China loses its allure

January 27, 2014

This week’s print edition of The Economist brings a worth reading story on China: life is getting harder for foreign companies there.

“According to the late Roberto Goizueta, a former boss of The Coca-Cola Company, April 15th 1981 was “one of the most important days…in the history of the world.” That date marked the opening of the first Coke bottling plant to be built in China since the Communist revolution.

The claim was over the top, but not absurd. Mao Zedong’s disastrous policies had left the economy in tatters. The height of popular aspiration was the “four things that go round”: bicycles, sewing machines, fans and watches. The welcome that Deng Xiaoping, China’s then leader, gave to foreign firms was part of a series of changes that turned China into one of the biggest and fastest-growing markets in the world.

For the past three decades, multinationals have poured in. After the financial crisis, many companies looked to China for salvation. Now it looks as though the gold rush may be over.”

Read full story.


Das Biblikon-Projekt – Die Entschlüsselung des Bibel-Codes

December 3, 2013

Gut ein halbes Jahrzehnt hat sich der Politikwissenschaftler und Historiker Tomas Michael Spahn neben seinen beruflichen Aufgaben als Berater für politische Kommunikation und Analytik dem Alten Testament der christlichen Bibel – dem Tanach der Juden – gewidmet.

Was als der Versuch eines kurzen Essays über die Lebenswirklichkeit des biblischen Königs Josia begann, wurde zu einer Analyse dieses Werks, die mittlerweile ziemlich genau 1.350 gedruckte Seiten umfasst und die Spahn jetzt unter dem Titel „Das Biblikon-Projekt – Die Entschlüsselung des Bibel-Codes“ veröffentlicht hat.

Die Ergebnisse dieser Analyse sind – zurückhaltend formuliert – sensationell. Denn im Grunde stellt Spahn 2.500 Jahre gelebte Menschheitsgeschichte auf den Kopf und entlarvt die Wirklichkeit der Religion als etwas, das er als “sacred fiction” – heilige Fiktion – bezeichnet.

„Schon Gandhi erkannte: Das Grundproblem bei jeglicher Betrachtung menschlicher Interaktionen und historischer Vorgänge ist die Unterscheidung zwischen Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit“, sagt der frühere Leiter der Öffentlichkeitsarbeit einer Berliner Landesbehörde und Ressortleiter einer deutschen Tageszeitung.

“Wahrheit ist das, was war oder ist – was tatsächlich war oder ist. Nicht das, was gewesen sein soll oder sein könnte oder von dem wir glauben, dass es war oder ist. Sobald wir letzteres jedoch zu unserer persönlichen Scheinwahrheit machen, wird es zur Wirklichkeit. Wirklichkeit kann also sein, ohne auf Wahrheit zu beruhen – und gleichwohl unterstellen wir, dass es so sei.“

Wer in dreißig Berufsjahren als politischer Redakteur und als Kommunikationsverantwortlicher in Unternehmen und Verwaltung tätig war, lerne den Unterschied zwischen Wahrheit und Wirklichkeit zu erkennen, meint Spahn. Als Redakteur sei es seine Aufgabe gewesen, die ihm präsentierte Wirklichkeit auf ihren Wahrheitskern zurück zu führen. Als Öffentlichkeitsarbeiter hingegen habe er das genaue Gegenteil gemacht: Aus der Sache wurde eine Wirklichkeit für die Öffentlichkeit, die mit der Wahrheit nicht immer etwas zu tun haben musste.

Damit schließt sich für den Analytiker der Kreis zur Bibel. Eines der faszinierendsten Phänomene der gelebten Wirklichkeit sei es, dass selbst in den renommiertesten, historischen Fachbüchern die im Tanach geschilderte Geschichte als historischer Tatsachenbericht eingeflossen ist.

Spahn: “Sachlich betrachtet hat die Bibel erst einmal nicht mehr historischen Wahrheitsgehalt als beispielsweise die Ilias oder das Siegfried-Lied. Kein Historiker würde auf die Idee kommen, diese literarischen Werke ungeprüft als geschichtliche Wahrheit in seine Werke zu schreiben.“

Ganz anders bei den Erzählungen zum Ursprung des Monotheismus: Jenseits jeglicher Fremdquelle, die die Geschichten belegen könnte, seien die biblischen Darstellungen als vorgebliche Wahrheit in die Geschichtsschreibung eingeflossen und fänden sich dort bis heute. Für Spahn ist dieses der trotz abendländischer Aufklärung nachwirkende Wahrheitsanspruch der Kirche, der “als Wirklichkeit derart tief in unserem kollektiven Bewusstsein verankert ist, dass sich kaum einer traut, ihn als das zu bezeichnen, was er ist: Eine Fabel, deren Wahrheitsnachweis bislang ausgeblieben ist.”

Als der Publizist und Nahostkenner begann, sich intensiv mit den Geschichten des Alten Testaments zu beschäftigen, stieß er schnell auf Ungereimtheiten, die seit geraumer Zeit die historische Wissenschaft zu Korrekturen hätten bewegen müssen. “Eine der grundsätzlichen Fragen ist es, in welcher Schrift der eine Gott seine zehn Gebote in den Fels des Berges Sinai geschrieben hat”, befindet Spahn. Laut biblischer Darstellung habe sich dieser Vorgang auf der Flucht der Hebräer, die korrekt als „Seitenwechsler“ zu übersetzen seien, aus Ägypten ereignet – und damit viele Jahrhunderte, bevor die legendären Könige David und Salomo das Großreich Israel gegründet hätten.

“Wenn es so ist, wie der Tanach es darstellt, stehen wir vor einem Problem. Die Wissenschaft weiß heute, dass die hebräischen Schriftzeichen sich keinesfalls vor der letzten vorchristlichen Jahrtausendwende entwickeln haben. In welcher Schrift also schrieb der Gott Jahuah Jahrhunderte vor dieser Zeit seine Gebote in den Sinai?” Hinzu käme, dass auch die Geschichte von der gewaltsamen Übernahme des “Landes Kanaan” – und damit der gesamte Komplex der fünf Bücher Mose sowie die Josua-Geschichte -zumindest dann nicht in Ivrit geschrieben worden sein können, wenn sie als Tatsachenberichte zum Zeitpunkt des geschilderten Geschehens verfasst wurden. Diesen Eindruck jedoch vermittelten diese Geschichten – und da nicht sein kann, was nachweislich nicht möglich ist, müsse es sich bei diesen sechs Büchern um deutlich später schriftlich verfasste Erzählungen handeln.

Damit jedoch müssten ihre Inhalte nicht zwingend unrichtig sein. Sie könnten immer noch auf tatsächlichem Geschehen beruhen. Wenn sie allerdings, wie der israelische Archäologe Israel Finkelstein nachgewiesen hat, eine Welt des achten oder siebten vorchristlichen Jahrhunderts beschreiben, dann haben sie in etwa den gleichen historischen Wert wie jene mittelalterlichen Kunstwerke, die die Juden zur Zeit Christi in der Garderobe der mittelalterlichen Ghettos zeigen. Von einem wäre in diesem Falle jedoch zwingend auszugehen: Eine möglicherweise wahre Geschichte hätte über die Jahrhunderte zahllose Veränderungen erfahren können, wäre erweitert und glorifiziert worden. Insofern bliebe vielleicht ein Kern an Wahrheit.

Die Frage sei dann jedoch: Welches ist dieser Kern. Denn es gibt auch andere Ungereimtheiten, die nicht passen wollen. So kauft der aus Mesopotamien zugewanderte Urvater Abraham einem Hethiter ein Grundstück ab. Das Problem: Die Hethiter waren erst deutlich später in der Region anzutreffen, als zu jenem Zeitraum, in dem die Abraham-Geschichte historisch zu verorten ist. Andererseits waren “chét”, wie die Hethiter im Original heißen, eine gängige Bezeichnung der assyrischen Herrscher in Ninive für die Bewohner der Region zwischen Jerusalem und Anatolien. Die assyrischen Konflikte mit diesen Chét wiederum fallen in die Zeit des achten und siebten vorchristlichen Jahrhunderts und stützen so die Erkenntnis Finkelsteins, dass wesentliche Teile des Tanach nicht vor dieser Zeit verfasst wurden.

Der Kommunikationsexperte Spahn wandte sich in einem weiteren Schritt konkreten Fragen der Sprache und des erzählerischen Aufbaus des Alten Testaments zu. Dabei kommt er neben zahlreichen anderen neuen Erkenntnissen zu der Feststellung, dass die Autoren der Bibel, vergleichbar den Kolportage-Autoren des 19. Jahrhunderts, über Master-Stories verfügten, die mit unterschiedlicher Besetzung zu unterschiedlichen Zeiten in das Gesamtwerk einfließen. Beispielhaft wird dieses aufgezeigt an der Erzählung von der verschacherten Ehefrau, deren Muster sich dreimal findet und die sich am Ende als Lagerfeuer-Erzählung der Nomaden erklärt, in der diese den Reiz ihrer Frauen und die Dummheit der von ihnen verachteten Städter feiern.

Werkzeuge der Statistik halfen, einzelne Erzählkomplexe bestimmten – bis heute weitgehend unbekannten – Autoren zuzuweisen.

