Dilip Hiro – Informed Comment https://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Wed, 21 Apr 2021 03:17:52 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=5.8.10 Washington is Spoiling for a new Cold War with China, but this Ambition needs a Reality Check https://www.juancole.com/2021/04/washington-spoiling-ambition.html Wed, 21 Apr 2021 04:01:21 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=197339 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – Like his immediate predecessor, Joe Biden is committed to a distinctly anti-China global strategy and has sworn that China will not “become the leading country in the world, the wealthiest country in the world, and the most powerful country in the world… on my watch.” In the topsy-turvy universe created by the Covid-19 pandemic, it was, however, Jamie Dimon, the CEO and chairman of JP Morgan Chase, a banking giant with assets of $3.4 trillion, who spoke truth to Biden on the subject.

While predicting an immediate boom in the U.S. economy “that could easily run into 2023,” Dimon had grimmer news on the future as well. “China’s leaders believe that America is in decline,” he wrote in his annual letter to the company’s shareholders. While the U.S. had faced tough times in the past, he added, today “the Chinese see an America that is losing ground in technology, infrastructure, and education — a nation torn and crippled by politics, as well as racial and income inequality — and a country unable to coordinate government policies (fiscal, monetary, industrial, regulatory) in any coherent way to accomplish national goals.” He was forthright enough to say, “Unfortunately, recently, there is a lot of truth to this.”

As for China, Dimon could also have added, its government possesses at least two powerful levers in areas where the United States is likely to prove vulnerable: dominant control of container ports worldwide and the supplies of rare earth metals critical not just to the information-technology sector but also to the production of electric and hybrid cars, jet fighters, and missile guidance systems. And that’s only a partial list of the areas where China is poised to become dominant in the foreseeable future. Here’s a likely scenario.

The Digital Yuan Versus the (Missing) Digital Dollar

Within the broad headline of the globe’s “second-largest economy,” China has already either surpassed the United States or is running neck-and-neck with it in certain specific sectors.

With a global smartphone market share of 20% in the second quarter of 2020, China’s Huawei Technologies topped the charts, marginally exceeding South Korea’s Samsung, and well ahead of Apple, according to the International Data Corporation. This happened despite a concerted drive by President Donald Trump’s administration to damage Huawei that culminated, in May 2020, with Washington barring companies worldwide from using U.S.-made machinery or software to design or produce chips for that company or its entities from that September on. Nonetheless, with a 47% share of China’s booming 5G smartphone market, Huawei topped the list there while it kept up its investment in future-oriented, cutting-edge technologies and basic research to the tune of a striking $3 billion to $5 billion annually.

Broadly speaking, China continues to make impressive strides when it comes to developing its information and communications technology sector. Its Fintech (Financial Technology) report, published in October 2020, showed that an estimated 87% of Chinese consumers used fintech services. With a vast mobile-payment system that hit $29 trillion (200 trillion yuan) worth of payments in 2019, China is shaping up to become the globe’s first “cashless society” and its largest financial-technology ecosystem by the end of this decade.

Less than 10% of Americans use mobile payments, which means a similar scenario for the United States is nowhere on the horizon. With mobile transactions in China already accounting for at least four out of every five payments and more than half the value of all non-cash retail payments, that country is poised to leave the U.S., a comparative laggard in fintech, shackled to a cash-dominated system.

In their relentless drive for innovation, the Chinese authorities started pushing the development of a digital currency in certain regions in August 2020. Their specific goals were to make daily life easier for citizens and digital payments more secure. While non-bank payment platforms like Alipay and WeChat Pay required users to link to bank accounts, a digital wallet with an e-currency deposit could be opened with a unique personal identification — a driver’s license or a mobile phone number — enabling the un-banked population of China to embrace the digital world.

As a result, the People’s Bank of China became the first major central bank to issue a virtual currency. A broader roll-out is expected for the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February 2022, which will give the digital yuan international exposure.

This has alarmed the Biden administration. Officials at the Treasury Department, the State Department, the Pentagon, and the National Security Council are frantically trying to comprehend the potential implications of a virtual yuan system. They are particularly eager to understand how it would be distributed, and whether it could be used to bypass Washington’s international sanctions as applied to Iran. What distresses some American officials and experts is the notion that someday China’s virtual yuan could replace the U.S. dollar as the world’s dominant reserve currency.

At the Federal Reserve, Chairman Jerome Powell insisted that the central bank was involved in a large-scale research and development project on a possible future digital dollar, though pointing out that such a project could only be launched via a law that would have to be passed by a deeply divided Congress. In short, irrespective of the future of China’s virtual currency, a digital dollar is not likely, not in the near future anyway.

Building Infrastructure (or Not)

As for recent economic history, even a cursory look at the performances of the United States and China in combating the 2008 financial meltdown tells a striking tale.

China made an indelible mark in meeting that financial challenge. Its government sharply increased its infrastructure spending, resulting in higher imports that helped counter flagging global demand. While this move increased Beijing’s debt, it also helped build a foundation to further transform the country’s economy into a productivity-led growth model. A decade after that great recession, according to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report, China’s infrastructure ranking jumped from 66th place to 36th place out of 152 countries.

Although infrastructure building on a large scale requires significant upfront investment, it’s guaranteed to yield productivity gains in the long run. Time and cost savings for commuters, improved market access, healthier competition, increased exchange of ideas, and enlarged innovation capacity, all aided by modern infrastructure, are a springboard for economic development.

During the decade following the 2008 crisis, the number of Chinese cities with metro services jumped from 10 to 34 and 1.1 million kilometers of highways were built, raising the total to 4.8 million kilometers. The length of its high-speed rail system shot up by 52,000 kilometers to 132,000 kilometers. Introduced on the eve of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, it’s now by far the world’s longest system, accounting for two-thirds of the globe’s high-speed rail. Its advances in information-and computer-technology were equally impressive. On average, mobile-phone subscriptions came to exceed one per person — about the same as in the United States.

High-speed rail (of which the United States has none) reduces journey times, while linking dense urban areas with less crowded cities. In doing so, it allows for a more balanced distribution of labor and business development without sacrificing the benefits of an increasingly urbanized economy. Economies of scale in turn mean that productivity rises as rail usage increases.

Little wonder, then, that President Barack Obama and his team promoted the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 as an infrastructure-building program in response to the 2008 economic crisis. In reality, however, only $80 billion, a tenth of the money Congress sanctioned, would be devoted to actual infrastructure. Of that, about a third was spent on roads and bridges, improving about 67,600 kilometers of roads and 2,700 bridges. The program also included investment in modern infrastructure like smart grids and broadband development.

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In 2010, Obama announced what was to be the “largest investment in infrastructure since the Interstate Highway System,” the creation of a high-speed rail network that would rival China’s. More than a decade later, the only visible progress is a much-delayed and still incomplete 275-kilometer Central Valley California line from Bakersfield to Merced. And in the Trump years, when essentially no government money went into such projects, “infrastructure week” became a standing joke. President Biden seems determined to rectify this, but how successful he’ll be with his $2 trillion infrastructure proposal in the face of a rigidly divided Congress remains to be seen.

For its part, the Chinese government combined its program of rapid infrastructure development with upgrading of the labor force. It did so by implementing an educational system that stressed science, technology, engineering, and math, known as STEM. By achieving higher productivity in this way, the government planned to compensate for a projected shrinkage in its work force.

To promote STEM, the government issued guidelines in 2016 to create a national development strategy aimed at advancing China to the forefront of innovative countries by 2030. In February 2017, the Ministry of Education officially added STEM education to the primary-school curriculum. Since then, encouraged by official policies, schools in both the public and private sectors have implemented such programs.

In 2019, the government allocated 100% of its research funding to top universities to the ones that concentrated on STEM disciplines. By comparison, South Korea allocated 62% of such funding that way. By contrast, U.S. universities ranked in the top 100 maintained a greater balance in funding among STEM fields, humanities, and social sciences.

In October 2019, three of China’s biggest mobile-phone carriers launched advanced 5G services, giving it the world’s largest 5G mobile network. A year later, the Wall Street Journal reported that China had more 5G subscribers than the U.S., not just in total but per capita.

Given the ubiquity of smartphones, the news that America seemed to be losing the tech race to China was widely noted. Mostly ignored, however, was the extent to which the U.S. had become vulnerable to Chinese pressure in international trade.

America’s Vulnerabilities

In testimony before Congress in October 2019, Carolyn Bartholomew, chairwoman of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, revealed that at least two-thirds of the world’s top 50 maritime container ports were directly owned and managed by the Chinese or supported by that country’s investments (up from roughly 20% a decade ago). These included terminals at major American container ports in Los Angeles and Seattle. When it came to such ports, it led the world with seven of the 10 largest ones.

A year earlier, officials at the state-owned China Ocean Shipping Company, one of the globe’s largest container shipping lines, acknowledged that the company had connected its routes along what was officially called the Maritime Silk Road, linking regional markets in West Africa, Northern Europe, the Caribbean, and the U.S. to form a more comprehensive and balanced globalized trading network. “By owning and/or operating a network of logistical nodes across Asia, Europe, and Africa, China can control a significant portion of its inbound supply chain for essential commodities and outbound trade routes for its exports,” Bartholomew explained. “In the event of conflict, China could use its control over these and other ports to hinder trade access to other countries.”

In the manufacturing sector, China finds itself in a privileged position by virtue of its special mineral deposits, called rare earth elements. A group of 17 rare earth metals, including lanthanum, cerium, yttrium, europium, and gadolinium, often called “industrial gold,” are critical components of such high-technology and clean-energy products as wind turbines, solar panels, and electric cars, because of their magnetism, luminescence, and strength. They are also used in a wide variety of weapons from jet fighters to nuclear submarines.

Unsurprisingly, in recent years, there has been a rapid rise in the demand for these minerals in advanced economies. They are dispersed in low concentrations and are costly to extract from ore, an industry in which China has invested a great deal since the 1970s.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, in 2020, China accounted for 58% of rare earth minerals production, down from around 90% four years earlier, as the United States and Australia boosted their own mining of them. Still, as of 2018, the United States imported 80.5% of its rare earth metals from China. In May of that year, the Trump administration added these to a list of minerals deemed critical to American economic and national security. And in July 2019, it declared them “essential to the national defense,” which freed up resources for the Department of Defense to take action to secure a domestic rare earth production capability.

Even if the mining of these ores increased in the U.S., refining them requires specialist technology and trained personnel as well as high upfront investment. Due to the lack of these in the U.S. so far, China continues to enjoy a near monopoly in processing the ore, with the raw material containing the prized metal mined outside China shipped to the Chinese sites. The refining process also generates large amounts of radioactive waste and pollutes the environment. As a result, developed countries usually opt for getting the refining done in emerging economies.

All in all, when you view the globe in the throes of a once-in-a-century pandemic, you find an authoritarian state, wedded to centralized planning, initiating programs with long-term benefits for its citizens and seeing them through. You also see a politically riven democratic republic operating primarily on an ad hoc basis.

