Learning Chinese

It has become apparent to any but the most obtuse observer of international relations that the U.S. and China are logged into a longtime competition for world dominance that could turn rough at any time.

We have always had a love-hate relationship with China, a concept for the West as much as it has been a geographical term or an empire, or more recently a nation-state-failed.

The Chinese have perhaps always had one advantage. Unlike our other enemies [and friends] in the past, communication has been more difficult because of the absence of a spoken language expressed in Western or, in truth, Mideastern terms. The Chinese written language, of course, is a collection of logograms — a written character that represents a word or phrase – and a minimum have to be learned to be able to communicate either the written “word”. The minimum of such “characters” one has to master stretches from what some assume is 2500 to several thousands – and, indeed, any specialized writing requires it own “vocabulary”.

That has meant that educated Chinese, that is, those who have “modern” or Western-oriented educations that may also include their traditional Chinese culture, have an advantage with Americans: they can learn an alphabetical script that more-or-less [please don’t tell me about how English or French depart from that generalization!] opens the doors to Western/modern contemporary world culture including technology.

All of this to say that if we are in for a longtime competition [at best] with the Chinese for world domination – and there is every reason to believe the present or future masters in Beijing would settle for no less –- we have a lot of homework ahead.

We are going to need scholars with expertise on China for our political leadership that only can be acquired by knowledge of their culture as learned in part through a study of their language. [Note, of course, that in fact there are several “Chinese” languages on the Continent and they have leant their ideograms, another word for the “characters” they use to express anything from a simple noun to a very sophisticated thought. The Yuè dialects, also known as Cantonese [Guăngdōnghuà], one of the major dialect groups, is spoken by 62 million people as their mother tongue in the southern province of Guandong, the city of Canton, as well as in Hong Kong, Macau, and among the very large expatriate Cantonese communities in southeast Asia and the U.S. where they were almost exclusively the early Chinese emigrants.

American academia has been running as fast as it could since the late30s in pursuit of an understanding of China and the Chinese culture. And since the establishment of the Chinese Communist regime in 1949 in Beijing , the Chinese government has been using the fascination of the West with China to enhance its prestige and ultimately its influence and control abroad. This has been aided by over 30 million and living in over 136 different countries and areas, the so-called Overseas Chinese now the most widespread ethnic group in the world and in Southeast Asia, particularly, are noted for their commercial abilities and their domination of the local economies.

It was only logical, then, that American universities in more recent decades had initiated Chinese studies, often with the aid and financial support of the Chinese governments, dating from the prewar period when the anti-Communist Nationalists had close ties to some American academics and their schools.

In their energetic style, the Beijing government has established The Confucius Institutes, funded by a Chinese government entity known as Hanban, with matching resources provided by the host university. They frequently have been directed by a faculty or staff member from the American host university with the help of an assistant director from a Chinese university and staffed in part by Chinese language instructors hired by Hanban or a Chinese partner university.

But that is where Beijing’s good words taper off. A bipartisan report from the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations just released raises a number of issues in relation to U.S. colleges or university control over CI hiring and programming. The report says that “the Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools,” down to having veto authority over events and activities included in the annual budget submitted for approval to Hanban. The report also says that “Hanban provides no information to U.S. schools on how candidates for Chinese director and teacher positions at Confucius Institutes are screened or selected in China”.

The Report says that “the Chinese government controls nearly every aspect of Confucius Institutes at U.S. schools,” down to having veto authority over events and activities included in an annual budget submitted for approval to Hanban. The report also says that “Hanban provides no information to U.S. schools on how candidates for Chinese director and teacher positions at Confucius Institutes are screened or selected in China”.

Concern about what these Confucius Institutes are – whether they are not propaganda and espionage organizations rather than institutes of higher learning – have led at least 10 American universities to close them down.

Faculty groups have been raising concerns about the CIs for years; the American Association of University Professors asked as far back as 2014 that universities either close their CIs or renegotiate their agreements to ensure “unilateral control” over all academic matters. The recent closures follow on criticism from political figures, mainly but not exclusively from the Republican Party.



Turkey destroying NATO?

Ankara’s continued pursuit of advanced air defense equipment from Moscow – Russia’s S400 Systems – threatens the very guts of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization at a time “the most successful alliance in history” has profound political and budgetary problems.

The Trump Administration has taken a hard line toward raising contributions from other NATO allies to pay the bills Washington has long paid disproportionately.

It also comes at a time of other frictions between the two NATO allies.

After two months of imprisonment, the Turks released Andrew Brunson, who maintains that he had no ties to political groups and was just the pastor of a local church who had lived in Turkey for more than two decades.

“There’s a lot of bad stuff happening in Turkey right now, most of it not toward Christians but toward people who are accused of supporting Fethullah Gulen,” he said of the exiled Turkish cleric living in Pennsylvania whom Erdogan accused of plotting against him.

On March 6, the Turkish President had threatened that in the future, the Turks “…may work with S-500s,” the next-generation of the Moscow system. Ankara says it already has plans to start installing the Russian system with the Turkish air force laying out the deployment.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence has repeated warnings to Turkey against purchasing of Russia’s S-400 missile defense systems.

“We will not stand idly by while NATO allies purchase weapons from our adversaries,” Pence said at the annual conference of Western security analysts.

Erdoğan publicly at least, ignored the March 13 call in Washington that the U.S.  not supply Ankara with F-35 fighter jets if it buys the Soviet-Russian S-400 missile defense system. U.S. European Command [EUCOM] Commander Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti, the top U.S. commander in Europe, concurrently also NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, made the comment testifying at a hearing of the House Armed Services Committee alongside similar comments by Kathryn Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs.

In December the State Department approved a possible $3.5 billion sale of the American Patriot system to Turkey which includes advanced radar systems, control centers, launching systems and guided missiles. But Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar also has said Ankara also expects delivery of F35 fighter jets from the U.S. in November.

“Despite some statements, the F-35 process goes smoothly; our pilots, maintenance team continue training in the U.S.,” Akar told a luncheon with top Turkish generals on March 13. “We expect delivery of F-35s in November to [eastern] Malatya province, [where] relevant preparations for infrastructure were completed.”

Turkey has resumed imports of Iranian crude oil after a one-month halt in November when the U.S. re-imposed sanctions on Iran, under a special arrangement with Washington.

But the purchase of major Soviet/Russian military equipment by a NATO ally, closely tied into U.S. and West European armaments suppliers, is unprecedented.

It marks another step in Erdoğan’s increasingly erratic foreign policy, some elements directly contrary to its NATO membership. That policy includes a warming of relations with ultra-Muslim political organizations – turning its back on modern Turkey ’s founder Kemal Attaturk’s militant secularism.

Erdoğan’s makes a studied effort to spend most of his time in the capital Ankara and central and eastern Asia Minor to escape the international atmosphere in Istanbul [Constantinople], by far Turkey ’s largest urban center with its substantial foreign communities and influences at the gateway to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.

On March 13, the European Parliament voted down Turkey’s EU accession and formally suspend the process of its long-awaited entry into the European Union, now slowed, if not halted. The 1963 Ankara Agreement made Turkey one of the EU’s main economic partners in the Middle East and both are members of the European Union–Turkey Customs Union but the Europeans have not approved its entry into the EU political apparatus.

The EU accession process is “meaningless”, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said in a statement on March 13.

European Parliament‘s stance against Turkey should be to promote ties, interaction and dialogue between Turkey and EU,” the ministry statement said.

Turkey expects the new European Parliament, to be formed after the elections in May, will adopt a constructive approach to the Turkey-EU relations in the upcoming period, take qualified and objective decisions and boost Turkey‘s EU integration process,” the ministry added.

Opposition to Turkey’s full membership in the European institutions has always reflected a concern in some European political circles about Turkey’s non-Christian Islamic cultural heritage. At a time when sentiment is growing against the relatively large-scale immigration of Arab and other Moslems to cover the West and Central European birth deficit, it would be only natural that old questions about Turkish-European common culture should surface against.

However, Turkish presidential spokesman İbrahim Kalın called the vote “null and void” as far as Ankara is concerned.

“The content of the European Parliament’s 2018 Turkey report is an attempt to axe the process of increased joint efforts to gain a new momentum in Turkey-EU relations,” Kalın said. He also said far-right political movements in Europe disclosed the prejudiced attitude against Turkey with a report which contains “baseless claims” that do not reflect reality.



Sweden: Not so cool

Swedish social democracy, so often viewed by American and West Europeans with envy as a model society, is in deep trouble.

The problem is runaway immigration: Because of Sweden’s humanitarian impulses — or the lack thereof — there is an estimated 8,000 Christians under deportation order. Immigration Attorney Gabriel Donner has assisted an estimated thousand Christian asylum seekers avoiding deportation. Minister of Migration Morgan Johanson claims — perhaps in an effort to excuse the government’s going against its own promise in the recent election campaign of reducing immigration — that the country now has “the lowest asylum reception in 13 years.” But according to numbers released by the government’s own Swedish Migration Board. The third highest number of residence permits issued ever was in 2018  [132,696].

