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The Ukraine Safari

I don’t usually write about cultural products from my own country, but I must make an exception for Slovenian filmmaker Miran Zupanič’s new documentary Sarajevo Safari, which details one of the most

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Cost of China’s Miscalculation

Signals from China clearly indicate that the Chinese government has evolved a strategy and action plan, to be partly implemented in medium term and the rest to be implemented in long term and emerge as the most dominant country in

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Syria’s Economy and Sanctions

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Syria’s economic situation- particularly in areas held by the Syrian government- has only continued to deteriorate with time, and with this deterioration, living standards have continued to diminish. Perhaps the most familiar indicator of this economic decline is the deterioration of the value of the Syrian pound: one U.S. dollar is now equivalent to more than 5000 Syrian pounds.

The continuing drop in the economic situation and living standards is in turn partly linked to what is one of the most contentious issues of Syria policy: namely, the imposition of extensive Western sanctions on the Syrian government in a bid to put economic pressure on it. The case for sanctions has been most concretely framed in terms of pressuring the government to accept a political ‘transition.’ Yet there is little evidence that this approach is having any success, as there is no sign that the government has made any concrete concessions because of sanctions. Nor has the government indicated any willingness to discuss a ‘transition.’

The sanctions are not the only reason or necessarily the main reason for Syria’s economic and living standards decline. Within government-held areas also, multiple opinions exist regarding the reasons for the downturn in quality of life: some follow the government’s line and complain that the sanctions (often dubbed the ‘economic siege/war on Syria’) are the sole/primary reason, whereas others hold a more complicated view and point to failings on the part of the government.

However, even among the latter camp, there is no suggestion of launching a new ‘revolution’ and mass protest movement in a bid to bring down the government, and while the criticisms of the government policies and corruption can be scathing, they often stop short of criticising the president Bashar al-Assad. Instead of a new ‘revolution’ and mass protest movement, the ongoing deterioration in the economic situation and living standards seems to me (based on my observations of friends inside Syria) to be just prompting more people to leave Syria in a bid to migrate to Turkey and Europe- something that is hardly seen as desirable for these states. Others head to countries like the UAE and Iraq in search of work.

While it should not be imagined that sanctions relief will lead to new economic prosperity for people in Syria, there should be more serious debate about sanctions, particularly when they become very sweeping and broad in nature. Specifically, what are the aims and goals? If there are concrete goals and aims, are they actually achievable through sanctions? If not, then what is the point behind them? Are they simply imposed to make it seem as though ‘something is being done’ and feel better about oneself? Is such catharsis appropriate in a policy context, particularly in light of their costs for the ordinary population? Should sanctions relief aimed at lessening the burdens on the ordinary population necessarily be equated with ‘normalisation’ and somehow giving money to the government?

The interview below was conducted on 29 October 2022 with a friend who resided in Idlib until not too long ago and currently resides in Jaramana, Damascus, where he has recently opened a store selling goods. This friend subscribes to the view that sanctions are the main cause of Syria’s woes in economy and living standards. The interview is slightly edited and condensed for clarity. Any parenthetical insertions in square brackets are my own.

Q: Can you speak about your shop and the types of goods you are selling and their prices?

A: I have rented a very small shop: 4 [square] metres approximately in a simple neighbourhood in the town of Jaramana. The value of the rent is 62,000 Syrian pounds [monthly] which equates to 12 dollars. Note that the renting of shops in the streets of Jaramana in Damascus countryside reaches 100 dollars. I have put on display in it some food goods and cleaning items only: i.e. very necessary items. The prices of the food goods in Syria are continually rising every week more or less because of the decline in the value of the Syrian pound. From here one knows that the purchase rate is declining daily.

Q: Could you give me the prices of some of the goods in your shop today?

A: Spicy sardines: 36,000 Syrian pounds. Litre of plant oil: 16,000. Kilo of children’s milk, the type of our milk: 27,000. Half kilo of handkerchiefs: 7,000.

Q: In your opinion and the opinion of the people of Jaramana, what are the reasons for the rise in prices?

A: Solely the economic siege on the state imposed by America and its followers, as well as what is known as the Caesar Law. In addition the American occupier’s occupation of the Syrian Jazeera area represented in the provinces of Hasakah and Raqqa and the richer portion economically of Deir al-Zor (because of the resources these areas possess) is certainly the reason.

Q: Can you speak about the impacts of the sanctions on your life?

A: They have almost entirely destroyed my life. Like me are 90% of the people of Syria and not only Jaramana. I used to receive a salary in 2010 of 18,500 Syrian pounds: i.e. what equates to 350 dollars. This was solely by the grace and efforts of Mr. President Bashar al-Assad. But what happened in Syria under the moniker of freedom was the beginning of the destruction of my precious state Syria. Let all know that I am a primary school teacher and I am not a political actor in my state. Rather I speak the truth and God is witness to my words.

Q: There are those who say that the sanctions and economic pressure will lead to a political transition and realisation of justice in Syria. What is your opinion on that?

A: I as a Syrian citizen speak for myself only. I say that this is a mistaken theory and will not hit the mark and will not bring about benefit. The Syrians have offered thousands of martyrs to protect Syria and its great president. They will not yield to material matters whatever the price may be. For the economy will improve if God wills by the efforts of the people and the government.

Q: Do you have a message to the West regarding the sanctions?

A: My message is political and not economic. Oh good humanitarian peoples, and I have no quarrel with your humanity. Rise up against your political rulers, tear them our from their roots, and make rule belong to humanitarianism in Europe. I also tell you: you must liberate yourselves from your servitude to America immediately before it’s too late. I mean here what the war in Ukraine will come to.

Q: And the sanctions must be lifted?

A: Of course Mr. Aymenn. When I ask them to be liberated and rid of servitude, the sanctions will of course be lifted.

Q: And you as a person displaced from Idlib originally, what is the truth of the situation there?

A: The truth I know well because I was living there until recently: the group of gangs large in number and supported by the same states that impose the economic sanctions on the state are the ones that rule a people who yearn for freedom: that is, freedom to live with the state, and not the freedom that their rulers and their supporters claim in Idlib and northern Syria. I am wholly confident that 85% of the people of Idlib and the north want to return to the Syrian state: their state in whose embraces they were raised and in whose universities they studied.

The Mouse Squeaks in Bangladesh

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People in Bangladesh want the upcoming national elections to be held in a festive atmosphere and improve the atmosphere so that voters can vote for the candidate of their choice. And that will be sure as shooting.

But it is grossly offensive to decency or morality that foreign diplomats stationed in Dhaka are all rabbiting on over the next general election in Bangladesh, whereas their own countries are at colossus faults in many affairs including the election processes. So, when they want to prescribe us in our national matters, we can take them as if rogues supplant justice.

The next parliamentary elections are still more than a year away. However, like every other time, foreign diplomats are becoming involved in Bangladesh’s election process. But they must cease their interference in the national matters of Bangladesh. The government also does not take kindly to their criticisms and opinions on the election process and the internal affairs of the country. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already informed the foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh to stop all these trumperies.

We remind them of the Geneva Conventions to observe etiquette. Besides, media representatives must not ask any question to the foreign diplomats about our election process.  

Last July, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reminded foreign diplomats working in Bangladesh to comply with the Vienna Code of Conduct. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has sent a letter in this regard to the United Nations office located in Dhaka, all international organizations and all foreign missions located in Dhaka on July 18. But the statements of the diplomats and their continuous close interaction with the opposition political camps have not yet decreased.

In addition, the Minister of Foreign Affairs. AK Abdul Momen and State Minister Shahriar Alam also urged the diplomats to speak according to etiquette. The foreign minister also expressed his anger at the behaviour of diplomats.

Experts say the letter of adherence to the Geneva Conventions means the government does not want foreigners to interfere in the country’s internal affairs. Therefore, foreign diplomats have been warned ahead of national elections.

Earlier on June 13, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was told in the meeting of the National Committee on Security at the initiative of the Cabinet Division that the diplomats of various foreign missions located in Bangladesh should be requested to comply with the Vienna Convention. Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina presided over the meeting.

And so, on July 18, the letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wishes the United Nations Office in Dhaka, all international organizations and diplomats and representatives working in all foreign missions located in Dhaka to follow the relevant rules and etiquette in conducting diplomatic activities.

In view of the recent events, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would like to respectfully inform everyone that diplomats at the public and private levels shall conduct their diplomatic activities in accordance with the proper diplomatic protocol as stipulated in the Vienna Convention of 1961 and the Vienna Convention on Consular Affairs of 1963.

In the letter, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also stated that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs promises on behalf of the Government of Bangladesh that the Government will provide all the necessary support to all diplomatic missions, UN offices and all international organizations to work.

