Opinion

Ian Bremmer

China shouldn’t leave Kim Jong-un alone

Ian Bremmer
Mar 13, 2013 16:18 UTC

Tensions are running high on the Korean Peninsula, and instability is coming if it’s not already there. North Korea is declaring that truces no longer apply, claiming that the UN is faking its report on North Korean human rights abuses and threatening “thermonuclear war” against its aggressors.

I was in China last week, where I met with senior Chinese foreign policy officials who told me they don’t have the influence over North Korea they once had. There’s a self-promotional reason to say the situation is increasingly out of their hands – it insulates them from pressure to play a leading role in punishing miscreant North Korean behavior.  But I think we should start to believe them. Thus far, the normal Chinese channels have not worked. The officials told me that China has resorted to unofficial contacts – through business leaders, informal contacts, etc. – to try to pass on the word to Pyongyang. Mao Zedong famously once called China and North Korea’s relationship as “close as lips and teeth.” Today, when it comes to private bilateral communication, it seems Pyongyang’s lips are sealed, and China’s teeth are grinding.

How, then, do you solve a problem like Dear Leader? There are some within China asking whether the Chinese should break off contact altogether. A senior Communist Party official claimed that delegates discussed whether to “keep or dump” North Korea at the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference in early March. In a Financial Times piece entitled “China Should Abandon North Korea,” the deputy editor of the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party argued that the China-North Korea alliance was “outdated” and that “nuclear blackmail” from Pyongyang in the future couldn’t be ruled out. The silent treatment would be a last-ditch attempt to get North Korea’s attention by calling its bluff.

Rest assured, silence from China would prove painful for North Korea. Since the early 1990s, China has provided an estimated 90+ percent of North Korea’s energy imports. Some estimates claim China provides 80 percent of the country’s consumer goods and 45 percent of its food. Beijing seems to have the power to unravel the North Korean economy.

But China, which recently supported a UN sanction against North Korea, has little to gain from that instability, and breaking off contact altogether would likely only exacerbate it. North Korea’s behavior is already driving South Korea and Japan into deeper ties with the United States. Its stance draws attention to just how little control China has over its most desperate neighbor. And, of course, it brings the threat of nuclear war to within 500 miles of China’s capital.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Mar 11, 2013 18:51 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections by tweeting at us via @EurasiaGroup or @ianbremmer.

The theme of this week’s must-reads is number crunching—whether it’s budgets in China and Iran, record-long filibusters in the US senate, or how much the quality of life has improved in Africa over the last decade. Get out your calculators. Here goes.

Crunching the numbers

Is fracking a ‘bridge’ to a clean-energy future? Ernest Moniz thinks so,” Brad Plumer, Wonkblog, The Washington Post

The top 10 grudges in the G-20

Ian Bremmer
Mar 7, 2013 20:14 UTC

The G-20 is no happy family. Comprised of 19 countries and the European Union, once the urgency of the financial crisis waned, so too did the level of collaboration among members. Unlike the cozier G-7 — filled with likeminded nations — the G-20 is a better representation of the true global balance of power … and the tensions therein. So where are the deepest fault lines in the G-20? 

Below is a ranking* of the 10 worst bilateral relationships in the G20. Russia is in four of the worst, while China is in three (although Russia and China’s relationship is fine). Several countries are also in two of the worst relationships: the United States (with the two belligerents mentioned above), Japan, the UK and the EU. 

1.   China–Japan

China and Japan have a historically troubled relationship, which has reached its most contentious point in decades as their dispute over territorial claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands has escalated, leading to renewed geopolitical tensions and possible confrontation. When the world’s second- and third-largest economies are butting heads, it carries huge global ramifications.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Mar 1, 2013 20:23 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.

Must-Reads 

How Israel beat the drought” – David Horowitz, The Times of Israel

Israel’s quantity of natural water per capita is the lowest in its entire region. But it seems Israel’s water shortage crisis may be a thing of the past. Why? More than 80 percent of Israel’s purified sewage is reused for agriculture. The next best in the OECD? Spain, at 18 percent.

Germany relaxes immigration rules to attract skilled labour” - Stephen Brown and Holger Hansen, Reuters

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Feb 22, 2013 20:38 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.

Must-Reads

China denies it is world’s biggest trader despite data showing it passed US last year

By The Associated Press

With great trading comes great responsibility. For China, the bragging rights of being the world’s #1 trader don’t offset the perceived political obligations that come with it. What will this mean when China becomes the largest economy in the world overall? 

