Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tony Abbott underestimates how stark the rivalry between America and China has become, and he overestimates Australia's ability to stand above it.

Tony Abbott to Xi Jinping : "when I listened to the President today, some of the 
shadows over our region & over our world lifted & the sun did indeed shine brightly"
Said : Hugh White, Professor of Strategic Studies in the School of International, Political & Strategic Studies at the Australian National University (Lowy Institute), in his post in The Sydney Morning Herald titled : "Abbott clueless on how to handle US and China." 

Hugh, supposed to be a prominent analyst of US-China and Australian affairs, has made several very wild remarks in the above post which, of course, must be based on his deep analysis and long experience in this field. His post finds prominent position on twitter today and has been widely publicized, and perhaps acknowledged, too.

Before I explain why I call Hugh's remarks 'wild', let's have a quick glance at the summary of his major remarks:
  • Tony Abbott rejected stern warnings from Barak Obama not to get too close to China. He ignored Obama's advice which implied that the US offers co-operation and liberty, while China offers conflict and oppression. Obama's purpose was to warn Tony Abbott against accepting Beijing's vision of a peaceful and harmonious Asian future under Chinese leadership in return for a free trade agreement (ChAFTA). British PM David Cameron also issued exactly the same warning when he spoke to Australian parliament just the day before Obama's address.
  • Abbott trusted President Xi's assurances in his speech that Australia could look forward to a safe and prosperous future under China's regional leadership - as long as "we respect each other's core interests and major concerns." These assurances came after Xi calmly and confidently asserted that China would be "the big guy in the room" in Asia in future.
  • Later, at the State Dinner for Xi after his speech, Abbott praised Xi for his commitment to democracy and a rule-based international order. And in what sounded like a direct repudiation of Obama's dark warnings, Abbott went so far as to say that "when I listened to the President today, some of the shadows over our region and over our world lifted and the sun did indeed shine brightly".
  • So why did Abbott do it? According to Hugh, the answer to this question cannot be the free trade agreement with China or Obama's direct attack on Abbott's climate change policy. Hugh says Abbott does not know what he is doing. Despite the speeches he has heard over the past 10 days, he underestimates how stark the rivalry between America and China has become, and he overestimates Australia's ability to stand above it.
  • According to Hugh's analysis : "Tony Abbott probably believes that what he said last week will soon be forgotten, and he can return to his alignment with  the US and Japan against China whenever he likes, with the free trade deal in his pocket. He perhaps mistakes such patent insincerity for clever diplomacy. He thinks he has struck a careful and clever balance between China and the US, allowing Australia to maintain a close alliance with one while expanding trade with the other. In fact he is swinging helplessly between the two poles of regional power, siding with the US one day and China the next, without any clear conception of where we want to end up."
  • Hugh concludes his analysis: "In the end we cannot afford to side with either of them. The only way to protect Australia's immense interests in the Asian power struggle that came to our shores last week is to think for ourselves about what outcome suits us best, and to act as best we can to promote it. Whether we try to do that or not is the real choice we face."
Hugh White
Having gone through Hugh's earlier views “Xi and hiscolleagues believe that the gravitational force of China’s economy will pullAustralia into its political and strategic orbit and keep it there,” I think he is immensely confused in determining or even in suggesting what suits Australians best in the current scenario. In making above remarks, Hugh is contradicting himself at nearly every stage. For example, when he refers Abbott's handling of Xi as underestimation of stark rivalry between America and China, and overestimation of Australia's ability to stand above it, what exactly he wants to convey. Hugh should be in a position to indicate and describe the level of Australia's ability to stand above the prevailing level of US-China rivalry. Is it really possible to remain non-aligned in such a rivalry? Does clever diplomacy mean merely trying to be seen not sided with either China or US while each thinks you are sided with the rival? Is practicing this so simple? It may appear so to analysts who do not have to involve themselves in any decision making process but those running the affairs of their countries as the final decision makers cannot afford to delay the final choice forever. One may call Tony Abbott's decision to cooperate with China a patent insincerity or clever diplomacy but that is what he thought to be the best possible choice. Somehow, I tend to be supportive to him except that he could have avoided excessive praise of the Chinese leader and used more diplomatic language in doing so and in dealing with him. In this context I find Hugh's remarks 'wild' because Abbott is being criticized for wrong reasons.
Obama would like India to play a greater role :

"We support a greater role in the Asia-Pacific for India, which is the world's largest democracy. Together, we can improve maritime security, upholding the freedom of navigation, and encouraging territorial disputes are resolved peacefully."