Spahn: “Autoren sind oftmals daran zu erkennen, dass in ihren Texten spezifische Begriffe und Floskeln Verwendung finden, die bei anderen Autoren und zu anderen Zeiten nicht zum Einsatz kommen. So können wir beispielsweise davon ausgehen, dass ein deutschsprachiger Text, in dem eine Häufung des Begriffes ‘Nachhaltigkeit’ auffällt, keinesfalls vor den achtziger Jahren des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts verfasst worden sein kann. Umgekehrt finden wir beispielsweise in den Originalen der Romane der Volkschriftsteller May und Gerstäcker Begriffe, die schon einhundert Jahre später kein normal gebildeter Leser mehr kennt. Eine lebendige Sprache unterliegt einem permanenten Wandel. Begriffe, die keinen Nutzwert mehr haben, verschwinden, werden durch neue abgelöst. Andere Begriffe wandeln die mit ihnen verbundene Assoziation und können so – durch spätere Generationen gelesen – zu gänzlich falschen Interpretationen des geschriebenen Wortes führen.”

Wenn dieses heute so sei, fügt der Autor hinzu, dann sei dieses auch in der Antike nicht anders gewesen. Und so stelle sich die Frage, ob das, was wir heute in der Bibel selbst dann lesen, wenn wir auf den Aleppo-Codex des Tanach als älteste verfügbare Quelle in Ivrit zurückgreifen, tatsächlich so darin gestanden habe, wie wir es heute verstehen wollen oder sollen.

Nach diesen grundsätzlichen Fragestellungen richtete Spahn sein Augenmerk erneut auf den ursprünglichen Untersuchungsgegenstand: Dem König oder Mélék Josia, der in der hebräischen Originalschrift Jéáshéjah, der das Feuer des/von Jah ist, heißt. Die Bibel schreibt diesem einzigen Herrscher von Jahudah, dessen Erscheinen im Tanach prophezeit wird, zahlreiche Leistungen zu. Obgleich als Heidenkind – also Anhänger der assyrischen Götterwelt – aufgewachsen, bekehrt er sich zu dem einen Gott Jahuah, lässt dessen Tempel in Jerusalem renovieren und anschließend in einer großangelegten Aktion das Land von allen Stätten der Nicht-Jahuahisten “reinigen”. Bei der Renovierung des Tempels wird zufällig ein antikes Textwerk gefunden: Das Gesetzbuch des Mose. Und hier beginnen für Spahn die ebenso offensichtlichen wie bis heute verdrängten Ungereimtheiten. Denn das Buch Mose ist weder dem Herrscher noch seinen Getreuen als mosaisches Basiswerk bekannt. Theatralisch zerreißt Josia seine Kleider, klagt: „Wenn wir das gewusst hätten …!“

Wenn nun aber dem vorgeblich mosaischen Josia das Buch Mose nicht bekannt war – wäre das nicht ungefähr so, als wenn der katholische Papst ohne Evangelium oder der Ayatollah Chamenei seine klerikale Funktion ohne den Quran leben würde? Was also kann das für ein jüdischer Glaube gewesen sein, dem dieser Mélék vor dem Fund des mosaischen Gesetzes anhing?

Es ist nicht die einzige Ungereimtheit in diesem Text, die Spahn aufzeigt. Am Ende seiner Auseinandersetzung mit dieser Person und ihrem Umfeld steht für ihn fest, dass es “einen jüdischen Glauben in der Form, wie wir ihn heute kennen, vor 622 vor Christus nicht gegeben haben kann”. Seine in umfassender Analyse erarbeitete Darstellung der nahöstlichen Geschichte zwischen 630 und 580 liest sich dann auch gänzlich anders, als in allen Geschichtsbüchern und theologischen Werken beschrieben.

Spahn geht davon aus, dass es ein wirklich unabhängiges Königreich in Jahudah vor und nach Josia nicht gegeben hat. Die im Tanach beschriebenen “Könige” waren in aller Regel nichts anderes als Statthalter der jeweiligen Hegemonialmächte Ägypten, Assyrien und Babylon. Vor allem waren sie eines nicht: Genetische Nachfahren eines legendären David. Sie entstammten aus den führenden Familien Jerusalems – und “Söhne Davids” wurden sie nur deshalb, weil die Königschroniken zu jener Zeit von Indus bis Nil den jeweiligen Nachfolger im Amt als “Sohn” bezeichneten. Leibliche Söhne – so wird unter anderem anhand der Königschronik des assyrischen Herrschers Sanherib nachgewiesen – erhielten den Hinweis auf die Zeugung “aus meinen Lenden”, der sich in ähnlicher Form gelegentlich auch im Tanach findet.

Als Josia – vermutlich in Folge einer priesterlichen Intrige – an die Macht kommt, hat die vom Nil bis zum Tigris ausgedehnte Macht der Assyrer ihren Zenit bereits überschritten. Im fernen Babylon erhebt sich ein ehemaliger Offizier, dessen leiblicher Sohn Nebukadnezar dereinst zum Herrscher der damals bekannten Welt aufsteigen sollte. Nachweislich ist der Babylonier mit den Medern verbündet. Spahn geht davon aus – und findet dafür eine plausible Beweiskette – dass auch der assyrische Vasallenkönig Josia zu den Verschwörern gehörte. Um 626 vc stieß er zu den Aufrührern, schloss mit ihnen einen Geheimvertrag, den der Tanach als den “Bund des Jah” in zahlreichen Details beschreibt. Dem Jahudahi wurde unter dem Dach des künftigen Herrschers in Babylon absolute Selbstverwaltung garantiert. Das Land solle ihm auf alle Ewigkeit gehören, das Volk von Jahudah – im Gegensatz zu den gewaltsam unterworfenen Stämmen – als “sein Volk” im Reich eine privilegierte Stellung unter dem allmächtigen Herrscher am Euphrat erhalten. Mehr noch: Die damals als Handelszentrum aufblühende Metropole Jerusalem solle künftig der Hauptverwaltungssitz des zu schaffenden Großreichs für den Westen des Reichs werden. Dorthin hätten die Völker zu pilgern, ihre Abgaben zu entrichten und dem fernen Herrscher der Welt zu huldigen. Der Wohlstand der Region wäre damit langfristig gesichert gewesen, die Jahudahim von ewigen Vasallen zu Mitherrschern aufgestiegen.

Da es auf dieser Welt nichts umsonst gibt, erwartete der Rebell im fernen Babylon allerdings auch eine Gegenleistung. Josia sollte die Herrschaft der Assyrer in Jahudah und in den angrenzenden Ländern Israel – das niemals zuvor Teil eines jüdischen Reiches gewesen war und das die Jahudahim als Kénéýn (Kanaan) bezeichneten – und in der Mittelmeerküstenregion – dem assyrischen Land Chét, das für die Semiten auch das Land der Féléshétjm (korrekt übersetzt als “Eindringlinge”) ist – übernehmen.

Die Verbündeten gegen Assyrien verfolgen damit ein doppeltes Ziel: Zum einen sollten die Jahudahim eine zweite Front im Südwesten eröffnen. Die alliierten Babylonier und Meder drangen im Osten gegen die langjährige Hegemonialmacht vor. Josia sollte Kräfte binden, damit die Eroberung des assyrischen Kernlandes erleichtert werden konnte. Wichtiger noch aber war es, die damals ebenfalls zu Assyrien gehörenden Ägypter daran zu hindern, die Zentralmacht mit Nachschub und militärischen Kräften zu unterstützen.

“Jahudahs Hauptgegner in diesem Konflikt sind nicht die Assyrer, denn diese sind durch ihren Abwehrkampf gegen Babylon und Medien gebunden, sondern die Ägypter”, erläutert Spahn. Tatsächlich wird Josia seinen vertraglichen Verpflichtungen gerecht. Er schaltet das ehedem assyrische Jahudah gleich, erobert weite Teile der assyrischen Provinz Samaria (Shémérunah) – dem Israel des Tanach – und stellt sich dem ägyptischen Heer entgegen, als dieses im Jahr 609 vc entlang der Küste nach Norden zieht, um die zwischenzeitlich nach Haran geflohene assyrische Regierung zu entsetzen.

Damit dann allerdings endet der jahudahische Ausflug in die Weltgeschichte keine zwanzig Jahre, nachdem er begonnen hat. Bei seinem Versuch, sich dem Pharao, der zuvor noch in Unkenntnis des Geheimabkommens eine Neutralitätserklärung für das Reich des Josia abgibt, in den Weg zu stellen, wird der Herrscher Jerusalems getötet oder zumindest tödlich verwundet – womit der Tanach Jahuah ungewollt einer Lüge überführt, denn zuvor hatte der eine Gott seinem Anhänger einen friedlichen Tod voraussagen lassen. Das ägyptische Heer zieht weiter nach Norden, unterliegt dort jedoch militärisch den babylonischen Alliierten. Auf seinem Rückzug an den Nil besetzt der Pharao dennoch das geschwächte Jerusalem und setzt dort einen Statthalter ein, den der Tanach in seiner Legendenbildung ebenfalls zu einem davidischen König macht. Im Jahr 605 vc ist Babylon stark genug, nach Süden gegen Ägypten vorzugehen. Nun sind es die Babylonier, die Jerusalem übernehmen und dort Statthalter etablieren.

