This was simply too funny. If you haven't seen it, consider it my New Year's gift. Ever wonder what the Chinese participants were really thinking? Well...
And kudos to SNL for living up to its mission to parody anyone, from any party. They do it so well, which is one reason why they're still going.
Asia Times has an interesting piece titled: "Trouble in China's little Africa." They don't mean Beijing's African allies, where the paper acknowledges that China's approach raises questions of colonialism v2.0 (question for the peanut gallery - is that a bad thing? why or why not?). Instead, they mean the growing set of African businesspeople in China's southern provinces:
"The southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the country's (and much of the world's) manufacturing hub, has seen the largest influx of Africans, with most of them doing business in a single neighborhood in the provincial capital city of Guangzhou. An estimated 20,000 Africans now live in Guangzhou, with thousands more regularly streaming through the city as visitors who buy pirated DVDs and Chinese-made clothes, shoes, electronics and other products for resale back home.
That makes Africans the largest foreign population in the city - and their numbers in Guangzhou more than double those in Beijing and Shanghai combined.
African traffic to and from Guangzhou has grown to the point that, in November of 2008, Kenya Airways began the first non-stop flight from Africa to the Chinese mainland with its Nairobi to Guangzhou express. Indeed, Guangzhou has become such a haven for Africans from a variety of different countries that the Canaan Export Clothes and Trading Center in and around which they thrive is referred to by locals as "Chocolate City".
The less good news is that the Chinese, never thrilled with foreigners, are not exactly welcoming. This is exacerbated by lots of Africans who stay on past their visas, and the Africans' treatment has triggered public demonstrations in China. The Chinese are certainly treated better in Africa (so far), and this is the sort of thing that might build up resentment if the game is seen as all one way.
The larger point is how it feeds into an emerging rivalry that will define the Indian Ocean basin in the early 21st century.
The Chinese have the ability to produce goods that can be sold to Africans at an affordable price point. India has less ability to produce them, but does and could, and has a substantial expatriate base in Africa, just as China does. They are also showing some interesting leaps in redesigning and re-conceiving whole product types like stoves, fridges, etc., and their distribution models, so that even 3rd world poor can afford them.
There will be 2 games going on here. One is a business competition, as Chinese and Indian firms compete to design and produce goods for export to Africa, with its expatriate communities as critical middlemen. The second game is all about natural resources (which will eventually include food production as water shortages in China and India bite), and involves African governments - again, however, with local expat communities as critical players.
The thing is, Africa remains a continent where bribery and payoffs are endemic. Despite some bright spots spurred by courageous local leaders, shifts in W's African aid policies, Paul Wolfowitz's World Bank efforts, that isn't going away. Indeed, full relapse remains a strong bet even in some of the bright spots, and any diaspora cold war will both leverage and exacerbate that fatal flaw.
Which means assets on the ground will matter. The relative economic strengths of China and India's expat communities, which will derive from the business competition, are going to affect the resource competition as well. Africa's governments, which do so much to keep their people poor, will be the wild card in both competitions, paid large sums at multiple levels to influence both.
Which does raise the odds of Africa remaining poor, no matter what anyone in America or Europe might want to do about it. But that isn't really a factor for the larger players here - which don't include America, or Europe.
Jamal Afridi of the "realist" (read: diplomatic establishment) Council on Foreign Relations pens an analysis of Pakistan's relationship with China.
Will the sharp upturn in relations between the USA and India, begun under President Bush, prompt Pakistan to push for even closer ties with Beijing? Pakistan certainly values its relationship with China, but like most large-small relationships, the value isn't fully reciprocated. After the Uighur protests, China is growing more concerned about Pakistan's locus as a center of gravity for Islamonazis, and worry that more Uighurs could begin finding their way there. So there's a bunch of complicating concerns and interests. Most interesting passage:
"China is well aware of the threat it faces if it becomes too involved in counterterrorism efforts within Pakistan," says Garver, "and that means taking a more cautious and calculated approach--at least publicly--in strengthening Pakistan's secular institutions against the Islamist challenge. This may partly explain why China has been quite comfortable in encouraging the United States to engage more with Pakistan: to take the heat off of China."
