Posts Tagged ‘china’
We fail to advance towards future. We advance not to the 22nd century but more to the period corresponding to 8th-15th centuries AD. Below a reprint of an excellent article providing the necessary reasoning.
The middle of the 21st century will resemble nothing so much as the Middle Ages of the 8th to 15th centuries, from the sacking of Rome by the Visigoths, in 410, to the fall of Constantinople, in 1453. This was a long and uncertain period and thus an ideal metaphor to characterize our times. It was an age of plagues and progress, commercial revolutions, expanding empires, crusades, city-states, merchants, and universities. It was multipolar, with expanding empires on the Eurasian landmass, and apolar, with no one global leader. The new Middle Ages—synonymous with the age of globalization—have already begun.
First let us take the empires. Charlemagne’s efforts to resurrect the Roman Empire have been succeeded, over a millennium later, by the multipronged armadas of Brussels Eurocrats steadily colonizing Europe’s periphery, in the Baltics, the Balkans, and, eventually, Anatolia and the Caucasus. The Eurocrats’ book is not the Bible but rather the acquis communautaire: the 31 chapters of the Lex Europea, which is rebuilding EU member states from the inside out. By 2040, even depopulated Russia, with any luck, will be an EU member and the West’s front line against the far more populous East.
By then, a rebranded, globalizing China will be just a decade shy of the centennial of its civil war’s end, in 1949; the Communist Party has long declared that 2050, not 2008 (the year of the Beijing Olympic Games), will mark the country’s real coming-out party as a superpower. A half century from now, China may still be the world’s most populous country, and if the exploits of its 15th-century explorer–statesman Zheng He are any guide, its demographic, commercial, and strategic presence from Africa to Latin America—to say nothing of its diplomatic and cultural dominance in East Asia—will have substantially increased.
The world’s third center of gravity will be the United States, demographically stable but also more thoroughly amalgamated with Latin America. Almost a century after John F. Kennedy’s Alliance for Progress, the country will have rediscovered its southern neighbors, especially Brazil, for an industrial partnership to boost the Western hemisphere’s competitiveness against Asia—and to achieve energy independence from the Middle East.
What then of the Middle East, the current center of geopolitical travails? Monarchies may still support dreams of a caliphate, but a unified Islamic ummah, such as the Abbasid empire attempted, is unlikely to emerge. Global energy resources will be more diversified than they are today, so oil and petrochemicals will sustain only a modest degree of Arabian cultural expansionism, even if they still support a few Islamic crusades. With something of a reformation under way in parts of the Muslim world, one of the most practiced religions on Earth will be ever more fractured and embedded in diverse geographies, much as Christianity is today.
Meanwhile, the resurrection of the city-state, the most prominent medieval political unit, will continue. To the current list of global cities—Dubai, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, São Paulo, Shanghai, Singapore, and Tokyo—we may add additional globalized nodes, such as Alexandria, Istanbul, and Karachi along major trade routes. Now, as then, city-states are commercial hubs all but divorced from their national anchors, reminding us that corporate actors will be paramount well into the future. City-states will pay for protection as global security privatizes further into corporate hands—the 21st century’s knights, mercenaries, and condottieri. Today’s sovereign-wealth funds, fused with city-state savvy, will be tomorrow’s Hanseatic League, forming capital networks that disperse the newest technologies to nearby regions. Not Oxford and Bologna, but rather Silicon Valley, Singapore, Switzerland, and their like will be the standard-setting centers.
The Middle Ages witnessed a number of innovations—from the cannon to the compass—that were geared to intensified global exploration. In the 21st century, the speed of communication and transport will bring us ever closer to simultaneity. As the ranks of billionaires soar beyond Gates, Branson, and Ambani, mega-philanthropists will become the postmodern Medicis, financing explorations in outer space and the deep sea alike and governing territory and production in the manner of medieval princes.
And, as in the Middle Ages, humanity faces diseases and invasions in the decades ahead. AIDS, malaria, SARS, and other maladies could become plagues like the 14th-century Black Death. What will be the impact of the coming migratory hordes, potentially unsettled by wars and environmental disasters? Who will be the next Mongols—small, concentrated hordes who violently establish their own version of peace, law, and order? How will contemporary diasporas—the millions of Chinese, Indian, Turkish, and Arab peoples living outside their home countries—blend into European, African, and American societies?