“Bemerkenswert dabei ist, dass Nebukadnezar sich immer noch der Verdienste der Jahudahim im Befreiungskampf erinnert. Der von Ägypten eingesetzte Statthalter ist der Spross eines der Männer, die maßgeblich am Zustandekommen des Geheimbundes mitgewirkt haben. Als dieser sich nun dem Babylonier unterwirft und Nebukadnezar in Babylon als seinen Allmächtigen anerkennt, darf er sein Amt – nunmehr von Babylons Gnaden – weiter ausüben”, so Spahn.

Doch die Nachfolger des Josia verspielen ihre Chance. Sie konspirieren weiter mit Ägypten und provozieren damit zwei Strafexpeditionen der Babylonier. 598 vc wird das abtrünnige Jerusalem erneut besetzt. Nebukadnezar sieht abermals von einem Strafgericht ab und setzt einen anderen Spross aus der jahudahischen Elite zum Statthalter ein. Auch dieser konspiriert mit Ägypten – 586 vc wird die Metropole erneut erobert und nunmehr zerstört. Nicht allerdings ohne dass die Babylonier zuvor mehrfach den Versuch unternommen hätten, über den im Tanach als “Jahuah Zébaut” bezeichneten, babylonischen Militärbefehlshaber und Gouverneur über die babylonische Provinz Israel die belagerten Jahudahim mit zahlreichen Zusicherungen für Leib und Leben zur freiwilligen Übergabe zu bewegen. Doch der vorgeblich letzte Mélék von Jahudah, der von Nebukadnezar mit der Bezeichnung Zedekia (Zédéqéjah – der Gerechte des/von Jah) eingesetzt worden war, ist längst nicht mehr Herr des Geschehens. Der Kampf wird von einer Militärjunta geführt – Zedekia ist nur noch ein Marionettenkönig.

“Mir ist bewusst, dass diese Version der Geschichte allem widerspricht, was für die Menschheit seit Jahrtausenden als Wirklichkeit gilt”, stellt Spahn fest. “Aber”, so fügt er hinzu, “die Analyse des Quelltextes und der Abgleich mit historischen Quellen lässt nur diese eine einzige Version als plausibel erkennen.”

Wie nun aber sind in diesem Kontext all die biblischen Erzählungen einzuordnen, die von früheren, monotheistischen Herrschern in Jerusalem zu berichten wissen?

Spahn hat auch dafür nachvollziehbare Erklärungen, die er mit Texten des Tanach und Fremdquellen belegen kann: “Die Bücher Mose – vielleicht nicht alle, aber deren Kernelemente – entstanden zwischen 626 und 622 vc als Arbeit einer kleinen, im Geheimen agierenden Schriftstellergruppe unter Leitung des Josia-Getreuen Chéléqéjah, den die Griechen als Hilkia übersetzt haben. Er, der ursprünglich ein Priester der weiblichen Regionalgottheit Ýnét (Anat) war und zum ersten Hohepriester des Jah wird, ist der eigentliche Strippenzieher im Hintergrund. Er macht das Kind Josia zum Mélék, er organisiert den Geheimbund des Jah mit den Babyloniern. Er leitet die aus Spenden der polytheistischen Bevölkerung finanzierte Renovierung des großen Tempels in Jerusalem, der zu diesem Zeitpunkt wie seit eh und je ein Tempel der weiblichen Gottheit Ashera gewesen ist. Er sorgt dafür, dass sich die Assyrien-treue Priesterelite arglos im Baals-Tempels zu Jerusalem trifft, um sich dort auf die Einsegnung des frisch renovierten Tempels der Ashera vorzubereiten. Er hat das Konzept entwickelt, die Elite des assyrischen Glaubens dort durch das königstreue Militär niedermetzeln und anschließend alle Stätten der Polytheisten niederbrennen zu lassen. Die Ausführung überlässt er dem Feuer des Jah – seinem Produkt Josia. Und Hilkia ist es auch, der im Geheimen das Gesetzbuch des Mose formulieren lässt, das der Bevölkerung als Glaubenskonzept des einen Gottes, der ausschließlich für das Volk von Jahudah zuständig ist, präsentiert wird und das die Initialzündung für den Befreiungskampf gegen Assyrien und Ägypten liefert.”

Deshalb, so der Politikwissenschaftler, muss beispielsweise Abraham aus Mesopotamien kommen. Die Babylonier werden so von einem fernen Stamm zu nahen Verwandten. Deshalb führt Abrahams Weg über Haran, das zu diesem Zeitpunkt Regierungssitz der Assyrer ist.

“So schreibt der Tanach den Anspruch fest, auch gegen Haran militärisch vorgehen zu können und die Illegalität der assyrischen Regierung darzulegen”, ist sich Spahn sicher. Deshalb auch werden die Ägypter, die Palästina seit Urzeiten als ihren Vorgarten betrachten, im Tanach zum Hauptfeind erklärt. Das Volk von Jahudah soll darauf vorbereitet werden, sich im äußersten Notfall gegen die Nachbarn vom Nil zu rüsten.

Nach dem dennoch durch falsche Einschätzung der weltpolitischen Lage unvermeidbaren Untergang Jerusalems setzt der entgegen seinem Bild in der Geschichtsschreibung für seine Zeit überaus humane und bedachte Herrscher der Welt, Nebukadnezar, mit Gedelja einen weiteren Spross aus befreundetem, Jerusalemer Hause ein. Der wird von seinem Jugendfreund Ismael als Verräter ermordet – und Judäa wird abschließend zum Teil der babylonischen Provinz Israel. Die überlebende städtische Elite der Jahudahim zieht es nach Babylon, wo die Männer Karriere machen und die kurze Geschichte ihres Staates mit Billigung der babylonischen Staatsmacht in ein religiöses Manifest verwandeln. Die pro-ägyptische Militärelite zieht es – begleitet von einem langjährigen Agenten und Propagandisten Babylons, den die christliche Bibel unter dem Namen Jeremia kennt – nach Ägypten, wo sich ihre Spur verliert. Im Land selbst verbleiben die sogenannten kleinen Leute. Ihre Herkunft ist teilweise semitisch, teilweise anatolisch, teilweise griechisch, teilweise vielleicht sogar kurdisch. Ihnen gemein ist, dass sie nach wie vor an ihre polytheistische Götterwelt glauben und sich in der aramäischen Sprache der Assyrer verständigen.

“All dieses steht – wenn auch verklausuliert – im Tanach. Die Bücher Josua und Könige werden im Wesentlichen in Josias Herrschaftsjahren zwischen 622 und 609 vc verfasst worden sein. Sie schaffen mit einer großartig angelegten Gründungslegende den politischen Anspruch auf die Herrschaft über die Region zwischen Mittelmeer und hinaus über den Jordan, zwischen dem östlichen Mündungsarm des Nils und Haran. Sie greifen wie die späteren Werke des Buches Jesaja, eines Propheten, den es nie gegeben hat und der ein literarisches alter ego des Hilkia ist, und die Chronik auf zeitgenössische Königsannalen anderer Archive zurück, wenn beispielsweise der Mélék Hiskia, der als chéßéqéjah niemand anderes als ein Starker des beziehungsweise von Jah ist und sich mit Sanherib anlegte, zu einem Vorläufer des Josia verklärt wird oder dem ebenfalls dokumentierten assyrischen Vasall Jehu die tatsächliche Vorgehensweise bei der Vernichtung der polytheistischen Elite zugeschrieben wird.

Die Judäababylonier, Männer wie der Schriftgelehrte Esra und die Bruderschaft der Leviten, welche sich unmittelbar aus jener geheimen Kerngruppe um Hilkia entwickelte, sind die eigentlichen Väter der jüdischen Religion. Ohne sie wäre das aus propagandistischen Gründen klerikal verbrämte, machtpolitische Projekt des Josia nach dessen Tode im Sande verlaufen. Eigentlicher Gründervater dessen, aus dem sich das moderne Judentum entwickelte, ist ausgerechnet ein Perser. Es war ein persischer Nachfolger auf dem Thron des Nebukadnezar, der sich von den Judäababyloniern von dem Konzept einer wehrhaften, anti-ägyptischen Kommune im nach wie vor assyrisch geprägten Palästina überzeugen ließ und die Mittel bereit stellte, um seinen Siedlern, die sich zu einem Großteil aus den Nachfahren unter Sanherib verschleppter Israeli rekrutierten, mit einem zentralen Tempel in Jerusalem das Zentrum einer gemeinsamen Identität zu geben, die die jüdische mit der israelischen zusammenführt. Es war dieses der erste Tempel in der Heiligen Stadt, der zu Ehren eines Gottes Jahuah errichtet wurde. Er stand, bis die Römer ihn im Jahr 70 als Reaktion auf einen Aufstand der Juden zerstörten.“

Spahn hat all diese Überlegungen, die für ihn keine Gedankenspiele, sondern die Basis der historischen Wahrheit sind, in vier Bänden veröffentlicht. Und ihm ist bewusst, dass er damit die theologischen Fundamente dreier Weltreligionen berührt.

