Tag Archives: United States

China’s Coming Upheaval

Competition, the Coronavirus, and the Weakness of Xi Jinping
By Minxin Pei – Over the past few years, the United States’ approach to China has taken a hard-line turn, with the balance between cooperation and competition in the U.S.-Chinese relationship tilting sharply toward the latter. Most American policymakers and commentators consider this confrontational new strategy a response to China’s growing assertiveness, embodied especially in the controversial figure of Chinese President Xi Jinping. But ultimately, this ongoing tension—particularly with the added pressures of the new coronavirus outbreak and an economic downturn—is likely to expose the brittleness and insecurity that lie beneath the surface of Xi’s, and Beijing’s, assertions of solidity and strength.

The United States has limited means of influencing China’s closed political system, but the diplomatic, economic, and military pressure that Washington can bring to bear on Beijing will put Xi and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) he leads under enormous strain. Indeed, a prolonged period of strategic confrontation with the United States, such as the one China is currently experiencing, will create conditions that are conducive to dramatic changes.

As tension between the United States and China has grown, there has been vociferous debate about the similarities and, perhaps more important, the differences between U.S.-Chinese competition now and U.S.-Soviet competition during the Cold War. Whatever the limitations of the analogy, Chinese leaders have put considerable thought into the lessons of the Cold War and of the Soviet collapse. Ironically, Beijing may nevertheless be repeating some of the most consequential mistakes of the Soviet regime.

During the multidecade competition of the Cold War, the rigidity of the Soviet regime and its leaders proved to be the United States’ most valuable asset. The Kremlin doubled down on failed strategies—sticking with a moribund economic system, continuing a ruinous arms race, and maintaining an unaffordable global empire—rather than accept the losses that thoroughgoing reforms might have entailed. Chinese leaders are similarly constrained by the rigidities of their own system and therefore limited in their ability to correct policy mistakes. In 2018, Xi decided to abolish presidential term limits, signaling his intention to stay in power indefinitely. He has indulged in heavy-handed purges, ousting prominent party officials under the guise of an anticorruption drive. What is more, Xi has suppressed protests in Hong Kong, arrested hundreds of human rights lawyers and activists, and imposed the tightest media censorship of the post-Mao era. His government has constructed “reeducation” camps in Xinjiang, where it has incarcerated more than a million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities. And it has centralized economic and political decision-making, pouring government resources into state-owned enterprises and honing its surveillance technologies. Yet all together, these measures have made the CCP weaker: the growth of state-owned enterprises distorts the economy, and surveillance fuels resistance. The spread of the novel coronavirus has only deepened the Chinese people’s dissatisfaction with their government.

The economic tensions and political critiques stemming from U.S.-Chinese competition may ultimately prove to be the straws that broke this camel’s back. If Xi continues on this trajectory, eroding the foundations of China’s economic and political power and monopolizing responsibility and control, he will expose the CCP to cataclysmic change.

Since taking power in 2012, Xi has replaced collective leadership with strongman rule. Before Xi, the regime consistently displayed a high degree of ideological flexibility and political pragmatism. It avoided errors by relying on a consensus-based decision-making process that incorporated views from rival factions and accommodated their dueling interests. The CCP also avoided conflicts abroad by staying out of contentious disputes, such as those in the Middle East, and refraining from activities that could encroach on the United States’ vital national interests. At home, China’s ruling elites maintained peace by sharing the spoils of governance. Such a regime was by no means perfect. Corruption was pervasive, and the government often delayed critical decisions and missed valuable opportunities. But the regime that preceded Xi’s centralization had one distinct advantage: a built-in propensity for pragmatism and caution.

In the last seven years, that system has been dismantled and replaced by a qualitatively different regime—one marked by a high degree of ideological rigidity, punitive policies toward ethnic minorities and political dissenters at home, and an impulsive foreign policy embodied by the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a trillion-dollar infrastructure program with dubious economic potential that has aroused intense suspicion in the West. The centralization of power under Xi has created new fragilities and has exposed the party to greater risks. If the upside of strongman rule is the ability to make difficult decisions quickly, the downside is that it greatly raises the odds of making costly blunders. The consensus-based decision-making of the earlier era might have been slow and inefficient, but it prevented radical or risky ideas from becoming policy.