With a population of just over 10 million, the government is perpetuating policies that the majority of Swedes oppose. In December 2018, polls reckoned that 53% of all Swedes wanted a reduction in immigrants.

Most of the migrants who arrived in the past couple of years were young males, who had left their wives and children behind. The measure also entitles so-called “unaccompanied children” to bring their parents. Many of these “unaccompanied children”, it turns out, were adults, not minors.

Swedes have grown accustomed to headlines of violent crime, witness intimidation and gangland executions. In a country long renowned for its safety, voters cited “law and order” as the most important issue ahead of the general election in September. Sweden has gone from being a low-crime country to having homicide rates significantly above the Western European average. Social unrest, with car torchings, attacks on first responders and even riots, is a recurring phenomenon.

The topic of crime is sensitive, however, and debate about the issue in the consensus-oriented Scandinavian society is restricted by taboos — especially about criticizing the growing Moslem immigration. The government’s excuse for denying the Islamic terrorist attacks is that no Islamic group has officially claimed responsibility.

In 2010, the Security Service estimated that 200 individuals were involved in the violent Islamist extremist milieu. According to the Swedish Defense University, most of these militants were affiliated with the Islamic State, with around 300 people traveling to Syria and Iraq to join the group. Some have financed their activities with funds from the Swedish state welfare systems. In 2017, Swedish Security Service Director Anders Thornberg, said the number of violent Islamic extremists residing in Sweden was estimated to be in the “thousands”.

In fact, Swedish immigrant law is a mess. It actually does not allow the security services to take measures against returning ISIS fighters.The penalty for belonging to a terrorist group — two to six years in prison – is generally considered ridiculously low. Until that law was passed, however, returning ISIS terrorists could only be tried for specific crimes committed while they were fighting for the “caliphate.”

But in February, the government did present legislation that would criminalize membership of a terrorist organization. This new law would enable the prosecution of returning ISIS fighters who while they cannot be connected to a specific crime, were proven to have been part of a terrorist organization.

Furthermore, according to the Swedish Defense University , since the 1970s, residents of Sweden have been implicated in providing logistical and financial support to or joining various foreign-based transnational Islamic militant groups. [The Swedish National Defense College trains and educates military and civilian personnel in leading positions, both nationally and internationally as part of the contribution to the management of crisis situations and security issues] Among these organizations are Hezbollah, Hamas, the GIA, Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State, Al-Shabaab, Ansar al-Summa and Ansa al-Islam,

Sweden’s neighboring Danish Security and Intelligence Service warned the number of jihadis in Sweden to be a threat against Denmark since two terrorists arriving from Sweden had already been sentenced in the 2010 Copenhagen terror plot. In another neighbor, Norwegians commonly use the phrase “Swedish conditions” to describe crime and social unrest.

Ranstorp has argued that efforts to improve anti-terror legislation has been hampered by human rights activists. But a change in the activism occurred in the 2013/14 time frame when the number of Swedes traveling to join the Islamic State were exposed, and some of the loudest activists withdrew from public debate after being exposed for harassing women on commuter trains.

Ranstorp recently warned Sweden may not only be welcoming ISIS terrorists, but also their wives and children, who he said also pose a security risk:

“The women are not innocent victims, and there is also a large group of ISIS children… From the age of eight or nine, they have been sent to indoctrination camps where they have learned close combat techniques and how to handle weapons. Some of them have learned how to kill… their identities will forever be linked to their time with ISIS , and the fact that they have an ISIS father or an ISIS mother.”

Ranstorp pointed out that Sweden ‘s mental health system is “not fit to deal with that. If they stay with their extremist parents, there could be delayed [terrorist] effects further down the line, 15-20 years from now”.


Trouble at China’s backdoor: Sinkiang

Beijing’s remote and little-known westernmost province – as large as Iran but with less than 25 million people – is suddenly in the news.

Sinkiang’s predominantly Muslim population has become a victim of Communist Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s escalating controversial nationwide campaign to “Sinicize religion”.

Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uyghur Congress, claims that two million people are detained in “concentration camps” in Xinjiang, including 338 intellectuals. About 15 million Uyghurs, a Turkic ethnic group who live in East and Central Asia, mainly in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region of the People’s Republic of China, are one of China’s fifty-five officially-recognized ethnic minorities.

China massively increased security spending in 2017 in Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of Muslims are alleged to have been detained. Official figures show that “nearly all security-related facility construction” rose by 213% between 2016 and 2017 according to the US-based Jamestown Foundation.

Chinese diplomats deny the allegations, arguing that “[T]here is no internment camp, no concentration camp, there is only vocational training centers.” But critics of the regime argue over a million Uygurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have been held in these camps where they are forced to renounce Islam and pledge loyalty to the Party.

The push to “Sinicize religion” – introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 – is an attempt by the officially atheist party to bring religions under its absolute control and into line with Chinese culture. Delivering his annual government work report, Keqiang told the national legislature that “we must fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the Sinicization of religion in China.”

Events in Singkiang have finally attracted public criticism from foreign Muslim leaders, in Turkey for example, more often as not in the past to have been allies of Beijing in its arguments with the Western democracies.

China, stepping up its diplomatic defense, invited diplomats from carefully selected countries to visit in at least four separate rounds, a move that some observers saw as further displaying China’s worry concern over the growing international backlash.

A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers has written the State Department castigating what they charge is the Trump Administration’s inadequate response to the situation. Arguing that it has “taken no meaningful action in response to the situation in (Xinjiang),” lawmakers wrote Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, four months after they initially called on him to take action.

[…]In their letter Monday, the U.S. lawmakers, led by House Committee on Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel, said that “over a million Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities have been interned in ‘political re-education camps’ without due process as part of a broader attempt to wipe out their separate identity, language, and history.” Based on local government tendering documents, at least several hundred thousand and perhaps over a million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities could have been detained in Xinjiang.

Such estimates were also quoted at a UN human rights panel earlier this year.
But so far, Beijing has refused permission for UN special rapporteur, Ahmed Shaheed, to go to Umruchi, the Singkiang capital to investigate. China has not yet replied to his February request, he said.

“I have requested for a visit to go there, because this a priority for me in terms of looking at what is happening there’, Shaheed said. “There is reason to be seriously concerned about reports coming out of the Xinjiang region” told a news briefing. Shaheed, a former Maldives minister, disclosed he was among several U.N. rights experts to write to China last November voicing anxiety at its anti-extremism program.


Our solid ally

Once again Canada is proving its credentials as a loyal and effective ally.

This time, against enormous pressure – including the taking in effect of Canadian hostages in China – it is adhering to its consular undertakings with the U.S.

The row is over the detention of Meng Wanzhou, CFO and daughter of China’s huge electronic company founder, Huawei Technologies Co., when she was held after arriving at Vancouver airport in December. Washington asked for her deportation to the U.S.

The U.S. which sees Huawei as an organ of the Chinese Communist Party and government – as are most Chinese companies – violated U.S. and UN sanctions against Iran for Tehran’s subversive activities throughout the world.

U.S. officials have been increasingly wary of Huawei operating as an arm of Chinese intelligence through its vast electronics manufacturing and sales around the world. And the U.S. government has moved in to bloc its relations with U.S. companies with security concerns

The Canadians have, in fact, been much more lenient than the U.S. in viewing the nature of what are ostensibly Chinese commercial operations in their country.

Since 2003, China has been Canada’s second largest trading partner, passing Britain and Japan. China now accounts for about 6 percent of Canada’s total world trade (imports and exports combined). Between 1998 and 2007, imports from China grew by almost 400 percent.

Negotiations for a highly anticipated trade treaty have been halted between the two countries. And as the United States requests Meng’s extradition to the U.S. in the coming weeks, China is threatening retaliation.

Huawei already has sued the Canadian government, police and border officials claiming their leading executive’s legal rights were violated when she was detained at Vancouver International Airport in December following an extradition arrest request from the U.S.

Canada, as a medium-size economy, is in an extremely difficult position. With limited leverage in international trade to diversify, particularly trying to get away from its overwhelming dependence on the United States, rapid expansion of trade with China was looked on as a bonanza. Ottawa did recently finally initial a trade compact with the European Union. It was set to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership [which, of course the Trump Administration has now withdrawn from] that would open up new markets, especially with Japan.

But China had been viewed as one of the biggest prizes by Trudeau’s trade negotiators. That’s despite the obvious problems. The risks particularly on the security side, in addition to state-to-state espionage but also in terms of intellectual property theft are considerable.

The Five Eyes security intelligence-sharing network of the English-speaking democracies has twice cautioned Ottawa against Huawei’s growing presence in Canada, according to the Globe and Mail. As in the U.S. where similar concerns have now been publicized in recent U.S. Senate hearings.

Beijing, in recent years, has invested millions of dollars into North American universities, with critics warning that the numerous patents they have gained through research partnerships could have a negative impact on infrastructure security as the company seeks to dominate the nascent field of 5G telecommunications technology.