The stark truth is that an American president cannot even bet on his policies, however laudable or otherwise, surviving his four-year term. Trump’s succession after the Obama era illustrated this dramatically, as has that of Trump’s successor, Biden. When judged purely on the basis of final results, centralized planning clearly beats short-term programming, even if it is viewed with a mixture of derision and condemnation by the Western governments that Biden is attempting to coopt to challenge China. The reality of our moment: that country is now rising on a distinctly wounded planet.

Copyright 2021 Dilip Hiro

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel Frostlands (the second in the Splinterlands series), Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Via Tomdispatch.com

Is Donald Trump Losing His Tech War with China’s Xi Jinping? https://www.juancole.com/2020/08/donald-losing-jinping.html Wed, 19 Aug 2020 04:01:54 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=192669 ( Tomdispatch.com) – For the Trump administration’s senior officials, it’s been open season on bashing China. If you need an example, think of the president’s blame game about “the invisible Chinese virus” as it spreads wildly across the U.S.

When it comes to China, in fact, the ever more virulent criticism never seems to stop.

Between the end of June and the end of July, four members of his cabinet vied with each other in spewing anti-Chinese rhetoric. That particular spate of China bashing started when FBI Director Christopher Wray described Chinese President Xi Jinping as the successor to Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin. It was capped by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s clarion call to U.S. allies to note the “bankrupt” Marxist-Leninist ideology of China’s leader and the urge to “global hegemony” that goes with it, insisting that they would have to choose “between freedom and tyranny.” (Forget which country on this planet actually claims global hegemony as its right.)

At the same time, the Pentagon deployed its aircraft carriers and other weaponry ever more threateningly in the South China Sea and elsewhere in the Pacific. The question is: What lies behind this upsurge in Trump administration China baiting? A likely answer can be found in the president’s blunt statement in a July interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News that “I’m not a good loser. I don’t like to lose.”

The reality is that, under Donald Trump, the United States is indeed losing to China in two important spheres. As the FBI’s Wray put it, “In economic and technical terms [China] is already a peer competitor of the United States… in a very different kind of [globalized] world.” In other words, China is rising and the U.S. is falling. Don’t just blame Trump and his cronies for that, however, as this moment has been a long time coming.

Facts speak for themselves. Nearly unscathed by the 2008-2009 global recession, China displaced Japan as the world’s second largest economy in August 2010. In 2012, with $3.87 trillion worth of imports and exports, it overtook the U.S. total of $3.82 trillion, elbowing it out of a position it had held for 60 years as the number one cross-border trading nation worldwide. By the end of 2014, China’s gross domestic product, as measured by purchasing power parity, was $17.6 trillion, slightly exceeding the $17.4 trillion of the United States, which had been the globe’s largest economy since 1872.

In May 2015, the Chinese government released a Made in China 2025 plan aimed at rapidly developing 10 high-tech industries, including electric cars, next-generation information technology, telecommunications, advanced robotics, and artificial intelligence. Other major sectors covered in the plan included agricultural technology, aerospace engineering, the development of new synthetic materials, the emerging field of biomedicine, and high-speed rail infrastructure. The plan was aimed at achieving 70% self-sufficiency in high-tech industries and a dominant position in such global markets by 2049, a century after the founding of the People’s Republic of China

Semiconductors are crucial to all electronic products and, in 2014, the government’s national integrated circuit industry development guidelines set a target: China was to become a global leader in semiconductors by 2030. In 2018, the local chip industry moved up from basic silicon packing and testing to higher value chip design and manufacturing. The following year, the U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association noted that, while America led the world with nearly half of global market share, China was the main threat to its position because of huge state investments in commercial manufacturing and scientific research.

By then, the U.S. had already fallen behind China in just such scientific and technological research. A study by Nanjing University’s Qingnan Xie and Harvard University’s Richard Freeman noted that between 2000 and 2016, China’s share of global publications in the physical sciences, engineering, and math quadrupled, exceeding that of the U.S.

In 2019, for the first time since figures for patents were compiled in 1978, the U.S. failed to file for the largest number of them. According to the World Intellectual Property Organization, China filed applications for 58,990 patents and the United States 57,840. In addition, for the third year in a row, the Chinese high-tech corporation Huawei Technologies Company, with 4,144 patents, was well ahead of U.S.-based Qualcomm (2,127). Among educational institutions, the University of California maintained its top rank with 470 published applications, but Tsinghua University ranked second with 265. Of the top five universities in the world, three were Chinese.

The Neck-and-Neck Race in Consumer Electronics

By 2019, the leaders in consumer technology in America included Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft; in China, the leaders were Alibaba (founded by Jack Ma), Tencent (Tengxun in Chinese), Xiaomi, and Baidu. All had been launched by private citizens. Among the US companies, Microsoft was established in 1975, Apple in 1976, Amazon in 1994, and Google in September 1998. The earliest Chinese tech giant, Tencent, was established two months after Google, followed by Alibaba in 1999, Baidu in 2000, and Xiaomi, a hardware producer, in 2010. When China first entered cyberspace in 1994, its government left intact its policy of controlling information through censorship by the Ministry of Public Security.

In 1996, the country established a high-tech industrial development zone in Shenzhen, just across the Pearl River from Hong Kong, the first of what would be a number of special economic zones. From 2002 on, they would begin attracting Western multinational corporations keen to take advantage of their tax-free provisions and low-wage skilled workers. By 2008, such foreign companies accounted for 85% of China’s high-tech exports.

Shaken by an official 2005 report that found serious flaws in the country’s innovation system, the government issued a policy paper the following year listing 20 mega-projects in nanotechnology, high-end generic microchips, aircraft, biotechnology, and new drugs. It then focused on a bottom-up approach to innovation, involving small start-ups, venture capital, and cooperation between industry and universities, a strategy that would take a few years to yield positive results.

In January 2000, less than 2% of Chinese used the Internet. To cater to that market, Robin Li and Eric Xu set up Baidu in Beijing as a Chinese search engine. By 2009, in its competition with Google China, a subsidiary of Google operating under government censorship, Baidu garnered twice the market share of its American rival as Internet penetration leapt to 29%.

In the aftermath of the 2008-2009 global financial meltdown, significant numbers of Chinese engineers and entrepreneurs returned from Silicon Valley to play an important role in the mushrooming of high-tech firms in a vast Chinese market increasingly walled off from U.S. and other Western corporations because of their unwillingness to operate under government censorship.

Soon after Xi Jinping became president in March 2013, his government launched a campaign to promote “mass entrepreneurship and mass innovation” using state-backed venture capital. That was when Tencent came up with its super app WeChat, a multi-purpose platform for socializing, playing games, paying bills, booking train tickets, and so on.

Jack Ma’s e-commerce behemoth Alibaba went public on the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014, raising a record $25 billion with its initial public offering. By the end of the decade, Baidu had diversified into the field of artificial intelligence, while expanding its multiple Internet-related services and products. As the search engine of choice for 90% of Chinese Internet users, more than 700 million people, the company became the fifth most visited website in cyberspace, its mobile users exceeding 1.1 billion.

Xiaomi Corporation would release its first smartphone in August 2011. By 2014, it had forged ahead of its Chinese rivals in the domestic market and developed its own mobile phone chip capabilities. In 2019, it sold 125 million mobile phones, ranking fourth globally. By the middle of 2019, China had 206 privately held start-ups valued at more than $1 billion, besting the U.S. with 203.

Among the country’s many successful entrepreneurs, the one who particularly stood out was Jack Ma, born Ma Yun in 1964. Though he failed to get a job at a newly opened Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet in his home city of Hangzhou, he did finally gain entry to a local college after his third attempt, buying his first computer at the age of 31. In 1999, he founded Alibaba with a group of friends. It would become one of the most valuable tech companies in the world. On his 55th birthday, he was the second richest man in China with a net worth of $42.1 billion.

Born in the same year as Ma, his American counterpart, Jeff Bezos, gained a degree in electrical engineering and computer science from Princeton University. He would found Amazon.com in 1994 to sell books online, before entering e-commerce and other fields. Amazon Web Services, a cloud computing company, would become the globe’s largest. In 2007, Amazon released a handheld reading device called the Kindle. Three years later, it ventured into making its own television shows and movies. In 2014, it launched Amazon Echo, a smart speaker with a voice assistant named Alexa that let its owner instantly play music, control a Smart home, get information, news, weather, and more. With a net worth of $145.4 billion in 2019, Bezos became the richest person on the planet.

Deploying an artificial intelligence inference chip to power features on its e-commerce sites, Alibaba categorized a billion product images uploaded by vendors to its e-commerce platform daily and prepared them for search and personalized recommendations to its customer base of 500 million. By allowing outside vendors to use its platform for a fee, Amazon increased its items for sale to 350 million — with 197 million people accessing Amazon.com each month.

China also led the world in mobile payments with America in sixth place. In 2019, such transactions in China amounted to $80.5 trillion. Because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the authorities encouraged customers to use mobile payment, online payment, and barcode payment to avoid the risk of infection. The projected total for mobile payments: $111.1 trillion. The corresponding figures for the United States at $130 billion look puny by comparison.

In August 2012, the founder of the Beijing-based ByteDance, 29-year-old Zhang Yiming, broke new ground in aggregating news for its users. His product, Toutiao (Today’s Headlines) tracked users’ behavior across thousands of sites to form an opinion of what would interest them most, and then recommended stories.

By 2016, it had already acquired 78 million users, 90% of them under 30.

In September 2016, ByteDance launched a short-video app in China called Douyin that gained 100 million users within a year. It would soon enter a few Asian markets as TikTok. In November 2017, for $1 billion, ByteDance would purchase Musical.ly, a Shanghai-based Chinese social network app for video creation, messaging, and live broadcasting, and set up an office in California.

Zhang merged it into TikTok in August 2018 to give his company a larger footprint in the U.S. and then spent nearly $1 billion to promote TikTok as the platform for sharing short-dance, lip-sync, comedy, and talent videos. It has been downloaded by 165 million Americans and driven the Trump administration to distraction. A Generation Z craze, in April 2020 it surpassed two billion downloads globally, eclipsing U.S. tech giants. That led President Trump (no loser he!) and his top officials to attack it and he would sign executive orders attempting to ban both TikTok and WeChat from operating in the U.S. or being used by Americans (unless sold to a U.S. tech giant). Stay tuned.

Huawei’s Octane-Powered Rise

But the biggest Chinese winner in consumer electronics and telecommunications has been Shenzhen-based Huawei Technologies Company, the country’s first global multinational. It has become a pivot point in the geopolitical battle between Beijing and Washington.

Huawei (in Chinese, it means “splendid achievement”) makes phones and the routers that facilitate communications around the world. Established in 1987, its current workforce of 194,000 operates in 170 countries. In 2019, its annual turn-over was $122.5 billion. In 2012, it outstripped its nearest rival, the 136-year-old Ericsson Telephone Corporation of Sweden, to become the world’s largest supplier of telecommunications equipment with 28% of market share globally. In 2019, it forged ahead of Apple to become the second largest phone maker after Samsung.

