Lame duck out of the Silk Road caravan

Pepe Escobar

November 11, 2014 10:57                 
World leaders during the APEC Summit family photo in Beijing November 10, 2014. Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott standing behind Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd L) (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)
World leaders during the APEC Summit family photo in Beijing November 10, 2014. Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott standing behind Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (2nd L) (Reuters / Kevin Lamarque)

There’s hardly a more graphic illustration of where the multipolar world is going than what just happened at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Beijing.

Take a very good look at the official photos. This is all about positioning – and this being China, pregnant with symbolic meaning. Guess who’s in the place of honor, side by side with President Xi Jinping. And guess where the lame duck leader of the “indispensable nation” has been relegated. The Chinese can also be masters at sending a global message.

When President Xi urged APEC to “add firewood to the fire of the Asia-Pacific and world economy,” this is what he meant, irrespective of inconclusive decisions out of the summit.

1) Beijing will go no holds barred for the Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP) – the Chinese vision of an “all inclusive, all-win” trade deal that really promotes Asia-Pacific cooperation, instead of the US-driven, corporate-redacted, and quite divisive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

2) The blueprint is on for “all-round connectivity,” in Xi’s words – which implies Beijing setting up the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank; Beijing and Moscow committing to a second mega gas deal – this one through the Altai pipeline in Western Siberia; and China already funneling no less than $40 billion to start building the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

World leaders take their seats as China's President Xi Jinping (C) prepares to deliver opening remarks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' meeting at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing, November 11, 2014 (Reuters / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
World leaders take their seats as China's President Xi Jinping (C) prepares to deliver opening remarks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' meeting at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing, November 11, 2014 (Reuters / Pablo Martinez Monsiváis)

Once again, everything converges towards the most spectacular, ambitious and wide-ranging pluri-national infrastructure offensive ever attempted: the multiple New Silk Roads – a complex network of high-speed rail, pipelines, ports, fiber optic cables and state of the art telecom that China is already building through the Central Asian -stans, linked to Russia, Iran, Turkey and the Indian Ocean, and branching out to Europe all the way to Venice and Berlin.

That’s Beijing interlinking Xi’s “Asia-Pacific Dream” way beyond East Asia, with eyes set on pan-Eurasia trade – with the center being, what else, the Middle Kingdom.

The “Go West” campaign was officially launched in China in the late 1990s. The New Silk Roads are a turbocharged “Go West” – and “Go South” – expanding markets, markets, markets. Think of near future Eurasia as a massive Chinese Silk Belt – in some latitudes in a condominium with Russia.

You want your war hot or cold?

As Beijing dreams, Noam Chomsky has been very vocal about a 1914-style chain reaction of catastrophic blunders – by the West - that could fast spin out of control; and the stakes, once again, are nuclear. Moscow absolutely abhors this gruesome possibility - and that explains why Russia, under relentless US provocation, as well as sanctions, has exercised titanic restraint. Not only can Russia not be “isolated” as the US attempted with Iran; Moscow also called the US neo-cons’ bluff in Ukraine.

At the Valdai Club meeting in Sochi, President Putin, in a crucial speech (text plus Q&A) obviously ignored by Western corporate media, drew the necessary conclusions. The Washington/Wall Street elites have absolutely no intention of allowing a minimum of multipolarity in international relations. What’s left is chaos. That’s what I’ve been arguing, over different strands, during the Obama administration years, and is at the center of my new book "Empire of Chaos".

Moscow knows all about the complex interlinks with Europe – especially Germany – and with the still fading, but still influential, Washington Consensus. And yet Russia holds the trump card of being a Eurasian power; when in trouble, there could always be a pivoting to Asia.

Gorbachev was spot on in Berlin when he stressed how, breaking the promise personally made to him by Bush the father, NATO embarked on an eternal eastward expansion; and how the West – essentially the US plus a few European vassals – now seems obsessed in launching a new cold war, with the new Berlin Wall – metaphorically – transplanted to Kiev.

Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders pose for a family photo at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing, November 11, 2014 (Reuters / Kim Kyung-Hoon)
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders pose for a family photo at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing, November 11, 2014 (Reuters / Kim Kyung-Hoon)

Moscow pivoting away from the West and towards East Asia is a process developing on many levels – and for months now, for all to see. Acres of forest can be further devastated to print how the outcome has been directly influenced by Barack Obama’s self-described “Don’t Do Stupid Stuff” foreign policy doctrine, which he christened aboard Air Force One when coming from a trip to – once again - Asia last April.

