With much attention being given to the passage of the 2015 USA Freedom Act, there is some odd silence about what the bill actually contains. Pundits from every corner identify the demise of section 215 of the Patriot Act (the section that permits the government to acquire and obtain bulk telephony meta data). While the bill does in fact do this, now requiring a “specific selection term” to be utilized instead of bulk general trolling, and it hands over the holding of such data to the agents who hold it anyway (the private companies). Indeed, the new Freedom Act even “permits” amicus curiae for the Foreign Surveillance and Intelligence Court, though the judges of the court are not required to have the curiae present and can block their participation if they deem it reasonable. In any event, while some ring in the “win” for Edward Snowden and privacy rights, another interesting piece of this bill has passed virtually unnoticed: extending “maritime safety” rights and enacting specific provisions against nuclear terrorism.
This is a guest post by Grant Dawson, assistant professor of social science and international politics at The University of Nottingham, Ningbo, China and Cyrus Janssen is an American expat based in Asia.
The global order established by the West and led by the US since 1945 is gradually changing. China and the ‘rising Rest’ are catching-up to the US and the West in terms of economic and political power. Unfortunately, as was clear during the Hong Kong protests, the West’s ideas and attitudes about China are not keeping pace, and may lead to misunderstandings that undermine political relations during a crucial transitional period for everyone.
Here was my Tweet the other day. Today we have an answer.
If you went to bed early on Tuesday night, you might have missed some very big news out of Obama-Xi meeting in Beijing, other than announcements on trade and regional security. I’m talking about the potentially momentous bilateral agreement on climate change where China announced for the first time a date — “around 2030″ — for peak greenhouse gas emissions and the United States announced a 2025 emissions reduction target. This is big news, potentially changing the entire international dynamic going in to next year’s climate negotiations in Paris (and interim negotiations in Lima later this year).
With the two countries responsible for more than 40% of greenhouse gas emissions making a significant joint push, the pressure will be on other big emitting countries, namely India, Canada, Japan, and Australia to fall in to line and be constructive players themselves. It will be interesting to see how this changes the domestic context for the United States where President Obama may use existing regulatory authority and executive action to press the policy agenda, but it’s unclear if that will be enough to meet the ambitious 2025 goals. China for its part may be on track anyway to meet that 2030 peak target, but the real question is, as I’ve written before (here and here), how far it can go to move away from coal. Read on for full linkages to press coverage, Kerry’s op-ed in the New York Times, reflections from Brad Plumer, and the White House announcement that includes more detail on expanded technical cooperation. Continue reading
Last week, the Economist reported on the expanding sway of Christianity in China. While the numbers are difficult to pin down, The Economist reports that some argue that the number of Christians in China exceeds the number of official members of the Chinese Communist Party (87 million). What we are witnessing in China then is a dramatic shift in the constitution of domestic social systems in China as religion in general and Christianity in particular increasingly inform conceptions of what it means to be ‘Chinese’ and the accompanying systems of meaning.
From the vantage point of many in the US, the rise of Christianity in China is welcome news. Discourses about China, particularly those propagated by Republicans, occasionally highlight the ‘atheist’ nature of the Chinese regime. More broadly, the prevalence of discourses of Christian identity in the United States suggests the possibility of an emerging identity dynamic. As Chinese come to understand themselves as ‘Christian’, a harmonization in the identity dynamics between the US and China might occur as both come to see themselves as past of the same societal ingroup. This harmonization may be accelerated if tensions within China between the dominant Han ethnic group (where Christianity is growing fastest according to the Economist) and Tibetian and Uighur minorities (many of whom are Buddhist and Muslim respectively) increase. These tensions may then serve to activate the Christian/non-Christian identity duality in China, which could strengthen relations between China and at least some elements of American society. This in turn might provide some resilience to what has been and seems an increasingly fraught Sino-American relationship.
These hopes might be very premature and in fact misplaced. The function of identity in shaping socio-political relations is a product of activation and content, and on both counts Christian identity might not bind the US and China together as much as the case above suggests.