Under Xi, correcting policy mistakes has proved to be difficult, since reversing decisions made personally by the strongman would undercut his image of infallibility. (It is easier politically to reverse bad decisions made under collective leadership, because a group, not an individual, takes the blame.) Xi’s demand for loyalty has also stifled debate and deterred dissent within the CCP. For these reasons, the party lacks the flexibility needed to avoid and reverse future missteps in its confrontation with the United States. The result is likely to be growing disunity within the regime. Some party leaders will no doubt recognize the risks and grow increasingly alarmed that Xi has needlessly endangered the party’s standing. The damage to Xi’s authority caused by further missteps would also embolden his rivals, especially Premier Li Keqiang and the Politburo members Wang Yang and Hu Chunhua, all of whom have close ties to former President Hu Jintao. Of course, it is nearly impossible to remove a strongman in a one-party regime because of his tight control over the military and the security forces. But creeping discord would at the very least feed Xi’s insecurity and paranoia, further eroding his ability to chart a steady course.

A strongman who has suffered setbacks—as Mao Zedong did after the Great Leap Forward, a modernization program that centralized food production, leading to some 30 million deaths by famine in the early 1960s—naturally fears that his rivals will seize the opportunity to conspire against him. To preempt such threats, the strongman typically resorts to purges, which Mao did four years after the end of the Great Leap Forward by launching the Cultural Revolution, a movement intended to eliminate “bourgeois elements” in society and in the government. In the years ahead, Xi may come to rely on purges more than he already does, further heightening tensions and distrust among the ruling elites.

A key component of Washington’s strategic confrontation with Beijing is economic “decoupling,” a significant reduction of the extensive commercial ties that the United States and China have built over the last four decades. Those advocating decoupling—such as U.S. President Donald Trump, who launched a trade war with China in 2018—believe that by cutting China off from the United States’ vast market and sophisticated technology, Washington can greatly reduce the potential growth of China’s power. In spite of the truce in the trade war following the interim deal that Trump struck with Xi in January 2020, U.S.-Chinese economic decoupling is almost certain to continue in the coming years regardless of who is in the White House, because reducing the United States’ economic dependence on China and constraining the growth of China’s power are now bipartisan aims.

As the economy weakens, the CCP may have to contend with the erosion of popular support resulting from a falling or stagnant standard of living. In the post-Mao era, the CCP has relied heavily on economic overperformance to sustain its legitimacy. Indeed, the generations born after the Cultural Revolution have experienced steadily rising living standards. A prolonged period of mediocre economic performance—say, a few years in which the growth rate hovers around three or four percent, the historical mean for developing countries—could severely reduce the level of popular support for the CCP, as ordinary Chinese grapple with rising unemployment and an inadequate social safety net.

In such an adverse economic environment, signs of social unrest, such as riots, mass protests, and strikes, will become more common. The deepest threat to the regime’s stability will come from the Chinese middle class. Well-educated and ambitious college graduates will find it difficult to obtain desirable jobs in the coming years because of China’s anemic economic performance. As their standard of living stalls, middle-class Chinese may turn against the party. This won’t be obvious at first: the Chinese middle class has traditionally shied away from politics. But even if members of the middle class do not participate in anti-regime protests, they may well express their discontent indirectly, in demonstrations over such issues as environmental protection, public health, education, and food safety. The Chinese middle class could also vote with its feet by emigrating abroad in large numbers.

An economic slowdown would also disrupt the CCP’s patronage structure, the perks and favors that the government provides to cronies and collaborators. In the recent past, a booming economy provided the government with abundant revenue—total revenue in absolute terms tripled between 2008 and 2018—providing the resources the CCP needed to secure the loyalty of midlevel apparatchiks, senior provincial leaders, and the managers of state-owned enterprises. As the Chinese economic miracle falters, the party will find it harder to provide the privileges and material comforts that such officials have come to expect. Party elites will also need to compete harder among themselves to get approval and funding for their pet projects. Dissatisfaction among the elites may spiral if Xi’s prized priorities, such as the BRI, continue to receive preferential treatment and everyone else must economize.