On energy, the spin by the Financial Times of yet another Russia-China mega gas deal as “Putin’s revenge” is proverbial rubbish. Russia is turning east because that’s where the top demand is. On finance, Moscow has just ended the pegging of the ruble to the US dollar and euro; the US dollar instantly dropped against the ruble. VTB for its part announced it may leave the London Stock Exchange for Shanghai's – which is about to become directly linked to Hong Kong. And Hong Kong, for its part, is already attracting Russian energy giants.

Now mix these key developments with the massive yuan-ruble energy double deal, and the picture is of Russia actively protecting itself from speculative/politically motivated Western attacks against its currency.

The Russia-China symbiosis/strategic partnership visibly expands on energy, finance and, also inevitably, on the military technology front. That includes, crucially, Moscow selling Beijing the S-400 air defense system and, in the future, the S-500.

The S-500 system can intercept any American ICBMs or cruise missiles, while the Russian ICBMs deployed at Mach 17, equipped with MIRVs, are simply unbeatable. Beijing, for its part, is already developing its own surface-to-ship missiles that can take out everything the US Navy can muster – from aircraft carriers to submarines and mobile air defense systems.

Join the caravan

Strategically, Beijing and Washington could not but be polar opposites in what I called the birth of the Eurasian century.

Beijing has clearly identified Washington/Wall Street fighting to the death to preserve the short unipolar moment. China – and the BRICS – is working towards what Xi defined as a “new model of great power relations.” The Washington/Wall Street mindset is “either/or” instead of “win-win”; the self-appointed Masters of the Universe believe they can always monopolize the loot because Russia – and then China - eventually will back down to avoid confrontation. This is the key aspect of Asia-Pacific today somewhat resembling 1914 Europe.

China's President Xi Jinping delivers opening remarks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' meeting at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing, November 11, 2014 (Reuters / Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
China's President Xi Jinping delivers opening remarks at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders' meeting at the International Convention Center at Yanqi Lake in Beijing, November 11, 2014 (Reuters / Pablo Martinez Monsiváis)

With this kind of stuff passing for “analysis” in US academic circles, and with the Washington/Wall Street elites through their myopic Think Tank land still clinging to mythical platitudes such as the “historical” American role as arbiter of modern Asia and key balancer of power, no wonder public opinion in the West cannot even imagine the impact of the New Silk Roads in the geopolitics of the young 21st century.

A quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall the US, for all practical purposes, is run by an oligarchy. Europe is geopolitically irrelevant. “Democracy” has been degraded to self-parody in most of the West. “Humanitarian” – as well as neo-con - imperialism in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and beyond has led to disaster after disaster. Financial turbo-capitalism is a time bomb.

Russia and China may not be proposing an alternative system – yet. Still, as the dogs of war, of hate, of inequality - bark, the China-Russia caravan passes. The caravan is selling Eurasia economic integration – not bombs. Real Asia-Pacific integration may still be a long dream away. Yet what APEC has shown – graphically – once again is the spectacular implosion, in slow motion, of the former indispensable nation’s geopolitical dominance.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