Beijing has accused two Canadian men of working together to steal state secrets as an obvious retaliation for Meng’s arrest. In a short statement posted online, the ruling Communist Party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission accused Canadian citizen Michael Kovrig of stealing state secrets passed on to him from another detained Canadian, Michael Spavor. While China has invoked national security to justify detaining the Canadian men, Monday’s statement marks the first time Chinese authorities have gone into more detail.

A Canadian government statement reacted with a statement which said in part: “The safety and security of Canadians is always of first order for this government. That’s why we’ve been engaging and standing up for the two Canadians who have been arbitrarily detained by China from the very beginning.”

Beijing’s propagandists immediately cited the ongoing SNC-Lavalin controversy which has threatened to topple the Trudeau government as leverage in Meng’s case saying it put into question judicial independence in Canada. Founded in 1911, SNC-Lavalin is a global integrated professional services and project management company and a major player in the ownership of infrastructure. Charging the Trudeau government has used its influence in behalf of the company, Canada’s President of the Treasury Board resigned from Trudeau’s cabinet March 4, the second minister to leave in the wake of a political scandal that has roiled Trudeau’s tenure just months before an October election. Former justice minister Jody Wilson-Raybould had testified last week that government officials inappropriately pressured her to help construction firm SNC-Lavalin avoid a corruption trial.

A modest proposal for an invitation

The groans coming out of the British political system – members of both major parties resigning their membership and two former ministers threatening to do the same – all attest to a fierce intellectual as well as a political struggle. After all, the vote for Brexit [the U.K. leaving the European Union] in last June’s referendum was only 17,410,742 [51.89%] to leave and 16,141,241 [48.11%] to remain — with another 25,359 blank or invalid ballots! The lines were drawn so tight that few want to be reminded that Prime Minister Theresa May — although she wasn’t one of the most vocal in the debate then serving longer than any other Home Secretary — stuck to the then government line that Britain would be better off “remaining”.

Whether it was ever right for the Brits to enter the European Union – for centuries they have been psychologically in Europe but not of it — is a question left better to future historians. After all, it was always U.S. policy that they should – and not for the most unselfish reasons. We wanted a voice in the new united Europe, and it was thought London could somehow speak for us from the inside. [Did even our earlier leaders anticipate President Obama’s ill-fated “leading from behind”?]

The continuing postponements and the body language of those photos of Prime Minister meeting EU bureaucrats are not good signs for a formal Brexit. The UK could sever all ties with the EU with immediate effect, of course. And Brexit-supporting Members of Parliament claim it would not be all that bad, that the UK would save the £39bn [$51 billion] divorce bill, and free itself to strike its own beneficial trade deals around the world.

Somehow, we remain optimistic without evidence that last minute arrangements will succeed.

But the squeaks will continue – whether actual problems or bitchery from Edinburgh where there always was more pro-“remaining”, or that infernal Irish problem which has cropped up again. [Northern Ireland voted 55.8% Remain.] The UK and EU have agreed to put in place a “backstop” between Ulster and Eire — a safety net to avoid any hard border whatever the outcome of future trade talks between the UK and the EU. Without this free trade zone, there’s fear we could all return to “The Troubles” [social unrest] in Ireland.

Although it has become unfashionable in the Trump Administration to talk too much about American responsibilities around the globe, it hardly behooves 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to sit idly by while our No. 1 ally is in trouble. If Brexit does happen, one way or another, the U.K. – and the world – will have only from 29 March, 2019, to 31 December, 2020 (possibly later), to get everything in place and allow businesses [including “The City”, still London ’s financial and the world’s nerve center] to prepare for the moment when the new post-Brexit rules begin.

It’s about that time that we think Washington should take a hand. It would be hard to imagine the exhaustion and anxiety which will grip every corner of the U.K. polity when the fight is resolved. The U.S. at that point ought to extend an invitation to the British prime minister, whoever she or he would be. Come to the U.S. for a week – the British communications are as good as ours and necessary decision-making could continue – for what might be called A Festival of the Special Relationship.

It would be billed, of course, as a cultural affair – but obviously strategy in all its aspects would be discussed behind the scenes. The “cover” would include everything from a special program at Washington ’s Shakespeare Theater to a British festival at the Kennedy Center of music and film [who wouldn’t like to see “Brief Encounter” again!]. There might be a reception – or better still a ball – at the White House. And the PM’s major oration would be given in the Capitol Building in Colonial Williamsburg [before the Virginia General Assembly] reemphasizing the deep ties not only in language but in political philosophies.

Critics of course would carp at all the aspects of such a celebration. And in the turbulent world we live in, we might run into minor difficulties. But reinvigorating the Special Relationship can only be an essential part of any American foreign policy, especially with Pres. Trumps’ emphasis on the Europeans picking up their part of the load of the mutual defense.


Washington needs a more aggressive Iran policy

When the Tehran fanatics recently accused the U.S. of an attack on elite forces in Iran’s southeastern province of Baluchistan, they not only lied but revealed one of their many and growing problems. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected as “outrageous” Iranian claimthat the United States and its regional allies were to blame for a suicide bombing that killed 27 members of the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

More important than Pompeo’s continued verbal taunting of the Iranian fanatics is the knowledge that the militant Sunni Muslim separatist group called Jaish al-Adl (Army of Justice) claimed responsibility for the February 13 attack. It was one more indication of the growing instability throughout the country, in part brought on by American sanctions which are cutting into Tehran ’s oil exports and crippling what is left of its economy.

But Iran and its proxies continue to plot violence abroad and not just in the Middle East. German intelligence officials accused Iran of trying to acquire nuclear materials in 2016, after a ban was supposed to have gone into effect. Last summer an Iranian attempt to bomb the meeting of an opposition group near Paris was foiled. In October, Copenhagen recalled its ambassador to Tehran after another Iranian assassination attempt was prevented in Denmark. In January, Germany banned Iran’s Mahan Air because it was ferrying arms and fighters to commit atrocities in Syria. These are all countries that want better relations with Iran and have made efforts to steer a course independent from the Trump administration.

In the welter of foreign policy issues for the Trump Administration, it is clear that only regime change is an answer to a Tehran regime, which while tottering, has shown enormous resilience in the face of an increasingly restive population. Washington has failed to cope with the Iranian subversion around the world. In part, this was the result of the failure of the U.S. to seize the opportunity to support the 2009 “Green Movement” in which a presidential election with protesters demanding the removal of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office.

But there are now reports that the U.S. has begun covert actions against Iran’s missile and rocket program through countries and companies that supply Tehran’s aerospace operations. French and British officials have joined the United States in calling for ways to counter Iran’s missile program even their cooperation on the sanctions has been irregular.

But Last month Trump noted the Jan. 15 failed space launch. Had it succeeded, he said, it would have given Tehran “critical information” it could use “to pursue intercontinental ballistic missile capability, and a capability, actually, of reaching the United States.”

So far, Iran has failed to successfully test the newest generation of its satellite launcher. The vehicle, roughly nine stories tall, debuted in April 2016. Iran wrapped the test flight in secrecy but foreign monitors know for sure only that no satellite went into orbit. In July 2017, another missile roared off a launch pad which Tehran called a success. But once again, with no satellite seen, Washington concluded there was a “catastrophic failure.”

Seemingly without a strategy plan, the Trump administration has instead focused on tactical questions by imposing extra sanctions on Iran. But how do they fit into a larger strategy? On the one hand, a weak economy translates into more domestic dissatisfaction with the regime. But the administration has said that regime change is not its policy.

The Administration’s policy grew even more publicly confused when Rudy Giuliani, a personal lawyer of the U.S. President announced he favors the “overthrow” of Iran ‘s theocratic regime. Giuliani was speaking to RFE/RL’s Radio Farda on February 13 on the sidelines of a major Middle East conference in Warsaw which Iranian officials blasted as an “anti-Iran circus.”

“I believe there has to be an overthrow of this regime,” Giuliani said, adding that he was speaking in his personal capacity and not as an official representative of the U.S. administration. “I don’t think this theocratic dictatorship can possibly become some kind of democratic, liberal democratic force,” Giuliani added while accusing Iranian leaders of killing their opponents.

Until now, the Trump administration has consistently said it is not seeking “regime change” in Tehran, only a “change in behavior.”


The North Korean rats nest

The meeting between North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and President Trump in Singapore in June is being presented by the U.S. Administration as something of a triumph in its effort to defuse the possibility of conflict on the Korean peninsular.

But is it?

The long history of negotiations with Communist leaders is all too familiar; they consist of lengthy and laborious discussions with much delayed outcomes, if successful at all.

The fact is that North Korea’s Kim has scored heavily thus far.

By seducing Washington into direct negotiations – something the U.S. has avoided for years – Kim has lifted his role from a bankrupt Communist satellite state totally dependent on Chinese and Russian aid – and presumably policy guidance – to one of international parity with the world’s No. 1.

Only a few months ago, it was obvious North Korea faced a desperate situation.

The U.S. blockade, with some of our allies and even nominally the UN were observing, had further crippled the already fragile economy, a quarter of which is dedicated to its military of almost a million actives and 5,500,000 reserves in a population of only 26 million. [South Korea has double that population but maintains a standing army of only 600,000 with a reserve of 3,100,000. There are, of course, some 25,000 U.S. military “permanently” based in South Korea.]