„Je länger ich mich mit meinen Analysen beschäftigte, desto deutlicher wurde mir, dass die Ergebnisse im Zweifel auch politisch missbraucht werden könnten. Denn sie machen beispielsweise deutlich, dass es einen Glaubensjuden namens David, auf den sich der gegenwärtige Premierminister Israels gern zur Begründung seines Handelns beruft, nie gegeben hat. Sie machen auch deutlich, dass die Urväter Abraham, Ismael und Isaak, auf die sich drei Weltreligionen berufen, nichts anderes als Sagengestalten sind, die aus politischen Gründen Einzug in das religiöse Basiswerk finden mussten. Aber rechtfertigt das, die Ergebnisse der Untersuchung der Menschheit vorzuenthalten? Die Religionen werden nicht daran zu Grunde gehen, wenn sie sich mit einer Geschichte ihres Ursprungs beschäftigen, die anders aussieht, als sie es in ihre Heiligen Bücher hineininterpretiert haben.

Vielleicht aber auch mögen die Ergebnisse meiner Untersuchung ein Anstoß dazu sein, die eigentliche Funktion von Religion in das rechte Licht zu rücken. Den Glaube ist nichts anderes als die Wahrheitsunterstellung einer nicht beweisbaren Annahme. Er bedarf weder der Historizität noch scheinhistorischer Begründungen. Glaube ruht in uns – nicht in der historischen Wahrheit. Das Konzept des Josia war ein politisch motivierter, gemeinsam mit mächtigen Verbündeten perfekt erdachter Masterplan, um sich und das eigene Volk von einer im Bewusstsein der Betroffenen schon ewig währenden Fremdherrschaft zu befreien. Es musste ein religiöses werden, weil es damit für die Zeitgenossen unangreifbar wurde.“

Schon vor dem selbstverschuldeten Untergang Jerusalems sei aus dem Bündnispartner erst eine Figur geworden, die die in der griechischen Übersetzung zu Propheten mutierenden, babylonischen Verbindungsleute wie Jeremia und Hesekiel in ihren Unterlagen mit den hebräischen Buchstaben für J-H-W-H abkürzten. Über den Weg der in babylonischen Archiven wirkenden Schriftgelehrten wurde der allmächtige Herrscher der Welt namens Nebukadnezar zu dem Gott, den Juden, Christen und Muslime bis heute als himmlisches Wesen verehren – und der als historische Person auch gerade deshalb zutiefst diffamiert wurde.

Spahn: „Der Tanach ist ein auch nach heutigen Maßstäben perfekt verfasstes Propagandastück mit dem ausschließlichen Ziel politischer Weltveränderung. Dass es dabei die lebenslustige Vielfalt des sehr menschlichen, polytheistischen Götterhimmels durch einen einzigen autoritären Allmächtigen ersetzte und die bis dahin in der Religion gleichberechtigte Frau in die gesellschaftliche Bedeutungslosigkeit schob, war durchaus gewollt. Die stammesdemokratischen Elemente, über die selbst der Tanach zu berichten weiß, gehörten abgeschafft, um einen aus der Sicht der Mächtigen effektiven Staat zu schaffen. Und die Frau? Sie fand sich bis zum Zeitpunkt des Staatsrevolution des Josia als ‚die Gebährende‘ in der Stellvertretung der Ashera in Jerusalem als höchste klerikale Instanz wieder. Mächtiger noch als der Mélék selbst. Deswegen machten die Autoren des Tanach sie einerseits zur Prophetin, andererseits erniedrigten sie die Dame hintersinnig mit nur einem Federstrich zu einem gebärfreudigen Nager. Aus der h‘lédah, der für Fruchtbarkeit stehenden Leda der Polytheisten, wurde chélédah, das gebärfreudige Nagetier. Kennern der griechischen Bibel ist sie als Hulda bekannt. Pointierter konnten die antiken Autoren vom Männerbund der Leviten ihre Verachtung für die Frau nicht dokumentieren.“

Tomas M. Spahn: Das Biblikon-Projekt – Die Entschlüsselung des Bibel-Codes

Band 1 – Von Adam zu Mose, ISBN 978-3-943726-01-5 (EP 17,80 €)

Band 2 – Das Feuer des Jah, ISBN 978-3-943726-02-2 (EP 17,80 €)

Band 3 – Der Erhabene des Jah, ISBN 978-3-943726-03-9 (EP 19,80 €)

Band 4 – Demokratie oder Gottesstaat, ISBN 978-3-943726-04-6 (EP 22,80 €)


Happy Chinese New Year!

January 23, 2012

“Forget injuries, never forget kindnesses.” Confucius


Guest Editorial: The Currency War

February 21, 2011

What’s Behind the Currency War?

By Professor Dr. Antony P. Mueller

In September 2010, a short time before the international financial summit of the Group of Twenty (G20) took place in South Korea, Brazilian finance minister Guido Mantega declared that the world is experiencing a “currency war” where “devaluing currencies artificially is a global strategy.”

Dr. Antony P. Mueller is a professor of economics at the graduate business school of the University of Caxias-do-Sul (UCS) in Brazil. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and president and founder of The Continental Economics Institute.

Dr. Antony P. Mueller is a professor of economics at the graduate business school of the University of Caxias-do-Sul (UCS) in Brazil. He is an adjunct scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute and president and founder of The Continental Economics Institute.

By announcing the outbreak of a “currency war,” Mantega wanted to draw attention to the problems caused by the ongoing exchange-rate manipulations that governments put in place in order to gain economic advantages. In this sense, “currency war” denotes the conflict among nations that arises from the deliberate manipulation of the exchange rate in order to gain international competitiveness by way of currency devaluation.

Competitive Devaluation

Calling competitive devaluation a “war” may seem like a gross exaggeration. Yet in terms of its potential of destruction, the current global financial conflict may well rank at a level similar to that of a real war.

In a wider historical perspective, the current currency war is the latest conflict in a series of acute crises of the modern international monetary system. In a world of national monetary regimes based on fiat money without physical anchors, domestic monetary instability automatically transforms into exchange-rate instability. As before, the current crisis of the international economic order is mainly the result of monetary fragilities coming from the unsound national monetary systems and reckless domestic monetary and fiscal policies.

The immediate cause of the currency war entering an acute stage is the policy of massive quantitative easing practiced by the US central bank. Whatever the original intention of this policy may have been, the consequences of the Fed’s measures include monetary expansion, low interest rates, and a weaker US dollar. With dollar interest rates approaching the “zero bound,” the United States is joining Japan in the effort to stimulate a sluggish economy with massive monetary impulses.

Until recently, the currency war was contained as a kind of financial cold war. The conflict entered its hot phase as a result of the expansive monetary policies that were put in place in the wake of the financial-market crisis that began in 2007. In defiance of the fact that the financial crisis itself was the result of the extremely expansive monetary policies in the years before, many central banks have now accelerated monetary expansion in the vain attempt to cure the disease with the same measures that had caused it in the first place.

Easy Money and International Financial Flows

What has emerged in the global financial arena over the past couple of years is the interplay among easy money, low interest rates, international trade imbalances, financial flows, and exchange-rate manipulations. The failure of attempts to cure overindebtedness with more debt, and to stimulate weak economies by giving them interest rates as low as possible, provokes a repetitive pattern of bubble and crash where each phase ends in a higher level of government debt.

A global search for higher yields has been going on not unlike what happened in the late 1960s and 1970s, when the United States inflated and the countries that had linked their exchange rates to the US dollar suffered from imported inflation. Nowadays, the formal dollar-based fixed-exchange-rate system no longer exists. It has been replaced by a system that sometimes is called “Bretton Woods II”: a series of countries, particularly in Asia this time, have pegged their exchange rates (albeit without a formal agreement) to the US dollar.

If a country wants to slow down the appreciation of its exchange rate that comes as a consequence of the financial inflows from abroad, it must intervene in the foreign-exchange markets and monetize at least a part of the foreign exchange. This way, the monetary authorities will automatically increase the domestic money stock. Additionally, under this system relatively poor countries feel forced not only to buy the debt issued by the relatively wealthy countries like the United States but also to buy these bonds at their current extremely low yields.

Under current conditions, the monetary expansion gets globalized and invades even those countries that wish to practice restrictive monetary policy. Relatively high levels of the interest rate improve the restrictive currency’s attractiveness. Thus, more and more monetary expansion happens on a global scale, which in turn provides the fuel for the next great wave of international financial flows.

The weaker countries, which compete with each other on the basis of low prices, are getting pushed to the side; it was just a matter of time until more and more governments would begin to intervene in the foreign-exchange markets by buying up foreign currencies in order to try to prevent their exchange rates from appreciating too much, too fast.

Yet using the exchange rate as a tool in order to gain economic advantage or avert damage for the domestic economy is inherently at variance with a sound global monetary order, because one country’s devaluation automatically implies the revaluation of another country’s currency and thus the advantage that one tries to obtain will be achieved by putting a burden on other countries.

Escalation

By recycling the monetary equivalent of the trade surplus into the financial markets around the globe, monetary authorities in surplus countries form a symbiosis with trade-deficit countries in fabricating a worldwide monetary expansion of extreme proportions.

The paradoxical, or rather perverse, features of the current state of affairs were highlighted a short time ago when in January 2011 the monetary authorities of Turkey decided to lower the policy interest rates so as to make the inflow of foreign funds less attractive, despite a booming Turkish economy that shows plenty characteristics of a bubble.