Finally, the fundamental reality of the Middle Ages was feudal social stratification, whose return the global economy may be accelerating. In medieval times, diverse power structures—religious, political, military, and commercial—all vied for control in shifting alliances. All of this is true again today and will remain so until a dominant form, like the nation-state in the 16th century, finally emerges. For now, the state is still in flux: declining in the Near East, resurgent in Asia, and almost nonexistent in Africa. Establishing a new system of global governance will take centuries, hence the uncertain leadership and complex landscape of the mid-21st century. The next Renaissance is still a long way off.
January 1, 1942. WW2 is raging. There is misery, chaos and destruction. Representatives of 26 countries, including America, are gathered and pledge in “Declaration by United Nations” – Franklin D. Roosevelt coins the term “United Nations” – to continue fighting the evil of Axis powers.
1945. War is over, but the term coined by FDR lives on as representatives of 50 countries meet in San Francisco at the United Nations Conference on International Organization to draw up the United Nations Charter, which has the following pre-amble.
- To save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
- To reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
- To establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
- To promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom
What about results it has achieved in its 60 years of history? According to one groundbreaking report UNICEF conducted in 1996:
- Increasingly, wars are fought in precisely those countries that can least afford them. Of more than 150 major conflicts since the Second World War, 130 have been fought in the developing world. The per capita gross national product (GNP) of war-torn countries in 1994 included: Afghanistan (US$280), Angola ($700), Cambodia ($200), Georgia ($580), Liberia ($450), Mozambique ($80), Somalia ($120), Sri Lanka ($640), the Sudan ($480).
- Since the 1950s, more wars have started than have stopped. By the end of 1995, wars had been running in Afghanistan for 17 years, Angola, 30; Liberia, 6; Somalia, 7; Sri Lanka, 11; Sudan, 12.
- The global case-load of refugees and displaced persons is growing at alarming speed. The number of refugees from armed conflicts worldwide increased from 2.4 million in 1974 to more than 27.4 million today, the report notes, with another 30 million people displaced within their own countries. Children and women make up an estimated 80 per cent of displaced populations.
- In 6 out of 12 country studies prepared for a research report … the arrival of peace-keeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.
The UN’s elephant in the room that no one pretends to heed is the infamous UN Security Council (SC), which issues resolutions, which – the SC is the only UN agency with such power – are binding by law for all UN members. Not only the balance of power is tilted towards the UK, France, the US, China and Russia – the veto-wielding powers that can block any decision even if remaining ten non-veto members vote yes – but this tilt itself is archaic, driven by the then political and economic realities, and not representing 21st century power distribution.
It is not only this but the fact – and this is the most important factor in deciding the “usefulness” of the SC – that scrambling over each other at times and staying mum at other times and closing their eyes and ears at yet others is a typical mode of functioning of this UN body. Furthermore, if it were only numerous debates with foregone decisions, meticulously planned and executed-to-perfection speeches containing no sense or petty, nitpicking droolings over a single word resonating in the halls and assemblies around the world, that would still be bearable. Reality is different. The result is a list of failures, lack of actions sanctioned by and plain inactivy on the part of the SC, notably:
- UN voice re Hungary and Czechoslovakia was ignored by the Soviet Union in 1950s.
- No emphatic role/inefficiency/late action in crisis of worst kinds such as Sierra Leone, Cuban Missile Crisis, Korean War, Vietnam War, Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan, the US-sponsored Islamic Jehad via Pakistan on Afghanistan against the Soviets, the three Gulf Wars and the wars leading to the break up of Yugoslavia.
- Number of nuclear powers (and their nuclear activities) has been increasing despite UN’s and its nuclear watchdog IAEA’s best efforts. Notably, China’s assistance in development of nuclear weapons and its supply of nuclear capable missiles and missile technology to Pakistan, assistance in building up of DPRK’s long-range and nuclear capable missiles, and finally, Pakistan’s supply of nuclear weapons technology to DPRK.