Several foreign diplomats working in Dhaka said that it is not their job to interfere in Bangladesh’s internal issues. They want everything in the country to go well and be peaceful. This is not true. They say one thing, but they do diametrically the opposite.

Investors from many countries have invested and are doing business in Bangladesh. For this, we want a stable environment and do not want any unstable situation to be created in Bangladesh.

German Ambassador Akhim Troster, Netherlands Ambassador Annie Von Leeuwen and European Union Ambassador Charles Whiteley held a meeting with Road Transport and Bridges Minister Obaidul Quader on July 24.

After the meeting, German ambassador Akhim Troster said in a tweet that it is the main responsibility of diplomats to keep in touch with the political parties and institutions of the host country. So, their temerity is irremissible under any setting.

A meeting was held with Awami League General Secretary, Roads and Communications Minister Obaidul Quader and his colleagues on July 24. The European Union and its member states are tested friends of Bangladesh. Ambassador of the Netherlands Anne Von Leeuwen said in a tweet that a diplomat always tries to communicate with all partners to understand the situation of the host country and to advance development. This abracadabra harangue is not worthy of acceptance or satisfactory.

On June 2, the US Ambassador to Dhaka invited five representatives of civil society to lunch at his residence on the issue of the upcoming national elections. Several representatives of the civil society who participated in the lunch at that time said that America and Europe have great interest in the upcoming national elections. Look at how much brazen-faced and insolent Uncle Sam is!

Former Additional Secretary and Ambassador of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Mahfuzur Rahman said, the last July letter is a warning. Basically, ahead of the national elections, the government is warning foreign diplomats in advance that the government does not want to see any foreign interference in the country’s internal affairs.

Because, past experience has shown that foreign diplomats have also entered the country’s politics with their own evil agenda. If the government party and the opposition parties, i.e. all political parties, are responsible, there is no chance for foreigners to turn their noses up.

Foreign Minister Dr. AK Abdul Momen said that the foreign diplomats posted in Bangladesh are mature. We believe they will follow diplomatic etiquette. When asked whether the government can make a statement or protest to prevent foreign diplomats from commenting on Bangladesh elections, the minister said, “We believe that the diplomats in our country are mature. They are honorable people. We trust that they will follow diplomatic etiquette.”

Regarding the recent comments of the US ambassador Peter Haas about the upcoming parliamentary elections, the foreign minister told the reporters that because the journalists asked questions to the ambassadors, they commented on the internal affairs of Bangladesh. He said, “You force him. The poor man was forced to answer. It is better if you don’t go up to foreign countries.”

Come to us. They dare to speak because some of our people go to them. The foreign minister said, due to the colonial mentality, we still prefer something foreign. We have to get out of this habit.

Abdul Momen said, democracy is different in different countries. Bangladesh is the leader of democracy. We gave blood for democracy in 1971, 3 million people gave their lives. Where else in the world? We have struggled in this country when people’s voices have been stifled. When people’s right to democracy is taken away.

He also said that when the genocide was happening in this country in 1971, they did not even come close to us. When the genocide was going on in Myanmar, no one gave shelter to those people. Who did it, Bangladesh did it. Sheikh Hasina has opened the border. Protected human rights.

The foreign minister also said that the current government is committed to conducting free, fair and transparent elections and is not in favour of the death of a single citizen of the country during the election process. We are trying so that not a single person dies.

He said, there are good and bad in every country’s democracy. It is not always accurate. It’s a process. Democracy matures through efforts. We also have weaknesses. We are trying to work out how to fix the vulnerability. This does not mean that they are the best. They also have weaknesses, problems…

State Minister for Foreign Affairs Shahriar Alam said that foreign diplomats should not talk about the internal politics of Bangladesh. They should speak according to etiquette. They should mind in their own business. An old but significant proverb reminds us, “Let not the shoe-maker go beyond his last.”

-The End-

Does the U.S. Chip Ban on China Amount to a Declaration of War in the Computer Age?

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The United States has gambled big in its latest across-the-board sanctions on Chinese companies in the semiconductor industry, believing it can kneecap China and retain its global dominance. From the slogans of globalization and “free trade” of the neoliberal 1990s, Washington has reverted to good old technology denial regimes that the U.S. and its allies followed during the Cold War. While it might work in the short run in slowing down the Chinese advances, the cost to the U.S. semiconductor industry of losing China—its biggest market—will have significant consequences in the long run. In the process, the semiconductor industries of Taiwan and South Korea and equipment manufacturers in Japan and the European Union are likely to become collateral damage. It reminds us again of what former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once said: “It may be dangerous to be America’s enemy, but to be America’s friend is fatal.”

The purpose of the U.S. sanctions, the second generation of sanctions after the earlier one in August 2021, is to restrict China’s ability to import advanced computing chips, develop and maintain supercomputers, and manufacture advanced semiconductors. Though the U.S. sanctions are cloaked in military terms—denying China access to technology and products that can help China’s military—in reality, these sanctions target almost all leading semiconductor players in China and, therefore, its civilian sector as well. The fiction of ‘barring military use’ is only to provide the fig leaf of a cover under the World Trade Organization (WTO) exceptions on having to provide market access to all WTO members. Most military applications use older-generation chips and not the latest versions.

The specific sanctions imposed by the United States include:

  • Advanced logic chips required for artificial intelligence and high-performance computing
  • Equipment for 16nm logic and other advanced chips such as FinFET and Gate-All-Around
  • The latest generations of memory chips: NAND with 128 layers or more and DRAM with 18nm half-pitch

Specific equipment bans in the rules go even further, including many older technologies as well. For example, one commentator pointed out that the prohibition of tools is so broad that it includes technologies used by IBM in the late 1990s.

The sanctions also encompass any company that uses U.S. technology or products in its supply chain. This is a provision in the U.S. laws: any company that ‘touches’ the United States while manufacturing its products is automatically brought under the U.S. sanctions regime. It is a unilateral extension of the United States’ national legal jurisdiction and can be used to punish and crush any entity—a company or any other institution—that is directly or indirectly linked to the United States. These sanctions are designed to completely decouple the supply chain of the United States and its allies—the European Union and East Asian countries—from China.

In addition to the latest U.S. sanctions against companies that are already on the list of sanctioned Chinese companies, a further 31 new companies have been added to an “unverified list.” These companies must provide complete information to the U.S. authorities within two months, or else they will be barred as well. Furthermore, no U.S. citizen or anyone domiciled in the United States can work for companies on the sanctioned or unverified lists, not even to maintain or repair equipment supplied earlier.

The global semiconductor industry’s size is currently more than $500 billion and is likely to double its size to $1 trillion by 2030. According to a Semiconductor Industry Association and Boston Consulting Group report of 2020—“Turning the Tide for Semiconductor Manufacturing in the U.S.”—China is expected to account for approximately 40 percent of the semiconductor industry growth by 2030, displacing the United States as the global leader. This is the immediate trigger for the U.S. sanctions and its attempt to halt China’s industry from taking over the lead from the United States and its allies.

While the above measures are intended to isolate China and limit its growth, there is a downside for the United States and its allies in sanctioning China.

The problem for the United States—more so for Taiwan and South Korea—is that China is their biggest trading partner. Imposing such sanctions on equipment and chips also means destroying a good part of their market with no prospect of an immediate replacement. This is true not only for China’s East Asian neighbors but also for equipment manufacturers like the Dutch company ASML, the world’s only supplier of extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography machines that produces the latest chips. For Taiwan and South Korea, China is not only the biggest export destination for their semiconductor industry as well as other industries, but also one of their biggest suppliers for a range of products. The forcible separation of China’s supply chain in the semiconductor industry is likely to be accompanied by separation in other sectors as well.

The U.S. companies are also likely to see a big hit to their bottom line—including equipment manufacturers such as Lam Research Corporation, Applied Materials, and KLA Corporation; the electronic design automation (EDA) tools such as Synopsys and Cadence; and advanced chip suppliers like Qualcomm, Nvidia, and AMD. China is the largest destination for all these companies. The problem for the United States is that China is not only the fastest-growing part of the world’s semiconductor industry but also the industry’s biggest market. So the latest sanctions will cripple not only the Chinese companies on the list but also the U.S. semiconductor firms, drying up a significant part of their profits and, therefore, their future research and development (R&D) investments in technology. While some of the resources for investments will come from the U.S. government—for example, the $52.7 billion chip manufacturing subsidy—they do not compare to the losses the U.S. semiconductor industry will suffer as a result of the China sanctions. This is why the semiconductor industry had suggested narrowly targeted sanctions on China’s defense and security industry, not the sweeping sanctions that the United States has now introduced; the scalpel and not the hammer.