Finally, in the event of a dramatic slowdown, the Chinese government will most likely find itself confronting greater resistance in the country’s restive periphery, especially in Tibet and Xinjiang, which contain China’s most vocal ethnic minorities, and in Hong Kong, which was British territory until 1997 and retains a different system of governance with far more civil liberties. To be sure, escalating tensions in China’s periphery will not bring the CCP down. But they can be costly distractions. Should the party resort to overly harsh responses to assert its control, as is likely to be the case, the country will incur international criticism and harsh new sanctions. The escalation of human rights violations in China would also help push Europe closer to the United States, thus facilitating the formation of a broad anti-China coalition, which Beijing has been desperately trying to prevent.

Although middle-class discontent, ethnic resistance, and pro-democracy protests won’t force Xi out of power, such pervasive malaise would undoubtedly further erode his authority and cast doubts on his capacity to govern effectively. Economic weakness and elite demoralization could then push Beijing over the edge, leading the CCP toward calamity.

The events of the past few months have shown that CCP rule is far more brittle than many believed. This bolsters the case for a U.S. strategy of sustained pressure to induce political change. Washington should stay the course; its chances of success are only getting better and better. more>

FBI director: China is the “greatest long-term threat” to the US

New Europe – New Europe has, in the past, sounded the alarm on multiple occasions in an effort to caution the public about China’s flagship projects, including its Belt and Road initiative, as well as its numerous financial and technological investments around the world, all of which are aimed at ensuring that the Chinese Communists’ vital interests become so irreversibly intertwined with the order of business in the community that they guarantee that Beijing replaces the United States and its allies to become the arbiter of a new, Chinese-model, world order.

While speaking to the Hudson Institute in Washington on July 7, FBI Director Christopher Wray confirmed what New Europe has been concerned about, saying that acts of espionage and theft by China’s government pose the “greatest long-term threat” to the future of the United States.

As National Security Advisor O’Brien said in his recent remarks, we cannot close our eyes and ears to what China is doing—and today, in light of the importance of this threat, I will provide more detail on the Chinese threat than the FBI has ever presented in an open forum. This threat is so significant that the attorney general and secretary of state will also be addressing a lot of these issues in the next few weeks. But if you think these issues are just an intelligence issue, or a government problem, or a nuisance largely just for big corporations who can take care of themselves—you could not be more wrong.

It’s the people of the United States who are the victims of what amounts to Chinese theft on a scale so massive that it represents one of the largest transfers of wealth in human history.

In 2017, the Chinese military conspired to hack Equifax and made off with the sensitive personal information of 150 million Americans—we’re talking nearly half of the American population and most American adults—and as I’ll discuss in a few moments, this was hardly a standalone incident.

Our data isn’t the only thing at stake here—so are our health, our livelihoods, and our security.

We’ve now reached the point where the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours. Of the nearly 5,000 active FBI counterintelligence cases currently underway across the country, almost half are related to China. And at this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies, and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research.

To understand this threat and how we must act to respond to it, the American people should remember three things.

First: We need to be clear-eyed about the scope of the Chinese government’s ambition. China—the Chinese Communist Party—believes it is in a generational fight to surpass our country in economic and technological leadership.

That is sobering enough. But it’s waging this fight not through legitimate innovation, not through fair and lawful competition, and not by giving their citizens the freedom of thought and speech and creativity that we treasure here in the United States. Instead, China is engaged in a whole-of-state effort to become the world’s only superpower by any means necessary.

The second thing the American people need to understand is that China uses a diverse range of sophisticated techniques—everything from cyber intrusions to corrupting trusted insiders. They’ve even engaged in outright physical theft. And they’ve pioneered an expansive approach to stealing innovation through a wide range of actors—including not just Chinese intelligence services but state-owned enterprises, ostensibly private companies, certain kinds of graduate students and researchers, and a whole variety of other actors working on their behalf.

To achieve its goals and surpass America, China recognizes it needs to make leaps in cutting-edge technologies. But the sad fact is that instead of engaging in the hard slog of innovation, China often steals American intellectual property and then uses it to compete against the very American companies it victimized—in effect, cheating twice over. They’re targeting research on everything from military equipment to wind turbines to rice and corn seeds.

