The Great Debate UK

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?

The totalitarian regime which has ruled Burma since 1962 has been, to a point, successful in keeping the production of illicit substances under control. In 1999, Burma's notorious military junta (which is now dissolved) started a ruthless elimination plan of opium in the Golden Triangle (the Shan State, the Wa Region and the Kachin State). The region produced one-third of the world's opium in 1998, but that figure was down to about 5% nine years later. From 2006 to 2007, the army eradicated 8,895 acres of opium fields. A 2007 United Nations Report trumpeted that “a decade-long process of drug control is clearly paying off.”

The actual story is a little more complicated. The regime did manage to reduce opium production, but this policy led to an increase in the production of amphetamines, methamphetamine in particular. The U.N. estimated that at least 700 million tablets were shipped from Burma to Thailand in 2003 alone, which is about 20 tons of methamphetamine, or 7.5% of what is manufactured globally.

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?

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-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.

from Reuters Investigates:

Intrigue in China’s U.S. Treasury buying

A Reuters exclusive today describes a method China used recently to hide some of its U.S. Treasury purchases - "US caught China buying more Treasuries than disclosed."

Treasury officials said they were simply modernizing outdated procedures two years ago when they revamped the rules for participating in government bond auctions.

from MacroScope:

Give me liberty and give me cash!

Come back Mr Fukuyama, all is forgiven.

In his 1992 book "The End of History and the Last Man", American political scientist Francis Fukuyama famously argued that all states were moving inexorably towards liberal democracy. His thesis that democracy is the pinnacle of political evolution has since been challenged by the violent eruption of radical Islam as well as the economic success of authoritarian countries such as China and Russia.

Now a study by Russian investment bank Renaissance Capital into the link between economic wealth and democracy seems to back Fukuyama.

Nuclear plants aren’t the only meltdown worry in Germany

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Having just got back from a couple of days in Hannover, I couldn’t help but be struck by the dominance of the local news agenda by two topics – and the almost complete absence of a third. Taking the British media at face value, I might have expected a city in near-panic, with people nervously scanning menus for safe dishes to order and maybe antiseptic handwashing facilities being hurriedly installed in public places. In fact, the town looked exactly as I remembered it from my last visit a few years ago, with E.coli rarely mentioned either in conversation or on the 24-hour TV news channels.

In fact, apart from endless replays of the goals from Tuesday night’s football (Germany versus Azerbaijan, a real clash of the Titans that must have been!), the news was all about the remote risk of a meltdown in the country’s nuclear power plants, and the anything-but-remote risk of meltdown in what is left of the Greek economy.

from MacroScope:

The iPod – the iCon of Chinese capitalism

Walking past Apple's sleek shop along London's Regent Street on Sunday, my wife asked me what I wanted for Father's Day.

"An iPad?" I ventured, half-jokingly.

"Are you sure you want one? Don't you care how they're made?" came her disapproving reply.

Superstar economics: It’s all showbiz now

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By Laurence Copeland. The opinions expressed are his own.

It seems barely a week goes by without another shock report about the ever-widening gap between those at the top of the earnings distribution and the rest of us. The facts are by now well-established. Throughout the Western world, but most noticeably in Britain and America, the earnings of the top one or two percent are accelerating into the stratosphere, leaving the middle class a long way behind, and the working class completely out of sight. How can one explain this global phenomenon?

Academic economics seems to be taking a surprisingly long time to reach a definitive answer, but I suspect there will turn out to be two long term trends at work here.

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