- President Obama at the G20 summit in Australia 

I am sure Prime Minister Narendra Modi did a better job at that and Obama should be really pleased with India. Although Modi also committed similar mistakes, he made his choice very clear right at the first opportunity he got. He knows whom to trust and work with from a long-term perspective. The Commerce and politics have their distinct dividing lines but can co-exist in today's globalized world so that one can be a political rival but a trade partner at the same time. China wants to make every nation dependent on her for commerce while keeping the controversial boundary issues for future settlement when they hope no one capable to oppose will exist. I am sure Abbot did what he did out of the trade benefits that he could have done without praising Xi. And certainly not for Xi's "commitment to democracy and a rule-based international order."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

“Xi and his colleagues believe that the gravitational force of China’s economy will pull Australia into its political and strategic orbit and keep it there.”

Hugh White

Said : Hugh White, Professor of Strategic Studies in the School of International, Political & Strategic Studies at the Australian National University (Lowy Institute), as quoted in Jane Perleznov's news analysis published in The New York Times of November 22, 2014.  

While Prof. Hugh White specializes in Australian strategic and defence policy; Asia Pacific security; global security, Jane Perlez is the chief diplomatic correspondent in the Beijing bureau of The New York Times. She covers China and its foreign policy, particularly relations between the United States and China, and their impact on the Asian region.

Jane Perleznov
Jane describes the recent visits of Xi Jinping to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji as "Asia’s ‘Big Guy’ Spreads Cash and Seeks Influence in Pacific Region," the title of her news analysis. According to her : "Everywhere Mr. Xi went, he left a trail of money, a bounty aimed at showcasing China as the dominant economic power in Asia." According to Jane when Mr. Xi said :“We have every reason to go beyond a commercial partnership to become strategic partners who have a shared vision and pursue common goals,” he was trying to entice Australia, one of America’s closest intelligence-sharing allies, away from its more than half-century alliance with Washington. Already, Mr. Xi and the Australian prime minister, Tony Abbott, have declared the completion of a China-Australia free trade pact, 10 years in the making, that will open China’s markets to Australian beef, dairy products and other products. It seems that President Obama's warning to America’s ally not to get too close to China has been ignored by Australians.

China has committed to spend $20 billion for loans and infrastructure for the 10 countries in the Association for Southeast Asian Nations besides $40 billion for a Silk Road infrastructure fund in Central and East Asia. In the tiny Pacific island of Fiji, Mr. Xi committed financial support for strengthening economic and strategic ties including defence cooperation with Pacific island nations. Mr. Xi also offered visa exemptions for Fijians travelling to China. A Chinese cultural centre will also be established in Fiji. In exchange Prime Minister Mr. Bainimarama said: "China had been "a true friend of Fiji" and had never interfered in Fiji's internal politics. Fiji wanted China to be fully engaged in the Pacific." China is already under American attack for its assertive behavior in strategic South China Sea waters.
In 2011 Hillary Clinton, then America’s secretary of state, explained President Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia in an article in Foreign Policy: “We all know that fears and misconceptions linger on both sides of the Pacific. Some in our country see China’s progress as a threat to the United States; some in China worry that America seeks to constrain China’s growth. We reject both those views.” China’s president, Xi Jinping, at a meeting with Mr Obama in California last year, responded in kind: “The vast Pacific Ocean has enough space for the two large countries of China and the United States.” (Source)
Hugh White, in a different post, has provided the answer to the question: "Why China and America are Headed Toward a Catastrophic Clash?"

"China is trying to build what President Xi Jinping calls "a new model of great power relations under which he wants China to wield much more power and influence in Asia than it has for the past few centuries. These things are inherently zero-sum, so for China to have more power and influence, America must have less. This is what Xi and his colleagues are trying to achieve."

Indeed, the G-20 summit in Australia provided world leaders an opportunity to show-case their policies and power to contribute to the world prosperity i.e. their capability to politically influence the socio-economic world order. With the near isolation of Russia's Putin and apparently weakening Obama, China has emerged as the only world power with huge amount of Vitamin-W (Wealth) needed by a good number of US allies for venturing into their own gigantic to-do-list. While the West is trying to maintain its fading power under the leadership of the United States, many alliance partners are finding it difficult to resist the mouth-watering temptation of China's economic capacity and desire to have partnerships with them that go beyond just the economic ones.     