I've just had my attention drawn to a blog called the Smart Globalist. A current feature talks about the economic crisis underway, and some of its global aspects that aren't receiving a lot of discussion yet. From "Asia and Germany Need to Wake Up":
"The Anglos had a party by living beyond their means, and Asia began to get rich while Germany got even richer. But the Anglo consumers were borrowing heavily against their credit cards and the equity in their houses to pay for the party. There was bound to be a moment when they couldn't borrow any more.... It is because stimulus alone would simply perpetuate this unsustainable dynamic that rebalancing must be its companion.
....But the surplus countries need to boost their domestic demand as well. Indeed, because they have excess production capacity that can no longer be easily exported, they actually need more stimulus than the trade deficit countries. And this is where things are getting very difficult. So far, the surplus countries have been resisting.... Of course, friendly persuasion and enlightened self-interest are the preferred avenues. However, if China and other surplus countries insist on doubling down on their export-led growth strategies and resisting currency revaluation, the United States uniquely does hold and ace that can force their hands. It can export inflation...."
Of all the constraints facing China, environmental constraints to growth may end up looming even larger than the absence of rule of law. But that may be cold comfort, given the damage being done. Neal Asbury in "China's Environmental Meltdown: On it's Way to America" [sic, subscription only]:
"Recently I stood on the 23rd floor of a downtown Seoul office building. In the middle of the day I could barely see the silhouettes of buildings nearby. The sun was blotted from the sky. The people outside scurried about with white masks covering their faces as if attacked by biological weapons. A thick grimy dust coated everything. No matter how hard and often you scrub you can never make it go away."
Remember Cicero's picture from China in "Wish You Happy"? This phenomenon is called "Yellow Dust" - and it comes from China. On average, the Chinese are bringing 1 coal-fired power plant on line per week, each with a 75 year lifespan, generally using 1950s technology rather than anything like new clean coal tech, and often burning high-sulfur coal. Neal adds that China's emissions rise over the next 10 years will surpass by 5x the decreases that the Kyoto Protocol seeks from the rest of industrialized world (and will not get). Nor is that all:
"Indonesian Borneo and Sumatra are undoubtedly one of the most important habitats of wildlife in the world. There is believed to be thousands of plant and animal species still undiscovered. It is unthinkable but many of these species will become extinct before we ever knew they existed. Since the mid 90's when China's economy kicked into high-gear, nearly five million acres per year of Indonesian tropical rainforests have been destroyed for their timber. This is an area about half the size of the Netherlands..."
And of course, massive fires are now an annual feature there, sending smoke clouds over Indonesia's neighbours. Neal suggests a remedy - though that remedy will not alleviate China's biggest environmental issue, which is neither of these things:
It's water, of course. Get used to hearing that word a lot this century.
"The deforestation of China's north and northeast provinces has created a large, desert wasteland. Decades of timber exploitation, slash and burn farming techniques and population growth has resulted in desiccation or the elimination of water resources as plant life disappears, rainfall shrinks and lakes disappear. More than fifty percent of China's land is either arid or semi-arid, mostly the result of man-made activities."
I'm not sure I'd say "mostly"... but they have certainly been a big contributor. Industrialization exacerbates this problem, because it requires more water than farming.
If supplies are limited, and clean supplies are even more so, but an influx of migrants from the country to the cities is the biggest political risk factor for a socialist dictatorship... who gets priority? Right. And so the environment goes to hell, and people are beaten and tortured for complaining, until the problem is so bad that it gets in the way of other state goals. That has certainly been the usual pattern in Marxist economies. Eventually, it comes to a crunch, of course. Though tactics like food imports (which can be a less bulky way to import water) can and will be used along the way.
Before we feel too smug, it's worth noting that we aren't entirely blameless in these little dramas. Where does the appetite for Chinese furniture come from, that has driven deforestation in China and beyond? For industrialized goods?
Now, we could say that managing these things is China's problem, but there are a couple of issues with that.
One issue is that China will export these problems. Actively, vid. the bribes to Indonesian officials that doom a rainforest environment whose importance matches the Amazon's. Passively, via the "yellow dust" that chokes South Korea and Japan; some scientists believe it will eventually reach to Hawaii and the West Coast of the USA. So it becomes a problem for others.
Now add the fact that China is also right up top of the "world's most corrupt" list, and current trade relationships ensure that even a mythical Chinese government with good intentions will be powerless to do much about this sort of thing.
American influence can't solve every problem. It's not that powerful in a world of real constraints, and just because a problem exists does not necessarily mean that America is positioned by geography, resources, or human capability to solve it. Having said that, it is China's biggest trading partner. And if China begins importing food, North America is its most likely source.