Pyongyang was able to skirt the sanctions to some extent through worldwide black market operations dealing with pariahs such as Iran. But it was China, itself facing a declining growth rate with increasing economic woes, which must now face the increasing economic burden of the North Koreans.

Japanese gossip – there apparently is no confirmation in Washington or the West or American spokesmen do not want to reveal their methodology if they have acquired the same information – has it that a catastrophic accident occurred in North Korea’s nuclear/missile establishment. It not only destroyed essential parts of the weapons infrastructure but killed some of the small but essential North Korean nuclear/missiles technocrats. These speculations would, of course, ascribe this as the reason behind the recent inactivity of the North Koreans in missile testing rather than a decision to begin to meet the U.S. and its allies for a negotiated reduction of tension and, presumably, a peace treaty rather than the current 60-year-armistice that holds force.

Whether the Japanese tittle-tattle is correct, the logic of North Korea’s current negotiations with the Americans is less than clear. If the North Koreans are sincere in negotiating with the U.S. for a further cessation of their nuclear and missile aggressive programs, they would be aiming at a position of peaceful coexistence with South Korea and the U.S. They would also have almost inevitably to disassemble one of the most cruel and oppressive regimes the world has ever known.

Granted that they have had some success persuading South Korean President Moon Jae-in and other elements in South Korea – including the large population originally native to North Korea – of a change of attitudes in the North, the fact remains Pyongyang has so far made no major concession except to abandon proactive tests and missile launches over Japan.

In fact, according to a report by the UN atomic watchdog, North Korea is continuing to develop its nuclear weapons program, raising questions over the regime’s country’s commitment to denuclearization. It is the destruction of the North’s current nuclear warfare capabilities which is the aim of American policymakers.

But in one of the most specific reports on Pyongyang’s recent nuclear activities, the International Atomic Energy Agency the enrichment of uranium and construction at the country’s main nuclear site.

“The continuation and further development of the DPRK’s [North Korea’s] nuclear program and related statements by the DPRK are a cause for grave concern,” the report said.


Maduro turns uglier

President Nicolás Maduro is blocking $60 million in foodstuffs collected by the U.S. and other critics of the regime to alleviate suffering in a bankrupt Venezuela.

Maduro’s chief opponent, – already recognized as interim president by several Latin American countries and the U.S. – is pushing the aid from Colombia and Brazil toward the bankrupt Venezuelan economy.

Juan Andrés Mejía, a lawmaker from Guaidó’s party, Voluntad Popular (People’s Will), says delivering aid across borders is a double challenge to Maduro’s regime – as well as an effort to alleviate a humanitarian crisis that has seen millions of Venezuelans emigrate.

“The government has a dilemma,” Mejia said”. “Either they let it [aid] in [and look weak] or they refuse it, which I don’t think they will because they are not so stupid, and they will also lose. So it is a win-win situation for us – and for the people.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. is facing another ugly choice: whether to intervene militarily to bring down the regime before the internal economic situations deteriorates further or risk the anti-American protests which traditionally accompany such enterprises from other Latin countries even those now antagonistic to Maduro.

The main goal of the post position now is to break Maduro’s hold on the military – and the humanitarian aid is basically ‘the Trojan horse’ to try to do that. Pushing aid in from Colombia and Brazil represents the latest attempt to weaken Maduro’s regime by forcing members of the military to disobey his orders and allow the aid to pass.

Mejía denies the opposition hopes to provoke a military incident which could be used to justify international intervention to unseat Maduro.

“That’s not our goal. That is not what we are looking for. Basically, the strategy … is to show people that humanitarian aid is real, [that] it is not only a discourse … and it is close and it can be here soon.”

Mejía added: “We are a non-violent movement. We do not have weapons and we do not want to have them. We are absolutely certain that violence benefits the government and we cannot win a violent struggle against the government.”

Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state, tweeted: “The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid. The U.S. & other countries are trying to help, but Venezuela ’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must let aid reach the starving people.”

“With this show of humanitarian aid they are trying to send a message: ‘ Venezuela has to go begging to the world!’ And Venezuela will not beg for anything from anyone in this world,” Maduro responded to the aid offer.

 Diosdado Cabello, another top Chavista supporter of Maduro, said the aid effort was part of a hostile foreign military intervention that would be rebuffed.

“Our territory must be respected. As our brother President Nicolás Maduro has said: any military unit that tries to penetrate our territory will be repelled and our Bolivarian national armed forces will defend our territory. There should be no doubt about it.”

But discontent with Maduro is growing, fueled by an economy in free fall with widespread shortages of food and medicine. Dozens of groups called colectivos, or collectives see themselves as the defenders of Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution and vow to defend his successor, President Nicolás Maduro, as he faces Venezuela in economic and political crisis.

Things could turn even more violent with the armed colectivos, working alongside security forces loyal to the president, playing a key role in the streets. At least 40 people were killed across the country in a week alone last month, according to the United Nations, with pro-government forces blamed for most of the deaths.

More than 20 countries have recognized opposition leader Juan Guaidó as interim president, including the U.S. A top military representative to the U.S., Col José Luis Silva, has defected and called on other officers to do the same.

Maduro’s hold on power is slipping, although Venezuela ‘s powerful military has not yet stepped in to give him the final push.

Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chávez, when he came to power, purged the military to ensure its senior figures shared his left-wing ideals. The former paratrooper cut a military figure and commanded loyalty. In return he rewarded officers with positions of power.


China slows

The Chinese economy’s growth has slowed to the lowest in three decades, imperiling world security as the second largest economy and a principle trader.

Weaker Chinese export growth has reduced demand for imports of intermediates and raw materials, inflicting losses of iron ore and copper and like products mostly on emerging exporters markets of key global commodities.

But policymakers’ bigger worry is that the latest data showed a loss of momentum in the three engines of the world’s second-largest economy – exports, investment and consumption.

Beijing’s “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” has chilled liberalization, heightened mercantilism, raised bureaucratic hurdles to trade and investment, weakened the rule of law, and strengthened resistance from vested interests that impede more dynamic economic development.

The economic slowdown may be more severe than official statistics indicate, and poses serious challenges for a government whose legitimacy depends more and more on its ability to raise living standards. Much will depend on how successful Prime Minister Xi maneuvers to consolidate power for a third term. His activities make it harder to analyze measures that might be taken in the tightly controlled economy. But his strategy to achieve Chinese dominance of high-tech sectors already has engendered pushback from global rivals.

All land in China is state-owned and protection of foreign intellectual property is inadequate. The judicial system is dominated by government agencies and the Chinese Communist Party. Corruption remains endemic, and the leadership has rejected fundamental reforms such as requiring public disclosure of assets by officials, creating genuinely independent oversight bodies, or lifting media political constraints.

Eliminating the minimum capital requirement has made it easier to launch new business, but the overall regulatory framework remains an obstacle to development with complex and uneven requirements. The labor market remains tightly controlled with. guidelines on labor issues often differing from agency to agency, and labor laws applied differently in different localities. The government subsidizes numerous state-owned enterprises and is still committed to price controls for essential goods and services.

Economic models suggest a fall of 2 percentage points in Chinese growth relative would cut world growth by around 0.5 percent, leaving it at 2.3 percent, the slowest since 2009, not far off global recession. The slowdown coincides with the trade dispute with the U.S., weakening domestic sentiment and global demand, and alarming local governments doing large-scale off-balance-sheet borrowing.

The Shanghai Stock Exchange Composite Index was the world’s biggest loser in 2018, posting a fall of 24.6 percent. Beijing authorities were trying to chip away at one of the highest debt mountains in the world: 253 percent of GDP. But their strategy coincided with the slowing of the big European export market and U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariff tantrum.

China’s economic growth has been steadily decelerating over the past decade, from a 14.2 percent in 2007 to 6.5 in the third last year. The 6.4 percent growth of the fourth quarter was the lowest since the 1992 when Beijing began publishing quarterly GDP data.

There is no real indication of when recovery will come. Beijing has had success at playing a dominant role in the economy, and it will be impossible to wean policymakers off the model.

But the China model inevitably leads to confrontation between China and the West. Current trade talks dramatize their differences: The U.S.’ small-government, free-market ethos is very different from the Chinese command-and-control model. China gives significant financial and non-financial support to major companies, which it owns or controls. In the U.S., companies in trouble trade, merge or die.

The Chinese economy has one positive element: the worldwide plunge in energy prices which will offset some of China’s difficulties.


Juggling on the Korean peninsula

What had been a frozen relationship on the Korean Peninsular and including Japan and China in northeast Asia for a half century has rather suddenly come unhinged.

And U.S. President Donald Trump preparing for his second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, accepting Kim’s professions of willingness to negotiate a new relationship, has already run into new obstacles.

Kim’s offer to reveal details of his heavy weapons armaments – including nukes – suddenly turned sour as the U.S. and its South Korea [and its Japanese ally] found an undeclared site serving as the headquarters of one of North Korea ’s ballistic missile programs.