The process of separating the sanctions regime and the global supply chain is not a new concept. The United States and its allies had a similar policy during and after the Cold War with the Soviet Union via the Coordinating Committee for Multilateral Export Controls (COCOM) (in 1996, it was replaced by the Wassenaar Arrangement), the Nuclear Suppliers Group, the Missile Control Regime, and other such groups. Their purpose is very similar to what the United States has now introduced for the semiconductor industry. In essence, they were technology denial regimes that applied to any country that the United States considered an “enemy,” with its allies following—then as now—what the United States dictated. The targets on the export ban list were not only the specific products but also the tools that could be used to manufacture them. Not only the socialist bloc countries but also countries such as India were barred from accessing advanced technology, including supercomputers, advanced materials, and precision machine tools. Under this policy, critical equipment required for India’s nuclear and space industries was placed under a complete ban. Though the Wassenaar Arrangement still exists, with countries like even Russia and India within the ambit of this arrangement now, it has no real teeth. The real threat comes from falling out with the U.S. sanctions regime and the U.S. interpretation of its laws superseding international laws, including the WTO rules.

The advantage the United States and its military allies—in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization, and the Central Treaty Organization—had before was that the United States and its European allies were the biggest manufacturers in the world. The United States also controlled West Asia’s hydrocarbon—oil and gas—a vital resource for all economic activities. The current chip war against China is being waged at a time when China has become the biggest manufacturing hub of the world and the largest trade partner for 70 percent of countries in the world. With the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries no longer obeying the U.S. diktats, Washington has lost control of the global energy market.

So why has the United States started a chip war against China at a time that its ability to win such a war is limited? It can, at best, postpone China’s rise as a global peer military power and the world’s biggest economy. An explanation lies in what some military historians call the “Thucydides trap”: when a rising power rivals a dominant military power, most such cases lead to war. According to Athenian historian Thucydides, Athens’ rise led Sparta, the then-dominant military power, to go to war against it, in the process destroying both city-states; therefore, the trap. While such claims have been disputed by other historians, when a dominant military power confronts a rising one, it does increase the chance of either a physical or economic war. If the Thucydides trap between China and the United States restricts itself to only an economic war—the chip war—we should consider ourselves lucky!

With the new series of sanctions by the United States, one issue has been settled: the neoliberal world of free trade is officially over. The sooner other countries understand it, the better it will be for their people. And self-reliance means not simply the fake self-reliance of supporting local manufacturing, but instead means developing the technology and knowledge to sustain and grow it.

This article was produced in partnership by Newsclick and Globetrotter.

Stop World War III – Now

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3 mins read

In 1799, Marshall Alexander Suvorov led a Russian army and all its cannons across the Alps in the dead of winter.  A plaque near Gotthard still commemorates this epic military feat.

In March 1814, Russia’s emperor Alexander I entered Paris at the head of his Imperial Guard, ending Napoleon’s rule.

In 1945, Russian forces under Marshalls Zhukov and Konev fought their way into Berlin. The Red Army destroyed 75% of all German and Axis forces.

Russians are great warriors.  They are courageous, often heedless of death, and masters of the art of war. 

So, what has happened to the Russian Army in Ukraine?  It has fought poorly, moved at the speed of ox carts, blundered around and suffered heavy casualties and heavy loss of armored and air forces.

Start with Russia’s military hierarchy. It’s led by a civilian, Sergei Shoigu, a crony of Putin and a man without any military training or experience. But he’s loyal to Putin.

He reminds me of poor, old Egyptian field marshal, Abdel Hakim Amer, Nasser’s buddy, who misled his nation’s armed forces into the 1967 catastrophe.  When Israeli warplanes attacked, using US satellite data, Amer was smoking dope in his airplane.

Putin was a KGB officer. He had no military background beyond ruthlessly crushing the second Chechen uprising – with US help.  Chechen chief Ramzan Kadyrov has blasted Shoigu and called for his head.  There has been far too much political interference with Russia’s military. 

Putin wanted a limited ‘military action,’ not a full-scale war against what was not so long ago an integral part of Russia.  Hence the once formidable Red Army was kept on a leash, deprived of Russia’s most modern weapons, and ordered to go easy on the rebellious Ukrainians.

Russia’s artillery, the Queen of battle, ran out of ammunition.  The Red Air Force was ordered not to risk its expensive Sukhoi fighter-bombers.  Its space-based targeting was jammed or degraded by the US and NATO.

Equally important, the conflict in Ukraine has already turned into a mini-World War Three as the US and its key allies struggle to deliver the coup de grace to the Russian federation.

This war is not about freedom for Ukraine – as potent western propaganda incessantly tells us.  It’s about crushing the last remnants of former Soviet power and turning the fragments into docile mini states dominated by Washington and London.

Since CIA overthrew Ukraine’s pro-Russian regime in 2014 – which cost an estimated $50 billion – Moscow and Kiev have been at daggers drawn.  Putin’s Russia refuses to recognize Ukraine as an independent state.  Kiev, backed by tens of billions of dollars and a massive arsenal of arms from the west, rejects Russian hegemony.

The US wants to see the Balkanization of Mother Russia. The next targets may be Russia’s Far East or the Russian Urals.  The war party in Washington, Republicans and Democrats alike, appears determined to crush the life out of what’s left of Russia and achieve the strategic goal of America’s neocons of eradicating any potential military opponent of absolute worldwide US power.  Once Russia is laid low, China will be the next target – in fact, it likely already is.

The Biden administration has already poured close to $100 billion of aid and huge amounts of arms into Ukraine, a staggering and risky sum for a nation with a $31 trillion deficit. Add billions more from Canada and US allies in Europe who would prefer to see this war end.

The current wave of high inflation has been ignited in large part by Washington’s reckless spending over Ukraine. This is money the US Treasury does not have, and must borrow, fueling roaring inflation.

A decade ago, President Putin proclaimed that Russia would cut conventional military spending and increasingly rely on nuclear arms. 

Yet we are surprised now that the Kremlin is rattling its nuclear weapons. We should not forget that before the 1991 breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine held and produced substantial numbers of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. These were supposedly all junked, but Ukraine probably holds a few nukes in secret.

Meanwhile, western forces are openly operating in Ukraine against Russian forces.  The full panoply of US power is witnessed there:  space intelligence and air-born intelligence; naval operations blocking the Russian Black Sea Fleet; vast amounts of artillery, electronic warfare, conventional land warfare conducted by special units from Poland, the US, Britain and Germany. 

As this column has been saying for years, the prime duty of the United States, the world’s premier power, is to avert any possible nuclear confrontation in Eastern Europe.  Diplomacy, not more arms, is the answer.

The answer is clear: stop trying to draw Ukraine into NATO, stop trying to fragment Russia. Let the rebellious Russian-speaking regions of Ukraine join Russia if they so desire.  Pull western forces out of the region and resume quiet diplomacy.  Let France lead this sensible effort.

Copyright Eric S. Margolis 2022

China’s Path to Socialist Modernization

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The Communist Party of China (CPC) held its 20th National Congress from October 16 to October 22, 2022. Every five years, the delegates of the CPC’s 96 million members meet to elect its top leaders and to set the future direction for the party. One of the main themes of the congress this year was “rejuvenation” of the country through “a Chinese path to modernization.” In his report to the congress, Xi Jinping, the CPC’s general secretary, sketched out the way forward to build China “into a modern socialist country.”

Most of the Western media commentary about the congress ignored the actual words that were said in Beijing, opting instead to make wild speculations about the deliberations in the party (including about the sudden departure of former Chinese President Hu Jintao from the Great Hall of the People during the closing session of the congress, who left because he was feeling ill). Much could have been gained from listening to what people said during the National Congress instead of putting words in their mouths.

Socialist Modernization

When the Communist Party took power in China in 1949, the country was the 11th poorest country in the world. For the first time since the “century of humiliation” that began with the British wars on China from 1839 onward, China has developed into a major power with the social situation of the Chinese people having greatly improved from their condition in 1949. A short walk away from the Great Hall of the People, where the congress was held, is the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, which reminds people of the immense achievement of the Chinese Revolution of 1949 and its impact on Chinese society.