Several factors have contributed to Huawei’s stratospheric rise: its business model, the personality and decision-making mode of its founder Ren Zhengfei, state policies on high-tech industry, and the firm’s exclusive ownership by its employees.

Born in 1944 in Guizhou Province, Ren Zhengfei went to Chongqing University and then joined a military research institute during Mao Zedong’s chaotic Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). He was demobilized in 1983 when China cut back on its engineering corps. But the army’s slogan, “fight and survive,” stayed with him. He moved to the city of Shenzhen and worked in the country’s infant electronics sector for four years, saving enough to co-found what would become the tech giant Huawei. He focused on research and development, adapting technologies from Western firms, while his new company received small orders from the military and later substantial R&D (research and development) grants from the state to develop GSM (Global System for Mobile Communication) phones and other products. Over the years, the company produced telecommunications infrastructure and commercial products for third generation (3G) and fourth generation (4G) smartphones.

As China’s high-tech industry surged, Huawei’s fortunes rose. In 2010, it hired IBM and Accenture PLC to design the means of managing networks for telecom providers. In 2011, the company hired the Boston Consulting Group to advise it on foreign acquisitions and investments.

Like many successful American entrepreneurs, Ren has given top priority to the customer and, in the absence of the usual near-term pressure to raise income and profits, his management team has invested $15 to 20 billion annually in research and development work. That helps explain how Huawei became one of the globe’s five companies in the fifth generation (5G) smartphone business, topping the list by shipping out 6.9 million phones in 2019 and capturing 36.9% of the market. On the eve of the release of 5G phones, Ren revealed that Huawei had a staggering 2,570 5G patents.

So it was unsurprising that in the global race for 5G, Huawei was the first to roll out commercial products in February 2019. One hundred times faster than its 4G predecessors, 5G tops out at 10 gigabits per second and future 5G networks are expected to link a huge array of devices from cars to washing machines to door bells.

Huawei’s exponential success has increasingly alarmed a Trump administration edging ever closer to conflict with China. Last month, Secretary of State Pompeo described Huawei as “an arm of the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state that censors political dissidents and enables mass internment camps in Xinjiang.”

In May 2019, the U.S. Commerce Department banned American firms from supplying components and software to Huawei on national security grounds. A year later, it imposed a ban on Huawei buying microchips from American companies or using U.S.-designed software. The White House also launched a global campaign against the installation of the company’s 5G systems in allied nations, with mixed success.

Ren continued to deny such charges and to oppose Washington’s moves, which have so far failed to slow his company’s commercial advance. Its revenue for the first half of 2020, $65 billion, was up by 13.1% over the previous year.

From tariffs on Chinese products and that recent TikTok ban to slurs about the “kung flu” as the Covid-19 pandemic swept America, President Trump and his team have been expressing their mounting frustration over China and ramping up attacks on an inexorably rising power on the global stage. Whether they know it or not, the American century is over, which doesn’t mean that nothing can be done to improve the U.S. position in the years to come.

Setting aside Washington’s belief in the inherent superiority of America, a future administration could stop hurling insults or trying to ban enviably successful Chinese tech firms and instead emulate the Chinese example by formulating and implementing a well-planned, long-term high-tech strategy. But as the Covid-19 pandemic has made abundantly clear, the very idea of planning is not a concept available to the “very stable genius” presently in the White House.

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, is the author, among many other works, of After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World. He is currently researching a sequel to that book, which would cover several interlinked subjects, including the Covid-19 pandemic.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 Dilip Hiro

Via Tomdispatch.com

Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

Hindustan Times: “After TikTok, Donald Trump hints at action against other Chinese tech firms”

The US is no Longer the World’s Science Leader: Trump Fiddled While South Korea, Germany, China Swung into Actions https://www.juancole.com/2020/04/science-germany-actions.html Mon, 27 Apr 2020 04:01:32 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=190567 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – Historically, in hyper-crises, local and global systems can change fundamentally. Before the coronavirus pandemic hit first China and then the rest of the globe, the question of whether the American imperial era might be faltering was already on the table, amid that country’s endless wars and with the world’s most capricious leader. When humanity emerges from this devastating crisis of disease, dislocation, and impoverishment, not to mention the fracturing of a global economic system created by Washington but increasingly powered by Beijing on a climate-stressed planet, the question will be: Has the Chinese dragon pushed the American eagle down to a secondary position?

To assess that question objectively in this unsettled moment, it’s necessary to examine on a day-to-day basis how the two contemporary superpowers handled the Covid-19 crisis, and ask the question: Who has proved better at combating the deadliest disease of modern times, President Donald Trump or President Xi Jinping? It’s chastening to note that whereas China under Xi has suppressed the latest coronavirus at the human cost of three lives per million population, the U.S. under Trump is still struggling to overpower it, having already sacrificed 145 of every million Americans.

In the afterglow of Trump’s December 16, 2019, touting of a partial trade deal with China (after a lengthy trade war), a Sino-American exchange took place. George Gao, director of the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CCDC), spoke with his American counterpart, Robert Redfield, on January 3rd, alerting him to the arrival of an as-yet-unidentified, pneumonia-inducing virus in the city of Wuhan (news of which the Chinese government would for crucial days withhold domestically). Redfield then briefed Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar on that conversation.

Ever since, the trajectories of the policies followed by Beijing and Washington have diverged by 180 degrees. Mind you, the potential prize for the winner of the contest for killer of the super-virus is the World Leadership Trophy.

Attacked by a Virulent Virus, China Fights Back

China’s National Health Commission (NHC), which had dispatched a team of experts to Wuhan on December 31st, informed the World Health Organization (WHO) that cases of pneumonia of an unknown sort had been detected in that city, linked to human exposure at a 1,000-stall wholesale seafood market, selling fish and other animals, dead and alive. With that, the Chinese scientists faced two separate challenges: to isolate the pathogen causing the disease in order to set out its genome sequencing and to determine whether or not there was human-to-human transmission of the virus.

On January 3rd, the NHC centralized all testing related to the mysterious disease and, two days later, in conjunction with experts in infectious diseases caused by pathogens that jump from animals to humans, completed the sequencing of the genome of the virus. It became accessible worldwide that January 7th. And on January 10th and 11th, the WHO issued guidance notices to all its member states about collecting samples from any patients who might show symptoms of the disease, listing stringent precautions to avoid the risk of human-to-human transmission.

On January 14th, Maria Van Kerkhove, acting head of the WHO’s emerging diseases unit, offered a mixed message on the situation. She told reporters that there had, so far, been only the most limited kinds of human transmission between family members in China. Nonetheless, she added, the possibility of wider human-to-human transmission should not be regarded as “surprising” given the similarity of the new virus to the ones in the earlier SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks. However, Reuters and China’s Xinhua News Agency also quoted her as saying that there had been only the most limited human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus so far, mainly among small clusters of family members and that “it is very clear right now that we have no sustained human-to-human transmission.”

On January 16th, scientists at the German Center for Infection Research in Berlin developed a new laboratory test to detect the novel coronavirus. This offered the possibility of diagnosing suspected cases quickly. The WHO publicized it as a guideline for diagnostic detection. The leaders of many countries adopted it, but not President Trump who, in America First-style, demanded a test produced by U.S. scientists. Only on February 29th, however, would the Food and Drug Administration allow laboratories and hospitals to conduct their own Covid-19 tests to speed up the process. That was four weeks after the WHO had started distributing its effective test globally.

On January 19th that China’s National Health Commission confirmed human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus. On that day, it publicly confirmed the first cases of person-to-person transmission. Headed by a cabinet minister, the NHC classified the novel coronavirus as a category B infectious disease under the country’s 1989 Law on Prevention and Control of Infectious Diseases (revised in 2004 and 2013). This law allows the upgrading of an infectious disease to category A subject to the decision of the cabinet. Under that classification, medical institutions are authorized to treat patients in isolation in designated places and take necessary preventive measures to discover and deal with their close contacts.

On January 20th, after chairing a cabinet meeting, Premier Li Keqiang first spoke of the necessity of controlling a coronavirus epidemic, demanding that all Communist Party and government units address the situation. While endorsing Li’s call, President Xi Jinping stressed “the importance of informing the public to safeguard social stability.” As one high-level Communist Party committee typically stated in a posting on WeChat, “Whoever deliberately delays or conceals reporting for the sake of their own interests will be forever nailed to history’s pillar of shame.”

All this happened on the eve of the week-long Chinese New Year holiday, a time when hundreds of millions of people return to their homes for celebrations. On January 22nd, three days before the New Year, the authorities suspended all rail and air links out of Wuhan.

The next day, the central government imposed a complete lockdown on that bustling city of 11 million and other large urban centers in the province of Hubei. Residents were forbidden to leave their homes, while food and other supplies were to be delivered by neighborhood committees. This set a precedent for similar measures in other cities, as in the coming weeks many areas across China imposed such “closed management” situations on communities. Up to 760 million people were subjected to travel curbs of one sort or another, while the economy was reduced to 40%-50% of its normal capacity.

During a meeting with WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in Beijing on January 29th, President Xi assured him that he had personally overseen and directed the response to the viral outbreak and the prevention and control measures that went with it. On January 30th, with the novel coronavirus having spread to 17 countries including the United States, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a “global health emergency.” On February 11th, it labeled the disease caused by the latest coronavirus, which can culminate in death-inducing pneumonia, Covid-19.

Meanwhile, in Trumpland…

On January 29th, President Trump officially inaugurated a task force led by Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar to monitor, contain, and mitigate the spread of the coronavirus while also keeping Americans informed on the matter.

Azar and the Centers for Disease Control Prevention’s Robert Redfield had already been involved in protecting Americans from the deadly virus. On January 7th, Redfield had established the CDC’s Covid-19 Incident Management System and, on the 21st, he activated its emergency response structure. On that very day, the first lab-confirmed coronavirus case was reported in Olympia, Washington. (Earlier ones would later be detected.) The president noted the news with a tweet: “It’s one person coming in from China and we have it under control. It’s going to be just fine.”

Inside the White House, Trump’s national trade adviser, Peter Navarro addressed a warning memo to the National Security Council stating that the present “lack of protection elevates the risk of the coronavirus evolving into a full-blown pandemic, imperiling the lives of millions of Americans.” He estimated that such a pandemic could kill half-a-million people and deliver a $5.7 trillion hit to the economy.

Two days later, in response to these developments, all Trump did was ban the arrival of non-US citizens who had recently traveled to China. From then on, he repeatedly touted this as evidence that he had acted early. Azar’s plan to set up surveillance in five cities at the cost of $100 million fell through when, on February 21st, Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, told reporters that problems with the kits to test for Covid-19 were still unresolved.