Through its talent recruitment programs, like the so-called Thousand Talents Program, the Chinese government tries to entice scientists to secretly bring our knowledge and innovation back to China—even if that means stealing proprietary information or violating our export controls and conflict-of-interest rules. more>

There’s a hidden economic trendline that is shattering the global trade system

By Marshall Auerback and Jan Ritch-Frel – Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers has recently conceded: “In general, economic thinking has privileged efficiency over resilience, and it has been insufficiently concerned with the big downsides of efficiency.” Policy across the globe is, therefore, moving in a more overtly nationalistic direction to rectify this shortcoming.

COVID-19 has accelerated a process that was well underway before it, spreading beyond U.S.-China-EU trade negotiations and into the world’s 50 largest economies. As much as many defenders of the old order lament this trend, it is as significant a shift as the dawn of the World Trade Organization global trade era.

Economists, politicians, and leading pundits are often tempted to see new economic patterns through the prisms of the past; we are therefore likely to hear that we’re back in an era of 19th-century mercantilism, or 1970s-style stagflation. But that misses the moment—the motives are different, and so are the outcomes.

What we are experiencing is the realisation by state planners of developed countries that new technologies enable a rapid ability to expand or initiate new and profitable production capacity closer to or inside their own markets. The cost savings in transport, packaging and security and benefits to regional neighbours and these countries’ domestic workforces will increasingly compete with the price of goods produced through the current internationalized trade system. U.S. national politicians from President Donald Trump to Senator Elizabeth Warren will be joined by a growing chorus who see the long-term domestic political benefit of supporting this transition.

The combination of high-speed communication, advances in automated manufacturing and computing combined with widespread access to the blueprints and information necessary to kick-start new production capacity increasingly makes the current international network of supply chains resemble a Rube Goldberg contraption, and it lightens the currency outflow challenge that many economies have had to deal with for the past seven decades.

Growing political will to restore manufacturing capacity in the national interest will have a shattering effect on countries that built up their economies through a labour price advantage over the past 40 years. No amount of currency depreciation or product dumping can overcome the reality of a country’s foreign customer base suddenly opting to produce and buy their own goods at competitive prices.

Taken in sum, the transformation underway isn’t just Donald Trump demanding less dependency on China’s production capacity—it’s a global process. It’s also India signalling it’s going to try to strike its own technological path away from China.

The rationales provided by governments to escape the strictures of the existing trade arrangements and into the new era are fairly easy: a mix of opportunism and need, tied to the exigencies of the moment, such as the current pandemic, and long-term national security, which of course can ultimately amount to any economic activity of scope. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s introduction in July of her sweeping Pharmaceutical Supply Chain Defense and Enhancement Act demonstrates that the U.S. power establishment is beginning to reach a consensus on this issue—no longer the sole province of Trump-era nationalism. “To defeat the current COVID-19 crisis and better equip the United States against future pandemics, we must boost our country’s manufacturing capacity,” Warren said, recasting the consequences of decades of policy to offshore our economic production as an “overreliance on foreign countries.” Likewise, Senator Tom Cotton has introduced a new bill focusing on domestic production of semiconductors, titled the “American Foundries Act of 2020,” which aims to rebuild the country’s semiconductor capacity. This bill too has significant bipartisan backing.

The government of Japan’s newly defined restrictions on foreign investment as reported by the Financial Times of around a dozen sectors including “power generation, military equipment, [computer] software [and technology]” in effect prioritize the claims of domestic manufacturers on national security grounds.

The government of Australia has likewise outlined new powers to scrutinize new overseas investment, as well as forcing foreign companies to sell their assets if they pose a national security threat. The proposals come in the wake of an intensifying trade war between the governments of Beijing and Canberra, alongside “a dramatic increase in the number of foreign investment bids probed by Australia’s spy agency ASIO, over fears that China was spying on sensitive health data,” according to news.com.au. This is happening at the same time that there has been an overhaul of thought with regard to manufacturing, something Australia hasn’t typically done much of. The headlines from Australia are beginning to look a lot like the Area Development stories in the United States.