sábado, noviembre 15, 2014



Russia and China: The Movie

Ian Buruma

NOV 11, 2014

 Old movie theater

NEW YORK – The times we live in are often most clearly reflected in the mirror of art. Much has been written about post-communism in Russia and China. But two recent films, Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin, made in China in 2013, and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan, made in Russia in 2014, reveal the social and political landscapes of these countries more precisely than anything I have seen in print.
Jia’s movie is episodic; four loosely linked stories about lone acts of extreme violence, mostly culled from contemporary newspaper stories. Leviathan is about a decent man whose life is ruined by the mayor of his town in collusion with the Russian Orthodox Church and a corrupt judiciary.
Both films are visually stunning, despite their stories’ bleakness. The dark skies over the northern Russian coast in Leviathan look ravishing, and Jia even manages to make the concrete and glass jungle of Shenzhen, the monster city between Guangzhou and Hong Kong, look gorgeous. The other thing both films share is a fascination with mythical stories, the Book of Job in Leviathan, and martial-arts fiction in A Touch of Sin.
Real estate plays a major part in both movies. In the first episode of A Touch of Sin, the local boss has become a private-plane-owning billionaire by stripping and selling all of his region’s collective assets. Everything in this new China – where the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) still rules, but the ideas of Karl Marx are as dead as they are in Russia – is for sale, even the trappings of its Maoist past. In one scene, we see prostitutes in a nightclub titillating overseas Chinese businessmen by parading up and down in sexy People’s Liberation Army uniforms.
The story of Leviathan focuses on the house built by a simple mechanic named Nikolay. He is robbed of his property by the corrupt mayor, who is paid by the Orthodox Church for the right to build a new church on Nikolay’s land. Nikolay is disposed of by having him framed for his wife’s murder and tried by a crooked court.
The importance of real estate in both films is no coincidence. Property, construction, and land are the common currencies of power in mafia societies – in China and Russia no less than in Sicily. One reason China has been transformed into a gigantic building site, with huge new cities emerging almost overnight, is that this drives a red-hot and highly corrupt economy, ruled by a Leninist party that has monetized political power by asset-stripping and construction.
It is irrelevant that President Vladimir Putin’s United Russia Party, unlike the CCP, makes no claim to any form of Marxist ideology. The way both governments operate is quite similar: party bosses, tycoons, and corrupt bureaucrats divide the spoils, while promoting chauvinism and “traditional values” – whether those of the Orthodox Church or Confucianism. Judges are bought or intimidated to ensure that bosses remain above the law.
Putin’s party was elected in Russia, as was President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s Justice and Development Party in Turkey, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz in Hungary, and President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s military regime in Egypt. The CCP was not. But this, too, is largely irrelevant. What these governments share is the fusion of capitalist enterprise and political authoritarianism.
This political model is now seen as a serious rival to American-style liberal democracy, and perhaps it is. But during the Cold War, authoritarian capitalism, usually under military regimes, was anti-Communist and very much on America’s side. South Korea’s strongman, Park Chung-hee, current President Park Geun-hye’s father, was in many ways a pioneer of the type of society that we now see in China and Russia. So was Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet.
Because the dictatorships in America’s client states ended more or less when the Cold War did, and were replaced by liberal democracies, many were lulled into the comforting belief that liberal democracy and capitalism would naturally – even inevitably – come together everywhere. Political freedom is good for business, and vice versa.
This great twentieth century myth has now been shattered. Orbán claimed earlier this year that liberal democracy was no longer a viable model. He cited China and Russia as more successful countries, not for ideological reasons, but because he thinks that they are more competitive in today’s world.
There are reasons to doubt this, of course. The Russian economy is far too dependent on oil and other natural resources, and the legitimacy of China’s one-party system could collapse quickly in an economic crisis. The way that illiberal regimes use the law for their own ends will not inspire the confidence of investors, either – at least not in the long run.
And yet, for now, the societies depicted so acidly in Leviathan and A Touch of Sin continue to look good in the eyes of many people who are disillusioned with Europe’s economic stagnation and America’s political dysfunction. Western businessmen, artists, architects, and others who need large amounts of money for expensive projects enjoy working with authoritarian regimes that “get things done.” Illiberal thinkers on the far right and left admire strongmen who stand up to America.


A Fruitful Visit by Obama Ends With Blunt Words by Xi Jinping


NOV. 12, 2014
 President Obama and President Xi Jinping of China attended a ceremony inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Wednesday. Credit Greg Baker/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