In the absence of meaningful testing, the number of cases in the U.S. looked small. “The coronavirus is very much under control in the USA,” Trump tweeted on the 24th. “CDC & World Health [Organization] have been working hard and very smart. Stock Market starting to look very good to me!” He ignored Navarro’s memo of the previous day and its warning that “there is an increasing probability of a full-blown Covid-19 pandemic that could infect as many as 100 million Americans, with a loss of life of as many as 1-2 million souls.”

Instead, on February 25th, at a news conference in New Delhi during his trip to India, the president haughtily claimed that a vaccine for Covid-19 would soon be available. “Now they have it, they have studied it, they know very much, in fact, we’re very close to a vaccine,” he said confidently.

That same day, in a CDC briefing in Washington, Nancy Messonnier described the situation this way: “Ultimately, we expect we will see [the infected] community spread in this country… [and] disruption to everyday life may be severe. But these are things that people need to start thinking about now.” That led to a staggering 1,031 point fall in the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which infuriated Trump. He promptly urged Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, to go on television and preach confidence. Accordingly, Kudlow told CNBC, “We have contained this. I won’t say airtight, but it’s pretty close to airtight.”

On his return to Washington on February 26th, Trump replaced Azar as the head of the coronavirus task force with Vice President Mike Pence, and charged him with disseminating positive messages in order to steady a jittery stock market. The next day, the grievance-laden president complained that the media were doing all they could “to make the Caronavirus [sic] look as bad as possible, including panicking markets, if possible.”

Meanwhile, Back in the Middle Kingdom

On February 10th, Chinese President Xi visited a hospital in Beijing where he held a video call with health workers in Wuhan. Coverage of it and his temperature being taken by a doctor filled the front page of the official newspaper, the People’s Daily. By then, Communist Party chiefs in Wuhan and Hubei province had been “replaced” because of their poor initial response to the coronavirus.

In Wuhan, an extra 60,000 hospital beds for Covid-19 patients were created within a month by converting 16 exhibition halls and sports venues into field hospitals and constructing two brand new hospitals as well. On February 23rd, Xi teleconferenced with 170,000 local officials, describing the pandemic as the hardest public-health emergency to contain since the founding of the People’s Republic. He noted that the situation remained grim and complex, while Hubei Province and significant parts of the rest of the country (as well as the economy) had been shut down.

The highest priority was given to the production of personal protective equipment. According to an official March 6th press briefing, production of protective clothing had jumped from less than 20,000 pieces daily to 500,000 pieces daily. The output of specialist N95 masks shot up eightfold to 1.6 million and ordinary masks totaled 100 million.

During a trip to Wuhan four days later, Xi praised front-line medical workers, military officers, soldiers, community workers, police officers, officials, and volunteers fighting the pandemic, as well as patients and residents in the locked-down city. The epidemic had by then caused 3,000 deaths. On March 9th, however, daily new cases in Wuhan had already dropped to 19 from thousands a day a month earlier. All the makeshift hospitals were closed. Nonetheless, Xi warned that prevention-and-control work required constant vigilance.

When 114 countries reported coronavirus cases to the World Health Organization on March 11th, it declared the Covid-19 outbreak a global pandemic.

By mid-March, the Chinese government and the Jack Ma Foundation, part of the giant corporate conglomerate Alibaba Group, had sent doctors and medical supplies to Belgium, Cambodia, France, Iran, Iraq, Italy, the Philippines, Serbia, Spain, and the United States. The foundation announced that it would ship “20,000 testing kits, 100,000 masks and 1,000 protective suits and face shields” to every country in Africa and added that Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, would “take the lead in managing the logistics and distribution of these supplies to other African countries.”

Of the 89 countries that, by March 26th, had received emergency assistance from China to fight the pandemic, 28 were in Asia, 16 in Europe, 26 in Africa, nine in the Americas, and 10 in the South Pacific. Such medical supplies mainly included testing kits, masks, protective suits, thermometer guns, and ventilators. China also invited officials and experts from more than 100 countries to a video conference on Covid-19, while President Xi conducted 26 telephone conversations with 22 foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, Saudi King Salman bin Abdul Aziz, Spanish King Felipe VI, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, and Donald Trump.

Trump Wakes Up

On March 13th, President Trump declared a national emergency, pledging to dramatically speed up coronavirus testing (which he disastrously failed to do). By then, he had chalked up a remarkable series of false claims and outright lies about the fast-spreading disease. Typically, on a visit to CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, on March 6th, he had boasted of his “natural ability” to understand the subject of epidemiology.

On March 13th, he falsely announced that a Google website was being developed to help people find places to get Covid-19 tests, something Google’s officials turned out to know nothing about. The next day, he lined up executives from Walmart, Target, CVS, Walgreens, LabCorp, Quest Diagnostics, and Roche Diagnostics, insisting that they would help expedite testing to stop the quick-spreading virus. In fact, little happened and the nation began to shut down. Public schools closed, sports leagues postponed or cut off their seasons, people began working from home in large numbers (as others by the millions simply lost their jobs), and supplies of hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and toilet paper disappeared from store shelves. A month on, very few of the president’s promises had materialized, while the disease had spread dramatically and deaths had begun to soar.

Asked about the shortage of testing kits and sites, which has left America lagging far behind South Korea and other countries in dealing with the still-spreading virus, Trump couldn’t have been clearer. “I don’t take responsibility at all,” he said. And yet, locked into his “Make America Great Again” bubble, until March 6th he blocked an offer from the Jack Ma Foundation to send 500,000 testing kits and one million masks to the U.S. to be distributed by the CDC.

By heeding the WHO’s battle cry of “test, test, test,” South Korea had managed to avoid the kinds of lockdowns implemented by China, many Western European countries, and some American cities. In a desperate phone call to President Moon Jae-in on March 24th, Trump begged him to rush test kits to the United States. In response, Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the South Korean equivalent of the CDC, agreed, but only at a level that would not diminish his own country’s testing capacity.

Soon after the arrival of 1,000 Chinese ventilators at John F. Kennedy International Airport on April 4th, much to the relief of a grateful Governor Andrew Cuomo, a tweet from Trump read, “USA STRONG!” His boast, however, sounded hollow, given the grim news that, between February 12th and March 11th, the Dow Jones index had dropped around 8,000 points from its historic peak, as national unemployment tripled from a low of 3.5% (with more to come).

To counter this, on April 9th, the Federal Reserve released business lending and other programs worth $2.3 trillion to steady a fast-sinking economy. It had already injected $500 billion dollars into the financial system in March, with plans for a further $1.5 trillion to come.

By March 27th, as the U.S. had gained the global status of number one in coronavirus cases, the president also signed into law the $2.2 trillion Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act, passed almost unanimously by Congress, to rush federal assistance to workers and businesses. It included the payment of $1,200 to most taxpayers; enhanced unemployment benefits; a $500 billion lending program for large companies, cities, and states; and a $367 billion fund for small businesses.

Despite all this, the country’s gross domestic product is expected to fall by at least 10.8% in the second quarter of 2020. China’s GDP contraction of 6.8% in the first quarter of the year was a historic drop. However, at 5.9%, the jobless rate in urban areas in March 2020 was down by 0.3% from the previous month.

Passing on the World Leadership Trophy?

The question that many experts on geopolitics are now pondering is this: Have their responses to Covid-19 shifted the balance of power between China and the U.S. in a way that will matter in a post-coronavirus world? Watching the chaos of Trump’s daily press conferences and his administration’s failure to stop the virus effectively proved an alarming reminder that rational people can plan for anything — except an irrational American president. After all, under his watch 746,459 Americans had contracted Covid-19, and 39,651 had died by mid-April. The comparable figures for China were 82,747 cases and 4,632 deaths.

Nathalie Tocci, an adviser to the European Union’s foreign affairs chief, recently offered a pertinent historical parallel to consider. She cited the 1956 Suez crisis — Britain’s unsuccessful, if conspiratorial, alliance with France and Israel to militarily topple the nationalist regime of Egypt’s President Gamal Abdul Nasser. It is now considered the sunset moment for Britain’s imperial power. In the present context, she speculated that the Covid-19 pandemic may prove to be a “Suez moment” for the United States.

Ignoring the warnings of scientists and public health experts, President Trump threatens to disastrously extend his coronavirus chronology from hell into an increasingly painful future by “reopening” the country too soon. By so doing, he will only accelerate the day when the World Leadership Trophy, held by America since 1946, is handed to the People’s Republic of China.

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World among many other books. His latest book is Cold War in the Islamic World: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Struggle for Supremacy (Oxford University Press).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2020 Dilip Hiro

Via Tomdispatch.com


Bonus Video added by Informed Comment:

The hardest decisions of my career’ – Angela Merkel addresses German Parliament | DW News

The Bigger Picture: Trump didn’t Start America’s Decline, and Can’t Stop It https://www.juancole.com/2019/07/picture-americas-decline.html Tue, 02 Jul 2019 04:02:29 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=185035 (Tomdispatch.com) – Donald Trump was partly voted into office by Americans who felt that the self-proclaimed greatest power on Earth was actually in decline — and they weren’t wrong. Trump is capable of tweeting many things, but none of those tweets will stop that process of decline, nor will a trade war with a rising China or fierce oil sanctions on Iran.

You could feel this recently, even in the case of the increasingly pressured Iranians. There, with a single pinprick, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei effectively punctured President Trump’s MAGA balloon and reminded many that, however powerful the U.S. still was, people in other countries were beginning to look at America differently at the end of the second decade of the twenty-first century.

Following a meeting in Tehran with visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who brought a message from Trump urging the start of U.S.-Iranian negotiations, Khamenei tweeted, “We have no doubt in [Abe’s] goodwill and seriousness; but regarding what you mentioned from [the] U.S. president, I don’t consider Trump as a person deserving to exchange messages with, and I have no answer for him, nor will I respond to him in the future.” He then added: “We believe that our problems will not be solved by negotiating with the U.S., and no free nation would ever accept negotiations under pressure.”

A flustered Trump was reduced to briefly tweeting: “I personally feel that it is too soon to even think about making a deal. They are not ready, and neither are we!” And soon after, the president halted at the last minute, in a distinctly humiliating retreat, U.S. air strikes on Iranian missile sites that would undoubtedly have created yet more insoluble problems for Washington across the Greater Middle East.

Keep in mind that, globally, before the ayatollah’s put-down, the Trump administration had already had two abject foreign policy failures: the collapse of the president’s Hanoi summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un (followed by that regime’s provocative firing of several missiles over the Sea of Japan) and a bungled attempt to overthrow the regime of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

America’s Global Standing at a Record Low

What’s great or small can be defined in absolute or relative terms. America’s “greatness” (or “exceptional” or “indispensable” nature) — much lauded in Washington before the Trump era –should certainly be judged against the economic progress made by China in those same years and against Russia’s advances in the latest high-tech weaponry. Another way of assessing the nature of that “greatness” and what to make of it would be through polls of how foreigners view the United States.