The Canadian government has also announced plans to enhance foreign investment scrutiny “related to public health or critical supply chains during the pandemic, as well as any investment by state-owned companies or by investors with close ties to foreign governments,” according to the Globe and Mail. This attempt to disaggregate beneficial foreign investment flows from those deemed contrary to the national interest used to be a common feature of government policy in the post-World War II period. Canada established the Foreign Investment Review Agency in 1973 as a result of mounting concerns about rising overseas investment, notably the domination of U.S. multinationals, in the Canadian economy. Its provisions were repeatedly downgraded as globaliaation pressures intensified, but its value is now being reassessed for compatibility with national health policy and resiliency in manufacturing chains. Predictably, pharmaceutical independence is high on the list.

Taiwan, “a net importer of surgical masks before the pandemic, [has] created an onshore mask-manufacturing industry in just a month after registering its first infections in January,” reports the Financial Times. “Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen… said Taipei would repeat that approach to foster other new industries.” And world economists have noted that Taiwan and Vietnam lead the world in growth of global market share in exports, at the expense of larger economies like China.

In Europe, the EU leadership is publicly indicating a policy of subsidy and state investment in companies to prevent Chinese buyouts or “undercutting… prices.” This was supposed to represent a cross-European effort, but the coronavirus policy response is increasingly driven at the national level. Consequently, it is starting to fracture the EU’s single market, which has long been constructed on an intricate network of cross-border supply chains and strict rules preventing state subsidies to national champions.

Even Germany, with a vibrant export sector that has long made it a beneficiary of globalization, has also signaled a move toward greater economic nationalism.

Economic nationalist considerations are also driving a shift in Britain’s negotiating stance in the current Brexit trade negotiations with the EU, with the UK clearly prioritizing national sovereignty over frictionless free trade with its former single-market partners, even if that means a so-called “Hard Brexit.” The EU’s single-market rules specifically preclude state aid to specific industries if it undermines the operation of the single market. But the UK’s chief negotiating officer, David Frost, has made it clear that the ability to break free from the EU’s rulebook was essential to the purpose of Brexit, even if that meant reverting to the less favorable WTO trade relationship that exists for other non-EU countries.

Over the past 40 years, this kind of overt economic nationalism, especially as it has pertained to domestic manufacturing capabilities, has generally been eschewed by the United States, at least until the ascension of Donald Trump to the White House. In part, this is a product of the fact that as global hegemon, the United States used to be able to dominate global institutions (such as the International Monetary Fund and the WTO) and shape them toward U.S. national interests. But when necessary, national security considerations have intervened.

More recently, national security considerations in the semiconductor industry have again revived in the wake of the Trump administration’s growing dispute with Chinese 5G telecommunications equipment maker Huawei. The U.S. Commerce Department has now mandated that all semiconductor chip manufacturers using U.S. equipment, IP, or design software will require a license before shipping to Huawei. This decision has forced the world’s biggest chipmaker—Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC)—to stop taking fresh orders from Huawei, as it uses U.S. equipment in its own manufacturing processes. Paradoxically, then, the Trump administration has exploited pre-existing global supply linkages in the furtherance of a more robust form of economic nationalism. The same policy attitude is now visible with regard to pharmaceuticals (as it is in other parts of the world, to the likely detriment of China and India).

A shift like this will have a knock-on effect that will reverberate to the other parts of the world that for centuries have been forcibly limited—by arms and finance—to being sources of raw material export, refined if they were lucky. They will watch closely what happens with Australia, which for the majority of the past 150 years has been an exporter of food and minerals, but is now jumping on the project to establish a national manufacturing base.

As dozens of countries build their own manufacturing base—something only a handful of countries controlled for most of modern history—big questions will emerge about geopolitical stabilization and the classical tools of foreign influence. The world today in some respects resembles the 19th century’s balance-of-power politics, even as the majority of countries understand that some minimal level of state collaboration is essential to combat shared challenges. China is party to a growing number of global disputes, as emerging great powers typically experience: the U.S. vs. China, China vs. IndiaJapan vs. ChinaChina vs. Australia, and the EU vs. China. But hot wars are unlikely to feature as prominently as they did two centuries ago.

Expect to see Cold War-style conflict intensify, however, albeit in new forms. Instead of the old geopolitical arenas including access to vital commodities or stable petroleum markets, the new forms of the competition will put greater weight on access to advanced research and technologies, such as the collection, transfer and storage of data and the quantum computing power to process it.