Behind the breakup of the previous Cold War lineup on the Peninsula – a result of the armistice for there has been no peace treaty in the Korean War [25 June 1950 – 27 July 1953] – were the growing demands placed on China as a result of the U.S. and international sanctions against Pyongyang. Although the North Korean regime has managed to reach black market sources for trade, it has depended heavily on Chinese economic aid. This burden has come into sharper focus as a result of a rapidly slowing Chinese economy, one of the principle features of the present East Asia scene.

The discovery has put into question North Korea’s intentions as officials met under Swedish auspices to discuss the arrangements for Kim’s second meeting with Trump, expected to take place near the end of February, possibly in Vietnam. The two leaders made little progress during their first summit in Singapore last June. But they did  sign a vaguely-worded statement committing Pyongyang to the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in exchange for security guarantees from Washington.

A demilitarized zone has served as a buffer between the two Koreas since their three-year war ended in an uneasy truce in July 1953. Before the conflict, the peninsula had been roughly divided along the 38th parallel by the US and the Soviet Union at the end of the second world war. Sixty years after war , the two countries remain divided, a 2.5-mile wide and 155-mile-long strip of land centered on the “truce village” of Panmunjom.

Missile bases would be part of any agreement committing North Korea to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” denuclearization promised in the earlier conference’s conclusive statement. Located 132 miles north of the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas , the Sino-ri complex is a seven-square-mile base that houses a regiment-sized unit equipped with Nodong-1 medium-range missiles.

It looks like the North is playing a familiar game in which they would still have all this operational capability even if they destroy their disclosed nuclear facilities.

The revelation suggests the U.S. has been naïve in its assumption that North Korea – and its Chinese and Russian sponsors – were ready to make a comprehensive deal to begin a truce leading to reunification of the Peninsula. The negotiations for a reunited Korean state have been under the auspices and pushed by Sweden. The Swedes are notorious, of course, for such attempted mediation roles – but too often without the military guarantees which made them acceptable to the U.S.

Washington’s leverage with Pyongyang, backed by severe sanctions, has been eroded by the aggressive appeasement policies of the leftist government of President Moon Jae-In in Seoul which has treated seriously the North’s overtures for reunification. China and North Korea, meanwhile, have worked continuously to split the critical Seoul-Tokyo-Washington strategic alliance.

South Korean conservatives, pointing to the U.S. military pullout from Syria, worry that the Trump administration will withdraw U.S. forces from the South as part of a deal with North Korea and China. North Korea is using the tug-of-war between the U.S. and South Korea over sharing costs for U.S. Forces in Korea as leverage to strengthen its argument that the South should unite with the North to fight against foreign powers.

Despite 10 rounds of negotiations led by veteran diplomats last year, the U.S. and South Korea failed to reach an agreement on the level of cost sharing. An editorial in the official North Korean newspaper argues that the U.S. demand for an increase in South Korea’s share of defense costs runs counter to the current tension-easing atmosphere on the Korean Peninsula. Under such conditions, the editorial said, “it is anachronistic to demand the increase of defense costs contribution by imposing the costs of the deployment of U.S. strategic assets to the Korean Peninsula.”



Japan: The new military power

Despite a constitution that still calls for Japan to abjure all military force, Tokyo is increasingly in command of one of the most powerful military machines in the world. Its weapons research development is also setting the pace in some areas.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces, established in 1954, ranks as the world’s fourth most-powerful military in conventional capabilities with the eighth-largest military budget. In recent years they engaged in international operations including UN peacekeeping.

Typical of Tokyo’s new military is a new highly trained and equipped amphibious rapid deployment brigade — to have more than 3,000 trained by March — which has just run a joint exercise with U.S. forces.

Rising Cold War tensions in Europe and Asia, coupled with leftist-inspired strikes and demonstrations in Japan, prompted conservative leaders to question the unilateral renunciation of all military capabilities in its surrender treaty with the U.S. and its allies in World War II. When American Occupation troops began to be moved to the Korean War (1950–53) theater, Japan was left virtually defenseless, vulnerable, and very much aware of the need to enter into a mutual defense relationship with the United States.

Encouraged by the American occupation authorities, the Japanese government in July 1950 authorized the establishment of a National Police Reserve, consisting of 75,000 men equipped with light infantry weapons. In 1952, Coastal Safety Force the waterborne counterpart of NPR, was founded. In 2006, the Cabinet of Japan endorsed a bill elevating the Defense Agency under the Cabinet Office to full-fledged cabinet-level Ministry of Defense. This was passed by the National Diet in December 2006, and has been enforced since 2007.

In January 9, 2007, JSDF activities abroad was revised from “miscellaneous regulations” to “basic duties” fundamentally changing the nature of the JSDF because its activities are no longer solely defensive. JMSDF ships can be dispatched worldwide such as in activities against pirates. The JSDF’s first postwar overseas base was established in Djibouti, Somalia in 2010.

Japan and the United States conducted their biggest military exercise in the biennial Keen Sword from 29 October to 2 November 2018 including a total of 57,000 sailors, marines and airmen. Some 47,000 service members were from the JSDF and 10,000 from the U.S. Armed Forces. A naval supply ship and frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy also participated in simulations of air combat, ballistic missile defense and amphibious landings.

In 2004, at the behest of the United States, the Japanese government ordered a deployment of troops to Iraq in order to assist the U.S.-led Reconstruction of Iraq. This controversial deployment marked a significant turning point as the first time since the end of World War II that Japan had sent troops abroad except for a few minor UN peacekeeping deployments. Public opinion was sharply divided

In December 2018, the Japanese government approved an initial budget plan for fiscal 2019 that includes a general account exceeding 100 trillion yen ($900 billion) and spending on tax-hike preparations.

There is no secret about what motivates Japanese policy to turn its back on the postwar professions of neutrality and rejection of any military establishment. It is the growing perceived threat from Communist China.

In addition to conventional weaponry, the defense budget for fiscal year 2018 included funds to purchase mid- to long-range air-launched cruise missiles. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera maintained they would be used exclusively for defense as “stand-off missiles that can be fired beyond the range of enemy threats.” But the budget allocated another 2.2 billion yen ($20 million) for the purchase of Joint Strike Missile for its F-35A stealth fighters and 30 million yen ($270,000) for research on modifying existing Japanese Mitsubishi F-15J fighters to be equipped with Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles and extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.

The Ministry of Defense is developing supersonic glide bombs to strengthen the defense of Japan‘s remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands [which lie between Japan and the Korean Peninsular]. The anti-surface strike capability will be used to help the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade’s landing and recapture operations on other more remote islands. Japan’s Defense Ministry has also allocated $57 million for research and development of a hypersonic missile which could travel five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) or faster. A scramjet engine prototype, jet fuel technology and heat-resistant materials will be built with testing from 2023 to 2025.


The U.S.-China trade war

Washington and Bejiing are drifting into a trade war, one that has its peculiar aspects as compared with such 19th and 20th century events.

It is being minimized in importance because of the blind spots both countries have for one another. The best explanation is that neither has an adequate appreciation of the other’s quite different environment.

The U.S. and the forces of freedom did win the Cold War, despite an often vast ignorance of Soviet decision-making and its leadership. But Beijing is cavorting in a $360-billion trade surplus with the United States while extorting technology from American companies and seducing high-tech giants like Apple and Google.

It is not only insulting but damaging. Sniveling on China’s behalf when their sales in that country are reduced, the leading G-77 are often Beijing’s sponsors in international disputes. The Chinese have the temerity to make requests for relief from the economically most advanced countries for their pollution of the world environment although China is the world’s greatest polluter.

When Apple Inc. said China’s slowing economy contributed to its late-year sales slump, the news rattled the stocks of other major U.S. companies with big operations in the world’s second-largest economy. Now, as U.S. companies report their quarterly earnings, China’s impact will be revealed. The amount of damage is likely to depend on such factors as who the company’s customers are and how much competition it faces in China. The amount of damage will depend on such factors as who the company’s customers are and how much competition it faces in China.

On the one hand, the Trump administration has been pretty clear about its view of China: A 2017 national security strategy document called China a “revisionist” power, attempting to reorder international politics to suit its interests.

That’s a pretty succinct way of describing Beijing’s military buildup, its attempts to undermine American influence and power, its retaliations against American allies such as Canada, and its economic actions.

The U.S. economy and national security have been threatened by Beijing’s strategy since President Xi Jinping took office in 2012 adopting what translates as “civil-military fusion”. Chinese and foreign “civilian” companies serve as de facto suppliers for the Chinese military’s technological-industrial base.

Residents and visitors are subject to constant surveillance, reflected in credit scores affecting everything from their home purchases to job opportunities.

Ironically, these forms of social control often use technology developed by Western companies.

But even if American exports to China fell by half, it would be the equivalent of less than one-half of 1 percent of U.S. gross domestic product. There are plenty of countries that can substitute for China-based production, none of them strategic rivals and trade predators. Previous efforts to assert America’s influence against China, such as the discarded Trans-Pacific Partnership, did not push back effectively on Chinese economic aggression. Working with allies to directly address China’s malfeasance would.