Take, for instance, a survey released by the Pew Research Group in February 2019. Forty-five percent of respondents in 26 nations with large populations felt that American power and influence posed “a major threat to our country,” while 36% offered the same response on Russia, and 35% on China. To put that in perspective, in 2013, during the presidency of Barack Obama, only 25% of global respondents held such a negative view of the U.S., while reactions to China remained essentially the same. Or just consider the most powerful country in Europe, Germany. Between 2013 and 2018, Germans who considered American power and influence a greater threat than that of China or Russia leapt from 19% to 49%. (Figures for France were similar.)

As for President Trump, only 27% of global respondents had confidence in him to do the right thing in world affairs, while 70% feared he would not. In Mexico, you undoubtedly won’t be surprised to learn, confidence in his leadership was at a derisory 6%. In 17 of the surveyed countries, people who lacked confidence in him were also significantly more likely to consider the U.S. the world’s top threat, a phenomenon most pronounced among traditional Washington allies like Canada, Great Britain, and Australia.

China’s Expanding Global Footprint

While 39% of Pew respondents in that poll still rated the U.S. as the globe’s leading economic power, 34% opted for China. Meanwhile, China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched in 2013 to link the infrastructure and trade of much of Southeast Asia, Eurasia, and the Horn of Africa to China (at an estimated cost of four trillion dollars) and to be funded by diverse sources, is going from strength to strength.

One way to measure this: the number of dignitaries attending the biennial BRI Forum in Beijing. The first of those gatherings in May 2017 attracted 28 heads of state and representatives from 100 countries. The most recent, in late April, had 37 heads of state and representatives from nearly 150 countries and international organizations, including International Monetary Fund (IMF) chief Christine Lagarde and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.

Leaders of nine out of 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations attended, as did four of the five Central Asian republics. Strikingly, a third of the leaders participating came from Europe. According to Peter Frankopan, author of The New Silk Roads, more than 80 countries are now involved in some aspect of the BRI project. That translates into more than 63% of the world’s population and 29% of its global economic output.

Still, Chinese President Xi Jinping is intent on expanding the BRI’s global footprint further, a signal of China’s dream of future greatness. During a February two-day state visit to Beijing by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Xi suggested that, when it came to Riyadh’s overly ambitious economic plan, “our two countries should speed up the signing of an implementation plan on connecting the Belt and Road Initiative with the Saudi Vision 2030.”

Flattered by this proposal, the crown prince defended China’s use of “re-education” camps for Uighur Muslims in its western province of Xinjiang, claiming it was Beijing’s “right” to carry out antiterrorism work to safeguard national security. Under the guise of combating extremism, the Chinese authorities have placed an estimated one million Uighur Muslims in such camps to undergo re-education designed to supplant their Islamic legacy with a Chinese version of socialism. Uighur groups had appealed to Prince bin Salman to take up their cause. No such luck: one more sign of the rise of China in the twenty-first century.

China Enters the High-Tech Race With America

In 2013, the German government launched an Industry 4.0 Plan meant to fuse cyber-physical systems, the Internet of things, cloud computing, and cognitive computing with the aim of increasing manufacturing productivity by up to 50%, while curtailing resources required by half. Two years later, emulating this project, Beijing published its own 10-year Made in China 2025 plan to update the country’s manufacturing base by rapidly developing 10 high-tech industries, including electric cars and other new-energy vehicles, next-generation information technology and telecommunications, as well as advanced robotics and artificial intelligence, aerospace engineering, high-end rail infrastructure, and high-tech maritime engineering.

As with BRI, the government and media then publicized and promoted Made in China 2025 vigorously. This alarmed Washington and America’s high-tech corporations. Over the years, American companies had complained about China’s theft of U.S. intellectual property, the counterfeiting of famous brands, and the stealing of trade secrets, not to speak of the pressuring of American firms in joint ventures with local companies to share technology as a price for gaining access to China’s vast market. Their grievances became more vocal when Donald Trump entered the White House determined to cut Washington’s annual trade deficit of $380 billion with Beijing.

As president, Trump ordered his new trade representative, the Sinophobe Robert Lighthizer, to look into the matter. The resulting seven-month investigation pegged the loss U.S. companies experienced because of China’s unfair trade practices at $50 billion a year. That was why, in March 2018, President Trump instructed Lighthizer to levy tariffs on at least $50 billion worth of Chinese imports.

That signaled the start of a Sino-American trade war which has only gained steam since. In this context, Chinese officials started downplaying the significance of Made in China 2025, describing it as nothing more than an inspirational plan. This March, China’s National People’s Congress even passed a foreign direct-investment law meant to address some of the grievances of U.S. companies. Its implementation mechanism was, however, weak. Trump promptly claimed that China had backtracked on its commitments to incorporate into Chinese law significant changes the two countries had negotiated and put into a draft agreement to end the trade war. He then slapped further tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports.

The major bone of contention for the Trump administration is a Chinese law specifying that, in a joint venture between a foreign corporation and a Chinese company, the former must pass on technological know-how to its Chinese partner. That’s seen as theft by Washington. According to Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace Yukon Huang, author of Cracking the China Conundrum: Why Conventional Economic Wisdom Is Wrong, however, it’s fully in accord with globally accepted guidelines. Such diffusion of technological know-how has played a significant role in driving growth globally, as the IMF’s 2018 World Economic Outlook report made clear. It’s worth noting as well that China now accounts for almost one-third of global annual economic growth.

The size of China’s market is so vast and the rise in its per capita gross domestic product — from $312 in 1980 to $9,769 in 2018 — so steep that major U.S. corporations generallyaccepted its long-established joint-venture law and that should surprise no one. Last year, for instance, General Motors sold 3,645,044 vehicles in China and fewer than three million in the U.S. Little wonder then that, late last year, following GM plant closures across North America, part of a wide-ranging restructuring plan, the company’s management paid no heed to a threat from President Trump to strip GM of any government subsidies. What angered the president, as he tweeted, caught the reality of the moment: nothing was “being closed in Mexico and China.”

What Trump simply can’t accept is this: after nearly two decades of supply-chain restructuring and global economic integration, China has become the key industrial supplier for the United States and Europe. His attempt to make America great again by restoring the economic status quo ante before 2001 — the year China was admitted to the World Trade Organization — is doomed to fail.

In reality, trade war or peace, China is now beginning to overtake the U.S. in science and technology. A study by Qingnan Xie of Nanjing University of Science and Technology and Richard Freeman of Harvard University noted that, between 2000 and 2016, China’s global share of publications in the physical sciences, engineering, and mathmatics quadrupled and, in the process, exceeded that of the U.S. for the first time.

In the field of high technology, for example, China is now well ahead of the United States in mobile payment transactions. In the first 10 months of 2017, those totaled $12.8 trillion, the result of vast numbers of consumers discarding credit cards in favor of cashless systems. In stark contrast, according to eMarketer, America’s mobile payment transactions in 2017 amounted to $49.3 billion. Last year, 583 million Chinese used mobile payment systems, with nearly 68% of China’s Internet users turning to a mobile wallet for their offline payments.

Russia’s Advanced Weaponry

In a similar fashion, in his untiring pitch for America’s “beautiful” weaponry, President Trump has failed to grasp the impressive progress Russia has made in that field.

While presenting videos and animated glimpses of new intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear-powered cruise missiles, and underwater drones in a March 2018 television address, Russian President Vladimir Putin traced the development of his own country’s new weapons to Washington’s decision to pull out of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty with the Soviet Union. In December 2001, encouraged by John Bolton, then under secretary of state for arms control and international security, President George W. Bush had indeed withdrawn from the 1972 ABM treaty on the spurious grounds that the 9/11 attacks had changed the nature of defense for America. His Russian counterpart of the time, the very same Vladimir Putin, described the withdrawal from that cornerstone of world security as a grievous mistake. The head of Russia’s armed forces, General Anatoly Kvashnin, warned then that the pullout would alter the nature of the international strategic balance, freeing up countries to restart arms buildups, both conventional and nuclear.

As it happened, he couldn’t have been more on the mark. The U.S. is now engaged in a 30-year, trillion-dollar-plus remake and update of its nuclear arsenal, while the Russians (whose present inventory of 6,500 nuclear weapons slightly exceeds America’s) have gone down a similar route. In that televised address of his on the eve of the 2018 Russian presidential election, Putin’s list of new nuclear weapons was headed by the Sarmat, a 30-ton intercontinental ballistic missile, reputedly far harder for an enemy to intercept in its most vulnerable phase just after launching. It also carries a larger number of nuclear warheads than its predecessor.

Another new weapon on his list was a nuclear-powered intercontinental underwater drone, Status-6, a submarine-launched autonomous vehicle with a range of 6,800 miles, capable of carrying a 100 megaton nuclear warhead. And then there was his country’s new nuclear-powered cruise missile with a “practically unlimited” range. In addition, because of its stealth capabilities, it will be hard to detect in flight and its high maneuverability will, theoretically at least, enable it to bypass an enemy’s defenses. Successfully tested in 2018, it does not yet have a name. Unsurprisingly, Putin won the presidency with 77% of the vote, a 13% rise from the previous poll, on record voter turnout of 67.7%.

In conventional weaponry, Russia’s S-400 missile system remains unrivalled. According to the Washington-based Arms Control Association, “The S-400 system is an advanced, mobile, surface-to-air defense system of radars and missiles of different ranges, capable of destroying a variety of targets such as attack aircraft, bombs, and tactical ballistic missiles. Each battery normally consists of eight launchers, 112 missiles, and command and support vehicles.” The S-400 missile has a range of 400 kilometers (250 miles), and its integrated system is believed to be capable of shooting down up to 80 targets simultaneously.

Consider it a sign of the times, but in defiance of pressure from the Trump administration not to buyRussian weaponry, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, the only Muslim member of NATO, ordered the purchase of batteries of those very S-400 missiles. Turkish soldiers are currently being trained on that weapons systems in Russia. The first battery is expected to arrive in Turkey next month.

Similarly, in April 2015, Russia signed a contract to supply S-400 missiles to China. The first delivery of the system took place in January 2018 and China test fired it in August.

An Expanding Beijing-Moscow Alliance

Consider that as another step in Russian-Chinese military coordination meant to challenge Washington’s claim to be the planet’s sole superpower. Similarly, last September, 3,500 Chinese troops participated in Russia’s largest-ever military exercises involving 300,000 soldiers, 36,000 military vehicles, 80 ships, and 1,000 aircraft, helicopters, and drones. Codenamed Vostok-2018, it took place across a vast region that included the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, and the Sea of Japan. Little wonder that NATO officials described Vostok-2018 as a demonstration of a growing Russian focus on future large-scale conflict: “It fits into a pattern we have seen over some time — a more assertive Russia, significantly increasing its defense budget and its military presence.” Putin attended the exercises after hosting an economic forum in Vladivostok where Chinese President Xi was his guest. “We have trustworthy ties in political, security and defense spheres,” he declared, while Xi praised the two countries’ friendship, which, he claimed, was “getting stronger all the time.”