Exchange-rate policies produce the usual spiral of interventionism: the de facto consequences tend to diverge from the original intentions, prompting further rounds of doomed interventions. This interventionist escalation is not only limited to an incessant repetition of the same failed policies, but the errors committed in one policy area also affect other parts of the economy. Thus, it is only a matter of time until errors of monetary policy lead to fiscal fiascos, and exchange-rate interventions lead to trade conflicts.

At first sight, exchange-rate intervention may appear tolerable as the legitimate pursuit of national self-interest. But exchange-rate policies are intrinsically matters that tend to stir transnational controversies. When a country’s exchange rate policy collides with the interests of the trading partners, the tit-for-tat of mutual retaliation automatically tends to lead to an escalation of the conflict. Once the process of competitive devaluation has started, a devaluation by one country invites other countries to devaluate their exchange rates as well. As a consequence, the international monetary order will eventually disintegrate, and sooner or later the conflict will go beyond currency issues and affect a wide spectrum of economic and political relations.

Therefore, because of the unsound monetary system, a peaceful international political system also is constantly at risk. Monetary conflicts provoke political confrontations. Besides the immediate costs of exchange-rate conflicts that come from the damage to international trade and investment, and thereby to the international division of labor, harm will also be done to confidence and trust in the international political arena.

The dispute about exchange rates is the consequence of contradictory tensions that are innate to the modern monetary system. In this respect the currency war is an expression of the defects that characterize an unsound and destructive financial system. The outbreak of the currency war is a symptom of a deeply flawed international monetary order.

Brazil

When Brazil’s finance minister repeated his warnings in January 2011 and said that “the currency war is turning into a trade war,” Mantega sent a signal to the world that the escalation of the trade war had started. Because of the massive inflow of money from abroad, the Brazilian currency had sharply appreciated and the Brazilian economy was losing competitiveness.

In order to reduce the impact on is domestic economy, Brazil had been intervening in the foreign-exchange markets, diminishing the degree of currency appreciation. In doing so, the monetary authorities had to buy foreign currencies, mainly US dollars, in exchange for its domestic money.

By pursuing such a policy over the past couple of years, Brazil has increased its foreign-exchange reserves from around 50 billion to 300 billion US dollars. Yet even despite these foreign-exchange interventions, the Brazilian currency appreciated drastically against the US dollar and other currencies.

By various estimates, Brazilian foreign trade suffers from an exchange-rate overvaluation of around 40 percent. As a consequence, Brazil’s current account balance, which was still at surplus in 2007, has plunged into a deficit of 47.5 billion US dollars in 2010. At the same time when an artificial boom is taking place as the result of massive monetary expansion, the Brazilian economy suffers from creeping deindustrialization.

Part of the explosion of Brazil’s current-account deficit can be explained by weak demand from its trading partners, which have plunged into a prolonged recession. Yet beyond this circumstance, there has been another causal chain at work: the inflow of funds from abroad that boosts the exchange rate provides the grounds for an exorbitant increase of the country’s monetary base.

The combination of ample liquidity at home, weak demand from some trading partners abroad, and a strong exchange-rate appreciation provides the basis for an extreme import expansion that vastly exceeds exports. Unlike a country such as Germany, for example, whose industry is pretty resilient against currency appreciation, Brazil resembles in this respect the countries of the Southern periphery of the eurozone in its incapacity to cope effectively with an overvalued currency.

When, in January 2011, a new government took power in Brazil, the newly-elected president, Dilma Rousseff, declared in her inauguration speech that she will protect Brazil “from unfair competition and from the indiscriminate flow of speculative capital.” Guido Mantega, the former and new Brazilian finance minister, did not hesitate to join in when he asserted that the government has an “infinite” number of interventionist tools at its disposal with which to protect national interests. Mantega said that the government is ready to use taxation and trade measures in order to stop the deterioration of Brazil’s trade balance.

China

The countries that form the favored group that gets targeted by international financial flows in search of higher yields compete among themselves in order to prevent their currencies from appreciating too much, and as a group these countries compete against China in their efforts to maintain a competitive exchange rate.

China’s position forms part of a long causal chain, which includes low interest rates and monetary expansion in the United States, that fuels higher import demand. Given that China drastically devalued its exchange rate as early as in the 1980s, this country was at the forefront of gaining advantage of America’s import surge; China grabbed the golden opportunity to turn itself into the major exporter to the United States.

In order to maintain its currency at its undervalued level, the Chinese monetary authorities must buy up the excess of foreign exchange that accumulates from its trade surplus, preferably by buying US treasury notes and bonds. In this way, China became America’s main creditor. Over the past decade, China increased its foreign exchange position from a meager $165 billion in 2000 to an amount that was approaching $3 trillion at the end of 2010.

From the 1980s up to the early 1990s, China devalued its currency from less than 2 Yuan to the US dollar to an exchange rate of 9 Yuan against the US dollar. And despite its huge trade surpluses, China has only slightly revalued the Yuan ever since, establishing the current exchange rate at 6.56 Yuan per US dollar.

Over the past decade, China has become the major financier of the US budget deficit. Together with other monies flowing in from abroad, the US government was relieved from the need to cut spending. The inflow of foreign capital also allowed the US government to pay lower interest rates for its debt than it would have if only domestic supply of savings were available. Foreign imports put pressure on the price level, and the US central bank could continue monetary expansion without an immediate effect on the price-inflation rate.

If China wants to hold its competitive position through an undervalued currency, the Chinese monetary authorities must continue their policy of intervention in the foreign-exchange markets. As a consequence of buying dollars from its exporters, the domestic money supply in China continues to rise, throwing additional fuel on a domestic boom that is already in full swing.

Even more so than their Brazilian counterparts, China’s political-decision makers have failed to exert moderation or restraint when it comes to interventionist measures. As long as China’s leadership presumes that it gains from exchange-rate manipulation, its currency interventions will go on.

Global Financial Fragilities

Since the abandonment of the gold standard, the global financial system has been in disarray. All the international monetary arrangements that have been established since then have ended in crisis and finally collapsed. For almost a hundred years now, one interventionist scheme has been established and then soon fallen to pieces.

When the monetary and fiscal decision makers in the United States and Europe discarded all restraints against intervention in the wake of the financial market crisis, socialist and interventionist governments around the globe felt vindicated. They had long been convinced that only through state control could financial stability be obtained. Due to the policies adopted by Western countries in their futile attempt to overcome the financial-market crisis, the leaders of the so-called emerging economies have become even more unscrupulous interventionists.

Political leaders around the globe have shed the little that was left of support for free markets and set the controls for a way back on the road to serfdom. It is mainly due to ignorance that the modern monetary system gets labelled as a laissez-faire or free market system. In fact not only the basic “commodity” of this scheme, i.e., fiat money, but also its price and quantity are largely determined by political institutions such as central banks.

It is more than absurd when, in the face of crises and conflicts, more government intervention gets called upon: it was state intervention in the first place that laid the groundwork for the trouble to appear.

So-called “speculative” international capital flows already happened decades ago. What has changed since then is the amount of hot money and the speed with which it floats around the world. It would be wrong to describe these financial movements as an expression of free markets. The fact, for instance, that in 2010 daily transactions on the international currency market have reached a volume of four trillion US dollars is the result of unhampered fiat-money expansion and massive state intervention in the foreign-exchange markets.

The increase in the global money supply that has been going on for many years finds its complement in a global asset boom. The inflation of money drives up the price of precious metals, natural resources, and food. Once more, the world experiences a period of fake prosperity not much different from the real-estate bubble, and many other episodes, that led to previous financial crises.

Conclusion

The political endeavours to gain competitive advantages through exchange-rate devaluation sows mistrust among nations; and the ensuing regime uncertainties frustrate the business community. Over time the conflict over exchange rates tends to destroy the global division of labor.

Once again, the international monetary system is on the brink of a breakdown. As in the past, the main reason behind the current conflict is extreme monetary expansion. Unsound monetary systems produce turmoil not just at home but also in the international arena. Excessive monetary expansion, which is the cause of domestic malinvestment, is also the root of economic distortions at a global level.

Without a fundamental change of the monetary system itself, without a return to sound money, the international monetary system will remain in a state of permanent fragility — ever oscillating between the abyss of deflationary depression and the fake escape of hyperinflation. This is the fate of the world when nations implement fiat monetary systems and put them under political authority.

© 2011, Dr. Antony P. Mueller.


In Memoriam: Richard Holbrooke (1941-2010)

December 15, 2010

“The controlled chaos is one way to get creativity. The intensity of it, the physical rush, the intimacy created the kind of dialogue that leads to synergy.” Richard Holbrooke

Richard Charles Albert Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010)

Richard Holbrooke (April 24, 1941 – December 13, 2010)

Richard Holbrooke was the most ubiquitous and brilliant diplomat of his generation, distinguished for his legendary toughness as a negotiator in Asia, Europe, and beyond. As a diplomat, writer, and investment banker, he has stood near the pinnacle of power, renewing the credibility of U.S. diplomacy.

To commemorate the passing of the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, chief architect of the 1995 Dayton peace agreement, and Special Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, we reproduce some articles and stories related to this giant of U.S. foreign policy.