At least in the United States, and probably into the indefinite future for China, Christianity identity is not an identity that functions in the political realm (as compared to democracy in the US case or Maoism in China). That is, identity may inform the identities of some actors in both places, but a broader Christian identity does not function as a basis for understanding political behavior. For example, American politicians do not regularly invoke Christian identity to justify elements of foreign policy. Where such an invocation arises (e.g. George Bush’s use of the term crusade and religious laden language after September 11, 2001) controversy follows. Thus in the US, Christian identity is contested as a basis for understanding appropriate behavior and for establishing expectations of the self and others. That is, Christian identity does not provide a set of guidelines that govern political interaction because it does not provide a basis for political behavior expectations or political meaning-making. This in turn means that Christian identity would provide little basis for resolving political conflicts between the US and China—which predominate the relationship today and for the foreseeable future.
It may be that shared religious identity operates in the political background, generating a basic level of societal ease. Even if this is the case, the evangelical nature (as reported by the Economist) of Chinese Christian identity may prevent shared identity from operating in that way. If Chinese Christians see American Christians as wayward or even apostate members of the ingroup, that could further fuel, rather than ease, tensions between the states (see for example relations between Shi’a Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia–both Islamic states, but both at odds in part due to differences in the content of their religious identities). Thus the content of the identity has implications for the activation of the identity as well as how the identity functions, including corporate elements (who is part of the ingroup and who is not). Thus, scholars will have to be very careful in assessing what role the important changes in China’s social fabric will have on its relations with the rest of the world.
In the lead up to the APEC summit about to start this week in Beijing, China’s leadership undertook a series of emergency measures to avoid the continued embarrassment of a string of poor air quality days that had bedeviled the country over the previous year. The government reinstated the familiar practice of restricting car travel to certain days of the week based on license plate numbers. Government workers and schools were closed for an “APEC holiday” to reduce traffic. Factories have been ordered to shut down during the summit. Interestingly, those plans seemingly backfired as companies anticipated the later forced work stoppages by working overtime in advance of the later down hours they would be offline during the summit.
Thus, in October when Beijing often enjoys clear skies and cool weather, the city was cloaked in a devastating haze. Some of the world’s best soccer players from Argentina and Brazil were in town for a friendly, only to be confined to their hotel rooms for most of their visit, save for training sessions that left them gasping for breath. Later in the month, photos (see above) captured the spectacle of the Beijing Marathon being run amidst this foul air, with many participants clad in elaborate gas masks as they ran the course. Of course, while foreign visitors are exposed to this pollution during short stays, this is the air quality the people of China experience all the time. A recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) concluded that seventy percent of the country’s population live in areas that exceed air pollution levels recommended by the World Health Organization. That pollution was estimated to be responsible for 670,000 premature deaths in 2012 from stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and pulmonary disease.
At this point, China’s bad air isn’t news (see my earlier posts here and here). However, China’s unfolding “war on pollution” is news and may ultimately improve both air quality and address climate change. Continue reading
This was another busy week in global politics and I’m going to highlight some of the best tweets in my Twitter feed. Before starting, however, I will acknowledge that this post is late.
I believe my excuse is pretty good as it involves lots of late night baseball. I grew up in Kansas rooting for the local team — and the Kansas City Royals are in the playoffs for the first time since winning the World Series in 1985. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday, the Royals won three consecutive extra inning games. All ended after 1 am Eastern Time. I then had to read for 30 to 45 minutes after the long and exciting games just to unwind enough to sleep.
None of those victories featured the longest game of the week. As DC residents know, the Washington Nationals lost to the San Francisco Giants 2-1 in the 18th inning. I caught a bit of that contest:
Just as the international community appeared at long last to be taking a stronger stand against Russia, President Putin upped the ante. Unlike its annexation of Crimea, Russia is now in open warfare with Ukraine on its eastern border. There is fresh evidence indicating not only that Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 was shot down by Russian-aided rebels in eastern Ukraine, but also that the Russian military has been firing missiles and artillery from its own territory at targets inside Ukraine proper. Russia has redeployed over 20,000 soldiers near the Ukrainian border.
The SA-11 mobile missile battery was supplied by Russia and crossed into Ukraine in a large Russian military convoy a week in advance of the attack, which included additional missile batteries. Radar information, wreckage from the crash, and intercepted phone calls implicate the rebels directly, as well as Russia’s involvement in the cover-up. The crash site was thoroughly tampered with by the rebels, who delayed releasing the bodies of victims and have yet to release the monitoring officials from the OSCE that they have held captive for months.
