Making China Great Again -The Atlantic


“As Donald Trump surrenders America’s global commitments, Xi Jinping is learning to pick up the pieces.”

There are several interesting points in this article. The first, is its main thesis which is that China is moving into the void left by the Trump administration’s neo-isolationism:

  • For decades, China avoided directly challenging America’s primacy in the global order, instead pursuing a strategy that Deng, in 1990, called “hide your strength and bide your time.” But Xi, in his speech to the Party Congress, declared the dawn of “a new era,” one in which China moves “closer to center stage.” He presented China as “a new option for other countries,” calling this alternative to Western democracy the zhongguo fang’an, the “Chinese solution.”

The second is the way Chinese political elite see Trump:

  • China’s leaders rarely air their views about an American President, but well-connected scholars—the ranking instituteniks of Beijing and Shanghai and Guangzhou—can map the contours of their assessments. Yan Xuetong is the dean of Tsinghua University’s Institute of Modern International Relations. …..he said, “I think Trump is America’s Gorbachev.” In China, Mikhail Gorbachev is known as the leader who led an empire to collapse. “The United States will suffer,” he warned.
  • During the Mar-a-Lago meetings, Chinese officials noticed that, on some of China’s most sensitive issues, Trump did not know enough to push back. “Trump is taking what Xi Jinping says at face value—on Tibet, Taiwan, North Korea,” Daniel Russel, who was, until March, the Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told me. “That was a big lesson for them.” Afterward, Trump conceded to the Wall Street Journal how little he understood about China’s relationship to North Korea: “After listening for ten minutes, I realized it’s not so easy.”
  • Russel spoke to Chinese officials after the Mar-a-Lago visit. “The Chinese felt like they had Trump’s number,” he said. “Yes, there is this random, unpredictable Ouija-board quality to him that worries them, and they have to brace for some problems, but, fundamentally, what they said was ‘He’s a paper tiger.’

The third is the confusion in the White House as how to deal with China.

  • Inside the new White House, there were two competing strategies on China. One, promoted by Stephen Bannon, then the chief strategist, wanted the President to take a hard line, even at the risk of a trade war. Bannon often described China as a “civilizational challenge.” The other view was associated with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, who had received guidance from Henry Kissinger and met repeatedly with the Chinese Ambassador, Cui Tiankai. Kushner argued for a close, collegial bond between Xi and Trump, and he prevailed.
  • Trump’s deference to Xi—the tributes and tender musings about chemistry—sent a message to other countries that are debating whether to tilt toward the U.S. or China. Daniel Russel said, “The American President is here. He’s looking in awe at the Forbidden City. He’s looking in awe at Xi Jinping, and he’s choosing China because of its market, because of its power. If you thought that America was going to choose you and these ‘old-fashioned’ treaties and twentieth-century values, instead of Xi Jinping and the Chinese market, well, think again.”
  • In its national-security strategy, the Administration suggested that, to stop the theft of trade secrets, it could restrict visas to foreigners who travel to the U.S. to study science, engineering, math, and technology; it dedicated itself to a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” which, in practice, will likely expand military coöperation with India, Japan, and Australia. Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, is considering several potential tariffs in order to punish China for its alleged theft of intellectual property and dumping of exports on U.S. markets. “We’re not looking for a trade war,” a senior White House official involved in China issues told me. “But the President fully believes that we have to stand up to China’s predatory industrial policies that have hollowed out U.S. manufacturing and, increasingly, high-tech sectors.”

The result: a “bunch of drunks in a car fighting for the steering wheel.”

  • If the White House takes such actions, they could collide with Trump’s admiring relationship with Xi. In the meantime, many China specialists describe the Administration’s approach as inchoate. In the first eleven months of Trump’s Presidency, none of his Cabinet secretaries had given a major speech on China. The post of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, the State Department’s top job for the region—once held by W. Averell Harriman, Richard Holbrooke, and Christopher Hill—remained unfilled. David Lampton, the director of China studies at the School of Advanced International Studies, at Johns Hopkins, told me, “I think this is like a bunch of drunks in a car fighting for the steering wheel.”

Finally, it addresses the question of whether China will supplant the US as a global power:

  • Global leadership is costly; it means asking your people to contribute to others’ well-being, to send young soldiers to die far from home. In 2015, when Xi pledged billions of dollars in loan forgiveness and additional aid for African nations, some in China grumbled that their country was not yet rich enough to do that. China is not “seeking to replace us in the same position as a kind of chairman of planet Earth,” Daniel Russel said. “They have no intention of emulating the U.S. as a provider of global goods or as an arbiter who teases out universal principles and common rules.”
  • According to Richard Haass the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “More likely, the world is entering an era without obvious leaders, an “age of nonpolarity,”

See also:


These 3 Everyday Products Show Who Won and Lost From Nafta -NYTimes


The title of this article is a little misleading, it does not show so much who won or lost with NAFTA as much as it shows the complexities of trade and production within the agreement. Beer sold in Mexico brewed from grains grown in America. Jeans made cheaply in Mexico for American markets, but with American cotton. Bacon from pigs born in Canada but raised in the USA….  The author argues in the case of the jeans, that without NAFTA production would likely move to Asia. This may or may not turn out to be the case. It seems very hard to tell what would happen. But this is the main point. The arguments we usually hear about who wins or loses from trade agreements like NAFTA are superficial. Much of the trade and production involved in manufacturing is not obvious to consumers who only see the final product. And, the people who profit from it are not always as salient as the people who have been hurt by the changes created by NAFTA. In the United States, Donald Trump has played to the type of superficial understanding of trade this article exposes. In the UK, the Brexit campaign did too. This is not to say these deals are good or bad, just that they are complex.