As such, Neal Asbury suggests a free trade agreement with China - but one with environmental conditions and requirements, and external monitoring, in order to deal with the corruption issue:
"The answer must be enshrined in a comprehensive U.S.-China Free Trade Agreement. Trade with the United States must be conditioned on environmental protections that are strictly enforced and monitored by American scientists. Our most recent Free Trade Agreements negotiated with Colombia, Korea and Peru include strong language on the environment. We must go much further with China."
The trillion-dollar question is whether China would ever accept that sort of monitoring, even for the carrot of a Free Trade agreement with America. I tend to think not - and without that, any agreement with China isn't worth the paper they print it on. It's also worth noting that the US State Department and/or Commerce Department would be very quick to try and negotiate that verification away, unless faced by very strong pressure over that exact issue. It's part of their basic natures, and of course we can see the effects of their "deal for deal's sake" mentality in security-related situations as well.
Meanwhile, the Democrats would have to choose between the global environment/ carbon emissions and cries for protectionism from US workers. The GOP would also have some choices to make, though they'd be less acute because its Hamiltonian/realist wing would sell out the environmental angle in a heartbeat, in return for the lure (real or imagined) of a business deal. Meanwhile, other parts of the GOP coalition would see security risks, leading to a fracture in that party as well.
Those are very high hurdles to cross. If they can be crossed - which is not at all certain - Neal's suggestion would have strong merit, as the approach that would be most likely to make enough of a dent in these trade/environmental issues to matter.
I'm not holding my breath, personally. Not unless I find myself in China...
Reports surfaced in late March that a company with several hundred million dollars worth of contracts, acting as the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan's army and police forces, has been delivering substandard ammunition and violating military export regulations. It operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, FL, and employs 22 year old Vice President who is a licensed masseur. Here on Winds, hypocrisyrules recommended it - and it definitely struck me as an April Fool's Day story. Except that it's true, and involves solid investigative reporting of a military issue by the New York Times. How's that for an April Fool?
In March 2007, "$298M to AEY for Ammo in Afghanistan" covered the firm's key contract. I thought Miami Beach was an unusual place for that kind of contract winner, but my time is very limited and investigation is not an option unless I have far more reason that that to wonder.
Turns out that wondering would have been very justified. As of March 25/08, AEY, Inc. is barred from future contracts with any agency of the US government, and is under investigation by the Department of Defense's inspector general and by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Complaints include the quality and origins of ammunition it provided, and allegations of corruption. I'm just as puzzled as y'all are that the present contract isn't suspended as well, but it sounds like the company has more or less come apart, and the question may be purely academic by now. Here's what's going on...
Reports indicate that AEY shopped across the former Eastern Bloc for Soviet-caliber small arms ammunition supplies, including significant business with Albania whose stocks are considered substandard. That business was reportedly conducted through Evdin Ltd. in Cyprus, and its terms raise issues on two fronts. One is the possibility of corruption in Albania, using Evdin as a middleman firm to divide the profits with officials while remaining outside of US government accountability. Another is the issue of sourcing, given that millions of those rounds were produced in China and may thereby violate American law.
The quality of the other stocks reportedly varied widely from excellent to sub-standard, and significant quantities of the ammunition delivered by AEY reportedly dated from the 1960s. Other allegations include dealings with Petr Bernatik, who had been accused by Czech officials of illegal arms trafficking and was listed on the US State Department's Defense Trade Controls watch list.
"As of today, the Army has issued five task orders, collectively worth $155.3 million, the official said. AEY has made about 80 deliveries, with an estimated value of $54.6 million, into Kabul. Those deliveries violated two specific terms of the contract, the official said. One stated that the ammunition could not be acquired directly or indirectly from the People’s Republic of China, and the other specified that it must be packaged to comply with best commercial practices for international shipment."
The Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary of defense for public affairs Bryan Whitman added that:
"Safety and performance has not apparently been a factor, according to our folks in Afghanistan.... They have had no safety incidents reported and no reports of any ammunition that has malfunctioned associated with this particular contract."