Monday, October 13, 2014

Whoever said money can’t buy happiness has never been inside an apartment 1,300 feet above a bustling metropolis (New York)

Said : Matt A.V. Chaban in the Appraisal column of The New York Times of Oct. 13, 2014

The Appraisal covered New York’s tallest residential building, 432 Park Avenue, which attained its full height of 1,396 feet on Oct. 10. The 104-unit condominium tower of 96 stories, between 56th and 57th Streets, opens next year and the penthouse views, in all directions, are spectacular, as per Chaban's Appraisal. 

The total cost of building developed with Los Angeles based CIM Group - a premier full service urban real estate and infrastructure fund manager - is reported to be $1.3 billion. According to the Appraisal, more than half of the 104 condos have already been sold, including the $95 million penthouse and the cheapest units starting at $7 million. 

"If Manhattan has truly become a playground for the rich, here is its new beacon," Chaban concludes.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

India is not sufficiently strong in politics, economy and security to be a major player in the American team for "rebalancing Asia-Pacific"


Said : Su Xiaohui, deputy director of the Department for International and Strategic Studies at China Institute of International Studiesa research institute run by China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in an editorial titled : "India will not be a major player in America's game of 'rebalancing the Asia-Pacific' published in People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party.

The editorial has underplayed the media reports saying that "India has a vital role to play in the U.S. strategy of 'rebalancing Asia-Pacific'". It rules out the possibility that the U.S. will rely on India to counter China, a view expressed by Indo-US policy watchers. The editorial goes to the extent of almost challenging the capacity of India to play such a key role in Obama's scheme of things. It says : "In fact, no matter how close the relationship between India and the U.S. grows, India will not be a major player on the American team. The 'rebalancing' strategy consists of three parts - politics, economy and security. However, Indian national power is not sufficiently strong in any one of the three aspects."

The editorial makes note of President Barack Obama playing host to a rare private dinner for Modi at the White House to "promote a personal relationship with Modi" hinting it to be a reward for India for showing enthusiasm and willingness to start a "new chapter" in a strategic partnership with the US.
(Source : Xu, Beina "South China Sea Tensions." Jan 2013. Council on Foreign Relations. Oct 2014.)
The editorial tries to convey that India does not figure in the priority list of the U.S. bilateral relationship or for rebalancing strategy. It says : "The key element of the U.S. rebalance strategy is The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The U.S. is attempting to establish free trade zones in the Asia-Pacific with the help of TPP. However, India has not been invited to participate in the negotiation process." Another aspect highlighted by the editorial is related with Indo-US cooperation in defense. According to it the American interest is limited to ammunition supply and developing the military forces.

In an attempt to remind India its commitment to Non-Aligned Movement, the editorial says : "Fundamentally, India was one of the countries behind the Non-Aligned Movement. Every Indian government has emphasized that non-alignment is a basic principle of their foreign policy. India adheres to an all-round foreign policy strategy. Not only does India give priority to the India-U.S. relationship, it also attaches great importance to Sino-India relationships."

The border issue with India has also found a place in the editorial which shows that PM Modi's US visit has been able to contain the dragon for now. "The unsolved territorial disputes will not affect the development of Sino-India relations. China and India vowed to forge a closer development partnership when Chinese President Xi Jinping finished his state visit to India a week ago." Today's reports indicate that Chinese forces have withdrawn from the encroached land.

The editorial's tone becomes little softer towards the end, when in conclusion it says : "It is unrealistic for America to rely on India to play a leading role in its "rebalance in Asia-Pacific" strategy. There is little prospect of India and the U.S. reaching consensus on Chinese issues."
(Source : White House, Photo Galleries)
As widely expected, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's US visit has generated the required heat and attention in China that is necessary for India to be taken seriously. India is the only country that can effectively keep in check China's growing global ambitions and illegal activities in the South China Sea defying the vast majority of world community, of course jointly with the US. 

The US-India partnership will prove to be an unbeatable challenge for China which it knows very well. It's a fact China can ill afford to ignore especially when Narendra Modi is at the helm of affairs in India. China's wealth could be a big asset and force for the Chinese but that cannot make up for loneliness it faces on the global stage.

Friday, September 12, 2014

"I have always been an interventionist, someone who believes that it is acceptable to violate a country's sovereignty for humanitarian reasons.."