The speed at which global supply chains can potentially shift to accommodate the rise in economic nationalism is considerable. The success with which we manage the transition will largely settle the debate as to whether it is, in fact, the better path to greater prosperity and global stability. more>

China after November

By Basil A. Coronakis – The war between the US and China that started shortly after the election of Donald Trump in 2016 and has since continue at relatively low intensity w

There is no doubt, of course, that it will continue at even stronger pace after the election, regardless of who the winner is, whether it is the remains of the Democratic party or of the Republicans. Indeed, Trump has brought the US’ relations with China to a point of no return. And regardless whether he will or not win a second term, the Sino-American war will not stop.

American society has been intelligently brain-washed by the Trump Administration into holding China responsible for the Wuhan Virus pandemic, and the more lives it costs in the United States, the more Americans will hold China responsible. As this is, for ordinary Americans, a matter of life or death, their anger and hatred for China will continue to grow in parallel with the pandemic effects.

It would be far fetched to speculate that Trump has handled the pandemic in the way to have exactly this effect, but there is no doubt that he maximized it as an excellent detergent for brain-washing the people of Main Street.

Americans are convinced that China is responsible for the pandemic, which is true, but to communicate this sort of truth efficiently, and to engage the entire population of the United States, was a victorious tactical maneuver in the New Cold War against China.

Now all Americans are psychologically engaged against China and this is the bond that the next president will be forced to continue the war against China. If he does not, he will certainly be accused for high treason, an accusation which regardless of what the impact is on his presidency, will carry on in the historical record.

For China, this war is a win-win situation because if Beijing loses, it will be completely isolated from the rest of the world and will have no external influences, which means no dangers, thus leaving the Communist regime with eternal power. For China’s Communists, isolation is the best-case scenario as they will maintain power and extend their totalitarian rule to all aspects of life by eliminating any potential threat to their grip on power, all of which will be done pretty easily as the Chinese people have never sensed freedom or democracy, and they are trained to work for a handful of rice under the shadow of the Great Helmsman. more>

America’s new civil war (II)

By Basil A. Coronakis – A chaos theory that claims a butterfly in Manhattan may generate a tornado in China.

That’s the theory, but in practice the tiny virus that was either purposely or accidentally dripped from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology has created world-wide chaos, and we are just at the beginning. Our society has just entered into a large-scale evolution, seemingly far from a final settlement. How far that end is, nobody can seriously predict. Nor can they imagine exactly how it will end as the process is taking on the shape a major social confrontation. Everybody is taking positions against everybody else, and everyone will end to be on its own.

At present, very few people understand what kind of situation the world is getting to. The general panic caused by the virus was just the excuse to trigger a large-scale evolution, which for the time being remains under the radar, due to the fact that it is only the very beginning. The reasons can be summarized by the unbridgeable social gaps generated by periods of prolonged austerity, extended overregulation, the ever-increasing politically uncontrolled powers of administration and a scarcity of true political leaders.

When coupled with an unreasonable and prolonged lockdown, which added unemployment and misery to an already toxic mix, you have the perfect recipe for a social uprising.

Presently, three players affect the socio-political making of our times – the United States, China, and Russia. The European Union, although an integral part of the West, is leaderless and acts more like an unhappy player with no real role in a play where the first act is being staged across the Atlantic.

The United States is in civil war and one intelligent exercise would be to figure out what title future historians will give to this hopefully short, chapter in their history. more>

China, America, and the International Order after the Pandemic

By Mira Rapp-Hooper – As people around the world fall ill, global markets convulse, and supply chains collapse, COVID-19 may also reorder international politics as we know it. No analyst can know when this crisis will end, much less divine the world we will meet at its conclusion. But as scholars have begun to note, it is plausible that China will emerge from the wreckage as more of a global leader than it began.

Following World War II, the United States was a chief architect of the so-called liberal international order and became its uncontested leader with the Cold War’s end. China, with its breathtaking economic growth and vast increases in military spending, has been on the ascent for decades, but long remained focused on domestic stability and the security of the Chinese Communist Party. It clambered to center stage after 2008, when the global financial crisis appeared to signal a weakening of American primacy.