Russia decided to up the ante of its double game prior to the shooting down of Flight 17, a response to the recent gains the Ukraine military forces have been making against the pro-Russia rebels. In fact many of these rebels are not just pro-Russian, they are full-fledged Russian citizens—including some notorious bad apples that Russia previously used in not so subtle attempts to destabilize former members of the Warsaw Pact.
But just as the EU is about to drop a new sanctions hammer on Russia, the Russians have taken the Putin Doctrine to a new more dangerous level. They have transitioned from weeks of waging irregular warfare against Ukraine to low grade standard warfare, and they appear to be preparing to raise that grade and potentially invade Ukraine Georgia-style. What more crystal clear evidence could there be that western allies have yet to establish conventional deterrence vis-à-vis Russia? Continue reading
If only present day global competition were confined to the World Cup. But while eyes have turned back to a new crisis in Iraq—something I’m not exactly proud of predicting here—at least there has been progress on the Ukraine crisis, which has gone from boil to simmer in recent weeks. At this stage it has become clear that Russia has blinked, and thus will not be swallowing eastern Ukraine whole. Just as important, we now have clear as day evidence that President Putin’s gambit has failed: Ukraine has not only signed the EU trade agreement that former President Yanukovych walked away from—sparking the crisis in the first place—newly elected President Petro Poroshenko formally asked the EU to open membership negotiations with his government. In other words Msr. Putin may have purloined Crimea, but he has lost Ukraine proper.
Strategically speaking, it matters less that the EU is no longer as rosy about bringing Ukraine fully into its membership fold. After all, previously doing so was one of the major causes of the now receding crisis. It is more important that the EU signed precisely the same trade deal, with the very ink pen that Yanukovych would have used had he gone through with it last year. More important still is the fact that Ukraine continues to tilt west not east, and in landslide public opinion terms. Not only did Poroshenko achieve an electoral landslide, but there even remains a majority of citizens in eastern Ukraine that do not want to be part of Russia.
But the EU has also done something it previously had not: it threatened that a new round of much more punitive sanctions would be levied against Russia if it did not stop destabilizing eastern Ukraine by sending in mercenaries, ammunition, and major military equipment in continual violation of Ukraine’s porous border—this time with a deadline. Defying a host of predictions both in Europe and back in the U.S., German Chancellor Merkel has actually stepped up to begin providing forceful strategic leadership. The U.S. is also preparing a new more punitive round of sanctions. And Putin has foresworn any direct use of force after—blink—pulling the 40,000 Russian troops back from the border.
Predictably, however, at present the negotiations that were underway to extend the ceasefire between Ukraine and Russia—brokered by France, Germany, and the OSCE—have broken down. Poroshenko has rescinded the ceasefire, claiming rightfully that the Russofile separatists have not adhered to it (despite surprising analysts by agreeing to it in the first place). If the Ukrainian military were to make any gains in the fighting, this would lead to additional leverage at the negotiating table—which Russia is already calling for a return to. More importantly, the failure of the ceasefire at this precise point may in fact be good thing. For it will compel the EU and the U.S. to follow through on their sanctions threat, which they may have backed away from had the ceasefire lasted. More spine stiffening in the West is a good thing, something this entire crisis has in fact been good for. Continue reading
The following is a guest-post by my good friend Dave Kang of USC. Below he complements his recent TNI essay with the full flow of charts and graphics they screened out. This post is an important rejoinder to the constant assertion (think Robert Kaplan) that East Asia is on the brink of war and that everyone is freaked out by China. The thing is, East Asian military spending doesn’t actually suggest that at all…
“In a recent National Interest essay I argued that military expenditures in East Asia do not appear to be excessively high. In this post I’d like to post the figures that informed the TNI essay (for some reason, TNI made me take out all the graphics – isn’t that what the web is for?). The figures are quite vivid, and help explain why I made the fairly straightforward interpretation of the data that China’s neighbors, according to IISS and SIPRI, aren’t balancing it the way everyone says they are.
Editor’s note: this post first appeared on my personal blog.
One of this weeks big news items in international relations was the progress that China and the United States had made in their bilateral climate talks (gated but free registration available). While it is too early to say if the talks result in concrete action, this is the first time since forever that the two largest emitters are recognizing their common interest in cooperating to mitigate climate change.