- Iraq (American intervention was bereft of a UN SC mandate) and Afghanistan have large contingents of UN peacekeepers – yet the situation has become worse despite – or perhaps because of – their arrival and inefficient operations.
- Inability to resolve/mediate in politically unstable or conflicting situations diplomatically.
- Inability to define, grasp the scope of and resolve the war on terrorism.
According to the UN entry on Wikipedia the main issue is the UN’s intergovernmental – and that’s 192 governments with different agendas – nature, which defies its consensus-based logic. The UN itself published and acknowledged its two biggest blunders: Rwanda (1994) and Srebrenica (1995). UN peacekeepers in Rwanda stood by as Hutu slaughtered some 800,000 Tutsi. In Bosnia, the UN declared safe areas for Muslims but did nothing to secure them, letting the Serbs slaughter thousands in Srebrenica.
Additionally, petty disagreements, procrastination and narrow-minded bureaucracy of the SC delegates failed to provide humanitarian aid in the Second Congo War, failed to relief starving Somalia and Uganda, failed to intervene and save countless lives in Sudan, failed to resolve the Israel-Palestine issue.
The UN was the very reason, back in last months of 1947, reluctant to decide upon partitioning of Jews, the minority, and Palestinians when the UK handed it the sovereignty mandate that caused Jews to take on all strategic administrative posts – they were better educated thus more fit – the subsequent outcry of Arabs who were a majority to take to streets with weapons, ushering in a full-fledged civil war, which in May 1948 turned into a war between Israel and neighboring Arab countries.
The much touted and hope-inspiring UN peacekeepers have been marred with problems of their own. They were accused of child rape and sexual abuse during various peacekeeping missions in Congo, Haiti, Liberia, etc. Around 100,000 UN peacekeepers make up UN peacekeeping operations – currently, Pakistan, Bangladesh being the biggest contributors – are sent by a number of contributing governments in exchange for a monthly stipend of about US$1,400 per soldier - a significant amount for main contributing countries. Trying to coordinate all the disparate, differently-trained and equipped, multi-lingual units is quite a challenging, if not impossible, task.
The only interventions that achieved anything worthwhile in the 1990s were conducted outside the standard UN “jurisdiction.” They were achieved through great-power action and traditional balance-of-power calculations – both anathema to orthodox UN mentality. In Bosnia, a Croat onslaught and NATO bombing and artillery bombardment combined to roll back Serb forces and to push Slobodan Milosevic to cut a deal. In Kosovo, a rebel ground offensive, NATO air power, and the threat of a NATO invasion again bludgeoned Belgrade into submission. The UN’s role was negligible in both cases.
NATO won a victory in Kosovo and unwisely turned over its management to the UN and its chief Bernard Kouchner, who faced the challenge of running Kosovo but inability to prevent its eventual return to Serbia, resulting in delayed schedules, lags in reconstruction and suffering/dispossessed population.
Thus the SC is clearly problematic and not in some aesthetic or theoretical, but in a manner that caused and causes suffering, death and abuse in many corners of the world, the very opposite of their claimed objectives.
But what other alternatives are there, at least as far as global peace and security are concerned? “Might Is Right” cause is as arcane as one country being the leader of world peace. What government would accept that? Also, we can safely assume that no country has the moral high ground or a universally accorded carte-blanche or even a sheer logistical capacity to become the world police, peacemaker/keeper/sustainer.
There are proposed alternatives (a bit paraphrased and complemented by links).
David Rieff has argued for the US and its allies to undertake “liberal imperialism,” while William Kristol and Robert Kagan have called for the US to assume a “benevolent global hegemony” – which will imply fighting wars in places like Kosovo. Contrary to received wisdom, this would not be a new role for the US, for it had been involved in other countries’ internal affairs since at least 1805, when, during the Tripolitan War, the US tried to topple the pasha of Tripoli and replace him with his pro-American brother. US Marines landed abroad 180 times in the period of 1800-1934. In the 19th century, they stayed only a few days but still helped open up the world to Western trade and influence, their most spectacular successes being Commodore Perry’s mission to Japan and the defeat of the Barbary pirates. After 1898, US forces stayed longer in order to run countries such as the Philippines, Haiti, and Cuba. The US rule was not democratic, but it gave those countries the most honest and efficient governments they have ever enjoyed.
