The Great Debate UK

from The Great Debate:

‘Post-Communist’ Russia and China remain remarkably the same

For a Russian to live in Beijing is to experience time travel. Things long gone in Russia, or stuffed into kitschy theme bars to draw tourists, still appear in China with no sense of irony. There are endless displays of hammer-and-sickles, Red stars, and exhortations to Obey the Communist Party. There’s the rhetorical deification of the worker and the peasant. “Public-security volunteers,” elderly men and women with red arm-bands and a lot of time on their hands, lounge on little folding stools, sizing up passers-by. There are five-year plans, and front-page headlines screaming “Socialist path reaffirmed”.  I thought I left all of this in the 1980s’ Leningrad. But no, it’s all still here in Beijing, instantly recognizable even behind Chinese characters that give it  a new spin. All of which makes it tempting to think how  Russia and China have changed over the last 20 years.

But in fact the opposite is true: their political systems  remain remarkably similar. Both ditched Communism a while back. The only difference is Russia ditched the trappings while China held onto them. The system that emerged in both places operates with fewer overt ideological constraints but with a singular mission: the self-perpetuation of the ruling elite.

Oddly enough, the Chinese version might be slightly more pluralistic than the Russian one because Beijing focuses on the preservation of power in the hands of one party, while Moscow is obsessed with the preservation of power in the hands of one man. The Chinese have a history of tightly choreographed handovers of power from one crop of party leaders to the next. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has been able to give the appearance of letting go of power only when he knows it’s coming straight back to him.

Behind their authoritarian facades, both Moscow and Beijing took pains to construct elaborate simulacrums of democracy, with parliaments and political parties furiously blowing smoke to keep the ruse alive. And so, in mid-March in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, nearly 3,000 parliamentarians elected Xi Jinping China’s new president. Only one person voted “no,” prompting speculation that the lone naysayer may have been the humble Xi himself. A year earlier, Russians had gone to the polls in a similarly superfluous electoral exercise that restored Putin to the Kremlin throne. That outcome had been pre-determined much earlier when Putin, inconvenienced by term limits, loaned the presidency to a figurehead – mentee Dmitry Medvedev -- with the understanding it would be returned to him at the earliest legal opportunity.

How much longer can China carry on like this?

–Laurence Copeland is a professor of finance at Cardiff University Business School. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Breakneck economic growth alongside staggering (and rising) inequality, much of it attributable to blatant corruption, seems like an explosive mixture, but until very recently, I would have said that there was at least a 50-50 chance that China could stay on track for another generation (albeit with some slowing in its growth rate). In recent months, however, I have noticed one or two straws in the wind to suggest that the odds may have tilted against the maintenance of the status quo.

from The Great Debate:

How should liberal democracies deal with China and Russia?

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we face a new challenge: how to conserve liberal freedoms once our citizens feel safe enough to take them for granted. Totalitarianism of the left and right, which defined liberalism throughout the 20th century, is no longer there to remind us how precious freedom is. It is up to us all to remember who we are, why liberty matters, why it is a discipline worth keeping to, even when our own sinews tell us to relax.

Today, liberal democracy’s decisive encounter is with post-communist oligarchies – Russia and China – that have no ideology other than enrichment and are recalcitrant to the global order. Predatory on their own societies, Russia and China depend for their stability, not on institutions, since there are none that are independent of the ruling elite, but on growth itself, on the capacity of the economic machine to distribute enough riches to enough people. They are regimes whose legitimacy is akin to that of a bicyclist on a bicycle. As long as they keep pedaling, they keep moving; if they stop, they fall off.

from MacroScope:

Is U.S. economic patriotism hurting?

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Any Americans believing that their country is being bought up by the Chinese might want to pay heed to a new report from the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment. It says that China is a minimal player in terms of foreign direct investment in the United States and that Washington should in fact be doing a lot  more to get it to gear up its buying.

To start with, look at the magic number.  In 2010, the last year for which numbers are available, only 0.25 percent of FDI into the Untied States came from China.  Switzerland, Britain,  Japan, France, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands,  Canada were all far bigger. In the U.S. Department of Commerce's report on the year, China, numbers were so small they were lumped into a category simply called  "others".

Céad míle fáilte for the new Chinese leader

China’s vice President could have chosen state banquets in Berlin or Paris for his recent trip to Europe. This wasn’t just any visit – it was the introduction of Xi Jinping, the man tipped to become the next Chinese leader, to the world. But instead of either of those venues he chose to tour Croke Park in Dublin indulging in a spot of Gaelic games on the way. After heading to the US, en route to Turkey, Jinping went to Ireland.