Thanks to climate change, Russia and China are now also working in tandem in the fast-melting Arctic. Last year Russia, which controls more than half the Arctic coastline, sent its first ship through the Northern Sea Route without an icebreaker in winter. Putin hailed that moment as a “big event in the opening up of the Arctic.”

Beijing’s Arctic policy, first laid out in January 2018, described China as a “near-Arctic” state and visualized the future shipping routes there as part of a potential new “Polar Silk Road” that would both be useful for resource exploitation and for enhancing Chinese security. Shipping goods to and from Europe by such a passage would shorten the distance to China by 30% compared to present sea routes through the Malacca Straits and the Suez Canal, saving hundreds of thousands of dollars per voyage.

According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the Arctic holds petroleum reserves equal to 412 billion barrels of oil, or about 22% of the world’s undiscovered hydrocarbons. It also has deposits of rare earth metals. China’s second Arctic vessel, Xuelong 2 (Snow Dragon 2), is scheduled to make its maiden voyage later this year. Russia needs Chinese investment to extract the natural resources under its permafrost. In fact, China is already the biggest foreign investor in Russia’s liquefied natural gas (LNG) projects in the region — and the first LNG shipment was dispatched to China’s eastern province last summer via the Northern Sea Route. Its giant oil corporation is now beginning to drill for gas in Russian waters alongside the Russian company Gazprom.

Washington is rattled. In April, in its latest annual report to Congress on China’s military power, the Pentagon for the first time included a section on the Arctic, warning of the risks of a growing Chinese presence in the region, including that country’s possible deployment of nuclear submarines there in the future. In May, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used a meeting of foreign ministers in Rovaniemi, Finland, to assail China for its “aggressive behavior” in the Arctic.

In an earlier speech, Pompeo noted that, from 2012 to 2017, China invested nearly $90 billion in the Arctic region. “We’re concerned about Russia’s claim over the international waters of the Northern Sea Route, including its newly announced plans to connect it with China’s Maritime Silk Road,” he said. He then pointed out that, along that route, “Moscow already illegally demands other nations request permission to pass, requires Russian maritime pilots to be aboard foreign ships, and threatens to use military force to sink any that fail to comply with their demands.”

An American Downturn Continues

Altogether, the tightening military and economic ties between Russia and China have put America on the defensive, contrary to Donald Trump’s MAGA promise to American voters in the 2016 campaign. It’s true that, despite fraying diplomatic and economic ties between Washington and Moscow, Trump’s personal relations with Putin remain cordial. (The two periodically exchange friendly phone calls.) But among Russians more generally, a favorable view of the U.S. fell from 41% in 2017 to 26% in 2018, according to a Pew Research survey.

There’s nothing new about great powers, even the one that proclaimed itself the greatest in history, declining after having risen high. In our acrimonious times, that’s a reality well worth noting. While launching his bid for reelection recently, Trump proposed a bombastic new slogan: “Keep America Great” (or KAG), as if he had indeed raised America’s stature while in office. He would have been far more on target, however, had he suggested the slogan “Depress America More” (or DAM) to reflect the reality of an unpopular president who faces rising great power rivals abroad.

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World among many other books. His latest book is Cold War in the Islamic World: Saudi Arabia, Iran and the Struggle for Supremacy (about which he has recorded this podcast).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Dilip Hiro

Via Tomdispatch.com


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

CSIS: “Pew Global Attitudes Survey: America’s Public Image Abroad”

The Coming Great Satellite Space War between Nuclear-Armed India and Pakistan https://www.juancole.com/2019/04/satellite-between-pakistan.html Fri, 05 Apr 2019 04:06:21 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=183295 It’s still the most dangerous border on Earth. Yet compared to the recent tweets of President Donald Trump, it remains a marginal news story. That doesn’t for a moment diminish the chance that the globe’s first (and possibly ultimate) nuclear conflagration could break out along that 480-mile border known as the Line of Control (and, given the history that surrounds it, that phrase should indeed be capitalized). The casus belli would undoubtedly be the more than seven-decades-old clash between India and Pakistan over the contested territory of Kashmir. Like a volcano, this unresolved dispute rumbles periodically — as it did only weeks ago — threatening to spew its white-hot lava to devastating effect not just in the region but potentially globally as well.

The trigger for renewed rumbling is always a sensational terrorist attack by a Pakistani militant group on an Indian target. That propels the India’s leadership to a moral high ground. From there, bitter condemnations of Pakistan are coupled with the promise of airstrikes on the training camps of the culprit terrorist organizations operating from the Pakistan-controlled part of Kashmir. As a result, the already simmering relations between the two nuclear-armed neighbors are quickly raised to a boiling point. This, in turn, prompts the United States to intervene and pressure Pakistan to shut down those violent jihadist groups. To placate Washington, the Pakistani government goes through the ritual of issuing banning orders on those groups, but in practice, any change is minimal.

And in the background always lurks the possibility that a war between the two neighbors could lead to a devastating nuclear exchange. Which means that it’s time to examine how and why, by arraying hundreds of thousands of troops along that Line of Control, India and Pakistan have created the most perilous place on Earth.

How It All Began

The Kashmir dispute began with the birth of the kicking twins — Hindu-majority India and Muslim-majority Pakistan — as independent countries. They emerged from the belly of the dying British Raj in August 1947. The princely states in British India were given the option of joining either of the new nations. The dithering Hindu ruler of Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir (its full title) finally signed a legally binding instrument of accession with New Delhi after his realm was invaded by armed tribal raiders from Pakistan. This document offered that state’s citizens the chance to choose between the two countries once peace had been restored. This has not happened so far and there is no credible prospect that it will.

After the 1947-1948 Indo-Pakistani War that followed independence, India was left in control of almost two-thirds of the princely state (18% of which it lost to China in the Sino-Indian War of 1962). Crucially, the 45% of the former princely state that remained in its hands included the Vale of Kashmir. Guarded by snow-capped mountain peaks, covered with verdant forests of fir and pine, carpeted by wild flowers in the spring, and irrigated by the Jhelum River, it has been described by poets and others as “paradise on Earth.” Its population of seven million is 96% Muslim. And it is this territory that is coveted by Pakistan.

In 1989, having secured the withdrawal of the Soviet army from Afghanistan after a 10-year struggle, some of the Afghan Mujahedin (“Holy Warriors”), including Pakistani militants, turned their attention to liberating Indian-controlled Kashmir. In this, they had the active backing of the powerful Inter-Services Intelligence directorate, or ISI, of Pakistan’s army. Earlier, the ISI had acted as the conduit for channeling U.S. and Saudi-supplied weapons and cash to the Mujahedin coalition.

At that time, the two Pakistani groups in the Mujahedin coalition, which always harbored an anti-Indian agenda, emerged front and center. They were the Jaish-e Mohammad (Army of Mohammad) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (Army of the Righteous), led respectively by Masoud Azhar and Hafiz Saeed. Working with those Kashmiris who wanted their state to secede from India, they soon began to resort to terrorist acts.

The Indian government responded with draconian measures. In July 1990, it passed the Armed Forces (Jammu and Kashmir) Special Powers Act, or AFJKSP, a law that authorized the state government to declare any part of Jammu and Kashmir a “disturbed area,” where the Indian army would be free to shoot anyone acting in contravention of “any law” or in possession of a deadly weapon. Indian forces could now arrest people suspected of committing any offense without a warrant or enter and search any premises to make such arrests. In other words, from then on, the armed forces had carte blanche legal immunity to do whatever they wished without the slightest accountability.

Yet resistance to Indian rule did not subside. In fact, the slogan “Azadi” (Freedom) caught on, emboldening both terror groups to jointly launch an audacious attack on the Indian Parliament building on December 20, 2001, with the aim of taking lawmakers hostage. (They were bravely blocked by armed guards.) In the crisis that followed, the mobilized armies of the two neighbors, each already a declared nuclear power, faced off across their international border and the Line of Control in Kashmir. Pressured by Washington, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf banned the two terror organizations in January 2002. Yet both of them soon resurfaced under different names.

In June 2002, at a regional conference in the Kazakh city of Almaty, Musharraf assailed then-Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee for ignoring the wishes of the Kashmiri people. “The possession of nuclear weapons by any state obviously implies they will be used under some circumstances,” he stated grimly, refusing to commit his country (as India had) to a “no first use” policy on nuclear arms. Vajpayee accused him of “nuclear blackmail.” At home, however, Musharraf’s hardline stance was applauded by the militant groups.

Over the years, the crisis only deepened. In November 2008, for instance, working with the ISI, the operatives of Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked Mumbai’s landmark Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and two other inns. After a 60-hour siege, 166 people, including 28 foreigners, were dead. Despiteinitial denials, Pakistan would finally acknowledge that the Mumbai conspiracy was, in part, hatched on its soil, and place Lashkar-e-Taiba leader Saeed under house arrest. But no charges would be leveled against him and he would, in the end, be released.

After the Mumbai carnage, Jaish-e Mohammad’s chief, Azhar, kept a low profile for several years, only to reappear publicly in 2014, issuing fiery calls for more attacks on India (and the United States as well). In September 2016, his fighters stormed an army camp in Uri, an Indian garrison town near the Line of Control, killing 19 soldiers.

With the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, or BJP, under Narendra Modi gaining power in New Delhi in 2014, repression of the Muslim separatist movement in Kashmir only intensified. Within three years, the number of security personnel — army troops, paramilitaries, border guards, federal armed policemen, state policemen, and intelligence agents — had reached 470,000 in Jammu and Kashmir, which had a population of only 14.1 million. As a result, the proportion of local Kashmiris among anti-Indian fighters only rose.

A Sensational Terrorist Attack

This February 14th, a 19-year-old suicide bomber, Adil Ahmad Dar, drove a car bomb into an Indian convoy heading for Kashmir’s capital city, Srinagar. At least 40 Indian paramilitary troops were killed — the worst such attack in the troubled history of the state. Jaish-e Mohammad proudly claimed responsibility.

After dropping out of his village school, Dar had gone to work in a neighbor’s sawmill. During a four-month-long protest sparked by the killing of a popular 22-year-old local militant leader, Burhan Wani, in July 2016, Indian troops gunned down nearly 100 protestors, while injuring 15,000, including Dar. In response, he crossed the Line of Control and joined Jaish-e Mohammad. In the wake of his suicide attack, Indian soldiers raided the home of his parents, locked them inside, and set it on fire. And so it continues in the officially “disturbed” Kashmir.

In response to the deaths of the soldiers (and keenly aware of an upcoming nationwide election), Prime Minister Modi exploited the situation for political ends. He turned popular grief into an emotive and prolonged commemoration of those military deaths. TV networks focused on the flag-draped coffins of the slain troops, while local BJP candidates followed their hearses. The cremations were telecast live, while Modi proclaimed that “the security forces have been given complete freedom. The blood of the people is boiling.”