BEIJING — President Obama and President Xi Jinping promoted the virtues of cooperation between China and the United States on Wednesday, drawing an unusually productive state visit to a close with a news conference that nevertheless laid bare stubborn differences over issues like the Hong Kong pro-democracy demonstrations and press freedom.
Announcing a landmark agreement to confront climate change, Mr. Obama and Mr. Xi both portrayed it as an example of how the world’s two largest economies could collaborate on the world’s most pressing problems, even as they compete in many other areas.
“When China and the U.S. work together, we can become an anchor of world stability and a propeller of world peace,” Mr. Xi said. Mr. Obama echoed that sentiment, calling the climate change agreement a milestone in the countries’ relations that “shows what’s possible when we work together on an urgent global challenge.”
But it was the differences that were cast in sharp relief during a rare question-and-answer session after the presidents delivered their statements. During the planning for Mr. Obama’s visit, the White House had lobbied intensively for reporters’ questions to be taken, and the Chinese authorities relented only a day before the leaders stood together in the Great Hall of the People.
Initially, Mr. Xi appeared to ignore two questions from a reporter for The New York Times: whether China feared that the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia represented an effort to contain China, and whether China would ease its refusal to issue visas to some foreign correspondents in light of a broader visa agreement with the United States.
After first taking an unrelated question from a Chinese state-run newspaper — appearing to draw a bemused reaction from Mr. Obama — Mr. Xi circled back, declaring that the visa problems of news organizations, including The Times, were of their own making. He evinced little patience for the foreign news media’s concerns that they were being penalized for unfavorable news coverage of Chinese leaders and their families.
Mr. Xi said that China protected the rights of media organizations, but that the organizations needed to abide by the rules of the country. “When a certain issue is raised as a problem, there must be a reason,” he said, apparently acknowledging a link between news coverage and the refusal to extend the visas.
Mr. Xi used a Chinese metaphor to describe the travails of The Times and other organizations, saying they were like a faulty car. “When a car breaks down on the road, perhaps we need to step down and see what the problem is,” he said.
In a passage that was not translated into English, the president added that “the Chinese say, ‘Let he who tied the bell on the tiger take it off'” — a saying that can also be translated as, “The one who created the problem should be the one who solves it.”
Mr. Xi also bluntly warned the United States and other foreign countries not to get involved in the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, which he dismissed as illegal, responding to a question to Mr. Obama about rumors in the Chinese media that the United States is fomenting the unrest there.
“Hong Kong’s affairs are exclusively China’s internal affairs, and foreign countries should not interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs in any fashion,” the Chinese leader declared. “It goes without saying that law and order must be protected in any place.”
The authorities in Hong Kong have issued increasingly strong warnings for protesters to clear the streets as Mr. Obama’s visit and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting in Beijing have neared an end.
Mr. Xi dismissed suggestions that Mr. Obama’s pivot to Asia — including a proposed regional trade pact that does not include China — was an effort by the United States to contain his country. And he brushed off a recent wave of anti-American statements in China’s state-run media, saying, “I don’t think it’s worth fussing over.”
Taken together, Mr. Xi’s statements offered a rare, unvarnished glimpse of the Chinese president, two years into his term and after his swift consolidation of power. He showed no hesitation in departing from his usual script about the importance of a “major power” relationship.
For his part, Mr. Obama tried to keep the emphasis on working with China. He, too, sharply disputed suggestions that the United States’s new focus on Asia should be seen as a threat, saying that “our conversation gave us an opportunity to debunk the notion that our pivot to Asia is about containing China.”
Mr. Obama said he had assured Mr. Xi that the United States had nothing to do with the protests in Hong Kong. “These are issues ultimately for the people of Hong Kong and China to decide,” he said of the protests demanding fully democratic elections, though he voiced support for the right of free expression.
In general, Mr. Obama’s references to human rights were carefully calibrated. He noted America’s refusal to recognize a separate Taiwan or Tibet. He also praised China for its role in nuclear negotiations with Iran, its response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and its dealings with a nuclear-armed North Korea.
Mr. Obama played down a recent wave of virulently negative coverage of him and the United States in China’s state-run media. Tough press coverage, he said, came with being a public official, whether in China or the United States. “I’m a big believer in actions, not words,” he added.
White House officials told reporters that the president had called on a reporter for The Times in part because several of its China correspondents had been denied visas by the government.
The state-run Chinese television station CCTV did not broadcast the 48-minute news conference. “That would have been a deliberate decision by the central propaganda department, which everyone knows is even more hard-line than Xi Jinping,” said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing.
Propaganda officials did not want the Chinese public to see President Obama talking about human rights and Tibet, Mr. Shi said, even though he said Mr. Obama had been gracious in not saying “hard things to annoy his host.”

sábado, noviembre 15, 2014


Fear and Loathing in America

by James A. Russell
November 10th, 2014

A variety of recent opinion polls indicate that a significant portion of the American public remains deeply fearful of international terrorism. Many Americans even feel less safe now than they did before the 9/11 attacks.