Why India has never seen a military dictatorship -Quartz India


Here is an interesting article looking at the durability of civilian rule in India. While all of India’s neighbors -Pakistan, Bangladesh, Burma and Sri Lanka- have experienced military rule, the Indian army has stayed in the barracks.

The article is particularly interesting for two reasons. First, it is a good example of comparative poli-sci methodology. It compares the Indian experience to that of Pakistan, a state that emerged from the same historical roots as India. By looking at the similarities and differences between the two cases, the authors tries to isolate the key factors that have led the two countries down very different paths. Second, the analysis does not focus on the “usual suspects” so to speak. It does not explain the persistence of civilian rule in terms of political culture or the lasting influence of the British. The author correctly points out that Pakistan had the same historical experience with the British and and yet the Pakistani military has intervened repeatedly in civilian governance. The article also does not place a great deal of emphasis on military professionalism of leadership. Instead, the authors focuses on the relative strengths and weaknesses of civilian political institutions. Relative to Pakistan, the Indian state has been relatively robust and the country’s main political party, Congress, has been well organized and coherent. In Pakistan, the civilian institutions have been a mess, and the military has been the best organized institution in the country.


Three flawed ideas are hurting international peacebuilding -Monkey Cage


According to , while “policymakers and practitioners often admit that many standard peacebuilding techniques are ineffective. In the absence of compelling alternatives, these faulty templates continue to be used all over the world by default. Further, “effectiveness can be improved significantly if foreign peacebuilders avoid three widespread assumptions:

Assumption No. 1) Good things promote peace and bad things undermine peace.

Democracy, liberalization and education may actually fuel conflict. Conversely,  corruption, the drug-trade and other illegal activities can foster stability -at least in the short term.

Assumption No. 2) It takes formal peace efforts to control violence.

“ordinary people can engage in everyday actions to reduce tensions, such as avoiding topics that might be contentious. Or they focus on being polite to members of other groups — or they reach out to local civil-society organizations, rather than state law enforcement, when there is a problem.”

“In these cases, formal, externally led peace initiatives may not be necessary because local people are already coping on their own. In fact, external support may actually jeopardize local efforts rather than support them.”

Assumption No. 3) Inhabitants of conflict zones aren’t capable of resolving their own predicament.

“outsiders don’t necessarily have the knowledge to build peace in host countries. They may not speak local languages, understand local customs or have the in-depth knowledge of local history necessary to comprehend and resolve the deep sources of tensions. And all societies — even those at war — tend to have local systems and skills to resolve conflicts.”


In the final analysis, its all about context: “peace efforts must draw on the knowledge, competencies, perspectives, networks, assets and leverage of both insiders and outsiders.”




Keeping the gunpowder dry? -North by Northwest


This brief op-ed discusses the securitization of the North. As the author,  Marc Lanteigne, points out, securitization does not mean that there is an imminent threat. Rather it means that an issue is being framed as a security issue, which usually means it seen in realist terms: It is conceptualized in terms of potential threats that need to be contained or perhaps leveraged, and the issue becomes the object of competition and a 0-sum thinking. The North has escaped securitization for the most part, but perhaps not for much longer:

  • “The Arctic, despite the unlikelihood of a military confrontation or unfriendly economic competition, has nonetheless been securitised by many Arctic and non-Arctic actors, including governments, as the region falls under greater international scrutiny. This securitisation process is coming from a variety of different directions:
    • Resources: Although oil, gas and commodity prices have remained largely depressed going into the new year, as more uncovered land and more open water appears every summer in the Arctic, the possibility of more resources being easier and cheaper to access grows in tandem. While most of these riches lie in uncontested areas, environmental strains and differences over demarcation in the central Arctic Ocean could still create future tensions.
    • Access: It is still largely a matter of guesswork as to exactly when the NSR and other Arctic sea routes will be usable to the point where transits become commonplace, and provisions are being put into place, including the Polar Code, which entered into force last month, but as long as jurisdiction over some of these routes remain disputed, the possibility of access becoming a source of insecurity and even conflict should not be dismissed. This matter may be further complicated as non-Arctic actors, such as those in Western Europe and East Asia, also vie to make use of Arctic sea routes to lessen travel time and trading costs.
    • Power: As the report stated, the Arctic has been distinguished as a place where adversaries can and have ‘checked their grievances at the door’. Whether that situation can continue indefinitely, however, is another question. The United States has recently expressed concern over Russian remilitarisation of its northern regions, and the two great powers remain at odds over the Ukraine conflict and possible future instability along Eastern European borders. Maintaining the Arctic as a cordon sanitaire in the face of these disputes is unlikely to get easier in the short term.
    • Governance: The Arctic, at present, has no dedicated security community despite various security issues appearing from many different directions on the margins. The Arctic Council is not (yet?) equipped to address emerging hard security concerns, such as those suggested above, due to its lack of a security mandate and its structure, which has begun to resemble a pyramid. Eight states form the core membership, but several major non-Arctic governments, including China, Germany, India, Japan and the United Kingdom sit as observers, with another, the European Union, possibly attaining that status in May. As the Munich report noted, ‘Arctic affairs have become a matter of global attention.’ This situation situation is unlikely to reverse itself even if a resource scramble never comes to pass. Differences between Arctic and non-Arctic actors over the direction of regional governance, and worries about the Arctic becoming a ‘closed shop’, could create tensions and strain the council’s ability to address future security issues.”