Xi Jinping became the general secretary of the CPC at the 18th National Congress in 2012 and was elected president of the People’s Republic of China in March 2013. Since then, the country has gone through significant changes. Economically, China’s GDP has almost doubled to become the world’s second-largest economy, growing from 58.8 trillion yuan in 2013 to 114.37 trillion yuan in 2021, and its GDP expanded at a rate of 6.6 percent per year during the same period. Meanwhile, the country’s per capita GDP almost doubled between 2013 and 2021, with China approaching the high-income country bracket. In terms of the world economy, China’s GDP was 18.5 percent of the global total in 2021, and the country was responsible for 30 percent of world economic growth from 2013 to 2021. China also manufactured 30 percent of the world’s goods in 2021, up from more than 20 percent in 2012. This adds to the decades of historically unprecedented growth rate of 9.8 percent per year from 1978 to 2014 since the launching of economic reform in China in 1978. These economic achievements are historic and did not come without their set of challenges and consequences.

While delivering the report at the opening of this congress, Xi spoke about the situation that the Chinese people faced a decade ago: “Great achievements had been secured in reform, opening up, and socialist modernization… At the same time, however, a number of prominent issues and problems—some of which had been building for years and others which were just emerging—demanded urgent action.” He went on to talk about the “slide toward weak, hollow, and watered-down party leadership,” pointing out that “money worship, hedonism, egocentricity, and historical nihilism” were the deep-seated problems in a development process that was “imbalanced, uncoordinated, and unsustainable.” These are significant self-criticisms made by the man who has led the country for the past decade.

Corruption

A decade ago, in his speech at the 18th CPC National Congress, outgoing Secretary General Hu Jintao mentioned the word “corruption” several times. “If we fail to handle this issue well,” he warned, “it could prove fatal to the party, and even cause the collapse of the party and the fall of the state.” Xi Jinping’s first task after taking over as general secretary of the CPC was to tackle this issue. In his inaugural speech as the party head in 2013, Xi said he was committed to “the fighting of tigers and flies at the same time,” referring to the corruption that had spread from the high echelons down to the grassroots level within the party and the government. The party launched “eight-point” rules for its members in December 2012, to limit practices such as inconsequential meetings and extravagant receptions for official visits, and advocated “diligence and thrift.”

Meanwhile, a year after the launch of the “mass line campaign” by Xi’s administration in June 2013, official meetings were reduced by 25 percent in comparison to the period before the campaign, 160,000 “phantom staff” were removed from the government payroll, and 2,580 “unnecessary” official building projects were stopped. Over the past decade, from November 2012 to April 2022, nearly 4.4 million cases involving 4.7 million officials were investigated in the fight against corruption. Party members have been investigated. In the first half of this year alone, 24 senior officials were investigated for corruption, and former ministers, provincial governors, and presidents of the biggest state-owned banks have been expelled from the party and given harsh sentences, including life imprisonment.

Hu Jintao’s comments and Xi Jinping’s actions reflected concerns that during the period of high growth after 1978, CPC members grew increasingly detached from the people. During the first months of his presidency, Xi launched the “mass line campaign” to bring the party closer to the grassroots. As part of the “targeted poverty alleviation” campaign launched in 2014, 800,000 party cadres were sent to survey and visit 128,000 villages as part of this project. In 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, China successfully eradicated extreme poverty, contributing to 76 percent of the global reduction in poverty till October 2015.

Beyond the party’s self-correction, Xi’s strong words and actions against the corrupt “flies and tigers” contributed to the Chinese people’s confidence in the government. According to a 2020 research paper by Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, the overall satisfaction with the government’s performance was 93.1 percent in 2016, seeing the most significant growth in the more underdeveloped regions in the countryside. This rise of confidence in rural areas resulted from increased social services, trust in local officials, and the campaign against poverty.

Right Side of History

At the 20th Congress, Xi Jinping reflected on the history of colonialism—including China’s “century of humiliation”—and the implications this would have for China going forward. “In pursuing modernization,” Xi said, “China will not tread the old path of war, colonization, and plunder taken by some countries. That brutal and blood-stained path of enrichment at the expense of others caused great suffering for the people of developing countries. We will stand firmly on the right side of history and on the side of human progress.”

Chinese officials routinely tell us that their country is not interested in seeking dominance in the world. What China would like to do is to collaborate with other countries to try and solve humanity’s dilemmas. The Belt and Road Initiative, for instance, was launched in 2013 with the purpose of “win-win” cooperation and development and has thus far built much-needed infrastructure with investment and construction contracts totaling $1 trillion in almost 150 countries. China’s interest in tackling the climate catastrophe is evidenced by its planting of a quarter of the world’s new forests over the past decade and in becoming a world leader in renewable energy investment and electric vehicle production. On the public health side, China adopted a COVID-19 policy that prioritizes lives over profit, donated 325 million doses of vaccines, and saved millions of lives as a result of this. As a result of its initiatives in the public health sector, the average life expectancy of Chinese people was 77.93 years in 2020 and reached 78.2 years in 2021, and for the first time, surpassed life expectancy in the United States—77 years in 2020 and 76.1 in 2021—making this drop “the biggest two-year decline in life expectancy since 1921-1923.”

China’s communists do not see these events without putting them in the context of the long process undertaken by the government toward achieving and ensuring their social development. In 27 years, China will celebrate the centenary of its revolution. In 1997, then-President of China Jiang Zemin spoke about the two centenary goals—the 100-year markers following the founding of the Communist Party (1921) and the Chinese Revolution (1949)—that “underwrite all China’s long-term economic planning programs and contemporary macroeconomic policy agendas.” At that time, the focus was on growth rates. In 2017, Xi Jinping shifted the emphasis of these goals to the “three tough battles”: to defuse major financial risks, to eradicate poverty, and to control pollution. This new congress has gone beyond those “tough battles” to protect Chinese sovereignty and to expand the dignity of the Chinese people.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Balochistan: Rise and Rise of Baloch Rebels

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On October 22, 2022, six Security Force (SF) personnel were killed and another four were injured when the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA) targeted an Army convoy at the Zarghoon Ghat area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Balochistan. While claiming responsibility for the attack, BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch stated that an SF convoy consisting of 10 military vehicles was targeted by the group’s Special Tactical Operations Squad (STOS), adding that at least two enemy vehicles were destroyed. He warned that BLA would continue to target ‘occupying forces’ until their full withdrawal and the ‘liberation of the Baloch motherland’.

On October 21, 2022, four SF personnel were killed and another two injured, when BLA cadres targeted an Army vehicle with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) in the Izbotki area of Johan tehsil (revenue unit) in the Kalat District. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.

On October 21, 2022, Hafeezullah, a local agent of the Pakistani military intelligence, was killed by BLA cadres in the Zehri area of Khuzdar District. While claiming responsibility, BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed that Hafeezullah was involved in the forcible disappearances of Baloch youth in Zehri and adjoining areas. He added that the BLA would ‘bring to justice’ all other local collaborators of ‘enemy forces’ as well.

On October 19, 2022, a soldier was killed and several were injured when BLA targeted an Army outpost in the Tigran area of Zamuran tehsil in Kech District. While claiming responsibility for the attack, BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch reiterated the attacks against the occupying forces would continue.

On October 7, 2022, one Army soldier was killed and two were injured when BLA cadres targeted an Army post with hand grenade near the Degree College in the Sariab Road area of Quetta. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.

On October 7, 2022, one Army soldier was killed and several were injured when BLA cadres attacked an Army outpost in the Sheh Mardan area of Kalat District. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility for the attack.

According to partial data compiled by the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP), BLA-initiated attacks have led to 37 SF deaths in the current year (data till October 23, 2022). During the corresponding period of 2021, BLA had killed 11 SF personnel. The whole of 2021 recorded 20 SF deaths in BLA attacks.

Since August 1, 2004, when the first BLA attack recorded by SATP, five soldiers and a civilian were killed when BLA cadres targeted SF vehicles in the Khuzdar District, at least 171 SF personnel have been killed by the BLA (data till October 23, 2022). On year-on-year basis, fatalities recorded in 2022, with still over two months to go, is the highest in a year since then. The previous high of 31 was recorded way back in 2011. Significantly, BLA claimed that SF fatalities were on a steep and continuous rise since 2019. While no BLA-claimed SF fatality was reported in 2018, there was one such fatality in 2019, increasing to eight in 2020 and spiking to 20 in 2021.

Since August 1, 2004, BLA-linked violence has also led to 146 civilian deaths, including eight in the current year. The BLA claims that those killed were ‘state agents’.

Between August 1, 2004, and October 23, 2022, 147 BLA cadres have also been killed.

Meanwhile, BLA’s growing strength is reflected in the February 2, 2022, simultaneous attacks by BLA cadres on the Panjgur and Nuskhi Army camps in Balochistan. Though Pakistan Government sources claimed only four SF fatalities, Radio Zrumbesh, quoting BLA ‘spokesman’ Jeeyand Baloch, claimed that 45 SF personnel were killed when a ‘martyred’ fidayeen (suicide attacker) rammed his explosive-laden vehicle into the main gate of the Frontier Corps headquarters at Nushki, clearing the way for other fidayeen to enter.