All this means putting China at the top of American international economic priorities and keeping it there for years, without overstating or overreacting to trade disputes with our allies. The administration must not be distracted by the next round of Beijing’s false promises.

Protecting innovation from Chinese attack makes the United States stronger. Hindering the Chinese security apparatus makes external aggression and internal repression more costly for Beijing. China is our only major trading partner that is also a strategic rival, and we should treat it differently from friendly countries with whom we have disputes.

If Washington wants the global free market to work, it must intervene to blunt Beijing’s belligerence.


Our southern border

It’s been a long time coming but the crisis on our southern border was one that could have been anticipated – and some did — for decades.

The history of U.S. and Mexico relations is full of scars, easily exploited by demagogues in moments of crisis – whether the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) [hardly noted by “North” Americans but a bitter memory of invasion by Mexicans], the expropriation of Mexican oil [William F. Buckley Jr. of National Review’s family’s ownership, for example]. The powerful, corrupt and inefficient state company that took its place with its troubled relations with U.S. oil companies, and the growing effort by Mexico to use the 40-million Mexican Americans as its lobby, are all part of an intricate and vast network of relationships.

The contrast with our northern neighbor could not be greater – the Anglophone and other traditions we share with English-speaking Canadians and even the domestic Ottawa triangulation that has been a resource for Québec nationalists.
Taking time out from his pursuit of reporting of Asian politics and economics, the veteran newsman Sol W, Sanders’ Mexico : chaos on our doorstep [Imprint: Lanham, MD : Madison Books, c1986. Physical description: xiii, 222 p. ; 24 cm.] tried a quarter of a century ago to present the crisis’ inevitability.

If Sanders’ pessimism about Mexico economic development was overdone, the border problems for Mexico City rulers created even by a more prosperous and industrialized southern trading partner were not exaggerated. In fact, it could be argued that increasingly Mexico’s industrialization, often with its “twin-plant” ties between Mexican and U.S. manufacturers, had only increased and intensified the border issues.

It seems unlikely that the current crisis – putting together a delineation on paper of a critical juncture of the border and enlarging the officialdom needed to police it – will be accomplished quickly. That, curiously enough, is not the result of opposition to the generally preferred solutions with either the White House Republicans, their GOP Party critics, or the Democrats with their control of the House of Representatives.

The problem, in fact, may not exist – or at least be easily defined — in the sense that traffic across the border at any given point is so massive as to self-regulate. Furthermore, with the huge Spanish-speaking U.S. population, and a significant either English-speaking or constituency which otherwise knows the U.S. intimately, the liaisons between interest groups is so great that it defies the kind of narrow regulatory framework that exists between the U.S. and most other countries.

But there is and will be great friction.

The president said in his first formal national address from the Oval Office that a wall was needed to stem a “growing humanitarian and security crisis at our southern border”, involving “thousands of illegal immigrants”. He pointed to illegal drug supplies, people trafficking and criminal acts by illegal immigrants into the U.S. that are a product of the “undocumented” portion of the immigration.

There were 12 million immigrants living in the country illegally as of January 2015, according to the most recent estimate from the Department of Homeland Security. Mexicans make up the majority of the undocumented population — 55 percent in 2015, according to DHS — but the number and share of Mexicans among this population has been declining in recent years.

“If we don’t have a barrier… you’re not going to be able to solve this problem,” Trump said, adding that people faced “hard work”, “grueling problems” and “a lot of death” without it.

The President added: “They say a wall is medieval… There are some things that work.”

Trump said he never meant that Mexico would make a one-time payment for the wall.

“When I said Mexico would pay for the wall in front of thousands and thousands of people… obviously I never meant Mexico would write a check,” he said.

The Democrats say the wall is “ineffective” and “unnecessary” and an expensive bill to taxpayers that the president had said Mexico would foot.

Australia: headed for trouble?

They haven’t had a recession in almost 30 years “Down Under” which is one good reason to continue to call it “the lucky county”.

But trouble may be brewing.

The record is almost unblemished.

Australia has profited from unique geographical position; i.e., it was one of very few OECD countries that escaped a recession in the global financial crisis of 2008-09 and has exploited resources to build trade and investment relations in Asia.

Unlike other rich countries Australian workers income has grown strongly, albeit less steadily in recent years. With the world’s 13th-largest economy, it has the world’s tenth-highest per capita income. In 2018, it overtook Switzerland to become the country with the highest average wealth.

With a total of 25 million people, Australia has admitted as many as 190,000 newcomers annually — nearly three times as many, relative to population, as the U.S. Public debt is just 41% of gross national product —one of the lowest in the industrialized world. After an overhaul of the pension system nearly 30 years ago, workers are obliged to save for their retirement through private investment funds. Australia’s health-care system is a public-private hybrid with the government bearing only a relatively small proportion—an arrangement that remains a distant dream in the U.S. and Europe.

Living standards have risen because of export volumes of booming commodities that have strengthened the Australian dollar’s buying power overseas and prompted massive investment in new resource processing capacity, including major deals with Japanese energy companies to build liquid natural gas processing plants. Unemployment is relatively low.

But what has changed in this picture is increasing political instability.

Between 1983 and 2007, just three prime ministers held office (Bob Hawke and Paul Keating of Labor, and John Howard of the Liberals). Since then chief of government has changed hands six times. The last time a prime minister survived in office for a whole three-year term was 2004-07.

And subject to their temporary solution by the revolving governments are a series of growing economic-political problems.

  • The commodity boom appears to have peaked with prices in the key exports of coal and iron ore heading down. As investment falls in the resource-sector, Australia will have to adjust towards other economic activities. A precipitous fall in world commodity prices might prompt a very sharp exchange-rate depreciation, with investors consequently selling off Australian assets.
  • While Australia’s fiscal deficit and public debt compare favorably internationally, the government’s objective of a budget surplus by the early 2020s seems a proper goal.
  • A growing population is going to make further demands on what us now a seemingly adequate health system.
  • High affordability and a risk of macroeconomic impacts if prices fall rapidly in a booming housing market are seen as one threat.Building approvals have fallen to their lowest level in five years. Construction forecasts, particularly for the residential sector, offered an incredibly bleak picture for building activity in early 2019.
  • House prices are down 3.5 per cent from their peak, and in some cities things are even worse. [Perth is down 25 per cent since its peak in 2007, Sydney is down 8 per cent just this year and Melbourne is down 6.6 per cent this year.] Supply will rise even further in 2019, with many large apartment projects set to finish. Even if all the apartments are pre-sold off the plan (they aren’t) and all the pre-sales settle smoothly (they usually don’t), when people move into these new apartments it will create a second round of vacant properties, some of which will be for sale.
  • In spite of several decades of manicured policy a wide socio-economic gap exists between Australia’s indigenous peoples and the rest of the population. [Indigenous Australians, about 3% of the population, have a life expectancy about 10 years lower, and an employment rate more than 25 percentage lower.]
  • Australia fasces climate change problems. Assuring water supply and mitigating risks from drought are increasingly difficult and expensive.
  • Transport infrastructure problems are prominent and ensuring efficient use of existing investments challenging.
  • Education needs to be improved what with Australia’s score in OECD PISA test [comparing performance of 15-year-old pupils internationally] above the average, falls short of top-ranking countries.
  • Australia has a fundamental tax structure problem: spending in Australian states is made up by large transfers from central government revenues (some with conditions attached). This imbalance helps drive national agendas, but implies less local tailored expenditures.


Dealing with China’s megacompany

Rather than relying on joint ventures to secure technology transfers from foreign companies, Ren Zhengfei, a former deputy director of the People’s Liberation Army engineering corporation, founded Huawei in 1987. Ren, seeing foreign companies often reluctant to transfer advanced technologies to Chinese firms, sought to reverse engineer foreign technologies.

Today Huawei Technologies Co., Ltd., is a Chinese multinational conglomerate specializing in telecommunications equipment, consumer electronics, artificial intelligence and technology-based services and products, headquartered in Shenzhen, Guangdong, province, near Hong Kong. [The name Huawei can be translated as “splendid act” or “China is able”.] CNBC reported that Huawei’s revenue in 2018 will exceed 100 billion US dollars for the first time

Huawei has deployed its products and services in more than 170 countries, overtaking Swedish Ericsson in 2012 as the largest telecommunications-equipment manufacturer in the world, Apple in 2018 as the second-largest manufacturer of smartphones, just behind Samsung Electronics.

It ranks 72nd on the Fortune Global 500 list.

Ren’s success has resulted in a company with some 200,000 employees — more than 76,000, unlike most Chinese companies, devoting enormous sums to research. In 1918 the company will dedicate 20-30 percent of R&D funding to basic science research, up from its previous 10 percent, and increase R&D funding to at least US. up from its previous 10 percent.

Huawei’s international success has faced difficulties and cybersecurity concerns selling in some markets (including the United States), over allegations that its equipment may contain “backdoors” affording unauthorized surveillance by the People’s Liberation Army, its founder having previously worked for the Chinese military. Ren argues that its products pose “no greater cybersecurity risk” than those of any other vendors. But Huawei stated in April 2018 that it would largely pull out of the U.S. market, due to the Washington’s scrutiny.