China and others took the American financial stumble as a blunder of democratic capitalism, and a moment of opportunity to advance their own agendas. Under Xi Jinping, Beijing has seen the last decade as a period of “strategic opportunity” — one it did not necessarily expect to last, as it faces its own expected economic and demographic slowdowns. It built military bases in the South China Sea in contravention of international law, launched the vast and opaque Belt and Road Initiative to spread economic and political influence, doubled down on the state’s role in the economy and prejudicial policies, and coopted international human rights bodies. Along the way, it began to develop its own global governance aspirations and visions.

With the election of Donald Trump, the United States widened Beijing’s window of opportunity with its self-inflicted political convulsion. To China’s great fortune, American foreign policy was now expressly hostile to multilateral institutions, bellicose on trade, and defined national security in terms of narrow, homeland defense. To experts in the United States and abroad this looked like a willing abdication of the system the United States had constructed and led. But alongside these fears, and in another significant shift, foreign policy thinkers from both major parties increasingly agreed that the United States and China had entered a period of a great-power competition, in part, over the future of the international order and which power would set its terms.

Alone, the United States could not hope to match China’s economic and military heft in Asia. With allies by its side, America could remain peerless and manage peaceful change. Narrow unilateralism stoked renewed perceptions of further American decline and attenuated an otherwise favorable balance of power.

Enter the novel coronavirus.

It should be stunning that a virus that originated in China and spread in part due to Chinese government mismanagement may reorder the world to Beijing’s advantage, as Kurt Campbell and Rush Doshi have argued. more>

Operation Tech Transfer

By Brian A. Weiss – The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is a world-class research organization. We have phenomenal scientists and engineers with impeccable research credentials. Our researchers are experts in a range of fields including artificial intelligence, cybersecurity, fire, forensics, infrastructure, manufacturing and public safety. They are constantly pushing the boundaries of theoretical and applied research. I am often in awe when I learn of the new groundbreaking results my colleagues achieve.

However, while we do great research, we don’t stop there. Our work doesn’t end until our target stakeholders, the American taxpayers, put our technologies and capabilities to work for themselves, so they can grow their businesses, be more profitable, and thrive on the world stage.

What I’m talking about is technology transfer. Simply put, technology transfer is the activity of packaging research into industry-consumable pieces, broadcasting the research to the appropriate communities, and promoting the adoption of these new technologies. I’m a big fan of technology transfer, and I’m thrilled to share my experiences with you!

It all starts with my research. more>

The Last Time Democracy Almost Died

By Jill Lepore – American democracy, too, staggered, weakened by corruption, monopoly, apathy, inequality, political violence, hucksterism, racial injustice, unemployment, even starvation. “We do not distrust the future of essential democracy,” F.D.R. said in his first Inaugural Address, telling Americans that the only thing they had to fear was fear itself. But there was more to be afraid of, including Americans’ own declining faith in self-government.

“American democracy,” as a matter of history, is democracy with an asterisk, the symbol A-Rod’s name would need if he were ever inducted into the Hall of Fame. Not until the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act can the United States be said to have met the basic conditions for political equality requisite in a democracy. All the same, measured not against its past but against its contemporaries, American democracy in the twenty-first century is withering. The Democracy Index rates a hundred and sixty-seven countries, every year, on a scale that ranges from “full democracy” to “authoritarian regime.”

In 2006, the U.S. was a “full democracy,” the seventeenth most democratic nation in the world.

In 2016, the index for the first time rated the United States a “flawed democracy,” and since then American democracy has gotten only more flawed. True, the United States still doesn’t have a Rome or a Berlin to march on. That hasn’t saved the nation from misinformation, tribalization, domestic terrorism, human-rights abuses, political intolerance, social-media mob rule, white nationalism, a criminal President, the nobbling of Congress, a corrupt Presidential Administration, assaults on the press, crippling polarization, the undermining of elections, and an epistemological chaos that is the only air that totalitarianism can breathe.