More recently, on September 25, 2022, six Pakistan Army officials, including two majors, were killed after a helicopter ‘crashed’ during a rescue mission near Khost in the Harnai District of Balochistan. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed responsibility, asserting that the helicopter had been shot down by rocket launchers.

Moreover, BLA carried out an audacious attack on April 26, 2022, in which at least five persons, including three Chinese nationals, their Pakistani driver and a security guard, were killed when a women suicide bomber blew herself up near a van, transporting Chinese nationals from the Karachi University Hostel to the Confucius Institute in Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh. A Karachi University spokesperson confirmed that three of the deceased were Chinese nationals. BLA claimed responsibility for the attack. The female suicide bomber, Shaari Baloch alias Bramsh, who belonged to BLA’s Majeed Brigade, was the first Baloch woman suicide bomber.

Indeed, among the major Baloch insurgent groups, such as the Baloch Republican Army (BRA), Balochistan Liberation Front (BLF), Balochistan Liberation Tigers (BLT) and United Baloch Army (UBA), BLA has been leading from the front in recent times. Since January 2022, different Baloch groups have carried out at least 68 attacks, out of which BLA alone was responsible for 36.

Comprised mostly of Marri and Bugti tribe members, BLA was formed in response to the growing resentment in Balochistan over the continuous Government exploitation of the province’s natural resources and the neglect of development and welfare. The group has about 6,000 cadre spread across Balochistan and in the bordering areas of Afghanistan. It is currently led by Hyrbyair Marri who is in exile in London. Bashir Zeb Baloch is the ‘commander-in-chief’ of the outfit.

BLA is the only Baloch groups with a dedicated suicide squad, the Majeed Brigade. The Majeed Brigade is named after two brothers, Majeed Langove Senior and Majeed Langove Junior, who carried out suicide attacks in August 1974 and March 2010, respectively. Majeed Senior tried to assassinate then Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto when he was on an official visit to Quetta. He wanted to the Prime Minister for his dismissal of the National Awami Party’s government in Balochistan, but Majeed Senior lost his life during the operation. Majeed Junior ‘sacrificed’ himself to save his associates when SFs raided the house where they were staying in Quetta’s Wahdat Colony. Majeed Junior held back the SF raiders to give his associates time to escape. Following Majeed Junior’s death, a BLA leader, Aslam Achu, established the insurgent group’s suicide squad, and named it the Majeed Brigade, currently led by Hammal Rehan Baloch. The Brigade carried out its first vehicle-borne suicide attack on December 30, 2011, when Baaz Khan Marri targeted tribal elder Shafiq Mengal, son of former acting Chief Minister and Federal Minister Naseer Mengal, on the Arbab Karam Khan Road in Quetta. Shafeeq, who had run a ‘death squad’ targeting Baloch insurgents in different parts of the province, escaped unhurt, but 14 persons, including women and children, were killed, and 35 others were injuries.

Subsequently, the Majeed Brigade went into dormancy due to lack of funds and recruits, and it took the group seven years to carry out its second suicide attack, when a bus carrying Chinese engineers was targeted in Dalbadin in August 11, 2018. Aslam Achu’s 22-year-old son, Rehan Aslam Baloch, executed the attack. Majeed Brigade suicide bombers also hit the Chinese Consulate in Karachi (November 23, 2018); Gwadar’s Pearl Continental Hotel (May 11, 2019); and the Pakistan Stock Exchange (June 29, 2020).

Apart from Majeed Brigade, BLA has a formed STOS, which works directly under Bashir Zeb Baloch. and is tasked to monitor and eliminate Army officers and their local collaborators. Recently, on July 13, 2022, STOS abducted Lieutenant Colonel Laiq Baig Mirza along with his cousin Umer Javed, near the Warchoom area of Ziarat District. BLA ‘spokesperson’ Jeeyand Baloch claimed that Mirza was ‘arrested’ in an ‘intelligence-based operation’ for his direct involvement in the Baloch genocide, and grave human rights violations, including enforced disappearances of women and children, among other crimes. Mirza was later killed when an Army Quick Reaction Forces team tried to rescue him. Two days later, his cousin Umer Javed’s body was recovered.

One of the longest surviving Baloch insurgent groups, BLA has increased its operations against SFs and ‘state agents’. The outfit is likely to intensify its operations in days to come, justifying the escalation on the grounds that the Pakistani state has failed to meet the genuine demands of the Baloch people.

Views expressed are personal

How Europe Has Navigated Its Energy Crises

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While European energy prices have eased slightly in recent months, stress continues to build across a continent that has long been dependent on access to cheap Russian energy.

Protests related to high energy costs have been held from Belgium to the Czech Republic in Europe. Fuel shortages have led to long queues to buy petrol at gas stations in France. The Don’t Pay UK movement has urged British citizens to enter a “bill strike” by refusing to pay energy bills until gas and electricity prices are reduced to an “affordable level.” Europe’s remarkably high energy prices have also fueled climate change protests across the continent.

European governments have resorted to diverse measures to manage the crisis. After the EU banned Russian coal imports, coal regulations were reduced in Poland, which has led to illegal coal mines being operated in the country. Aid packages, such as Austria’s 1.3 billion euro initiative, aim to help companies struggling with mounting energy costs. The UK “has capped the price of average household energy bills at 2,500 pounds ($2,770) a year for two years from October” and also announced a cap on energy per unit for businesses, charities, and NGOs in September.

Italy has shown considerable capability in diversifying its energy imports from Russia since the beginning of the year to reduce its dependence on the Kremlin. Under former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Italy began to increase its reliance on Russian energy, a process that continued even after his election defeat in 2011 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.

This reliance came to an abrupt end after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. Italy signed natural gas deals with Egypt and Algeria in April and held additional talks with the Republic of Congo and Angola regarding energy supplies as well. In June, Italy also purchased two additional liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessels, adding to the three LNG terminals it already operates, to further diversify its natural gas (gas for short) supplies.

Not all countries, however, have matched Italy’s success of diversifying their energy imports. France declared it would cap power and gas price increases for households at 15 percent in 2023. But since more than half of France’s 56 nuclear reactors have been shut down for maintenance (Europe’s summer drought also prevented the water-based cooling systems of the French nuclear plants from functioning), France will struggle with mounting energy costs as well as upholding its traditional role as an electricity exporter to other European countries.

Like other European countries, Germany chose to nationalize some of its major energy companies, such as Uniper in September. In October, the German government proposed a 200 billion euro energy subsidies initiative. With gas storage projected to reach 95 percent capacity by November, Germany has also provided itself with significant protection.

But Germany lacks LNG infrastructure and remains vulnerable if Russia cuts off gas through pipelines completely. Currently, Germany is at level two of the country’s three-tier emergency gas plan, with the last stage introducing direct government intervention in gas distribution and rationing.

Because Germany makes the largest contributions of funds to the EU, its economic vulnerability poses concerning implications for the rest of the bloc. And in addition to suffering from gas shortages, Central European countries will “also suffer from the effects of gas rationing in the German industrial sector, given their integration into German supply chains.” Such uncertainty has blunted investment in the region, further compounding Europe’s economic issues.

These issues have underlined the perception that while Russian coal has been relatively easy to ban in Europe and Russian oil is slowly being phased out, Russian natural gas remains too important for much of the continent’s energy mix to be shunned completely.

Dozens of ships carrying LNG have been stuck off Europe’s coast, as the plants “that convert the seaborne fuel back to gas are operating at maximum limit.” High gas prices have meanwhile resulted in key industries across Europe that are reliant on the energy source to shut down, sparking fears of “uncontrolled deindustrialization.”

In addition to national strategies, European countries have pursued collective initiatives to confront the energy crisis. On September 27, Norway, Denmark, and Poland officially opened the Baltic Pipe to supply Poland with natural gas. On October 1, Greece and Bulgaria began commercial operation of the Interconnector Greece-Bulgaria (IGB) pipeline, which serves as another link in the Western-backed Southern Gas Corridor project to bring natural gas from Azerbaijan to Europe.

On October 13, France began sending Germany natural gas for the first time, based on an agreement that “Germany would generate more electricity to supply France during times of peak consumption.” The European Council stated on September 30 that EU states will implement “a voluntary overall reduction target of 10 percent of gross electricity consumption and a mandatory reduction target of 5 percent of the electricity consumption in peak hours.”

Additionally, the EU continues to debate imposing a price cap on Russian gas to the EU, and the G7 countries and its allies agreed on September 2 to implement a price cap on Russian crude oil and oil products in December 2022 and February 2023, respectively.