United States presidential election, 2008: The Next President

Former U.S. ambassador Richard Holbrooke discusses Russia, Georgia and Kosovo

Bosnian Crisis

U.S. President Obama appoints envoys to Middle East and South Asia

Afpak: Richard Holbrooke’ U.S. Strategy for South Asia


China-Bashing contaminates 2010 United States midterm elections

October 8, 2010

China is emerging as a common adversary in midterm U.S. election campaigns, as candidates from both parties seize on anxieties about China’s growing economic power to attack each other on trade policies, outsourcing, and the deficit.

 

French political cartoon from the late 1890s. A pie represents "Chine" (French for China) and is being divided between caricatures of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, William II of Germany (who is squabbling with Queen Victoria over a borderland piece, whilst thrusting a knife into the pie to signify aggressive German intentions), Nicholas II of Russia, who is eyeing a particular piece, the French Marianne (who is diplomatically shown as not participating in the carving, and is depicted as close to Nicholas II, as a reminder of the Franco-Russian Alliance), and the Meiji Emperor of Japan, carefully contemplating which pieces to take. A stereotypical Qing official throws up his hands to try and stop them, but is powerless. It is meant to be a figurative representation of the Imperialist tendencies of these nations towards China during the decade.

French political cartoon from the late 1890s. A pie represents "Chine" (French for China) and is being divided between caricatures of Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, William II of Germany (who is squabbling with Queen Victoria over a borderland piece, whilst thrusting a knife into the pie to signify aggressive German intentions), Nicholas II of Russia, who is eyeing a particular piece, the French Marianne (who is diplomatically shown as not participating in the carving, and is depicted as close to Nicholas II, as a reminder of the Franco-Russian Alliance), and the Meiji Emperor of Japan, carefully contemplating which pieces to take. A stereotypical Qing official throws up his hands to try and stop them, but is powerless. It is meant to be a figurative representation of the Imperialist tendencies of these nations towards China during the decade.

 

With U.S. economic revival still slow, trade policy looms as a an issue in midterm races, The Wall Street Journal reports.

***

China-Bashing Gains Bipartisan Support

By Naftali Bendavid, The Wall Street Journal, October 8, 2010

China is emerging as a bogeyman this campaign season, with candidates across the American political spectrum seizing on anxieties about the country’s growing economic might to pummel each other on trade, outsourcing and the deficit.

In television ads, China is framed as an ominous foreign influence in a time of economic anxiety, often accompanied by red flags and communist-style stars and sometimes by Asian-sounding music. Democrats say Republicans support tax breaks that reward companies for moving jobs to China; Republicans blame Democrats for a federal budget deficit they say forces the U.S. to borrow money from China.

“Candidates are looking to speak in a visceral way to the fears and concerns of voters about jobs,” said Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Minnesota. “Bashing China is safe.”

The heated rhetoric puts the White House in a bind. Administration officials often don’t mind Congress putting pressure on China, and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner himself in a speech Wednesday offered a blunt critique of Beijing’s currency policy. But officials also worry that a confrontational approach could backfire.

Both nations may feel compelled by public opinion to engage in “an escalation of rhetoric that is going to be difficult to manage” after the election, said Charles Freeman, chairman of China studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Wang Baodong, a spokesman for Beijing’s embassy in Washington, criticized candidates’ use of his country in campaign messages. “China is committed to promoting strong bilateral trade and economic cooperation, which brings about enormous benefit to the welfare of our two peoples,” Mr. Wang said. “So making China an issue in the elections or in any other forms is irrelevant and wrong-targeted.”

Mark Schauer, a Michigan Democrat facing a tough re-election fight, has aired an ad against his Republican rival saying, “Tim Walberg made it way too easy for companies to outsource our jobs to China.” Mr. Walberg said the ad was misleading and that he considered American products superior to Chinese ones.

In Ohio, Democratic Senate candidate Lee Fisher has focused on GOP opponent Rob Portman’s stint as a House member and as U.S. trade representative under President George W. Bush. “Congressman Rob Portman knows how to grow the economy—in China,” said a recent Fisher ad.

The Portman campaign rejected these assertions, saying Mr. Portman fought to increase exports and was the first U.S. trade representative to take China to court and win.

Republicans, for their part, cited China in their recently released “Pledge to America.” “We now borrow 41 cents of every dollar we spend, much of it from foreign countries, including China, and leave the bill to our kids and grandkids,” it said, as it attacked Democrats for “unparalleled recklessness with taxpayer dollars.”

Warnings of foreign influence have often been a feature of U.S. elections, especially in times of economic insecurity. And there is little reason to believe the latest ads will have a long-term effect on U.S.-China relations. or on the fate of anti-China legislation, which has struggled in Congress.But with China on the rise, warnings about it seem to have a special resonance this campaign season. The House, with GOP support, passed a bill in September to penalize Beijing’s foreign-exchange practices. A few days earlier, Democrats unsuccessfully pushed a measure to end corporate tax deductions for expenses related to shifting jobs overseas.

Meanwhile, in West Virginia, an ad by Republican Spike Maynard against Rep. Nick Rahall featured Asian music and Chinese flags. It cited a Texas wind farm that reportedly planned to apply for federal stimulus funds while obtaining its windmills from China. “It’s on our jeans, even our children’s toys: ‘Made in China,’ ” the narrator said.

Democrats said the windmill project would have materials manufactured in the U.S. and that the operator hadn’t applied for stimulus funds.

A similar back-and-forth is unfolding in Virginia, where an ad by Republican State Sen. Robert Hurt accuses Rep. Tom Perriello (D., Va.) of voting to give tax breaks to foreign companies “creating jobs in China.”

That’s a reference to a portion of the stimulus package that gives tax breaks for green jobs. The Perriello campaign said Mr. Hurt’s pledge not to raise taxes means he’d oppose closing tax loopholes for companies that move jobs overseas.

About the author: Naftali Bendavid covers Congress and politics for The Wall Street Journal. Before coming to the Journal, he covered the White House and the Justice Department for the Chicago Tribune. Bendavid also spent five years as deputy Washington bureau chief for the Tribune, overseeing its coverage of government and politics. Bendavid has covered such stories as the impeachment of Bill Clinton, the Al Gore presidential campaign, the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the Supreme Court confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor.

Reprinted with kindly permission of The Wall Street Journal.


Pentagon Officials Renew Military Relations With China

October 6, 2010

The Pentagon, signaling a softening in its relationship with the Chinese military, announced that U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates will meet with a Chinese counterpart next week in Vietnam and will likely visit Beijing early next year.

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates escorts Chinese army Gen. Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Oct. 27, 2009, to a conference room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., where they will hold discussions on a broad range of security topics.  (DoD photo by R. D. Ward/Released)

Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates escorts Chinese army Gen. Xu Caihou, vice chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese People's Liberation Army, Oct. 27, 2009, to a conference room at the Pentagon in Arlington, Va., where they will hold discussions on a broad range of security topics. (DoD photo by R. D. Ward/Released)

Ties between the two militaries were suspended in January 2010, when China protested a $6.4 billion U.S.-Taiwan arms deal.

Read full story.


Clinton Global Initiative highlights, a night in Brooklyn, and more

October 1, 2010

Last week, heads of state, business leaders, and nonprofit executives gathered in New York City for the sixth annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI).

I started CGI after going to thousands of meetings over my career where people talked about issues but did little to solve them. We ask all CGI members to make a commitment to take action, and this year’s attendees made nearly 300 new commitments valued at $6 billion. You can view highlights of the meeting here, and then take our quiz to see how these commitments, along with your support, are improving lives around the world.

Earlier this month, we hosted our most recent Millennium Network Event – this time in Brooklyn, New York – to engage the next generation of philanthropists. This wonderful evening included performances from Chaka Khan and Talib Kweli.

Sign up today to become a part of this growing network.

Thank you for your support.

Bill Clinton


U.S. Marines launch major offensive in Afghanistan since 2001

February 12, 2010

Thousands of U.S. Marines and Afghan soldiers traveling in helicopters and mine-resistant vehicles began punching into a key Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan as one of the largest operations since 2001 to assert government control over this country got underway.

Read full story.


Geneva Summit for Human Rights, March 8-9, 2010

February 3, 2010

Human rights NGOs from around the globe have joined hands to organize the 2nd Geneva Summit for Human Rights, Tolerance and Democracy.

To take place on March 8-9, 2010 – in parallel and to enhance the main annual session of the UN Human Rights Council – this unique assembly of renowned human rights defenders, dissidents and experts will feature victim testimonies, shine a spotlight on urgent human rights issues and situations, and call on governments to guarantee freedom of the internet for democracy and human rights activists.