Michael Ignatieff

Said : Harvard professor and UN advisor Michael Ignatieff in an interview with Erich Follath of Spiegel published on September 9, 2014.

When asked : "Isn't former US President George W. Bush partly to blame for the current disaster thanks to his 2003 invasion, a war that you once endorsed," Prof. Ignatieff gave the following reply.

"Yes, he is. At the time I allowed myself to be fooled by the arguments being advanced by the US government, just as many others did. I regretted my endorsement and publicly admitted to my mistake. I have always been an interventionist, someone who believes that it is acceptable to violate a country's sovereignty for humanitarian reasons -- especially when a dictator is massacring his own people and when there is there a threat of genocide. I believed that was the case at the time. The only problem is that the US government manipulated public opinion."

Some key opinions expressed by Prof. Ignatieff, in the interview, are :
  • Germany's decision to supply weapons to the Kurds is an important geostrategic and political signal which shows that Germany is assuming the central role in the Western alliance. Without this, Europe would be condemned to ineffectiveness.
  • The Islamic State is an extremely dangerous force for all of the Middle East. If it consolidates, the Persian Gulf will also be destabilized, which could jeopardize the global oil supply.
  • A solution that involves the United Nations Security Council - to fight the jihadists with armed force - would, of course, be the best. Russia and China, for different reasons, also fear an advance of the Islamic State, but they would rather be spoilers in the international system and let the blame for the collapse of order fall on the US.
  • Those who are fighting the Islamic State militants are currently the lesser evil. It's a moral dilemma for the West but they must be provided all help. Also, the Americans should continue with their air strikes.
  • I've been travelling to the Kurdish region for more than 25 years. It's remarkable what they have already achieved in their largely autonomous region within Iraq. In contrast to Baghdad, the administration works there, the economy is booming and religions are practised freely. It would be a shame if the West or the Kurds themselves jeopardized this successful experiment. And the Islamic State terrorists certainly can't be allowed to destroy it.
  • Neither Assad nor the rebels, can win the conflict. The continued fighting will only cost more and more human lives. A status quo would result into a divided Syria but the Islamic State can been destroyed. For this, some rather strange, indirect alliances will have been created between both Assad and the West. I think it's the only way to end the slaughter of the civilian population.
  • I know that this is a deal with the devil. It's hard to imagine an uglier tradeoff for peace and justice than this one. But continuing to demand Assad's removal without having real leverage to force it to happen has become an empty threat - an even more hopeless strategy. The alternative is more years of civil war, death and destruction.
  • It's time for President Obama to examine whether Washington's strategic interests are really still identical with Israel's. I believe these interests have been drifting apart for a long time.
  • I welcome a new, more self-confident German foreign policy. Merkel has the most influence in Europe and she has strong ties to both Kiev and Moscow. Putin isn't na├»ve. He knows how far he can go. The consequences of his actions can be bluntly explained to him.
  • When a Russian leader says, even in jest, that he could take Kiev in two weeks, the danger is that we underreact, not overreact. It is important to strengthen NATO commitments, even deployments in the Baltic states, Poland and elsewhere. We also need to help the Ukrainian government, with arms and advisors to push back an invasion that is clearly Russian-backed and reverse the military momentum so that a negotiated political solution, favorable to Ukraine's survival as a united state, becomes possible.
  • The Russians and the Chinese don't want R2P ("responsibility to protect") because it limits government sovereignty and permits - even demands, in an extreme case - outside intervention. Government sovereignty is an important value. Still, it can't be a license to commit mass murder within one's own borders. That's why we need responsibility to protect. The atrocities committed by the Nazis, right up to Pol Pot's Cambodian genocide and the genocide in Rwanda, have shown the world what is possible without an international standard. And you see it again today.
  • People in democratic countries have become mistrustful of their political leaders, who - like Bush and (former British Prime Minister Tony) Blair in the 2003 Iraq war - are selling something under false premises. Leaders who, in this way, are betraying principles they claim to advocate. So the Western public believes, to quote a song by my favorite rock band, The Who: "Won't get fooled again."
  • Combat operations in Iraq and Syria are unpopular in the United States, and in Germany more than two-thirds of the population is against sending weapons to the Kurds. Politicians in democratic nations cannot govern against the will of the majority, at least not in the long term. There is only one thing they can do: Campaign for their convictions. Otherwise we won't be able to prevent genocide in the future, either.