Germany, however, has led criticism over the “proposal to cap the price on all gas imports to the EU,” stating that the EU lacks the authority to do so, alongside expressing concerns that gas providers will simply sell gas to other countries. Norway, traditionally Europe’s second-largest gas provider after Russia, also indicated it would not accept a cap on gas, and Russia stated it would not sell oil or gas to countries doing so either. The resulting restrictions in energy supply would likely further raise prices.

European countries also remain bound by their own interests, further undermining multilateral cooperation. Croatia, for example, announced it would ban natural gas exports in September. Many European countries have criticized Germany’s planned 200 billion euro subsidies plan for fear that it “could trigger economic imbalances in the bloc.” Germany, meanwhile, declared it would not support a joint EU debt issuance on October 11, only later agreeing to the measures out of pressure from its European allies.

In September, the UK accused the EU of pushing British energy prices higher by severing energy cooperation following Brexit. The U.S. and Norway have also been singled out by EU members for profiting off the current energy crisis.

Varying levels of vulnerability have resulted in some European countries breaking with the continental norm and negotiating with Russia. Serbia, which is not in NATO or part of the EU, signed its own natural gas deal with Russia in May, while Hungary drew the ire of Western allies by signing its own gas deal with Russia in August. Hungary was among the first European countries to agree to purchase Russian natural gas in rubles, stabilizing the Russian currency as sanctions were placed on the Russian economy. If the crisis worsens considerably, other countries may follow suit.

As Europe’s energy crisis has continued, many countries across the world have become increasingly wary. European demand for LNG and a willingness to pay premiums has meant suppliers are increasingly rerouting gas to the continent.

Though rich competitors like South Korea and Japan have been able to contend with European competition for LNG, it has caused shortages elsewhere. Bangladesh and Pakistan, for example, have struggled to secure their traditional LNG imports since the beginning of the Russian invasion. Blackouts in these countries have increased, causing them to resort to more carbon-intensive energy alternatives and prompting renewed talks with Russia over LNG imports and developing pipeline networks to supply natural gas to Asia.

Europe’s decades-long exposure to Russian energy means that its current energy crisis will persist for years. Even with predictions for a relatively mild upcoming winter, overcoming this energy crisis will require cooperation and sacrifice among European states—particularly if the war in Ukraine escalates further. While the West’s solidarity will be put to the test, poorer, energy-vulnerable countries will continue to fall victim as a result of the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This article was produced by Globetrotter.

Europe: Shrinking Within

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Absolutely remarkable, Western media’s determination to ignore the recent Baltic Sea detonations, which knocked out the Nord Stream I and II gas pipelines. A major piece of Europe’s energy infrastructure, the joint property of Germany and Russia, has been destroyed. Any chance that Russian gas transmissions westward will be resumed is off the table. The Continent is now sent on a desperate search for new sources of natural gas, inevitably at higher prices. I cannot think of many stories that are more significant.

The Western press and broadcasters have reported next to nothing about this momentous development since the September 26 explosions.And it is now clear that the media’s silence reflects a larger silence. On October 14, Reuters reported that Sweden has declined to participate in a joint investigation with Germany and Denmark. German television reported that the Danes also dropped out. Now we have a German minister stating his government knows who is responsible for the attack but cannot say who it is. In all three cases, the explanation is the same: This matter is too sensitive to pursue and doing so risks “national security.”

So: There will be no joint investigation of the Nord Stream I and II incident. And whatever Sweden and the others may discover on their own, they have no intention of telling the world about it.

Unless you are given to parlor games that never end, it is nearly impossible to avoid concluding that the U.S. was either directly responsible for the Nord Stream I and II sabotage or supervised those who were. If national security is at issue, it is plain that the Russians had nothing to do with it and equally plain that the culpable entity is nominally allied with Germany but has no fundamental respect for its interests.

It is notable that Stockholm and Copenhagen have decided to shut up about what happened off a Danish island close to Germany’s Baltic Sea coast. It is shocking that Berlin has done so. Somebody just blew up a project worth €11 billion, $10.8 billion, that Germany set in motion and in which it has a majority share. In effect, the Federal Republic has chosen to stand with what is almost certainly a state actor as said actor impugned its sovereignty and destroyed not only its property but also its energy-sourcing alternatives.

What are we looking at here?

My answer comes with a long story—the truly big story Western media have left unreported.

It is the story of how Europe has bowed supinely to America’s dictates since the Cold War decades, even when this does the Continent harm. Lately, it is the story of the disastrous toll the U.S.–led campaign against Russia via its proxy in Ukraine is taking on European societies and economies. And now we must wonder whether the story that began long ago turns out to end with the destruction altogether of Europe as an independent pole of power with a voice of its own and—just as important, to my mind—of “Europe” as an idea and an ideal.

“We are risking a massive deindustrialization of the European continent,” Belgium’s prime minister, Alexander De Croo, told the Financial Times recently.

Europe’s creeping economic ruin is the most immediate, tangible casualty of the war in Ukraine the U.S. provoked and the sanctions regime against Russia the U.S. leads and the European Union backs. The nearly incredible refusal of Germany and its neighbors to stick up for themselves on the pipeline question suggests that the larger consequence is the final collapse of all pretense that Europe is other than a collection of vassal states subservient to the U.S., even at the expense of their own citizens.

Think about this the next time the Biden administration bangs on about the sanctity of Ukraine’s sovereignty.

I was long among those who wondered with a certain measure of hope when Europeans would speak up and act according to what they determined was best for themselves. I spent decades at this. Yes, I remember thinking, the Continent is done with the Cold War binary Washington forced on the world. Yes, I thought more recently, Europeans will refuse to support the sanctions Washington imposed on Russia after the U.S.–cultivated coup in Ukraine in 2014. German businesses didn’t want them. The Greeks and Italians didn’t either. But when they came up for renewal every six months, as required by E.U. rules, they went through anyway.

Then Emmanuel Macron came along. When he hosted the Group of 7 in Biarritz three years ago, the French president tried on his de Gaulle act, declaring that Russia was inevitably part of Europe’s destiny and the Continent must find its own relationship with its vast eastern neighbor.

Yes, I said again, failing to see that Macron is little more than a squeaky weather vane mounted grandly atop the European barn.

No was the answer in these and many other cases.

This topic came up some years ago during an interview I did with Perry Anderson, the British writer and publisher. Why can’t Europe find its voice? I asked. Anderson had an interesting reply.

The last generation of European leaders with any experience of acting independently of the U.S.—Churchill, Anthony Eden, de Gaulle, et al.—passed into history during the early part of the Cold War, Anderson astutely pointed out. No generation since has any experience other than as dependents sheltering under the American security umbrella. They know nothing else. They have never spoken in voices of their own.

This is not to say Europe has been entirely at ease. By the mid–Cold War years there were signs aplenty that Europeans were restive within the trans–Atlantic relationship as Washington had fashioned it. De Gaulle withdrew French forces from the NATO command in 1963. Three years later he ordered NATO to close all its bases on French soil. Three more years after that, in 1969, Germany premiered its Ostpolitik. Another year on, Willy Brandt became the first German chancellor to meet an East German leader, Willi Stoph.

Let us not forget what was going on in the streets. If you do not understand les événements of 1968 in Paris and elsewhere as in part a protest against the American-imposed world order, you do not understand 1968.

But Washington, flush with its post–1945 primacy in global affairs, had learned well by this time how to coerce its friends with a toothy American grin and whatever was required by way of money, bribes, fixed elections, political subterfuge, and all the rest. It had a nasty gift for force-marching Europeans to keep them in line with the Cold War crusade, their barely submerged disquiet notwithstanding.

So were those of us who wanted to see a freestanding Europe, in its way a bridge between West and East, so often disappointed. And so came my question to Perry Anderson only a few years ago: How come this?

And here we are with methane bubbling up in the Baltic Sea from what the BBC reports to be a breach of 50 meters, 164 feet, in the Nord Stream pipelines. Assuming American culpability of one or another kind in this crime—as I do not care for parlor games, I make this assumption pending evidence—there is a straight line between Washington’s capricious abuses of European sovereignty during the Cold War and the events of September 26. A nation that licenses itself to intrude into Europe’s affairs without more than murmured protests is a nation that will think little of wrecking an expensive piece of European infrastructure. And a Continent that bowed down for decades during the Cold War is a Continent that dares not say a word about it.

Europe’s goose seems cooked on the energy side now. Saad al–Kaabi, the Qatari energy minister said in an Oct. 18 interview with the Financial Times that for Europe to go without Russian gas will doom it indefinitely to economic decline and widespread suffering. If “zero Russian gas” flows into the EU, he said, “I think the problem is going to be huge and for a very long time.”