On February 26th, temporarily released from civilian control, the Indian military launched a “pre-emptive” air strike on an alleged Jaish-e Mohammad training camp near Balakot, six miles inside Pakistan’s Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province. The last time the air forces of either country had crossed the international border was during their 1971 war.

India claimed to have killed more than 300 militants, but Islamabad reported that the Indian bombs had actually hit a totally deserted site. (This would be confirmed later by satellite analysis from the Australian Strategic Policy Institute which concluded that no damage had been done to the hilltop facility India claimed to have struck.) The next day Pakistan announced that, in a dogfight between warplanes of the two countries, an Indian fighter jet had been shot down and its pilot, Abhinandan Varthaman, captured.

India angrily demanded that he be set free immediately. On February 28th, while announcing the pilot’s release during a televised address, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan warned against miscalculation and the explosive potential for such aerial skirmishes to escalate into a wider conflict in the most dangerous environment on the planet. He said, “With the weapons you have and the weapons we have, can we afford miscalculation? Shouldn’t we think that, if this escalates, what will it lead to?”

This was a barely disguised reference to the devastating nuclear arsenals that the two South Asian neighbors now possess, with 135 nukes in New Delhi’s possession and 145 in Islamabad’s. Those arsenals are more than capable of causing havoc far beyond South Asia. It’s estimated that even a “moderate” Indo-Pakistani nuclear conflict could create a global “nuclear winter,” killing directly or indirectly up to a billion people as crops failed and starvation stalked the Earth.

Those Nuclear Arsenals

Pakistan’s arsenal now includes tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) with “low” explosive power for battlefield use. In 2011, it tested its first one successfully. Since then, according to Professor Rajesh Rajagopalan, author of Nuclear South Asia: Keywords and Concepts, Pakistan is believed to have assembled four or five of these annually. They are to be fired from the Nasr, a short-range missile. Two successful tests of it were conducted this January.

Islamabad began producing and deploying TNWs after India adopted a “Cold Start” military contingency plan to punish unacceptable Pakistani provocations like mass-casualty terror strikes. After repeated denials, in early 2017, India’s army chief finally acknowledged the existence of the plan, involving the creation of eight division-size integrated battle groups (IBGs). Each is to consist of infantry, artillery, armor, and air support and is to be able to operate independently on the battlefield. In response to major terrorist attacks from Pakistan or by Pakistani-based groups, the IBGs are to rapidly penetrate that country at unexpected locations and advance up to 30 miles beyond the border, disrupting command-and-control networks while trying to avoid locations likely to trigger nuclear retaliation. In other words, the goal is to be able to launch an overwhelming conventional strike swiftly but in a limited fashion in order to ward off a Pakistani nuclear response. Overall, India’s contingency plan assumes unrealistically that, in the heat of the battle, leaders on both sides will remain calm and rational.

Responding to Islamabad’s production of theater nuclear weapons, New Delhi initiated a super-secret nuclear program revealed only in December 2015, thanks to an investigation by the Washington-based Center for Public Integrity. A top-secret, government-run, $100 million rare materials plant near the city of Mysore in southern Indianow houses a nuclear enrichment complex that has been operating since 2012. It feeds the country’s nuclear weapons program and, far more ominously, has laid the foundation for an ambitious Indian hydrogen bomb project.

To consternation in world capitals, it was also revealed that this plant has a larger twin 160 miles north of Mysore in southern India that goes by the innocuous name of the Aeronautical Test Range. Conceived in March 2007 by the defense ministry, its construction started in 2012 on nearly 13 square miles of land. It is to become the subcontinent’s largest military-run complex of nuclear centrifuges, atomic-research laboratories, and weapons- and aircraft-testing facilities after its completion in 2020. Among the project’s aims is to expand the government’s nuclear research, to produce fuel for the country’s nuclear reactors, and to help power its fleet of new nuclear submarines. This nuclear city is to be protected by a ring of military garrisons, turning the site into a virtual military facility, which also means that it will not be open to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Its overarching aim is to give the country an extra stockpile of enriched uranium fuel that could be used to create hydrogen bombs and so further enhance the power of India’s already devastating nuclear arsenal.

Both of these projects are directed by the office of the prime minister. India’s Atomic Energy Act and its Official Secrets Act have placed everything linked to the country’s nuclear program under wraps. In the past, those who tried to find out more about these activities were bludgeoned into silence.

According to Gary Samore, an Obama-era White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction, “India intends to build thermonuclear weapons as part of its strategic deterrent against China. It is unclear when India will realize this goal of a larger and more powerful arsenal, but they will.” Once manufactured, however, nothing would block India from deploying them against Pakistan. “India is now developing very big bombs, hydrogen bombs that are city-busters,” commented Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy. “It is not interested in [producing] nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield; it is developing nuclear weapons for eliminating population centers.”

In other words, while India has long been in a nuclear arms race with Pakistan, it is no longer sticking to the same race course. In late March, Modi announced that India recently launched a rocket successfully shooting down one of its satellites. This creates the possibility that, in a future nuclear war with Pakistan, it could preemptively “blind” the Pakistanis by destroying their space-based communication and surveillance satellites. A race of another kind could be in the offing.

The central motive that drove Pakistan to develop its nuclear arsenal, however, remains unchanged. It was the only way Islamabad could deter New Delhi from defeating it in a war waged with conventional weapons. India’s 2.14 million-strong military, equipped with 5,967 artillery pieces, 4,500 tanks, and 2,216 aircraft, is significantly larger and better armed than Pakistan’s 1.55 million soldiers, 3,745 artillery, 2,700 tanks, and 1,143 aircraft. In addition, New Delhi’s annual defense budget of $55.9 billion is more than five times Islamabad’s $10.8 billion.

Little wonder that, in his February 28th televised address, while announcing the Indian pilot’s release, Prime Minister Khan suggested that the two sides “should sit down and resolve our problems through dialogue.” He claimed that his own political party, Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (the Pakistan Movement for Justice), and the country’s powerful military were “all on one page” in wishing to mend fences with India.

Pakistan’s Belated Suppression of Violent Jihadists

In late February, India handed over to Pakistan a dossier with information on Jaish-e Mohammad, its top leadership, and their involvement in several terror attacks. Islamabad initially said that the dossier was being “examined.” However, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi added that his government could act against Masoud Azhar only if New Delhi provided “solid, inalienable evidence” strong enough to convince the country’s judiciary.

And yet on March 8th, the Pakistani government acted, launching a crackdown on leading terrorist groups. Among other things, it outlawed the Jamaat-ud Dawa (Society of the Islamic Call), or JuD, a welfare organization that raised funds for Lashkar-e-Taiba. It sealed the banned organization’s headquarters in Lahore as well as more than 200 schools, seminaries, and hospitals it ran. It also banned its chief, Hafiz Saeed, from leading Friday prayers on the sprawling JuD complex and kept him under surveillance.

One key factor that spurred such action was a warning the Pakistani government received on February 22nd from the Paris-based intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force (FATF). It threatened to add Pakistan to its blacklist of non-cooperating countries if, by May, it failed to take specific steps against the financing of terrorism. To be added to the FATF blacklist could mean being sanctioned by most Western nations, a development only likely to deepen Islamabad’s current financial crisis. (Recently, it has had barely enough foreign reserves to pay for two months of imports or service a huge loan it secured from the International Monetary Fund in 2013.)

In January 2018, President Donald Trump had already cancelled plans for Washington to give Pakistan $1.3 billion in military aid and had imposed sanctions on the country for its support of terrorist groups, including the Afghan Taliban. On Twitter, he accused Pakistan of “providing nothing but lies and deceit.” Soon after, the FATF placed Pakistan on its “gray list.”

Still, none of that proved sufficient to compel Pakistan’s powerful military high command to cede its traditional monopoly on national security and foreign policy decision-making, including its covert backing of anti-Indian extremist groups through the ISI. Only when pressure continued to build, bolstered by fresh urging from Washington, London, and Paris, was a critical mass reached that made those generals finally fall in line with recently elected Prime Minister Khan’s more conciliatory stance toward India.

Now, the international community can only hope that the carnage and chaos of February was the last in a tragic series of encounters between nuclear neighbors that could otherwise lead South Asia to devastation and the world to nuclear winter.

Dilip Hiro is a TomDispatch regular and the author of 37 books, including The Longest August: The Unflinching Rivalry between India and Pakistan. His newest book, Cold War in the Islamic World: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Struggle for Supremacy, has just been published.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer’s new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

Copyright 2019 Dilip Hiro


Bonus video added by Informed Comment:

Euronews: “NASA chief Jim Bridenstine calls India’s shooting down of satellite a ‘threat to the future of human space flight'”

Anti-Trumpism as a Global–and Domestic–Movement https://www.juancole.com/2018/08/trumpism-domestic-movement.html Fri, 24 Aug 2018 04:29:07 +0000 https://www.juancole.com/?p=178120 ( Tomdispatch.com ) – One thing already seems clear in the Trump era: the world will not turn out to be the American president’s playground. His ultra-unilateralist, rejectionist policies on trade, the Iran denuclearization agreement, the costs of defense, and climate change are already creating an incipient anti-Trump movement globally (and in the United States as well). To a remarkable degree, the countries he has targeted are banding together to oppose him and his policies. That still inchoate but gathering opposition assures that, whatever Donald Trump’s view of America may be, it is no longer — in the phrase coined 20 years ago by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright — the “indispensable nation.” Abroad or even at home, with the president facing increasingly strong headwinds on climate change at the state and local level, we’re entering a new world order on the heels of the collapsed American domination of the past three-quarters of a century.

Let’s consider the opposition Trump has generated on an issue-by-issue basis.

Cross-Border Trade

In January 2017, on his first day in office, President Trump promptly withdrew the United States from the long-negotiated 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact, deeply disappointing among others a close ally, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He had assiduously curried favor with Trump as soon as he was elected, on and off the golf course. A day earlier in January, Abe had even succeeded in getting his own parliament to approve the agreement.

But in an act by Washington’s allies unprecedented in the last seven decades, Abe, along with the leaders of the 10 other countries in that pact — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam — refused to take Trump’s executive order as TPP’s death sentence. Instead, in a groundbreaking step into a new world, they resumed negotiations on the pact in the Chilean city of Viña del Mar.

This March, after months of deliberation, they signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership in Chile’s capital city, Santiago. For the signatories, it reduces tariffs drastically, while introducing sweeping new trade rules in markets covering half a billion people on either side of the Pacific Ocean.

This was a landmark event, inaugurating an era in which countries long accustomed to following cues from Washington forged ahead without its participation. In doing so, they rejected Trump’s view of trade as a zero-sum game, consisting of winners and losers. Reflecting the common perception of the signatories, Chilean President Michelle Bachelet said, “We need to stay on the course of globalization, yet learning from our past mistakes.”