During its first several years the company’s business model consisted of reselling private branch exchange (PBX) switches imported from Hong Kong. Its first major breakthrough came in 1993 when it launched its C&C08 program controlled telephone switch, by far the most powerful switch available in China. By initially deploying in small cities and rural areas and placing emphasis on service and customizability, the company made its way into the mainstream market.

In 2005, Huawei’s foreign contract orders exceeded its domestic sales for the first time when it signed a Global Framework Agreement with Vodafone. Huawei also signed a contract with British Telecom (BT) for the deployment of its multi-service access network (MSAN) and Transmission equipment for BT’s 21st Century Network (21CN), providing BT and the UK telecommunications industry with some infrastructure necessary to support future growth. In May 2008, Huawei and Optus developed a mobile innovation centre in Sydney, Australia, providing facilities to develop new wireless and mobile broadband concepts into “ready for market” products. In 2008, the company embarked on its first large-scale commercial deployment of UMTS/ HSPA in North America providing TELUS‘s new next generation wireless network and Bell Canada with high-speed mobile access.

Huawei classifies itself as a “collective” and not as a private company. But Richard McGregor, author of “The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers”, said that this is “a definitional distinction that has been essential to the company’s receipt of state support at crucial points in its development”.

The issue of Huawei’s classic Chinese company’s relationship with the Chinese government and other state-owned companies has blown up in Canada. Huawei’s Vice-chairperson and CFO Meng Wanzhou was arrested in Canada on December 1, 2018, at the request of the United States, which accuses her of violating US sanctions against Iran.

Meng Wanzhou, Huawei’s chief financial, told bankers in 2013 that her company no longer had a stake in Skycom Tech Co., a Hong Kong company that did business with Iran, and that she had quit its board. Lawyers for Ms. Meng, who was arrested Dec. 1 in Canada at the request of the U.S. for alleged violations of Iran sanctions, argued that she and Huawei severed ties to Skycom in 2009 and can’t be held responsible for its activities.

Canada’s soft approach to Huawei has clearly been a source of frustration to its allies.  Critics said it was one thing to allow Canadians the option to purchase Huawei smartphones, but permitting it to build a 5G network in such important telecom infrastructure in Canada was another matter entirely.

Huawei is already barred from the U.S., and both Republicans and Democrats have raised concerns about Canada’s network upgrades given how closely the two countries’ networks are integrated. The U.K., Australia, and New Zealand are all moving to keep Huawei out of 5G network development.





The Syrian quagmire

With American troops and military installations spread on all seven continents, the critical importance of only 2,000 troops in Syria would seem Liliputian. But their disposition has received from world media the last few days.

President Donald K. Troop announced last Dec. 19, American forces would be leaving Syria, apparently immediately, after the utter defeat of the local caliphate. An Islamic state under the leadership of a Muslim steward with the title of caliph, considered a religious and political successor to Islam’s founder, Mohammed, had been founded with its its capital at Raqqa, in northern Syria. But with its territory largely lost, Washington’s strategy no longer demanded U.S. forces on the ground. It was suggested that the chaotic civil war within the country and the ability of U.S. troops in northern Iraq – who had been with withdrawn earlier under President Barack Obama and then returned – could handle any situation.

Trump gave American forces 30 days to leave Syria. But the local Kurds who had done most of the fighting with the Americans appealed to the Syrian government for help to secure a key northern city, Manbij, to guard against any Turkish offensive. That was because in the checkerboard of ethnic and religious conflict in the Middle East, the Kurds in Turkey – with no history of a state of their own but spread throughout the region –at about 14 million, out of 77.8 million — have supported an armed revolt for more autonomy or independence against Ankara since the 1960s.

Syrian government forces could be seen taking up arms inside northern Syria last week, but, later pulled out “in order to avoid any frictions” with U.S. forces in their alliance with local Kurds. The defeat of ISIS signaled long term weaknesses First, it needed continual conquest to succeed: victory was a clear sign that the group was doing God’s work. But once it occupied its Sunni-dominated heartlands, further expansion was unlikely. If it was easy to sweep aside a border of a shattered state such as Syria, but stronger states such as Turkey, Israel and Jordan were different. There was no way ever Isis, a Sunni Arab Muslim force, was going to fight its way deep into Shia-dominated central and southern Iraq.

Second, its violent intolerance of dissent and brutality was one reason for the rapid expansion Sunni tribal leaders and other power brokers in Iraq and Syria who could see significant advantages in accepting the group’s authority. But in 2015, with a weakened ISIS unable to offer anything other than violence, defections rapidly snowballed. The old legendary collective yearning to restore the military, political and technological superiority over the West enjoyed by Islamic powers a millennium ago – or the conviction that the end of times was near – proved insufficient to convince communities to fight and die for Isis. In the very end, for example, the hospital and stadium in Raqqa were defended by foreign Isis fighters with Syrian militants surrendering days before.

In his earlier withdrawal announcement, Trump declared Isis “defeated”. But in his apparent reversal, he said U.S. troops would now be pulled out “slowly” and that they would be fighting remaining Isis militants. He had been under severe criticism from American military and even Republican Congressional leaders for these earlier withdrawal statements, some arguing Trump refuses to see the continuing threat of radical Islam which they compare to the long fight against Communism.

U.S. ground troops first became involved in Syria in autumn 2015 when then-President Barack Obama sent in a small number of Special Forces to train and advise local Kurdish fighters. The U.S. did this reluctantly after several attempts at arming anti-Isis groups descended chaotically. Over intervening years U.S. troops in Syria increased, and a network of bases and airstrips has been established in an arc across the north-east. These have been part of an international coalition conducting air strikes against ISIS, while also targeting Syrian government bases in retaliation for suspected war crimes involving chemical weapons.

The earlier withdrawal statement had shocked U.S. allies and American defense officials alike, with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and a top U..S official in the fight against the Islamic State (Isis) group, Brett McGurk, resigning soon after.  In riposte, Trump lashed out at retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal with a string of personal attacks after the former leader of U.S. operations in Afghanistan called the president “immoral” and dishonest. He has questioned Trump’s decision to send troops to the southern border and has expressed concern over the president’s repeated criticism of former military leaders, such as retired Adm. William McRaven.



Expect the worst

Unfortunately the election of Muslim representatives to the Congress has taken the kind of turn that can only make the majority — Christians and Jews — even more nervous.

The argument has been, of course, that Muslims are only another brand of the Abrahamic religions and therefore part of the greater secular and non-secular world community.

But the truth is that Islam has never shed its political ambitious, as Christianity and even Jewry [despite Zionism] has had to do. Most of Islam’s disciples and advocates, in both the East where it is a majority or the West, see its claims for political hegemony as religious tenets.

A noteworthy result of the Nov. 6 midterm elections was that the U.S. House of Representatives went from two Muslim members — Indiana’s André Carson and Minnesota’s Keith Ellison, who was elected his state’s attorney general on the same day — to three Muslims. Almost without exception, the mainstream media cheered these candidates’ victories, not for their skills, experience or political views, but because they represented “diversity.”

But the same media were willing to look the other way when it came to some of their unpleasant characteristics. Rashida Tlaib, the soon-to-be-installed member from Michigan, is an outspoken anti-Semite. (Her views also take the form of a fanatical supporter of Arab nationalism; she wrapped herself at her victory party in a Palestinian flag).

Ilhan Omar, future Gentlewoman from Minnesota, has made anti-Semitic statements. She has also committed perjury and married her brother, likely part of an immigration and student-loan scam. Nevertheless, Democrats plan to lift a 181-year-old ban on head coverings in Congress to permit her to wear a hijab [a head covering worn in public by some Muslim and other Middle Eastern women]. And with few other credentials she is already hailed as a “star”, elected to a leadership role in the House progressive caucus.

Ellison, elected in Minnesota despite his chummy relations with the notorious anti-Semite, Louis Farrakhan, and some highly plausible accusations of domestic abuse, is, so far, the country’s only Muslim state AG.

The question is whether the U.S. is moving along the same lines as some of its North Atlantic allies.

Canada, for example, has a Somali-born Muslim Minister of Immigration named Ahmed Hussen, last seen pushing a sinister UN migration pact and refusing to answer queries from Rebel Media, Canada’s online alternative news organization. Canada’s mainstream media apparently were too polite to ask Hussen uncomfortable questions about the UN deal.

In Germany, whose Minister of Immigration Aydan Özoğuz is the sister of two Hezbollah enthusiasts named Yavuz and Gürhan Özoğuz, reportedly with “close ties to the Iranian government” and to various Holocaust deniers, runs a “virulently anti-Israeli, anti-American and anti-democratic” website called “Muslim-Markt.” Aydan told an interviewer: “They [Muslim fanatics] are my brothers. I don’t deny my family. I think apart from my brothers on political issues.”