What should we expect? It would be naive to believe that these talks break the gridlock of global climate negotiations. Regardless of what China and the United States discuss in the talks, the grim reality of American politics is that any legally binding climate treaty would have a tough time in the Senate. The domestic political structure of the United States makes federal climate policy, let alone treaty ratification, very hard in today’s polarized environment. Even if China accepted binding emissions targets — and that’s a big if — I would not expect Republicans to vote for, say, a national cap-and-trade policy. After all, Republicans are currently accusing the Obama administration for waging a “war on coal”.
More modest achievements are possible. Cooperation on low-carbon initiatives and renewable energy could contribute to decarbonization, facilitate technology transfer, and send a signal to the clean technology industry that there are new opportunities in the horizon. Even modest steps to this direction could encourage other countries to increase their offers in different negotiations, such as those among major emitters. While Obama’s hands are tied as long as the Congress remains polarized on climate, he has a proven track record of acting on climate through executive authority. The Chinese political constraints are less transparent, and I am not a specialist in this field, but Beijing certainly has strong incentives to deploy clean technologies to mitigate air pollution and reduce the country’s energy intensity and dependence on coal.
As long as we accept the constraints on global climate cooperation and expect only modest gains at the international level until a fundamental shift in the domestic politics of fossil fuels, the bilateral climate talks between China and the United States are welcome news. They’re not that surprising either. China’s increasing carbon dioxide emissions are changing Beijing’s position in the negotiations. While the average standard of living in China is still much lower than in industrialized countries, China’s status as the world’s largest emitter makes it difficult for the Chinese leadership to hide behind the developing country status much longer. On a good day, I would say that China’s increased willingness to negotiate is a sign of recognizing the need to for a new, more proactive strategy. The world’s two largest emitters are the most important countries in the negotiations by a wide margin, and much depends on their ability to cooperate.
“The hour is getting late…all along the watchtower, princes kept the view…two riders were approaching, the wind began to howl.”
America and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is playing the global menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe need to take more aggressive action to prevent the annexation of eastern Ukraine, and time is short. Beyond this crisis the West needs an updated defense posture, but for now the road ahead is clear.
Russia will take as much of Ukraine as the West allows, nothing more, nothing less. Yet few in Washington and Brussels seem to understand this. In recent weeks the view among the cognoscenti was that the crisis over Ukraine was largely over. Yet little in the U.S.-European response has changed. Hence, the incentive structure that failed to prevent the Crimea annexation is not likely to prevent further dismemberment. President Putin views the West as weak, which has kept him emboldened. Continue reading
The U.S. and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is clearly playing the geopolitical menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe are going to need to up their game to keep Vladimir Putin’s hands off the rest of Ukraine. Beyond this crisis the West needs a new defense posture, as the world just entered a new era of international relations.
Just weeks ago numerous observers dubbed the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi “Putin’s Triumph,” when it was anything but that. Russia may have barely edged the U.S. in total medals, but the price for Putin’s orderly Olympics was serious repression, severe environmental damage, and seismic corruption. Then came Ukraine. Continue reading
The so-called Pivot to Asia, or “rebalance” in official parlance, has been one of the Obama Administration’s signature strategic moves on the global chessboard. But for all the serious engagement of the Pacific Rim countries, the core of the pivot has always been about China and responding to its rise as a regional and proto global power. U.S. intentions aside, China has accused the U.S. of using the pivot as a form of neo-containment of itself. The containment of the Soviet Union during the Cold War ultimately proved to be a stabilizing strategic move by the U.S. and its western allies. Whether the pivot ends up bringing about a similar outcome in the Pacific Rim in essence constitutes the strategy’s ultimate test. Continue reading
People may have wondered why spend so much time thinking about what pop culture says about international relations. They have have pondered whether dedicating entire class sessions to Harry Potter and the International Relations of Ethnic Conflict might be misguided.
Did you see the photos like the one above out of Shanghai? For the first time ever, Shanghai’s air pollution, like Beijing’s before it, exceeded the scale for particulate matter. For the past seven days, the air quality has been so bad that schools and flights were cancelled, cars were forced off the roads, industries were shut down (Though a marathon last Monday went on as planned. Runners complained that their lungs hurt. Go figure!).