Bachelet’s view was shared by Abe, who leads the country with the third largest economy in the world. Japan is a key player in global trade. So, too, is the 28-member European Union (EU) whose aggregate gross domestic product ($17.278 trillion) far exceeds Japan’s ($4.872 trillion).

Soon after recovering from Trump’s TPP exit, Abe decided to revive his country’s stalled free-trade talks with the EU. Their shared disapproval of the American president’s trade policy led the two sides to rapidly overcome their differences. In July 2017, Abe formally agreed to an outline of a free-trade deal with European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. By so doing, the EU and Japan, highly developed democracies, made clear their commitment to the liberal, free-trading, rules-based international order, which runs counter to Trump’s worldview.

In July 2018 in Brussels, the European Union and Japan inked the globe’s largest free-trade deal, the Economic Partnership Agreement. Remarkably, it covers almost a third of the globe’s gross domestic product and 600 million people. Toshimitsu Motegi, Japan’s minister for economic revitalization, summed up the situation in this way: “The signing of the Japan-EU deal today will show the world once again our unwavering political will to promote free trade.” Juncker was even more upbeat. “[The] impact of today’s agreement goes far beyond our shores,” he said. “We are showing that we are stronger and better off when we work together. And we are leading by example, showing that trade is about more than tariffs and barriers. It is about values, principles, and finding win-win solutions for all those concerned.”

For the first time since the end of World War II, Washington’s allies in the West as well as the East thumbed their noses at an American president. That made it a truly historic event.

The EU Goes Head to Head With Trump

In May, when Donald Trump exited the multilateral Iran denuclearization deal endorsed by the United Nations Security Council, Juncker was equally strident in his criticism of him. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which had been signed in July 2015 by six world powers (America, Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia) and the EU, was being implemented as specified in the document. Yet Trump announced the reimposition of the American sanctions that had been in place before the JCPOA. These covered Iran’s energy, banking, and other sectors, and included a provision penalizing foreign businesses worldwide that continued trading with or investing in Iran.

The American president’s 11-minute TV address explaining his decision ignored the 10 quarterly reports by inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency confirming that Iran was in compliance with the pact. Altogether his address contained 10 false or misleading statements, including the howler that Iran was on the “cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

Before launching economic warfare against Tehran, Trump had alienated the EU by refusing to grant it an exemption from steel and aluminum tariffs he started imposing on China and other countries in March. An American president is authorized to take such action only to protect “national security.” EU officials argued, to no avail, that their bloc was an ally of the United States and so, by definition, not a national security threat.

“We are witnessing today a new phenomenon: the capricious assertiveness of the American administration,” Tusk said, on the eve of an EU summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, in mid-May. “Looking at the latest decisions of President Trump, some could even think, ‘With friends like that, who needs enemies?’” At that meeting, EU members agreed unanimously to stick to the JCPOA as long as Iran agreed to do the same.

On August 7th, U.S. sanctions went into effect on any financial transactions involving American dollars relating to Iran’s automotive sector, purchases of commercial planes, and metals, including gold. The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, immediately instructed European companies not to comply with Washington’s demand to cease trading with Iran. Those firms deciding to pull out would require the EU’s authorization to do so. The commission went on to set up a mechanism that would allow firms affected by the sanctions to sue the American government in the national courts of member states.

Russia and China, co-signatories to the JCPOA, concurred with the EU. “We are deeply disappointed by U.S. steps to reimpose its national sanctions against Iran,” said the Russian foreign ministry. “This is a clear example of Washington violating U.N. resolution 2231 [on the Iran deal] and international law.” China’s foreign ministry also regretted Washington’s decision and urged all involved parties to stay on track for full implementation of the 2015 accord.

The unanimously adopted Security Council Resolution 2231, passed under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, had endorsed the Iran denuclearization pact, making it part of international law. It included a call for “promoting and facilitating the development of normal economic and trade contacts and cooperation with Iran.”

As if brazenly violating international law weren’t enough, the Trump administration decided to penalize U.N. member states for abiding by that resolution — a frontal attack on a rules-based international order. Fearing U.S. sanctions, some European companies had already backed off their Iranian investments and trade before August 7th. Consider that an apt illustration of a Trumpian world in which it’s the lawbreaker who punishes the law-abiding.

Trump on NATO

As a businessman occupying the White House, Donald Trump has introduced a profit-and-loss paradigm to foreign policy — be it cross-border trade or military budgets. That helps explain his continual drumbeat of criticism about how other NATO members are not spending enough on defense.

At the July NATO summit in Brussels, Trump was implacable on that issue, summing up his position in this way to CBS News: “Many of those countries are in NATO and they weren’t paying their bills.” A typical Trumpian claim, it bore no relation to reality. As German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen explained, “NATO does not have a debt account.”

Apparently, the president confused direct and indirect contributions to NATO. In 2017, NATO’s budget was $1.652 billion. Member states contribute according to an agreed-upon formula related to a country’s GDP. The U.S. contributes 22.14% of that budget, Germany 14.65%, France 10.63%, and Britain 9.84%. All paid on time.

Then there are indirect contributions to NATO. These are related to how much equipment and manpower a member state volunteers to a certain military operation, of which the best known at the moment continues to be the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan launched after the 9/11 attacks almost 17 years ago. In order to facilitate and encourage such contributions, NATO leaders agreed in 2014 to increase their spending on defense to at least 2% of their GDP by 2024. Many are on course to do so. Recently, however, Trump upped the ante, suggesting that the figure be 4%, a goal even the U.S., with by far the largest military budget in the world, does not now reach.

Currently, the U.S. is spending 3.6% of its GDP on its military. That amounts to $683 billion (and the military budget Trump just signed raised that to $717 billion), or 71% of total NATO defense spending. That is what led the American president to describe the present situation as “disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States.” Unsurprisingly, Trump failed to compare like with like. Defense of country is normally defined in terms of a possible aggressor. In that sense, the European members of NATO are focused on Russia. Collectively, NATO’s EU members spend $254 billion on defense, or 10 times Russia’s $24.2 billion defense budget.

By contrast, since the end of World War II, the Pentagon has equipped itself to fight wars across the world and dominate both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. That explains why, of the 20 aircraft carriers in service around the globe, 10 belong to its navy. Constructing an aircraft carrier takes years and is hugely expensive, apart from the support ships it needs to form a complete carrier task force. But as a well-armed, aircraft-equipped, floating part of sovereign U.S. territory, powered by dual nuclear reactors, it is unmatched in its lethal power. This is what led former defense secretary William Cohen to state that, without “flattops,” the United States would have “less of a voice, less of an influence.”

In stark contrast, among Washington’s European allies, Britain has just one aircraft carrier, as does France. Notably, their carriers rarely steam past the Horn of Africa or the Persian Gulf.

Britain is already past the 2% mark for defense spending and France is just .2% short of the agreed-upon target. Since May of last year, France has been governed by 40-year-old President Emmanuel Macron, a staunch advocate of the closer integration, financially and otherwise, of EU members. In a September 2017 speech, he floated the idea of a joint enterprise to allow Europe’s militaries to coordinate and react swiftly together. As a result, this June, ministers from Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, and Portugal signed a letter of intent in Luxembourg to form the European Intervention Initiative (EII). It would exist outside the EU’s structures and be focused on joint planning for future natural disasters, crisis intervention, and the evacuation of citizens from hostile countries, among other things.

At present, its aims remain modest, but the key point is simple. The principle that European militaries should act collectively without the involvement of the Pentagon is to be put into practice. That is likely to prove but one more step on the path toward turning Albright’s indispensable nation into an increasingly dispensable America. If Donald Trump or his successor persists in weakening NATO, he or she will only encourage the Europeans to build on the EII concept.

A Climate-Denying President Is Rebuffed at Home

As a global opposition to Donald Trump begins to form, on one issue, climate change — that affects all humanity — a distinctly American opposition is preparing to join the growing international one. In June 2017, Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement, while appointing an unparalleled crew of climate-change deniers to his administration and reneging on President Barack Obama’s pledge by 2025 to reduce America’s greenhouse gas emissions by 26% to 28% (from 2005 levels).

To the relief of most of the planet’s inhabitants, Trump’s withdrawal proved to be a solo act, with the remaining 194 signatories remaining firmly on board. Their representatives were among the 3,000 diplomats and observers who assembled in Bonn, Germany, in May to deliberate on giving the agreement further clout. To the consternation of the Trump administration, the next crucial meeting, a Global Climate Action Summit, will take place in September –and guess where? — in California.

That state’s governor, Jerry Brown, has been a key figurein rallying support for the Paris Accord and opposition to Trump’s climate-change deniers at the state and local levels. Along with former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, Brown has sponsored the We Are Still In coalition. In November 2017, the two of them published a remarkable report showing that cities, states, and businesses representing more than half of the U.S. economy and population had declared their support for the agreement. “If these non-federal actors were a country,” it pointed out, “their economy would be the third largest in the world, bigger than all but two national parties to the Paris Agreement.”

In his withdrawal statement, Trump stated that “the United States will cease all implementation of the nonbinding Paris accord and the draconian financial and economic burdens the agreement imposes on our country.” That accord’s main aim was to keep the global temperature rise below 2 degrees centigrade from the preindustrial level. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump added. Within a few hours, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto tweeted back, “I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future.”

Pittsburgh is one of 405 municipalities representing 70 million Americans that have signed on to a Climate Mayors initiative, which has only grown in the past year. More than 80 American cities — even some, like San Diego, run by Republicans — have committed to a future of 100% renewable energy. In fact, Trump’s decision actually spurred some cities to make new efforts to accelerate the pace of change. New York decided to electrify its bus fleet and pledged to divest from fossil fuels, while suing the world’s largest oil corporations for their role in escalating sea-level rise, heat waves, and other natural disasters. It also promised to abandon coal-fired electricity, as did Los Angeles.

Donald Trump is not going to change. He has declared his intention to seek reelection in 2020 and will continue to nurture his base by endlessly demonstrating his version of Make America Great Again. The 54 million followers he has on Twitter generally seem to applaud the macho bluster with which he conducts his bouts of disruptive diplomacy. So don’t expect him to moderate either his ultra-unilateralist policies or the style in which he delivers them.

The question for the future is this: To what extent can the incipient anti-Trump movement globally and domestically coalesce in ways that will set our world on a new course — one that will make Donald Trump and his Washington cronies the dinosaurs of Planet Earth?

Dilip Hiro, a TomDispatch regular, is the author of After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World. His 37th book, soon to be published, is Cold War in the Islamic World: Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Struggle for Supremacy (Oxford University Press).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, Beverly Gologorsky’s novel Every Body Has a Story and Tom Engelhardt’s A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy’s In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power, John Dower’s The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II, and John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands.

Copyright 2018 Dilip Hiro

Featured Photo: AFP / MANDEL NGAN. As Washington grapples with the latest upheaval in Trump’s stormy presidency, the brash leader appears adamant on riding it out.