Post–Nord Stream Europe is now at the mercy of hard-bargained contracts in the open market, where it will never match the price at which Russian gas would have flowed under the Baltic Sea to Germany. Or it can make agreements with Turkey, as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan arranges with Moscow to turn Turkey into a depot for Russian energy exports. Let’s put it this way: You don’t want to buy a used car from the Turkish president, never mind a multibillion-dollar energy supply.

And leave it to the Americans. Macron, Robert Habeck, who is vice-chancellor and climate minister in the Scholz government, and other European leaders are already complaining that American LNG due to arrive at European terminals is priced four times higher than what it goes for in the U.S. market.

It has been clear since the Nord Stream question broke into the open during the Trump administration that capturing the European natural gas market from Russia was part of what drove Washington’s vicious opposition to the completion of Nord Stream II. But we have to think in larger terms to explain so bold a move as the Baltic Sea detonations.

This is another part of the story that extends far back. As much as Washington feared the Russian bear, it fretted at least as much and possibly more about all those European impulses to achieve a stable settlement with the Sovs—Ostpolitik, what was called convergence, a “third way,” and other such notions. The true enemy was a threat greater than the Soviet Union: It was the gravitational pull of the Eurasian landmass and the perfectly logical thought that a sovereign Europe would find its destiny as its westernmost flank.

Preventing this by whatever means has been a submerged feature of Washington’s trans–Atlantic policy for decades. This is why a gas pipeline took on so immense a significance for the U.S. and why “whatever means” just computed out to a gross international crime and a full-frontal attack on European interests.

To turn the gaze forward, the most discouraging aspect of the Nord Stream incident is a tie between two grim realities. On the one hand, it seems clear now the U.S. is emboldened to do anything it likes to the Europeans to preserve its power over them, and on the other it seems just as clear the Europeans will take it in the way of the Stockholm syndrome.

Originally published in Scheer Post

China: Xi’s third term – Challenges as Opportunities

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Even as Xi Jinping was promising China’s Communist Party’s national congress that China would “resolutely win the battle” in key areas of technology, employees of technology companies in China and elsewhere were being told to down tools. Dozens of the hundreds of executives and engineers with US citizenship or green cards who work in or with China’s semiconductor sector, many of them born in China, have been told by their employers – whether those are foreign or Chinese companies – to stop work while their employers seek clarification of a new US rule that bars US citizens and residents from supporting China’s advanced chip-making industry without a licence.

It is now crystal clear that the US, enabled by a bipartisan consensus in Washington, is determined to stop China upgrading technologically.  This has massive implications for Beijing’s ambitions in areas such as artificial intelligence and autonomous driving.  The new Chips Act introduced by the Biden administration is accompanied by a 139-page report released by the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security.   

The report targets not only US companies’ involvement in selling tech products to China but also US persons (i.e. anyone with a US passport or green card). This puts the many founders of Chinese tech companies who were educated in the US, and acquired a US passport on the way, in a seemingly difficult position. It will also make it much harder for Chinese tech companies to attract talent. Similarly, R&D laboratories set up by some Chinese companies in the US now look vulnerable. Alibaba has research labs in Seattle and Silicon Valley while Tencent also has a research lab in Seattle. And US pressure will be brought to bear to stop Holland’s ASML and Japanese companies from supplying China.

All of the above makes it clear the extent to which China is now treated as “an enemy” of the US.  This goes far beyond what used to be called “containment”. It also raises the issue of how long Beijing continues to turn the other cheek since, so far, it has done nothing to make life difficult for American companies operating in China, save for its Covid restrictions, on the view that it wants to keep encouraging foreign direct investment.

The US move on chips also has big implications for TSMC and other Taiwan companies given the amount of semiconductors Taiwan exports to the mainland. Taiwan’s chip (integrated circuits) exports to China totaled $155bn in 2021 and $105bn in the first eight months of 2022, and accounted for 36% and 38%, respectively, of total Chinese chip imports.  Indeed, the most interesting aspect of Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan trip in early August was her meeting with TSMC founder Morris Chang and chairman Mark Liu, most particularly in the context of legislation on semiconductors passed by Congress in late July which will provide $52.7bn in subsidies to encourage chip manufacturers to build factories in America.

TSMC is already building a fab in Arizona. Construction of the factory started in June 2021 and its main facility is now reportedly completed, while production is scheduled to begin in 2024. Under the chips legislation TSMC will be required to transfer its technology to the US.

Unlike previous attempts by the Trump and Biden administrations to target specific Chinese companies from accessing advanced technologies (the ban of Huawei was the classic example), the new rules effectively cover every Chinese entity. They, or their US or foreign suppliers, will have to apply for a licence to gain or provide access to advanced chip technologies.

If the US strategy does prove effective – and the response of a wide range of non-Chinese companies operating in the sector in freezing dealings with China suggests it could be – it would cut China off from the critical building blocks of most 21st century technologies.

Why is the US applying these drastic measures against China’s trade and technology?  It’s the fear that China could become not just a manufacturing and import source for US consumers, but a rival in every area to US hegemony over the world economy.

What particularly triggered this new policy on China by the US was the global financial crash and the Great Recession.  Under its state-controlled model, China survived and expanded while Western capitalism collapsed. China was fast becoming not just a cheap labour manufacturing and export economy, but a high technology, urbanised society with ambitions to extend its political and economic influence, even beyond East Asia.  That was too much for the increasingly weak imperialist economies.  

The US and other G7 nations have lost ground to China in manufacturing, and their reliance on Chinese inputs for their own manufacturing has risen, while China’s reliance on G7 inputs has fallen.

According to a recent report by Goldman Sachs, China’s digital economy is already large, accounting for almost 40% of GDP and fast growing, contributing more than 60% of GDP growth in recent years. “And there is ample room for China to further digitalize its traditional sectors”.  China’s IT share of GDP climbed from 2.1% in 2011Q1 to 3.8% in 2021Q1. Although China still lags the US, Europe, Japan and South Korea in its IT share of GDP, the gap has been narrowing over time. No wonder, the US and other capitalist powers are intensifying their efforts to contain China’s technological expansion.

China has spent more than $100 bn to fast-track the development of a domestic chip-making industry.  It is a critical component of its “Made in China 2025 program,” which set out China’s plans to dominate artificial intelligence, autonomous vehicles, next-gen information technology, telecommunications, advanced robotics and aerospace, among other technology-related sectors by 2049.

So the US strategy changed.  If China was not going to play ball with imperialism and open up its economy completely to foreign investment and continue to expand its technology base to compete with the US, then it had to be stopped.  The recently deceased Jude Woodward wrote an excellent book describing this strategy of containment that began even before Trump launched his trade tariff war with China on taking the US presidency in 2016.  Trump’s policy, at first regarded as reckless by other governments, is now being adopted across the board, after the failure of the imperialist countries to protect lives during the pandemic.

The aim is to weaken China’s economy and destroy its influence and perhaps achieve ‘regime change’.  Blocking trade with tariffs; blocking technology access for China and their exports; applying sanctions on Chinese companies; and turning debtors against China; this may all be costly to imperialist economies.  But the cost may be worth it, if China can be broken and US hegemony secured.

The CPC congress emphasized China’s response.  “We must adhere to science and technology as the number-one productive force, talent as the number-one resource, [and] innovation as the number-one driving force.”.  SoBeijing sees the decision to try to freeze Chinese domestic manufacturing above a defined level of technological advancement as deeply provocative. Forcing China to rely on foreign production for the latest and greatest chips plays exactly into Xi’s fear of “technological vassaldom.”  So China is moving towards a more self-reliant growth model.

That is the basis of what the Xi leadership calls a ‘dual circulation’ development mode, where trade and investment abroad is combined with production for the huge domestic market. 

The dual circulation model was first formally announced at a Politburo meeting in May 2020 and sets out a rebalancing of the Chinese economy away from “international circulation” (the first kind of circulation on which China has relied, namely, reliance on external demand as a stimulus to growth) towards “domestic circulation,” or increasing self-dependence.

The political hot spot for intense conflict between the US and China is Taiwan.  Taiwan (Formosa) was taken over by fleeing Nationalist forces in China after the Chinese communists won the civil war and took control in 1949.  From the beginning, the Chinese Communist government and the United Nations recognised Taiwan as part of China.  But from the beginning, the Nationalists were backed by the US with funds and arms, first with the aim of overthrowing the Communists on the mainland and later, when that became impossible, to maintain the island’s autonomy from China.  And since the rise of the Chinese economy, the US and the rest of the imperialist bloc has encouraged moves by the Taiwanese to build and confirm total independence.  Taiwan could then become a permanent thorn in China’s side and also the launchpad for military operations against Beijing in the future.