This post follows up my previous one a couple of weeks ago on whether China can gets its air quality problems under control. That was essentially the text for my contribution to the first half of a webinar sponsored by the outstanding ChinaFAQS, an initiative sponsored by the World Resources Institute to provide U.S. policymakers on the latest state of play in China, energy, and the environment. This post is a revised version of the second set of remarks I made and deals with whether or not China is meeting its energy-related commitments under its 12th five year plan. Continue reading
If you haven’t yet seen the zone’s geography, here it is to the left, complete with its overlap with the Korean and Japanese zones. The most important conflict of course is over Senkaku, but Korea watchers will also note that the Ieodo submerged reef, which Korea claims, is also in the zone. Gotta wonder what the Chinese were thinking by giving Korea and Japan common cause over anything. Foolish.
Dan Drezner asked the question I think pretty much everyone is wondering now: did the PRC really expect the US, Japan, and SK to just accept this out of the blue? Obviously they’re not, and it’s hard to find anyone besides the
Fox News of Asia Global Times who thinks they should. The following are some quick ideas for where this suddenly came from. Each is more-or-less tied to a level of analysis, but the prose is laymen-style because it was originally written for media
1. Belligerence (anarchy, straight-up realism): the Chinese really are picking a fight with Japan. This is the worst possible reason. They may figure that the Hagel visit to Japan a couple months ago has made Japan into an open challenger to China now. And that is kinda true. America is hedging China, ducking and weaving, trying hard to avoid an open confrontation with it. But Japan is increasingly unabashed that is it balancing China directly as a threat. Abe is increasingly willing to call out China openly. So Asia is becoming a serious bipolar contest, and maybe the Chinese are thinking: ‘to hell with it; Abe’s playing tough; we have too also.’ Certainly my Japanese colleagues in this area increasingly talk about China this way.
As has been widely reported in the Western media, on Friday, China’s state media finally officially announced two changes in human rights policies: (a) an end of the “Laojiao” policy of “re-education through labor” and (b) a change in the one-child policy in China, allowing two children per family if at least one of the parents was a single child (before both parents had to be only children). Other, somewhat underreported, changes coming from the same official media report about the Third Plenary Session of the 18th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China included a reduction of crimes punishable by death and efforts “to ban extorting confessions through torture and physical abuse.” Also in the news last week concerning Chinese human rights: China will have a seat on the UN Human Rights Council in the New Year.
What do these changes mean for the human rights situation in China? Are they a sign of things to come or are these changes just “window dressing,” meant to divert attention away from the very pressing human rights problems within the state? Many experts have highlighted that it is the latter: for example, Steve Tsang, although saying that the steps are an “important step forward,” said that it would be “naive to think this effort will seriously address the human rights problems in China.” The famously negative NGO UN Watch also indicated that it was a “black day for human rights” when China and other human rights offenders were elected to the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday.
In the northern city of Harbin, China, air quality was so bad ten days ago that concentrations of particulate matter reportedly reached 1000 micrograms per cubic meter at their peak, exceeding the World Health Organization’s daily safe levels by a factor of 40 and shrouding the city in a fog so dense that commuters had trouble finding their way and a numbers of schools were forced to close. As China’s pollution has reached intolerable levels, the air quality problem may pose an opportunity for China to address not only its dirty air but also its greenhouse gas emissions, as actions to reduce air pollution may produce co-benefits for climate change.
China’s awful pollution situation and whether action to address climate change were the main subjects of discussion for a number of scholars and practitioners last Friday in a Webinar hosted by ChinaFAQs*. I was fortunate to be among the presenters, and though the event itself was subject to Chatham House rules, I’m making the first of my two contributions to the event available as a blog post (the second will follow shortly).
I’ve written on China, climate change, and energy in the past for CNAS and RFF. For me, this Webinar was timely, as I have just started a year long MA class on sectoral greenhouse gas emissions reductions strategies by the major economies. Our class has a group blog which we hope is a great resource for those interested in the domestic implementation challenges of climate change policies by the world’s major emitters. In the comments that follow, I take up the issue of whether China can get its act together on air pollution and what this might mean for climate change.
I was just in China for a work thing, when I checked the Duck for something. Turns out the Duck is screened out by the Great Firewall. Even if you go to Google Search Hong Kong, it’s still blocked.
Wow. Who knew even nerdy IR theory and pop culture references posed a threat to CCP rule? Lame. Even more lame – my own website, which gets way less traffic, is blocked too. For sites as small as mine, that’s almost a complement – hah. If only I had readers similarly interested enough to even bother…