The New York Times, whose persistent investigation and enquiries were reportedly instrumental in sparking the US Army's investigation and suspension, offered its own in-depth report. It suggests that Whitman's statement may be strictly true, but misleading:
"In January, American officers in Kabul, concerned about munitions from AEY, had contacted the Army's Rock Island Arsenal, in Illinois, and raised the possibility of terminating the contract.... And yet after that meeting [in late February], AEY sent another shipment of nearly one million cartridges to Afghanistan that the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan regarded as substandard. Lt. Col. David G. Johnson, the command spokesman, said that while there were no reports of ammunition misfiring, some of it was in such poor condition that the military had decided not to issue it. "Our honest answer is that the ammunition is of a quality that is less than desirable; the munitions do not appear to meet the standards that many of us are used to," Colonel Johnson said. "We are not pleased with the way it was delivered."
It would seem that even a Kalashnikov has limits on what it will fire. Ammunition that is not issued will not malfunction - but neither does it qualify as acceptable performance and safety.
Nor is this merely a contracting issue, given the tactical and relationship implications for key allies in a war:
"But problems with the ammunition were evident last fall in places like Nawa, Afghanistan, an outpost near the Pakistani border, where an Afghan lieutenant colonel surveyed the rifle cartridges on his police station's dirty floor. Soon after arriving there, the cardboard boxes had split open and their contents spilled out, revealing ammunition manufactured in China in 1966. "This is what they give us for the fighting," said the colonel, Amanuddin, who like many Afghans has only one name. "It makes us worried, because too much of it is junk."
Unfortunately, betrayal of the corporation's duty to its customers on the front lines is only the beginning of the problem. Allies who believe they have been given "junk" to fight with, for instance, are far less likely to fight at all.
Afghan forces are the only long-term solution to security in Afghanistan, and countries like Britain and Australia are expressing unease about the willingness and ability of NATO to lead the Afghan mission. Its popularity is low, and is contested in many of the East Bloc countries that are taking risks and contributing fully.
Given these circumstances, AEY's performance under this contract may well end up having international reverberations that reach beyond the mere investigations into its arms dealing partners and practices.
Readings & Sources
The useless (to the Tibetans) charade of visiting the Dalai Lama
"If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out about Chinese repression in China and Tibet" Nancy Pelosi said, "we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world".
She may not be exaggerating. But the issue is not about the freedom-loving people of the world, who are already speaking up against Chinese repression in Tibet.
The issue is of ostensibly freedom-loving governments and political leaders of the world, who are not. It is all very well for the Speaker of the US House of Representatives to travel half-way around the world and stand beside the Dalai Lama at this time. It plays well to the world's television cameras and to Ms Pelosi's constituents back in America. But by way of meaningful support for the Tibetan struggle, it means little. On the contrary, it will allow China's Communist party to project the Tibetan protests as part of an American conspiracy to shame China.
If she really wanted to support the Dalai Lama's struggle, she needn't even have made the trip to Dharamsala. Perhaps the US Congress could have adopted a stern resolution. Perhaps American congressmen could try and compel the Bush administration to be blunt in its criticism of China. And perhaps (yes, we're stretching it), freedom-loving American legislators could compel the Bush administration to do something about it.
No, Ms Pelosi and US legislators are not doing that. Regardless of their sincerity, they are content to only put up another show of the dismal political theatre. At the Tibetans' expense. Ms Pelosi could have spared us this act.
With big comeback wins. Including handing Taiwan its only loss. Qualifiers from this round, in alphabetical order: Canada. South Korea. Taiwan.
Won't that be interesting at Beijing 2008?
Agence France Presse covers a recent report by Albert Keidel, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former US Treasury official for the Office of East Asian Nations and World Bank economist in Beijing. He believes China's economy could be overvalued by as much as 40%, citing data from the Asian Development Bank and guidelines from the World Bank.
Keidel's analysis is based on purchasing power parity (PPP), which strips out the impact of exchange rates. There are a few quick consequences and implications that drop out of this, if true:
The World Bank's lead economist for China, Bert Hofman, disagrees. He thinks it's too early to use the PPP as a basis to revise the size of China's economy, because the tools are still at only a research stage.
Still, call it one more useful maybe to plug into "China's Stresses, Goals, Military Buildups... and Futures."
Former Soviet government "news" agency RIA-Novosti reports that Iran has signed a contract with China for the delivery of two squadrons (24) of its J-10 fighter planes, which are powered by Russian engines and avionics. Representatives of the Iran Aircraft Manufacturing Industrial Company said China would deliver the jets during the in 2008-2010 time frame. Novosti adds that "Experts, estimating one fighter at $40 million, put the contract's value at $1 billion." Iran's most advanced fighters are currently MiG-29s, many of which once belonged to Saddam Hussein and fled to Iran during the 1991 Desert Storm war, and a handful of F-14 Tomcats that have been ingeniously maintained over the years.