Monday, September 8, 2014

“The United States is competitive to the extent that firms operating here do two things: win in global markets and lift the living standards of the average American. The U.S. economy is doing the first of these but failing at the second”

Michael E. Porter

Said : Harvard’s Michael E. Porter, Bishop William Lawrence University Professor, based at Harvard Business School, and co-chair of HBS’s U.S. Competitiveness Project. “This is a critical moment for our nation. Business leaders and policy makers need a strategy to get our country on a path towards broadly shared prosperity,” according to a news release by the Harvard Business School.

According to findings of the third alumni survey (2013–14) of Harvard Business School (HBS), on U.S. competitiveness, "large and mid size firms have rallied strongly from the Great Recession, and highly skilled individuals are prospering. But middle- and working-class citizens are struggling, as are small businesses." The report on the findings of the survey titled "An Economy Doing Half Its Job" argues that such a divergence is unsustainable. After exploring its root causes, the authors examine actions that might mitigate it. They opine that in order to create a U.S. economy in which firms both thrive in global competition and lift the living standards of the average American, the US business leaders must focus on hugely enhancing their contribution to support : students and schools (education), workers and small businesses to develop workplace skills (skill investment), and to increase the nation’s mobility and opportunities resulting from mobility. (transportation infrastructure). 

The reports notes that "the recent divergence of outcomes, with firms (especially larger firms) thriving and workers struggling, is unusual in the United States. Historically, American companies and citizens have tended either to thrive together, as in the boom after World War II, or to suffer together, as during the Great Depression." 

The report clearly states that : "business leaders must act to move from an opportunistic patchwork of individual projects toward strategic, collaborative efforts that make the average American productive enough to command higher wages even in competitive global labour markets. Without such actions, the U.S. economy will continue to do only half its job, with many citizens struggling. Businesses cannot thrive for long while their communities languish."

Overall, the survey findings on the U.S. business environment depict an economy that is on the mend in a cyclical sense and is faring better than some other advanced economies, but is not structurally equipped to do its full job: the prospects for broadly lifting living standards are dim, and smaller businesses, important job generators in the U.S. economy, are especially disadvantaged.
"ANY LEADER WITH A LONG VIEW UNDERSTANDS THAT BUSINESS HAS A PROFOUND STAKE IN THE PROSPERITY OF THE AVERAGE AMERICAN."
Another interesting finding has been that younger U.S. workers have better literacy skills than older workers bu the main challenge to America, however, is that America has among the most literate 55- to 65-year-olds in the world, but the same is not true of younger cohorts.
"WORKERS ARE CAPTIVES OF THE WEAKEST ASPECTS OF THE U.S. BUSINESS ENVIRONMENT, WHILE FIRMS ARE THE BENEFICIARIES OF AMERICA'S GREATEST STRENGTHS."
“Short-sighted executives may be satisfied with an American economy where firms operating here are winning without lifting U.S. living standards,” said Professor Porter. “But leaders with longer perspectives understand that companies can’t thrive for long while their workers and their communities struggle.”

Thursday, September 4, 2014

This is the first time since the end of World War Two that one European country has tried to grab another’s territory by force. Europe must not turn away from the rule of law to the rule of the strongest. This is vital for peace and security in the world.

Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Petro Poroshenko at the press conference during the NATO Summit
Said : Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary General, at a Joint press conference with the President of Ukraine, Petro Poroshenko during the NATO Summit held in Newport, Wales, reported NATO news release.

"What is happening in Ukraine has serious implications for the security and stability of the whole Euro-Atlantic area. We stand united in our support of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally-recognized borders."
"Russia is now fighting against Ukraine, in Ukraine. Russian troops and Russian tanks are attacking the Ukrainian forces. And while talking about peace, Russia has not made one single step to make peace possible. Instead of de-escalating the crisis, Russia has only deepened it." - Rasmussen
"We strongly condemn Russia’s repeated violations of international law. Russia must stop its aggressive actions against Ukraine. Withdraw its thousands of troops from Ukraine and the border regions. And stop supporting the separatists in Ukraine," he added.

Rasmussen said : "We call on Russia to reverse its illegal and illegitimate self-declared “annexation” of Crimea, which we do not and will not recognize."

Calling Ukraine an important and distinctive NATO partner, Rasmussen said : "This is the first time since the end of World War Two that one European country has tried to grab another’s territory by force. Europe must not turn away from the rule of law to the rule of the strongest. This is vital for peace and security in the world."

The two leaders also answered questions from the media regarding Ukraine's NATO membership.