It’s a reminder of Hillary Clinton’s sidekick, Huma Abedin, who got a pass from the media even though her father ran a top Muslim Brotherhood organization and her mother edited a Sharia law journal (for which Huma once worked) and who sat on an Islamic council chaired by the hate preacher Yusuf al-Qaradawi.

In 2015, voters in the traditionally Polish-American city of Hamtramck, Michigan, elected the nation’s first Muslim-majority city council — leading a local Muslim leader to shout at an Election Night victory party: “Today we show the Polish, and everybody else.”

No major U.S. city has a Muslim mayor yet, but it may be only a matter of time. Rotterdam has one: Morocco-born Ahmed Aboutaleb, who’s been in office since 2009 and who identifies as a devout yet Westernized Muslim. A dual citizen of the Netherlands and Morocco, Aboutaleb described his own mayoral work as “jihad in its most perfect form. But a couple of months ago he agreed to a plan that would cut off the flow of asylum seekers from North Africa into Rotterdam, which is already one of the most heavily Muslim — and crime-ridden — cities in Europe.


Taiwan’s growing role

One of the ironies of the current international order is that efforts by both Communist China and the U.S. to minimize the role of Taiwan actually intensify its importance.

For Beijing, of course, Taiwan is a “rogue” province, defying the argument that only an autocratic Chinese-language-speaking political entity can be economically prosperous.

For the U.S., Taiwan not only represents what freewheeling economies can do but the proof it can be done in a “Chinese” environment with democratic government.

Taiwan’s less than 25 million inhabitants make it only the 55th largest “country” in the world – a tiny fragment of an estimated Chinese-languages-speaking Mainland population of 1.4 billion.

But Taiwan’s dynamic capitalism is driven largely by privately owned industrial manufacturing, especially exports of electronics, machinery, and petrochemicals — with origins in the Japanese Occupation 1989-45. It was only in 2006 Mainland China overtook the U.S. to become Taiwan’s second-largest source of imports after Japan, despite their highly publicized political differences.

Since 2009 Taipei has gradually loosened rules governing Mainland investment, securing in return greater market access for its investors in China proper. In August 2012, the Taiwan Central Bank signed a currency agreement with its Chinese counterpart allowing direct settlement of Chinese Mainland renminbi (RMB) which has helped Taiwan develop into a local RMB hub.

The Mainland is not only now the Island’s number one destination for foreign direct investment but in February 2018, Beijing unveiled a package of 31 “incentives” to attract Taiwanese people and businesses to the Mainland, offering tax breaks and subsidies for high-tech companies, research grants for academics. It promised to allow Taiwanese companies to bid for government infrastructure projects, even those involved in China’s “One Belt, One Road” global development plan in southern Asia and the Middle East.

Taiwanese Vice Premier Shih Jun-ji cast it as an effort to undermine the Island’s economy:

“China’s attempt to attract Taiwan’s capital and talent, especially high tech and young students, has clear political intentions,” he told at a news conference unveiling eight counter­measures designed to keep investors home.

Bilateral trade between China (including the Mainland, Hong Kong, and Macao) and Taiwan in 2017 reached $181.76 billion, up from $35 billion in 1999. China is Taiwan’s largest trading partner, accounting for more than 30 percent of the Island’s total trade. Over ninety-three thousand Taiwanese businesses have invested in the Mainland since 1988, though outbound investment to the Mainland declined for its third consecutive year in 2017. Reciprocal Mainland investment in Taiwan is on the rise but at a slower rate. China and Taiwan have also agreed to allow banks, insurers, and other financial service providers to work in both “countries”.

Furthermore, Taiwan’s closer economic links with the Mainland pose challenges with political differences remaining unresolved and also at a time when Beijing’s economic growth is slowing. Commerce with the Mainland takes a higher priority because Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen’s administration has made little progress on solving domestic economic issues, including concerns about stagnant wages, high housing prices, youth unemployment, job security, and retirement financial security. Tsai has made more progress boosting trade with south Asia, which may help insulate Taiwan’s economy from a fall in Mainland demand should China’s growth slow further in 2018.

U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, totaling more than $25 billion between 2007 and 2018, have led to U.S.-China friction and increased bellicose rhetoric across the Strait. But Taiwan’s Tsai spoke with U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump by telephone before his inauguration, the first such high-level contact between the two sides since 1979, and an indication Washington continues to place high concern on the relationship despite U.S.  official ties to Beijing.



Migrants versus culture

As native populations decline, in some cases [Japan] catastrophically, they are being replaced in the industrial countries’ workforce by immigrants with totally different cultures.

The long-term question, for which there is presently no answer, is will the carefully cultivated complex European cultures which have given so much to the world, survive this infusion.

Demographic predictions are notoriously subject misinterpretation and short-term movements can be interpreted as the long-term perspective.

Germany could be the most dramatic example of the phenomenon.

But experts estimate that in ten years there will be a shortage of at least three million skilled workers in Germany, otherwise its economic growth will slow if not collapse. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s has a new immigration law designed for workers from outside the European Union to find jobs in Germany. The legislation would simplify the process for recognizing foreign vocational training degrees after eliminating the requirement that employers check whether German nationals are available. It would give temporary residence permits to qualified non-EU German-speakers to live in the country while they search for work.

Germany is already the second most popular migration destination in the world, after the United States. It has the second highest percentage of immigrants after the United Kingdom. And by UN estimates, [2017] 12,165,083 people living in Germany are immigrants — about 14.8 percent of the total population.

In the aftermath of World War II 12 million ethnic German refugees, so-called “Heimatvertriebene” (“homeland displaced persons”) were forced into the two Germanies because of changing borderlines. Due to the labor shortage during the Wirtschaftswunder (“economic miracle”) in the 1950s and ’60s, the West German government signed agreements with Italy, Greece, Turkey, Morocco, Portugal, Tunisia and Yugoslavia allowing recruitment of so-called Gastarbeiter [guest workers] with few qualifications. Children born to Gastarbeiter received Aufenthaltsberechtigung (“right of residence”). but were not granted citizenship. Many of the descendants of those Gastarbeiter ultimately have acquired German citizenship.

Claims and counterclaims of whether immigrants disproportionately commit crime are unresolved in Germany as elsewhere in Europe. But it is true that federal authorities have largely failed to provide sufficient resistance to ethnic organized crime gangs (German: Clankriminalität) for fear of being charged with discrimination against minorities. In 2018, the Wall Street Journal found that foreigners, overall 12.8 percent of the German population, made up 34.7 pecent of criminal suspects.

Profitable activities of Arab clans have been noted as contributing to organized criminal activity with Chechens, Albanians, Kosovars have mimicked these clan-based gangs. In a German society with maximum personal freedom [by European standards] clans serve people who want to live in peace under the protection of the state. On the other hand, clans may not recognize the rule of law.

Latest Federal Statistical Office figures show that almost every fourth child born in Germany in 2016 had a foreign mother. Female immigrants are indeed contributing significantly to the fact that Germany’s birth rate is rising again. Already today, one out of five people living in the country has immigrant roots.

Economists and politicians are fond of emphasizing the positive aspects of this development – Germany’s aging society, for example, has been a negative political issue for decades. But there’s also a large segment of society that is less than pleased; people ask what their heimat, or homeland, will look like in 10, 20 or 30 years. Some fear that Merkel allows migrants to come to Germany for asylum rather actively seeking to bring in highly skilled workers. It’s a policy that permits even those whose asylum applications are rejected ultimately to stay.

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer of the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU), the Bavarian sister party to Merkel’s ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU), in recent remarks said that Islam doesn’t belong to Germany. The argument is that Islam while a religious concept in the Abrahamic tradition, also proposes to establish a parallel authoritarian or totalitarian state.

That’s why the issue of 4.7 million Muslims who call Germany home increasingly cannot be ignored nor the attempt of many of these Germany-born to integrate into its society. The presence of at least one mosque in almost every large city in Germany attests to the growing influence of some aspects of Islam.

Polls show that large segments of the German population agree with Seehofer. “Islam doesn’t belong to Germany”, a way of expressing discomfort with ways in which the country is changing. Cornelia Koppetsch, a professor of sociology at the Technical University of Darmstadt, argues that politicians who have sought to “create a sense of community within their political camps” ultimately ended up promoting “rampant feelings of rootlessness.”

German culture has always enjoyed such symbolic debates; for example, the constant argument over whether to ban the burqa [Muslim women’s veil], even though very few women in Germany actually wear them. These discussions serve largely to provide supporters with a vehicle to express that tolerance has gone far enough. The CSU has now formally promised that the country will remain one shaped by Judeo-Christian traditions. At the same time, though, it’s also true that membership in Christian churches has been shrinking for years; in 2016 alone, 350,000 people left German churches.

As churches close in many places, Muslims are building new mosques – or even more aggravating, they are taking over buildings that are otherwise empty. For example, in Hamburg’s Horn neighborhood, the Islamic community is in the process of converting a former church into a mosque with the help of funding from Kuwait. The church had been empty for more than 16 years with its members having died, left the church or moved. Nobody is being pushed out. And although it provides the Muslim community with a convenient opportunity some non-Muslim Germans see the conversion as ominously symbolic.