Another way that the UN shows its archaic nature is its inability to cope with the new and increainslgy popular networked terrorism. The UN does not formally recognize any country as a terrorist state, nor has its own definition of terrorism, vowing for “operational definition” of a specific terrorism act.
“Is it worth (read: pros/cons analysis) having a Security Council at all, given all its past and present fails?” is the question we need to really think about.
China, China, China… All global issues of concern as well as hopes and aspirations for “next big thing” find themselves to one extent or another expressed, influenced by or influencing this country.
Environmental awareness has been steadily gaining prominence ever since we have started exploring the outer space, and thus gaining a bird’s eye view of our planet. With this increasing awareness we came to realize that human intervention in the natural cycles of our planet in such a way as to tip the balance. Henceforth, with the dawn of New Age and emergence of theories such as Gaia, and glaring affect of (human activity emitted) greenhouse gazes (and subsequent effect of global warming causing gradual increase in average temperatures) on the homeostasis of our planet, we are more than ever before aware of the environment we live in.
China has been at the forefront of global economic and industrial boom witnessed by the 20th century. Its economic and industrial expansion and impact it had on global economy, politics and climate cannot be overstated. Especially in matters of (negative) environmental impact, China stands above others by being considered the world’s bigger polluter recently overtaking the US. CFR has a comprehensive summary of issues, which contribute to environmental crisis not only in China but, due to its sheer size and energy-related policies, have a huge environmental impact around the world.
China’s heady economic growth continued to blossom in 2007, with the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) hitting 11.4 percent. This booming economy, however, has come alongside an environmental crisis. Sixteen of the world’s twenty most polluted cities are in China. To many, Beijing’s pledge to host a “Green Olympics” in the summer of 2008 signaled the country’s willingness to address its environmental problems. Experts say the Chinese government has made serious efforts to clean up and achieved many of the bid commitments. However, an environmentally sustainable growth rate remains a serious challenge for the country.
What are some of China’s major environmental challenges?
Water. China suffers from the twin problems of water shortage and water pollution. About one-third of China’s population lacks access to clean drinking water. Its per-capita water supply falls at around a quarter of the global average. Some 70 percent of the country’s rivers and lakes are polluted, with roughly two hundred million tons of sewage and industrial waste pouring into Chinese waterways in 2004. As part of its effort to harness the nation’s water supply, China has a large dam-building program with over twenty-five thousand dams nationwide–more than any other nation. The dam projects are not only a high cost in terms of money, but also in farmland loss, ecological damage, and forced migration of millions of people, says the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Jennifer L. Turner, director of its China Environment Forum, in a report for the Jamestown Foundation.
Land. Desertification in China leads to the loss of about 5,800 square miles of grasslands every year, an area roughly the size of Connecticut. The Worldwatch Institute, an environmental watchdog and research organization, reports that excessive farm cultivation, particularly overgrazing, is one of the leading causes of desertification. The cultivation stems from a policy followed from the 1950s to the early 1980s that encouraged farmers to settle in grasslands. As the deforestation grows, so do the number of sandstorms; a hundred were expected between 2000 and 2009, more than a fourfold increase over the previous decade. Desertification also contributes to China’s air pollution problems, with increasing dust causing a third of China’s air pollution.
Greenhouse gases. In 2008, China surpassed the United States as the largest global emitter of greenhouse gases by volume. (On a per capita basis, however, Americans emit five times as much greenhouse gas as Chinese.) The increase in China’s emissions is primarily due to the country’s reliance on coal, which accounts for over two-thirds of its energy consumption. It contributes to sulfur dioxide emissions causing acid rain, which falls on over 30 percent of the country.
Population and development. China’s inhabitants number more than 1.3 billion. The country’s growing economic prosperity and rapid development mean increasing urbanization, consumerism, and pollution. One example of this can be seen in car production: As Kelly Sims Gallagher notes in her book, China Shifts Gears, China produced 42,000 passenger cars in 1990. By 2004, the number hit one million, with sixteen million cars on China’s roads. By 2000, motor vehicles were the leading cause of China’s urban air pollution, though China adheres to stricter mileage standards than the United States.