Nothing so sharpens one’s appreciation for democracy as bearing witness to its demolition. Mussolini called Italy and Germany “the greatest and soundest democracies which exist in the world today,” and Hitler liked to say that, with Nazi Germany, he had achieved a “beautiful democracy,” prompting the American political columnist Dorothy Thompson to remark of the Fascist state, “If it is going to call itself democratic we had better find another word for what we have and what we want.” In the nineteen-thirties, Americans didn’t find another word. But they did work to decide what they wanted, and to imagine and to build it.

Thompson, who had been a foreign correspondent in Germany and Austria and had interviewed the Führer, said, in a column that reached eight million readers, “Be sure you know what you prepare to defend.”

It’s a paradox of democracy that the best way to defend it is to attack it, to ask more of it, by way of criticism, protest, and dissent. more>

Europe Wants ‘Strategic Autonomy,’ but That’s Much Easier Said Than Done

By Stewart M. Patrick – Strategic autonomy has obvious appeal to Europeans at a time of fraying trans-Atlantic bonds and deepening great-power competition. Aspiring to self-reliance is one thing, however. Achieving it will require much more from the European Union. The heterogeneous bloc will have to develop a coherent strategic culture and come to some agreement on a shared assessment of threats—and on how the EU should pursue its interests and promote its values internationally.

Europeans must also reassure the United States that any new EU military capabilities will complement rather than undermine NATO.

Europe’s strategic reappraisal is largely, though not entirely, a function of President Donald Trump. While his predecessors in Washington often pressed the Europeans to ramp up defense spending, Trump has upended the trans-Atlantic alliance in several ways. He has depicted it as obsolete, questioned America’s commitments to NATO’s mutual defense as outlined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, and taken precipitous actions without consulting allies in Europe—such as his recent unilateral withdrawal of U.S. troops from northeastern Syria. Confronting such uncertainty, Europeans naturally want to hedge their bets. One way to do so is by developing autonomous military capabilities that permit them to act outside NATO, including with a post-Brexit United Kingdom.

Washington’s own identification of China as America’s primary economic, technological and strategic adversary reinforces these instincts. Few Europeans share such a zero-sum assessment, seeking instead to pursue what Beijing terms “win-win” relations. While Americans seem bent on a new Cold War with China, Europeans must confront a more immediate military and political threat: an aggressive Russia under Vladimir Putin, right on their doorstep.

Beyond defense matters, Trump’s disruption of U.S. foreign policy has persuaded a growing number of Europeans that they need to pursue strategic autonomy across the board. America’s abdication of global leadership has thrust the EU into an unaccustomed role—that of chief defender of the rules-based, liberal international order. As Trump has embraced unilateralism and protectionism, cozied up to dictators and ignored climate change, the EU has become the primary champion of collective security, multilateralism, human rights and the preservation of the global commons. more>

The planet is burning

By Stephen J Pyne – From the Arctic to the Amazon, from California to Gran Canaria, from Borneo to India to Angola to Australia – the fires seem everywhere. Their smoke obscures subcontinents by day; their lights dapple continents at night, like a Milky Way of flame-stars. Rather than catalogue what is burning, one might more aptly ask: what isn’t? Where flames are not visible, the lights of cities and of gas flares are: combustion via the transubstantiation of coal and oil into electricity. To many observers, they appear as the pilot flames of an advancing apocalypse. Even Greenland is burning.

But the fires we see are only part of our disturbed pyrogeography. Of perhaps equal magnitude is a parallel world of lost, missing and sublimated fires. The landscapes that should have fire and don’t. The marinating of the atmosphere by greenhouse gases. The sites where traditional flame has been replaced by combustion in machines. The Earth’s biota is disintegrating as much by tame fire’s absence as by feral fire’s outbreaks. The scene is not just about the bad burns that trash countrysides and crash into towns; it’s equally about the good fires that have vanished because they are suppressed or no longer lit. Looming over it all is a planetary warming from fossil-fuel combustion that acts as a performance enhancer on all aspects of fire on Earth.

So dire is the picture that some observers argue that the past is irrelevant. We are headed into a no-narrative, no-analogue future. So immense and unimaginable are the coming upheavals that the arc of inherited knowledge that joins us to the past has broken. There is no precedent for what we are about to experience, no means by which to triangulate from accumulated human wisdom into a future unlike anything we have known before. more>