Edge of Change (Issue 022)
19 September 2018
Beijing is now tackling the whole China’s Muslim Uighur minority, whose loyalties the central government has long distrusted for both nationalist and religious reasons. The Uighurs are a problem for China, and perhaps an intractable one. They are reluctant subjects of the Chinese state, they sit on the route most key to Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative and increasing oppression has so far only prompted further resistance. So, the author argues that the most tragic scenario — a full-scale genocide — should not be excluded. Eliminating a people always requires a high level of organization and resources. While accounts in popular media may portray this type of violence as irrational, successful genocides are highly rational, and rationalized. This is not chaotic violence; it’s characterized by orderliness and control. Yet destroying a group’s culture without eliminating its members is an even taller order than mass murder. The need to continuously monitor the population imposes a significant — and extremely expensive — additional surveillance burden.
20 September 2018
For the first time in almost six decades, the country’s president is no longer a Castro neither the late legend Fidel, nor his lower-profile brother Raúl, who succeeded him as president in 2008. This April, the mantle was instead passed to former vice-president Miguel Díaz-Canel, a younger post-revolutionary politician who raised paradoxical hopes of both continuity and change. Mr. Díaz-Canel has inherited an economy in a state of transition. During his decade-long rule, Raúl Castro broke through once-forbidding ideological barriers on economic policy. He actively inserted Cuba into global commerce, opened the island to foreign investment, and promoted a burgeoning domestic private sector. And yet, the Cuban economy has performed poorly overall. The government has failed to create a truly receptive business climate, and outside the flourishing tourism sector, foreign investors remain skeptical. While the Communist Party is now actively generating discussions on the redrafting of constitution among interested elites, they are expected to yield only modest fixes to the issues outlined above.
20 September 2018
The national elections next month give Brazil the chance to start afresh. Yet if, as seems all too possible, victory goes to Jair Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist, they risk making everything worse. He is the latest in a parade of populists—from Donald Trump to Matteo Salvini, that have been on the rise recently. In Latin America, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, a left-wing firebrand, will take office in Mexico in December. Mr. Bolsonaro would be a particularly nasty addition to the club: should he win, it might put the very survival of democracy in Latin America’s largest country at risk. He favours the privatisation of all Brazil’s state-owned companies and “brutal” simplification of taxes. Mr Bolsonaro proposes to slash the number of ministries from 29 to 15, and to put army generals in charge of some of them. His formula is winning support: Polls give the populist candidate 28% of the vote, making him the clear front-runner in a crowded field for the first round of the elections to be held on October 7th. The recent stabbing at a rally, while putting Mr. Bolsonaro in hospital, only made him more popular—and shielded him from closer scrutiny by the media and his opponents.
20 September 2018
Compared to the EU, China’s approach to the frozen conflicts in this region such as Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh is relatively sanguine. The lack of regulations and unexploited potential in partially recognized or de facto states are perceived as an opportunity by Beijing, with high potential to develop the wine industry (Abkhazia), exploit minerals (Karabakh), produce spirits (Transnistria) and even tourism (Abkhazia). While Moscow’s investments there are mostly connected to security and defence, Beijing’s approach is purely business-oriented. As Moscow increasingly expresses support for the Belt and Road initiative, Abkhazia may soon have to accept more investment from Chinese companies. This may change the whole landscape and could even be an opportunity for Chinese tourists seeking a more affordable place to spend vacations than Europe. In the short term, the author concludes, we should not expect a rapid change in China’s relations with either Abkhazia or Russia: Beijing takes advantage of the disagreement between Russia and the West and has neither the military capabilities nor motivation to change the status quo between Russia and Georgia in Abkhazia.
24 September 2018
The article talks about a resolution plan that is to be voted by the European Council’s Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) at its next meeting in October. This resolution, if adopted, would make it extremely difficult, even impossible, for the assembly to impose sanctions against member delegations. The purpose is clear: to provide a pretext for lifting sanctions against Russia, notably the suspension of its voting rights in the assembly, which were taken in 2014 in order to punish Moscow for its campaigns in the Crimea and Eastern Ukraine. But the Council has for months been talking about welcoming Russia back into the fold. Of course, Russia hasn’t fulfilled any of the conditions imposed by PACE for lifting sanctions, chief among which would be reversing the annexation of Crimea. President Putin, as usual, applied pressure with the stick and not the carrot: he slashed Russia’s annual payments to the Council by 20 million euros and pulled his delegation out of PACE, threatening a permanent withdrawal if the sanctions aren’t removed. The blackmail appears to have worked. However, by giving in to blackmail and pulling its own legislative teeth, PACE would both set a dangerous precedent and prevent itself from punishing future transgressions by ECHR members.
24 September 2018
The piece discusses the possible grave consequences of a hard, “no-deal” Brexit for the British economy and way of life. First of all, it will affect agricultural producers, since it will require them to embark on a lengthy procedure of getting numerous licenses in order to be able to export a range of their products (worse thereof estimated at several billion pounds a year), something they do now without getting any permissions. Severe disruptions may happen to flights between the UK and EU, the worst possibility being a complete temporary cease of them all, and the ban for Britain-based airlines to operate between European destinations a very real one. Moreover, travelling to Europe will not be as easy for British citizens as it is now, especially for those ones travelling by car or bringing their pet animals. Hence, the full consequences of Brexit will be probably realized only after it fully happens.
24 September 2018
The U.S.-China trade war has recently escalated dramatically, with U.S. tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods entering into force. This was immediately countered by Chinese tariffs on $60 billion worth of U.S. exports. While earlier Chinese retaliation took aim at things such as soybeans, the latest round includes a 10 percent tariff on U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, the first time Beijing has targeted U.S. energy exports. Russia is already building a massive gas pipeline to supply China from Siberia, and this month the two countries announced plans to fast-track another Siberian pipeline, which if built would double Russia’s gas trade with China.
One plan in particular seems caught in the crosshairs of the trade war: a $43 billion project to pipe natural gas from the North Slope of Alaska across the state to an LNG export facility near Anchorage. A state-owned Chinese bank is helping with the project’s financing, and a state-owned Chinese energy company is meant to buy much of its production.
24 September 2018
The Vostok-2018 trainings was the culmination of a shift in Russian strategic thinking about China that gained momentum after 2014. At present, both countries see their major security challenges elsewhere, and their shared desire to avoid creating yet another adverse relationship has been a stabilizing factor for relations. The Kremlin has its hands full with the wars in Syria and Ukraine, the impact of a growing NATO presence along its western border, and the ongoing U.S. defense buildup. For its part, China’s leadership faces growing tensions with Washington over security and trade issues, and various territorial disputes are straining relations with Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and other neighbors. Meanwhile, Beijing continues to pursue its long-standing goal of regaining control over Taiwan. Enhanced trust between Russian and Chinese militaries may lead to growing cooperation and coordination in cyberspace, particularly when it comes to probing vulnerabilities in U.S. military and civilian communication systems. Conventional wisdom in Washington and other Western capitals ignores the degree to which shortsighted U.S. policies are pushing Russia and China closer together.