Soviet empire.

It always is difficult to properly assess these extra-constitutional, mostly (but not necessarily) violent moves. The clove revolution in 1974 in Portugal certainly brought a harsh and unpleasant dictatorial regime to an end. It may have been illegal, but was it illegitimate? The attempted coup against Hitler by a group of Wehrmacht officers belongs into the same category. And what about the events on the Tiananmen Square on June 4th, 1989? In Turkey, the officers trying this not quite professional attempt claimed to serve democracy and human rights, but they opened the doors for a much more autocratic regime than before (which may have materialized anyways).

So this reminds us that history is often written by the victors. But, in addition, many events, like coups, are quite ambivalent. Do we have any clear criteria for sorting out coups, into acceptable ones and clearly bad ones?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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National Education vs International Education

 

Educating your people was one of the main prerogatives of governments. States preferred to teach students useful things – for the youngsters, and for themselves. This included certain perspectives on a state’s history, and politics. Today, these national perspectives are still around, but they are increasingly embedded into broader horizons. There is the Internet which is not particularly national, there are social networks, and there are media, transmitting global content.

This is not necessarily to the liking of more or less authoritarian governments. Both the Chinese and Russian ministers for education have published statements according to which the activities and effects of foreign teachers, readings, and programs are viewed with quite some degree of skepticism.

What’s your take on this? Should governments continue to define the content (and its limits) of curricula for schools and universities – especially in the sphere of global politics and their own history – or should they give up and accept the role of global influences.

– Prof. Dr. Klaus Segbers

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How should we view the staging of historical memory?

Anniversaries come and go, but now and then some are elevated to a specific interest, and play the role of a crucial date. This year, 2015, makes the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War. In May the Russian authorities organized a huge parade on Red Square in Moscow. Then, for the 3rd of September, the Chinese ruling party have planned something similar on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. In both cases, some foreign governments faced the quandary of whether or not they should attend and participate.

The reason for this is not some small historical squabble over this or that detail, but rather the value of these commemorations within the current paradigm. In practice, history is not what has been, but rather what we need it to be today.

So what attitude should governments hold towards the staging of historical memory?

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Will the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action survive US ratification? Could this agreement lead to a new role for Iran and serve as a stabilizing factor for the region?

The agreement between Iran and the ‘5 + 1’ group (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany) has been signed.

This seems to be good news for all parties involved for the following reasons: First, the economic sanctions against Iran will be lifted gradually. Second, the break-out options of a nuclear bomb for   Iran will be reduced. Third, western and Russian economic cooperation with Iran now has the ability to blossom. And lastly, some people are now able to visualize potential for a more moderate influence by Iran in the neighborhood of MENA.

BUT, it is not quite clear if the agreement will actually be ratified. In Iran the highest leader Khamenei has verbalized some critical remarks, but he seems to be in overall support of the agreement.

The Israeli government is openly ranting about their unwillingness to form any agreement with Iran, just as they have in the past. The most difficult impediment the final ratification is facing is coming from Washington. Congress is very skeptical, and may try to de-rail this agreement after all.

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