The Russia invasion of Ukraine has given the US and NATO the excuse to intensify the economic, political and military encirclement of China with Taiwan as its hub.  By the broadest definition of military intervention, the US has engaged in nearly 400 military interventions between 1776 and 2019, with half of these operations occurring since 1950 and over 25% occurring in the post-Cold War period. these interventions have revolved around economy, territory, social protection, regime change, protection of US citizens and diplomats, policy change, empire, and regime building.  The US backed by an extended NATO, no longer confined to the Atlantic seaboard, sees China as the next area for ‘intervention’ down the road.

The Western media helps by continually talking of China’s so-called ‘aggressive behaviour’ and its crimes against human rights.  Whatever the truth in those charges, they are easily matched by the crimes of imperialism in the last century alone: the occupation and massacre of millions of Chinese by Japanese imperialism in 1937; the continual gruesome wars post-1945 conducted by imperialism against the Vietnamese people, Latin America and the proxy wars in Africa and Syria, as well as the more recent invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and the appalling nightmare in Yemen by the disgusting US-backed regime in Saudi Arabia etc.  And don’t forget the horrific poverty and inequality that weighs for billions under the imperialist mode of production.

But the economic and political conflict between China and the US is the major geopolitical issue of the 21st century – much larger than the Russia-Ukraine war.  US National Security advisor Jake Sullivan summed it up recently.  “This is a decisive decade… in which the terms of our competition with the People’s Republic of China will be set.”He continued: “The PRC’s assertiveness at home and abroad is advancing an illiberal vision across economic, political, security, and technological realms in competition with the west,”  China must be stopped because “It is the only competitor (to the US) with the intent to reshape the international order and the growing capacity to do it.

China is at a crossroads in its development. Its capitalist sector has deepening problems with profitability and debt.  But the current leadership has pledged to continue with its state-directed economic model and autocratic political control.  And it seems determined to resist the new policy of ‘containment’ emanating from the so-called ‘liberal democracies’. The trade, technology and political ‘cold war’ is set to heat up over the rest of this decade, while the planet heats up too.

Views expressed are personal. Click here to read the author’s personal blog, where this piece as a part of a series was originally published

Russia’s homage to Nord Stream pipelines

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David Brinkley, the legendary American newscaster with a career that spanned an amazing fifty-four years from World War II once said that a successful man is one who can lay a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at him. How many American statesmen ever practised this noble thought inherited from Jesus Christ remains doubtful.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s stunning proposal to Turkish President Recep Erdogan to build a gas pipeline to Turkiye to create an international hub from which Russian gas can be supplied to Europe breathes fresh life into this very “Gandhian” thought.

Putin discussed the idea with Erdogan at their meeting in Astana on October 13 and since spoke about it at the Russian Energy Week forum last week where he proposed creating the largest gas hub in Europe in Turkey and redirecting the volume of gas, the transit of which is no longer possible through the Nord Stream, to this hub.

Putin said it may imply building another gas pipeline system to feed the hub in Turkiye, through which gas will be supplied to third countries, primarily European ones, “if they are interested.”

Prima facie, Putin does not expect any positive response from Berlin to his standing proposal to use the string of the Nord Stream 2, which remained undamaged, to supply 27.5 billion cu. metres of gas through the winter months. Germany’s deafening silence is understandable. Chancellor Off Scholz is terrified about President Biden’s wrath.

Berlin says it knows who sabotaged the Nord Stream pipelines but won’t reveal it as it affects Germany’s national security! Sweden too pleads that the matter is far too sensitive for it to share the evidence it has collected with any country, including Germany! Biden has put the fear of God into the minds of these timid European “allies” who have been left in no doubt what is good for them! The western media too is ordered to play down Nord Steam saga so that with the passage of time, public memory will fade away.

However, Russia has done its homework that Europe cannot do without Russia gas, the present bravado of self-denial notwithstanding. Simply put, the European industries depend on cheap, reliable supplies of Russian for their products to remain competitive in the world market.

Qatar’s energy minister Saad al-Kaabi said last week that he cannot envisage a future where “zero Russian gas” flows to Europe. He noted acerbically, “ If that’s the case, then I think the problem is going to be huge and for a very long time. You just don’t have enough volume to bring (in) to replace that (Russian) gas for the long term, unless you’re saying ‘I’m going to be building huge nuclear (plants), I’m going to allow coal, I’m going to burn fuel oils.’”

Quintessentially, Russia plans to replace its gas hub in Haidach in Austria (which Austrians seized in July.) Conceivably, the hub in Turkiye has a ready market in Southern Europe, including Greece and Italy. But there is more to it than meets the eye.

Succinctly put, Putin has made a strategic move in the geopolitics of gas. His initiative rubbishes the hare-brained idea of the Russophobic European Commission bureaucrats in Brussels, headed by Ursula von der Leyen, to impose a price cap on gas purchases. It makes nonsense of the US’ and EU’s plans to put down Russia’s profile as a gas superpower.

Logically, the next step for Russia should be to align with Qatar, the world’s second biggest gas exporter. Qatar is a close ally of Turkey, too. At Astana recently, on the sidelines of the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Putin held a closed-door meeting with the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. They agreed to follow up with another meeting soon in Russia.

Russia already has a framework of cooperation with Iran in a number of joint projects in the oil and gas industry. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak recently disclosed plans to conclude an oil and gas swap deal with Iran by the end of the year. He said that “technical details are being worked out – issues of transport, logistics, price, and tariff formation.”

Now, Russia, Qatar and Iran together account for more than half of the world’s entire proven gas reserves. Time is approaching for them to intensify cooperation and coordination on the pattern of the OPEC Plus. All three countries are represented in the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF).

Putin’s proposal appeals to Turkiye’s longstanding dream to become an energy hub at the doorstep of Europe. Unsurprisingly, Erdogan instinctively warmed up to Putin’s proposal. Addressing the ruling party members in the Turkish parliament this week, Erdogan said, “In Europe they are now dealing with the question of how to stay warm in the coming winter. We don’t have such a problem. We have agreed with Vladimir Putin to create a gas hub in our country, through which natural gas, as he says, can be delivered to Europe. Thus, Europe will order gas from Turkey.”

Apart from strengthening own energy security, Turkiye also can contribute to Europe’s. No doubt, Turkiye’s importance will take a quantum leap in the EU foreign policy calculus, while also strengthening its strategic autonomy in regional politics. This is a huge step forward in Erdogan’s geo-strategy — the geographic direction of Turkish foreign policy under his watch.

From the Russian viewpoint, of course, Turkiye’s strategic autonomy and its grit to pursue independent foreign policies works splendidly for Moscow in the present conditions of western sanctions. Conceivably, Russian companies will start viewing Turkiye as a production base where western technologies become accessible. Turkiye has a customs union agreement with the EU, which completely removes customs duties on all industrial goods of Turkish origin. (See my blog Russia-Turkey reset eases regional tensions, Aug 9, 2022)

In geopolitical terms, Moscow is comfortable with Turkiye’s NATO membership. Clearly, the proposed gas hub brings much additional income to Turkiye and will impart greater stability and predictability to the Russia-Turkey relations. Indeed, the strategic links that tie the two countries together are steadily lengthening — the S-400 ABM deal, cooperation in Syria, the Akkuyu Nuclear Power Plant, Turk-stream gas pipeline, to name a few.

The two countries candidly admit that they have differences of opinion, but the way Putin and Erdogan through constructive diplomacy keep turning adverse circumstances into windows of opportunity for “win-win” cooperation is simply amazing.

It does need ingenuity to get the US’ European allies source Russian gas without any coercion or boorishness even after Washington buried the Nord Stream gas pipelines in the depths of the Baltic Sea. There is dramatic irony that a NATO power is partnering Russia in this direction.

The US foreign policy elite drawn from East European stock are rendered speechless by the sheer sophistication of the Russian ingenuity to bypass without any trace of rancour the shabby way the US and its allies — Germany and Sweden, in particular — slammed the door shut on Moscow to even take a look at the damaged multi-billion dollar pipelines that it had built in good faith in the depths of the Baltic Sea at the instance of two German chancellors, Gerhard Schroeder and Angela Merkel.

The current German leadership of Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks very foolish and cowardly– and provincial. The European Commission’s Ursula von der Leyen gets a huge rebuff in all this which will ultimately define her tragic legacy in Brussels as a flag carrier for American interests. This becomes probably the first case study for historians on how multipolarity will work in the world order.

Views expressed are personal. Click here to read the author’s personal blog

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