The official Chinese itinerary is extremely telling. Beijing chose one of the smallest nations in the currency bloc for Jinping’s visit and this will be followed with a trip by Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny to China scheduled for next month.

from Ian Bremmer:

Fallout is just beginning in North Korea

By Ian Bremmer
The opinions expressed are his own.

There are many surprising things about Kim Jong-il’s sudden death, not the least of which is that it took two days for the rest of the world to hear about it. Yet most surprising is the sanguine reaction of the global and especially the Asian markets. On Monday, or actually Sunday as we now know, the world woke up to its first leaderless nuclear power. Coming as close as anyone could to filling his seat was his youngest son, who is in his late twenties. There’s no way these facts were accurately priced into markets that took just a relatively minor dip as a first response. The news from North Korea appears to have been taken far too lightly, and just a few days out, it’s disappearing from the front pages.

While Kim Jong-un’s status as heir apparent seems to tie a nice bow around the situation, let’s get real for a moment. The son of the elder Kim only appeared on the North Korean stage after a stroke necessitated succession planning in Kim Jong-il’s regime in 2008. Consider that founder of the country Kim Il-sung put his son, Kim Jong-il, in front of the citizenry as his heir for more than a decade before his 1994 death. That decade was precious time; time Kim Jong-il spent consolidating power and putting his own people into high government office— and he was over 50 years old when his father passed away. Kim Jong-un has been deprived of that head start; he’s got to rely on whatever ground his dead father managed to clear for him since his 2008 stroke. A couple of years at his father’s side -- and a promotion to four star general -- is scant time for the younger Kim to have developed a real plan for ruling, or real allies in government.

from The Great Debate:

Is Burma the next Mexico?

By Federico Varese
The opinions expressed are his own.

Hillary Clinton had many "hard issues" to tackle during her recent visit to Myanmar. Yet there was no mention of one of the most, if not the most, difficult issue Burma faces: their lucrative drug trade.

Northern Burma is the home of the “Golden Triangle,” a hub for opium production and the location of hundreds of heroin and amphetamine refineries. So how do political leaders and the international community plan to tackle this problem in the event that Burma truly becomes  a democratic country?

Imperceptibly, the tide of debate is turning on climate change

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By John Prescott, John Gummer and Michael Jay. The opinions expressed are their own.

The forthcoming Durban conference comes at a major crossroads in international relations, with continuing economic malaise in the West being counterpoised with the increasingly rapid shift of power to emerging economies.  Mirroring this structural change is a fundamental shift in the centre of gravity of the global climate change debate that few have yet to recognise.

from Africa News blog:

Was South Africa right to deny Dalai Lama a visa?

By Isaac Esipisu

Given that China is South Africa’s biggest trading partner and given the close relationship between Beijing and the ruling African National Congress, it didn’t come as a huge surprise that South Africa was in no hurry to issue a visa to the Dalai Lama.

Tibet’s spiritual leader will end up missing the 80th birthday party of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a fellow Nobel peace prize winner. He said his application for a visa had not come through on time despite having been made to Pretoria several weeks earlier. (Although South Africa’s government said a visa hadn’t actually been denied, the Dalai Lama’s office said it appeared to find the prospect inconvenient).
Desmond Tutu said the government’s action was a national disgrace and warned the President and ruling party that one day he will start praying for the defeat of the ANC government.

Ten years on – is it the end of the 9/11 moment?

-Sir Robert Fry is chairman of McKinney Rogers. His career in the British military includes being director of operations in the Ministry of Defence, advising then prime minister Tony Blair on the military strategic direction of the UK’s response to the September 11 attacks. The opinions expressed are his own.-

In his recent book “On China”, Henry Kissinger rather immodestly, but entirely knowingly, echoes the title of Clausewitz’s seminal work, “On War”. If you’re Henry Kissinger, you can do that. If you’re Henry Kissinger you can also offer a view of unrivalled authority on the politico/strategic landscape of the modern era, which is why his suggestion that China in the 21st Century might reprise the role of Germany in the 20th demands some attention. After the pre-occupation with terrorism of the last 10 years, this sounds rather different. Political ends may be timeless, but the means to prosecute them are rapidly changing, and currency, water, cyber and nuclear instruments may be the weapons of the post 9/11 era.

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