What has China done to improve the situation? Read here..
It is not yet clear as to how the recent economic recession will affect this equation.
The Greek name for the Chinese was Seres, from which the Latin word serica derives, meaning silk.
China has always viewed itself as being at the centre of its world, traditionally. The modern word for the country, Zhong guo (Central Realm), seems to say it all.
Writing materials such as rolls of silk came from the 2nd century BC, and paper from the 2nd century AD (Cai Lun, 105AD). Printing too was a Chinese invention: fixed blocks were cut to print whole pages (Feng Dao, 932AD), and movable type was introduced from the 11th century AD (Bi Sheng, 1041AD). China was the first to establish the enduring institution of public service examination (founded under Sui Dynasty, 605, till its abolition in 1905).
Additionally, Chinese advances in iron and steel manufacture were several hundred years ahead of Europe. Coal was being mined from 8th century and used in furnaces producing high quality iron and steel. Chinese are also credited for inventions of saddle and stirrup (5th century), compass (possibly 20-100AD), gunpowder (Taoist monks in search of “elixir for immortality,” 9th century) and porcelain (under Tang Dynasty, 7th century).
Maritime inventions credited to Chinese also include the anchor, the drop-keel, the capstan, canvas and pivoting sails.
By medieval times, China became the most intellectually sophisticated and technologically advanced country in the world.
Then came the year 1405 under the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). Fleets of hundreds of immense Chinese ships (28,000 people sailing on 300 ships. It was a fleet whose size and grandeur would not be matched until World War I) headed by admiral Zheng He traversed from the China Sea past Sumatra to Ceylon, India, Arabia and East Africa. Seven epic Chinese naval expeditions from 1405 to 1433 explored and brought under the Chinese tributary system the vast periphery of the Indian Ocean. However, less than a century after this Chinese maritime high water mark, it was a crime to even go to sea from China in a multi-masted ship.
The economic motive for these huge ventures may have been important, and many of the ships had large private cabins for merchants. But the chief aim was probably political, to enroll further states as tributaries and mark the reemergence of the Chinese Empire following nearly a century of barbarian rule. The political character of Zheng He’s voyages indicates the primacy of the political elites. Despite their formidable and unprecedented strength, Zheng He’s voyages, unlike European voyages of exploration later in the fifteenth century, were not intended to extend Chinese sovereignty overseas. The question therefore begs how could such a policy (containing enormous potential for growth and prosperity), started in 1405, come to an abrupt halt and reversal by 1433.
There is no definite answer to that question. However, few possible explanations were postulated.
- Political power struggle between two factions of the Chinese Imperial court (between the Confucian courtiers and the palace eunuchs), combined with an overwhelming demand for political centralization and unity.
- There was an Imperial decree to decommission decision the great navy over the whole of China, reasoning behind such a decision possibly that renovation turned into stagnation, and that science and philosophy were caught in a tight net of traditions smothering any attempt to venture something new. This decision became irreversible due to the loss of shipyards capable of turning out ships that would prove the folly of that temporary decision.
- There was an internal Chinese court policy struggle between competing theories of the commercial and technology benefits of foreign trade, against the benefits in social purity of isolationism. Isolationism won.
- The navy had become dependent in the 15th century on a meager set of maritime missions that were overly fragile and thus the Chinese navy was vulnerable to relatively minor changes in the strategic situation. The completion of the Grand Canal as a more efficient and safer means of grain transport became an important factor, which engendered the demise of the Chinese ocean-going navy.
- Maritime threats (piracy) were always considered secondary in China to continental or land-based threats, and thus in difficult economic and political times (threat to revival of Mongol power on the northern steppe) during the Ming period, the maritime solutions to national security (navy) lost resources to the continental solutions (army).
Perhaps several factors separately or their combination caused a Chinese rejection of sea trade and seapower in the mid-15th century. We can never know for certain.
What we do know is that traditional ethnocentric and culturally well-cultivated Chinese were ever so anticipative. It is no secret that a following maxim has been a byword of not only Chinese warfare but also other strategic maneuvers throughout the ages.
“Steal the beams, change the pillars” (from “36 Strategems”).
China is on rise again. Let us see how far it will go this time.