The Chinese J-10 is based on plans sold by the Israelis in the 1980s, after their Lavi fighter program had been canceled. The massacre at Tiananmen Square ended cooperation with western aerospace firms, however, forcing China to install Russian AL-31FN engines instead of American F100/F110s. This in turn forced a slew of alternations owing to changes to the aircraft's new inlet requirements, weight distribution, center of gravity, et. al. Russian avionics with their own set of space requirements also had to be installed and tested to replace American/Israeli equipment, which led to further design changes. Then there were the indigenous Chinese efforts, including the Type 1473 pulse-Doppler (PD) fire-control radar to replace Israel's Elta or the American APG-68. The end result entered service in 2003 after well over a decade in development, and is a rather different aircraft than the Lavi. Nonetheless, it retains the aircraft's canard-delta layout and some of its capabilities, and its aerodynamic layout and known/reported characteristics suggest an aircraft that is equal or slightly superior to American F-16 C/Ds.
J-10s based near key nuclear bomb development sites, along with new Russian air-defense systems, could complicate Israeli pre-emptive strikes - though many other variables would also come into play for such scenarios.
But first, the deal has to pan out. China is denying the story. Which doesn't necessarily make it untrue, but does make it interesting. See Defense Industry Daily's full report...
On March 4, 2007, Jiang Enzhu, the Deputy Secretary General and spokesman for the National People's Congress, announced that China's official military budget would grow 17.8% this year, to $45 billion. This continues a trend DID covered in 2006 and 2005, and will mark the 19th consecutive year of double-digit military budget growth in the "People's Republic" of China.
As in the Soviet Union, however, the official budget and the real budget are not the same thing. Many items are hidden under other ministries, or simply not reported truthfully. RAND's Project Air Force, which has also studied China's arms industry modernization, estimated the 2004 Chinese military budget at $65-79 billion in FY 2001 dollars; at 2% inflation, this would equal $76-86 billion in FY 2006 dollars. Sources discussed in our 2006 article were closer to $100 billion, which is in agreement since increases of 12% and then 14.7% give an FY 2006 range of $96-110 billion with 2% inflation. The FY 2007 range would be $115-130 billion, given another 17.8% increase. Other analysts have placed China's real defense budget at up to 4x official spending, in which case actual Chinese defense spending could be as high as $180 billion for FY 2007.
Regardless of the exact figure, officials from the US Pentagon and from India's RAW (Research and Analysis Wing) intelligence service now agree that the Chinese defense budget is now the second largest in the world. There certainly are a lot of weapons programs underway. For a set of additional links & resources concerning China's socio-economic, geo-political and military plans, challenges, and issues, see: "China's Stresses, Goals, Military Buildups... and Futures" at Winds of Change.NET.
Weapons in the final frontier
There are three ways of looking at it: China tested a new way to clean up orbital slots occupied by defunct satellites; it now has a way to take out space-based assets belonging to other countries; or, that it just created a whole lot of hazardous orbital junk up there. But let there be no mistake---it has also started this century's arms race. Star wars, ladies and gentlemen, has received a new lease of life.
What China did is not tremendously difficult to do. Both the United States and the Soviet Union have tested anti-satellite (ASAT) missiles, but the post-cold war world has held back from testing space-related weapons. That unspoken taboo is now broken.
Where is India in all this? At least three air chiefs have publicly talked about the establishment of an Aerospace Command. Although the government has not approved its formation, the Indian air force has started "work on conceptualising (space-based) weapons systems and its operational command system". And then there are accounts of DURGA or Directionally Unrestricted Ray-Gun Array, and KALI or Kinetic Attack Loitering Interceptor. Whether or not these projects exist outside the anyone's imagination is not known. But the folks at DRDO have a way with acronyms. (Actually, these weapons may belong to the family of advanced weapons known to professionals as Vertically Aligned Polar Omnidirectional Uniform Radioactive Weapon And Re-entry Equipment.)
For now, the United States has reacted with reproach at the Chinese for having defected first in this prisoner's dilemma game. But the Chinese may have settled the domestic debate in the United States weapons programmes in space. They may have settled it in India too.