INTERNET FREEDOM The Google-China Case, Censorship and Hacking: Entrepreneurs & Dissidents Debate

DEFENDING ETHNIC MINORITIES Rebiya Kadeer, Nobel Peace Prize nominee, Uighur human rights hero

ATROCITIES IN SUDAN Jan Pronk, former UN Secretary-General Special Representative in Sudan

EQUALITY FOR WOMEN Massouda Jalal, former Afghan Minister of Women Affairs, first female presidential candidate

THE FUTURE OF DISSENT Yang Jianli, 1989 Tiananmen Square Hero, founder of Foundation for China in the 21st Century

•THE BURMESE JUNTA vs. AUNG SAN SUU KYI  Bo Kyi, Burmese dissident and 2008 winner of Human Rights Watch Award

COMBATING CONTEMPORARY SLAVERY Simon Deng, former Sudanese Slave

OPPRESSION IN TIBET  Phuntsok Nyidron, Buddhist nun, longest-serving Tibetan political prisoner, jailed for recording songs of freedom, winner of 1995 Reebok Human Rights Award

NON-VIOLENT PROTEST Matteo Mecacci, Italian MP, OSCE Rapporteur on human rights and democracy, activist

REPRESSION IN LATIN AMERICA  Tamara Suju, Venezuelan human rights lawyer

PRISONER FROM BIRTH Donghyuk Shin, survivor of North Korean prison camp

•“DEFAMATION OF RELIGION” vs. FREE SPEECH Owais Aslam Ali, Secretary General of Pakistan Press Foundation


Pakistan’s Nuclear Future

January 19, 2010

The risk of war between Pakistan and India and possible nuclear escalation would be bad enough, however, most American security experts are riveted on the frightening possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons capabilities falling into the hands of terrorists intent on attacking the United States.

Unfortunately, a nuclear terrorist act is only one of several frightening security threats Pakistan now faces or poses.

A new book edited by Henry D. Sokolski, Executive Director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, takes a long look at these threats as possible. Its companion volume, Worries Beyond War, (2008) focused on the challenges of Pakistani nuclear terrorism. These analyses offer a window into what is possible and why Pakistani nuclear terrorism is best seen as a lesser included threat to war, and terrorism more generally. Could the United States do more with Pakistan to secure Pakistan’s nuclear weapons holdings against possible seizure? News reports indicate that the United States has already spent $100 million toward this end. It is unclear what this money has bought. If policymakers view the lack of specific intelligence on Pakistani nuclear terrorist plots against the United States as cold comfort and believe that such strikes are imminent, then the answer is not much. If, conventional acts of terrorism and war are far more likely than acts of nuclear terrorism, then there is almost too much to do. In the later case, nuclear terrorism would not be a primary, stand-alone peril, but a lesser included threat. What sort of Pakistan would that be? A country that was significantly more prosperous, educated, and far more secure against internal political strife and from external security threats than it currently is. How might one bring about such a state? The short answer is by doing more to prevent the worst. Nuclear use may not be the likeliest bad thing that might occur in Pakistan, but it is by far the nastiest. Certainly in the near- to mid-term, it is at least as likely as any act of nuclear terrorism. More important, it is more amenable to remediation.

Read full story.


The case for a fully resourced counterinsurgency strategy for Afghanistan

November 30, 2009

Press release

Washington D.C. – November 30, 2009 – President Obama’s much-anticipated decision about sending additional troops to Afghanistan comes after several months of vigorous public discourse about the appropriate strategy for achieving success in that country. The Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) has been active in this debate, releasing a fact sheet, organizing an open letter to the president, and hosting conferences to further the discussion about the way forward in Afghanistan.

During the time that President Obama has been mulling General McChrystal’s request for additional troops, a number of politicians, advisors, and analysts have put forth various arguments against a significant increase in troop strength and a counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy in Afghanistan. The arguments, when closely considered, expose a default resistance to completing the mission, not a thoughtful dismantling of the pro “surge” case. FPI’s fact sheet lists the most popular critiques of General Stanley McChrystal’s COIN strategy and resource request, each followed by clear refutations from relevant experts. The fact sheet is available here.

In September 2009, in an open letter to President Obama organized by FPI, a distinguished group of Americans active in the foreign policy debate expressed support for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan and called upon President Obama to continue to provide the necessary resources requested by his commanders on the ground to ensure success. The group of experts offered their appreciation for the president’s decision earlier this year to deploy 21,000 additional U.S. troops to the country and urged him to continue to properly resource the continued war effort. Amidst increasing public concern about the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, the letter also suggested that the President make it a priority to explain to the American people why it is important to remain committed to winning in Afghanistan, and why such a victory is feasible. The text of the letter is available here.

Afghanistan has also been a prominent topic of FPI’s public events. At the 2009 FPI Forum on “Advancing and Defending Democracy,” two panels discussed the path forward in Afghanistan. One session addressed the military dimensions of the war and the other panel, featuring Amb. Zalmay Khalilzad, Rep. Mark Kirk, and Gen. Mark Kimmitt, focused on the political debate in Washington and around the country.

In August 2009, FPI’s Director for Democracy and Human Rights, Ellen Bork, served as an election monitor in Ghazni Province. She wrote about her experience in an article for Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “What I Saw While Afghanistan Voted,” which is available here.

In March 2009, shortly after the President announced his intention to send an additional 21,000 troops to Afghanistan FPI hosted a half-day conference, “Afghanistan: Planning for Success,” which featured remarks from Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), and then-Rep. John McHugh (R-NY), who has since been nominated by President Obama to serve as Secretary of the Army, as well as Frederick Kagan, John Nagl, and Gen. David Barno. Transcripts, video, and summaries from this conference can be found here.

FPI staff including Executive Director Jamie Fly, Policy Advisor Abe Greenwald, and Director for Democracy and Human Rights Ellen Bork are available to discuss the President’s speech on Tuesday.  Interview requests should be submitted to Rachel Hoff at the contact information listed below.

For more information, contact:
Rachel Hoff: Tel.: + 001 202 296-3322
Director of External Affairs
rhoff@foreignpolicyi.org

***

About FPI

FPI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and global economic competitiveness. The organization is led by Executive Director Jamie Fly. FPI was founded by Robert Kagan, William Kristol, and Dan Senor.


Sumit Lal: The ubiquitous Indian

October 28, 2009

Our friend from New Delhi, Sumit Lal, former Director and General Manager at ECCO INDIA, and currently Business Adviser at ECCO Asia Pacific Limited, has just started his own blog.

Please check it out here.


How We Can Win in Afghanistan

October 14, 2009
 

U.S. Soldiers with the 101st Division Special Troops Battalion, 101st Airborne Division watch as two Chinook helicopters fly in to take them back to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, November 4, 2008.

U.S. Soldiers with the 101st Division Special Troops Battalion, 101st Airborne Division watch as two Chinook helicopters fly in to take them back to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, November 4, 2008.

The most pressing issue on the U.S. president’s agenda today is whether he will commit more troops to Afghanistan – the “good war.”

In an article published in the November issue of Commentary Magazine, military historian Max Boot brings all his expertise to bear on explaining how the U.S. can win in that Taliban-plagued country.

But first we have to win the battle at home – the battle to convince Barack Obama to learn the right lessons from history and to heed the wise counsel of his own general, Stanley A. McChrystal.

Read full story.


Human Rights and the Rule of Law in China

October 10, 2009

Elizabeth Economy, expert on China-U.S. relations and Chinese domestic and foreign policy, testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China. She discussed China’s current environmental challenges and implications for U.S.-China relations.

Elizabeth Economy – Director, Asia Studies, Council on Foreign Relations

Statement Prepared for the Congressional-Executive Commission on China

October 7, 2009, Room 628 Dirksen Senate Office Building, 2:00 pm

Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Commission, it is my pleasure to have the opportunity to discuss China’s efforts in the realm of human rights, the rule of law and the environment and the prospects for U.S.-China cooperation on this critical issue.

Introduction

Over the past five to seven years, China’s leaders have become increasingly concerned about the impact of the environment on the country’s future. Twenty of the world’s thirty most polluted cities are in China; over half of the country’s population drinks contaminated water on a daily basis; and more than twenty-five percent of the land is severely degraded or desertified. As China’s Minister of Environmental Protection Zhou Shengxian acknowledged in 2007, “Pollution problems have threatened public health and social stability and have become a bottleneck for sound socio-economic development.”

Much of China’s environmental challenge stems from the very rapid and unfettered growth of the past thirty years. The “growth at all costs” model of development has exerted a profoundly negative impact on the country’s air, water and land quality and further transformed China into a major global polluter. The country now ranks as the world’s chief contributor to global climate change, ozone depletion, the illegal timber trade, and pollution in the Pacific.

Yet the inability of China’s leaders to turn this devastating environmental situation around—and the environment is frequently mentioned as a “top” priority by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao—has as much to do with failings in governance as with economic interests. China has passed well over 100 environmental laws and hundreds of regulations. The challenge rests in effectively implementing these laws and regulations, a process that is seriously impeded by a lack of transparency, rule of law and official accountability.

Whether China’s leaders are able to incorporate better governance practices into their system matters enormously not only for the health and welfare of the Chinese people but also for the rest of the world. If China cannot enforce its current environmental laws and regulations, there is little reason to believe that it will be able to respond effectively to a challenge such as global climate change.

The Nature of the Challenge

China’s leaders are concerned about the country’s environment above all because it is limiting opportunities for future economic growth, harming the health of the Chinese people, and has become one of the leading sources of social unrest throughout the country.

The economic challenges are most direct. Over the past several years, the Chinese media have reported on a number of environment-induced annual economic losses: desertification costs the Chinese economy about $8 billion, in addition to water pollution costs of $35.8 billion, air pollution costs of $27 billion and weather disaster and acid rain costs of $26.5 and $13.3 billion respectively.