A CNN poll conducted in September found that 53% of Americans believe that more terrorist attacks on the homeland are likely. Seven out of ten Americans meanwhile believe that Islamic State (ISIS or IS) has operatives in the United States who are planning future attacks.

These deep-seated fears formed part of the backdrop in the recent US midterm elections that swept Democrats from power in the Senate and added to the Republican majority in the House.

America today lives in an age of fear, loathing, and anxiety that might have produced good copy by Gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson, if he was alive today, but which bespeaks a republic that has lost its confidence as well as its emotional and intellectual moorings.

Yet it’s hard to understand why if we consider our present circumstances. As noted by terrorism expert Peter Bergen at a recent symposium (echoing figures from a variety of sources) 22 Americans have lost their lives in the United States since the 9/11 attacks in violence perpetrated by attackers expressing support for Islamic extremist causes. Of those 22, 13 were killed in a single attack inside a US military base at Fort Hood, Texas in November 2009.

The numbers of Americans killed outside their borders due to terrorist attacks is somewhat higher, but still remains small. According to the State Department, 16 Americans lost their lives as a result of terrorism related violence around the world in 2013.

In short, Americans have more to fear from slipping in the shower or falling down the stairs than they do of terrorist-inspired violence. They definitely have more to fear from random handgun-related violence in their neighborhoods, which has lead to nearly 1,000,000 fatalities and injuries since 9/11 in the United States. Yet many people resist even rudimentary steps to control access to guns at home while enthusiastically supporting America’s trigger-happy foreign policy around the world.

How do we explain the incongruence and disconnects between the American public’s perceptions and these realities? Political and military leaders are part of the problem.

Instead of reassuring the public about the threat of terrorism relative to other dangers, political leaders have actively played upon public fears by continually asserting the imminent dangers of new and more dangerous attacks.

One result has been the establishment of the national security surveillance state by the generation of Vietnam War protesters that once took to the streets to protest the overreach of the state in the 1960s and 70s. Even the postal service recently disclosed that it had received 50,000 requests from the government to read people’s mail during 2013 in national-security related surveillance. Not to mention the intercepted phone calls and emails, to say nothing of those who are being watched in other countries. The public has greeted this development with little more than a yawn.

Of course, even as political leaders from both sides of the aisle mercilessly exploit people’s fears, the fact is that they are mirroring general public attitudes and perceptions. The slide of the American public into fear and loathing post-9/11 has paralleled the state’s political descent into anarchy at home. Republican religious zealots and conservative ideologues have brought their version of the Taliban home to the United States, just as our armies sought in vain to drive the group away from major Afghan cities in America’s longest war.

Therein lies the strategic consequences of the 9/11 attacks that went far beyond Osama Bin Laden’s wildest dreams when he and his lieutenants concocted the idea of flying airplanes into buildings. It’s the gift that just keeps on giving to Islamic extremists as America spies on its citizens at home and careens around the world blasting away at real and imagined enemies in a vain attempt to bomb them into submission. Unfortunately, the latest crusader army that has been taking shape since the end of the Bush administration only confirms the extremists’ vision of a Western-led war against Islam.

The atmosphere of fear and loathing at home in the United States will only gather momentum with the Republican-led Congress, and the squeamish, defeatist democrats meekly following along. Republican candidates around the country cloaked their winning message in the fear and loathing parlance for which the party has become known for in the post-9/11 era. And it’s not entirely clear what the Republicans are hoping for any more—other than aiding the wealthiest among us and enhancing fortress America to keep out immigrants.

What does this mean for the Middle East? It means that America’s fruitless bombing campaign will continue for the foreseeable future—a slippery slope of commitment that will inevitably involve additional ground troops in the region. America’s quarter century of war in Iraq isn’t ending any time son.

Another casualty of this campaign may be the failure to reach an agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program—if a weakened and chastened Obama administration retreats in the face of the Republican (and Israeli) pressure. Meanwhile, a new intifada in the simmering occupied territories would serve as icing on the proverbial cake of America’s failed endeavors that litter the Middle East like shattered glass.

Hunter S. Thompson would have had a field day in today’s world. His drug-infused delirium, which led to his famous novel, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, was his only release from the madness surrounding him—but what about us? Unfortunately, it’s Osama bin Laden who has so far had the last laugh from his watery grave in this plot—and the joke is on us.