Neoliberalism: Oversold? -IMF and Salon


A recent article published by the IMF, “Neoliberalism: Oversold?” suggests a long overdue ideological reappraisal is taking place. The article challenges standard neo-liberal beliefs about austerity, capital controls, economic inequality and the one-size-fits-all approach to economic planning. Below are links and a few highlights from the article and a discussion published at, “Wrong all along: Neoliberal IMF admits neoliberalism fuels inequality and hurts growth”.

From Salon:

  • “The world’s largest evangelist of neoliberalism, the International Monetary Fund, has admitted that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
  •  Neoliberalism refers to capitalism in its purest form. It is an economic philosophy espoused by libertarians — and repeated endlessly by many mainstream economists — one that insists that privatization, deregulation, the opening up of domestic markets to foreign competition, the cutting of government spending, the shrinking of the state and the “freeing of the market” are the keys to a healthy and flourishing economy.
  • Yet now top researchers at the International Monetary Fund, or IMF, the economic institution that has proselytized — and often forcefully imposed — neoliberal policies for decades, have conceded that the “benefits of some policies that are an important part of the neoliberal agenda appear to have been somewhat overplayed….”
  • “In analyzing two of neoliberalism’s most fundamental policies, austerity and the removing of restrictions on the movement of capital, the IMF researchers say they reached “three disquieting conclusions.”
  • One, neoliberal policies result in “little benefit in growth.”
  • Two, neoliberal policies increase inequality, which produces further economic harms in a “trade-off” between growth and inequality.
  • And three, this “increased inequality in turn hurts the level and sustainability of growth.”
  • The top researchers conclude noting that the “evidence of the economic damage from inequality suggests that policymakers should be more open to redistribution than they are…”

For more from the Salon article, see:

From the IMF:

  • “Moreover, since both openness and austerity are associated with increasing income inequality, this distributional effect sets up an adverse feedback loop. The increase in inequality engendered by financial openness and austerity might itself undercut growth, the very thing that the neoliberal agenda is intent on boosting. There is now strong evidence that inequality can significantly lower both the level and the durability of growth..”

It will be interesting to see if this critique has an impact on IMF policy. It is after all a research paper. There will doubtless be bureaucratic and political push-back from within the IMF and from some of the donar countries.

For the IMF article, see:

I Love the U.N., but It Is Failing -NYTimes


Here is a rather scathing review of UN operations by Anthony Banbury, the former United Nations assistant secretary general for field support. He lambastes the bureaucracy in particular:

  • “If you locked a team of evil geniuses in a laboratory, they could not design a bureaucracy so maddeningly complex, requiring so much effort but in the end incapable of delivering the intended result. The system is a black hole into which disappear countless tax dollars and human aspirations, never to be seen again.”

He also criticizes the way peacekeepers are deployed:

  • “Peacekeeping forces often lumber along for years without clear goals or exit plans, crowding out governments, diverting attention from deeper socioeconomic problems and costing billions of dollars”
  • “the United Nations decided to send 10,000 soldiers and police officers to Mali in response to a terrorist takeover of parts of the north. Inexplicably, we sent a force that was unprepared for counterterrorism and explicitly told not to engage in it. More than 80 percent of the force’s resources are spent on logistics and self-protection. Already 56 people in the United Nations contingent have been killed, and more are certain to die. The United Nations in Mali is day by day marching deeper into its first quagmire.
  • But the thing that has upset me most is what the United Nations has done in the Central African Republic. When we took over peacekeeping responsibilities from the African Union there in 2014, we had the choice of which troops to accept. Without appropriate debate, and for cynical political reasons, a decision was made to include soldiers from the Democratic Republic of Congo and from the Republic of Congo, despite reports of serious human rights violations by these soldiers. Since then, troops from these countries have engaged in a persistent pattern of rape and abuse of the people — often young girls — the United Nations was sent there to protect.”