Questions for Graham Allison and Robert D. Blackwill

Ian Bremmer
Feb 20, 2013 22:43 UTC

Graham Allison and Bob Blackwill have important questions to ask about China, America and the extraordinary impact of the relationship of those two countries on the rest of the world. For answers, they turned to Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first premier and one of the world’s most formidable geopolitical thinkers and strategists. The result is a fascinating book called Lee Kuan Yew: The Grand Master’s Insights on China, the United States, and the World. I had some of my own questions for them. The answers are written responses that Allison and Blackwill wrote together.

Q: Why is Lee Kuan Yew invaluable as a source of insight into China, America and the world? And why is Singapore so important for Asia’s future?

If you were to ask the world’s smartest and most influential people the question, “Who, by virtue of intelligence and life experience, is likely to have the most insightful answers about China, America, and the world?” their answer would be: Lee Kuan Yew.

Culture of silence

Ian Bremmer
Feb 19, 2013 19:41 UTC

American companies are at war, but don’t ask them why. They won’t tell. They’re besieged not by one another, but by hackers who target their intellectual property and confidential information. Just how deep this cyberwar goes is largely unknown to all but the companies being targeted. That’s because they are staying silent in an effort to not aggravate the countries in which they are being hacked. China is the site of the most cyber-aggression, and in many instances, the biggest opportunity for many businesses. Companies are turning the other cheek in an attempt to turn another check.

If the companies are not talking, how do we know it’s happening? Because the U.S. government has noticed.  On Tuesday, The New York Times ran a piece highlighting the link between anti-U.S. cyberattacks and the Chinese military.  In the Washington Post last week, word leaked that the United States has put out a National Intelligence Estimate that “identifies China as the country most aggressively seeking to penetrate the computer systems of American businesses and institutions to gain access to data that could be used for economic gain.”

This is the front in the U.S. cyberwar that we’re not winning. We know the U.S. does fine when it comes to its sovereign cyber-warfare, waged on a state-to-state platform.  Take Stuxnet — the US/Israel initiative to destroy Iranian nuclear centrifuges through a complex cyberattack (not to mention an odd follow-up that purportedly blasted AC/DC’s ”Thunderstruck” at odd hours). But when it comes to corporate sabotage and espionage, the United States is far less experienced than China. Blame free-market capitalism: The U.S. government does not intervene on the private sector’s behalf to obtain information that would benefit the economy. China, however, is far more adept at this because of its use of state capitalism (a system in which the state uses markets to create wealth that can consolidate its hold on power).

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Feb 11, 2013 15:49 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.

U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa defined by a decade of missteps

Craig Whitlock, Washington Post

Hindsight is 20-20. In light of recent events in Mali and Algeria, this is an interesting look back on a decade of U.S. counterterrorism in Africa. 

Red Obsessions: Film Business Moves from Hollywood to Asia

Lars-Olva Beier, Spiegel Online

With China slated to replace North America as the world’s #1 film market by 2020, navigating the Chinese market is increasingly difficult – and necessary.

C’est Mali: Intervention in a G-Zero world

Ian Bremmer
Feb 8, 2013 17:13 UTC

I’ve just come back from a trip to France last week, where French officials told me that come 2014, they expect there will still be a significant number of French forces in the north of Mali.

That, however, does not make Mali “Afrighanistan,” no matter what The Economist might say. Unlike the American invasion of Afghanistan, the French military operation is a small intervention ‑ France says it has 4,000 troops in Mali ‑ by a country that has no appetite to do any more. There will be no state-building by the French; there will be no great mission to democratize its people and its values (partly because democracy already has a hold in Mali). There are few densely packed urban areas for rebels to stage hard-to-detect insurgent attacks.

In recent days, French officials have been trying to make this as clear as possible. Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius pledged, “France has no intention of remaining in Mali,” explaining it’s up to “the Africans and the Malians themselves to guarantee security.” The number of troops in Mali should begin to fall in March, he added.

Political risk must-reads

Ian Bremmer
Feb 1, 2013 19:32 UTC

Eurasia Group’s weekly selection of essential reading for the political risk junkie – presented in no particular order. As always, feel free to give us your feedback or selections @EurasiaGroup or @IanBremmer.

China has been all over the news this week, with the New York Times hacking episode dominating headlines. But recent stories related to China venture much further than cyberspace.

Must-reads

The resource race: China dips toes in Arctic waters” – Christoph Seidler, Spiegel Online

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