All told, the Ministry of Environmental Protection estimates that environmental pollution and degradation cost the Chinese economy the equivalent of ten percent of GDP annually. Regionally, the impact is even more devastating. The prawn catch in the Bohai Sea, for example, has dropped by ninety percent over the past decade and a half as a result of pollution and overfishing. In Qinghai, over two thousand lakes and rivers have simply dried up over the past two decades, contributing to significant lost opportunities for industrial growth.

These economic costs are compounded by a set of mounting public health problems. In a survey of thirty cities and seventy-eight counties released in spring 2007, the Ministry of Health blamed worsening air and water pollution for dramatic increases in the incidence of cancer throughut the country: a nineteen percent rise in urban areas and a twenty-three percent rise in rural areas since 2005.

About 700 million people in China drink water that is contaminated with human or animal waste, and according to the Ministry of Water Resources, 190 million drink water that is so contaminated that it is dangerous to their health.

Taken together, these economic and health problems are at the root of the rapidly rising public discontent and unrest over the state of the environment. According to Minister Zhou, in 2005, the number of environmental protests topped 50,000.

While some pollution-related protests are relatively small and peaceful, others become violent, even deadly, when demands for change are repeatedly ignored.

In August 2009, for example, several thousand villagers in Shaanxi Province stormed a lead and zinc smelting plant after hundreds of children living near the plant tested positive for excessive levels of lead in their blood.Of these, 154 were so sick that they had to be admitted to the hospital. The villagers had been complaining for three years about the plant, and although the local government has promised to relocate the affected families, villagers in the relocation sites have noted that their children are similarly afflicted with lead poisoning.

Environmental protest has also been spurred by the Internet. In May 2009, in Shandong Province, a group of residents posted an online petition calling for an investigation of four cyclohexanone chemical plants. The petioners believed that the factories, which had been in operation since a year earlier, were polluting the air and water and contributing to an unusually high number of thyroid cancer cases. The county government initially ignored the petition, arguing that the factories were not allowed to drain wastewater until they met provincial standards and had passed official water quality tests. Over the next month, the petition circulated on web portals such as Baidu and Tianya, collecting an estimated 1,400 signatures.

In an open letter published on Internet forums, one resident even called for a broader “uprising” that might not be successful but would “mark the start of a revolution against a crude regime” and even called for the killing of the Communist Party chief and county director. The author later claimed that more than 5,000 people had signed up for the protest. On June 29, 2009, Premier Wen Jiabao ordered the Shandong officials to investigate the claims and respond to the public.

In addition, the Internet and other forms of telecommunication such as texting have facilitated mobilized protest in urban areas, a phenomenon of only the past two years. There have been significant protests—with up to 10,000 people—in major cities such as Xiamen, Zhangzhou and Chengdu over the planned siting of various large-scale chemical and petrochemical plants. Here, too, violence has occurred in some cases. Notably, in a few of these instances of urban protest, public opposition has been strong enough to lead to a reversal in a government decision. The significance of the urban, middle class protest is that it erupts not “after the fact” in response to a devastating environment-induced economic or public health crisis, but rather in advance of something likely to cause significant public health damage. In a small, but potentially significant, way, therefore, urban protestors have influenced Chinese government policy.

Reform in Environmental Governance

There are a number of reasons for China’s worsening environmental situation and the related proliferating social and economic challenges: a continued priority on economic growth, the pricing of resources that doesn’t support conservation or efficiency, a dearth of political and economic incentives to do the right thing and, most critically, a lack of transparency, official accountability and the rule of law. There is no reliable mechanism for uncovering and dealing with environmental wrongdoing.

To begin with, accurate environmental data are often difficult to obtain. Sometimes it is a matter of capacity. Local environmental officials may simply not have the manpower, transportation or funds to monitor pollution levels at all the sites for which they are responsible. In addition, local officials are often reluctant to provide information that reflects poorly on their leadership, and there is no institutionalized check on the statistics that are provided. One significant central government campaign to evaluate local officials on their environmental performance—the Green GDP campaign—failed in large measure because the Ministry of Environmental Protection could not access the necessary environmental data from a number of recalcitrant provincial leaders. In a few places, such as Jiangsu Province, there are experiments underway with interntational partners to scorecard factories and make the information available publicly. However, ensuring the transparency element of the process has apparently been quite difficult.

Corruption is also a serious problem. Many local officials often ignore serious pollution problems out of self-interest. Sometimes they have a direct financial stake in factories or personal relationships with factory managers. In recent years, the media have uncovered cases in which local officials have put pressure on the courts, the press, or even hospitals to prevent pollution problems and disasters from coming to light. Moreover, local officials often divert environmental protection funds to other endeavors. A recent Ministry of Environmental Protection-supported study, for example, found that fully half of the environmental funds distributed from Beijing to local officials for environmental protection made its way to projects unrelated to the environment.

Recognizing the potential of local officials to subvert or ignore environmental laws and regulations, Beijing has opened the door to the media and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to act as unofficial environmental watchdogs. China’s first environmental NGO, Friends of Nature, was established in 1994, and it was devoted to environmental education and biodiversity protection. Fifteen years later, China has over 3,000 environmental NGOs that play a role in virtually every aspect of environmental protection. Above all, they help bring transparency to the environmental situation on the ground.

These groups help expose polluting factories to the central government, launch internet campaigns to protest the proliferation of large-scale hydropower projects, sue for the rights of villagers poisoned by contaminated water or air, provide seed money to smaller, newer NGOS throughout the country, and go undercover to expose multinationals that ignore international environmental standards. The media are an important ally in this fight: educating the public, shaming polluters, uncovering environmental abuse and highlighting environmental protection successes.

Environmental NGOs are also at the forefront of advancing the still nascent rule of law in China’s political system. In 1998, Wang Canfa, a professor of law at the China University of Politics and Law, established the Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims (CLAPV). The center trains lawyers to engage in enforcing environmental laws, educates judges on environmental issues, provides free legal advice to pollution victims through a telephone hotline, and litigates cases involving environmental law. Between 2001 and 2007, the center trained 262 lawyers, 189 judges and 21 environmental enforcement officials in environmental law.

In addition, Wang has been advising the Chinese government on the establishment of a system of specialized environmental courts. Beginning in late 2007, the Supreme People’s Court established a network of courts that are responsible only for cases regarding environmental protection and the enforcement of environmental regulations. These environmental protection courts seek to address the weak capacity of judges to solve environmental disputes due to lack of expertise and experience, eliminate the challenge faced by plaintiffs in bringing environmental lawsuits, and strengthen the enforcement of judgements against defendants who are influential in local economic matters. Thus far, these courts have been established in three provinces: Guizhou, Jiangsu and Yunnan. The courts have already heard a number of cases: the Kunming Court in Yunnan Province heard twelve environmental law violation cases during the first half of 2009, while the Guiyang court in Guizhou accepted forty-five environmental cases (and ruled on thirty-seven of them) in its first six months.These environmental courts also have the authority to enforce the judgments they issue. More environmental courts are expected to open throughout China as the success of established courts becomes determined. The biggest problem currently confronting the courts is that they do not have enough cases to consider.

Despite the important role that environmental NGOs and the media have come to play in China’s environmental protection effort, many Chinese leaders remain wary of the intentions of these non-governmental actors. Above all, China’s leaders fear the potential that the environment might become a lightning rod for a broader push for political reform. They thus have put in place a byzantine set of financial and political requirements to confine NGO activities within certain boundaries and to enable their close monitoring by authorities.

Misjudging these boundaries can bring severe penalties. Wu Lihong worked for sixteen years to address the pollution in Tai Lake, gathering evidence that forced almost two hundred factories to close. In 2005, Beijing honored Wu as one of the country’s top environmentalists, but in 2006, one of the local governments Wu had criticized, arrested and jailed him on dubious charges of blackmail and fraud. Yu Xiaogang, the 2006 winner of the Goldman Environmental Prize and 2009 winner of the Ramon Magsaysay Award, both for grassroots environmental activism, has been forbidden to travel abroad in retaliation for educating villagers about the potential downsides of a proposed dam relocation in Yunnan Province. A third environmental activist, Tan Kai, has been in jail since 2006. In 2005, Tan established the NGO Green Watch in his home province, Zhejiang, to monitor local officials’ compliance with orders to shut down several polluting factories that had been the sites of serious protests.

Implications for the United States

For the United States, the capacity of China to meet its environmental challenges is only becoming more pressing. If China does not have transparency, accountability or the rule of law within its domestic environmental system, it cannot be relied upon to be a responsible partner to meet the challenge of a global issue such as climate change. It will not possess the capacity to enforce the regulations that will arise from domestic climate legislation nor the transparency to ensure accurate measurement of emissions and emissions reductions. Nor will China be able to devise and implement a system that will ensure that officials who attempt to subvert the legislation will be held accountable. This does not mean that the United States should not move forward to assist China in setting and meeting targets to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. It does suggest, however, that building capacity within China’s system of environmental governance should be a top priority for bilateral cooperation.

There are small-scale efforts already underway within the United States to help China develop such capacity. Over the past two years, the U.S. government has provided $5-$10 million in Development Assistance for programs and activities in the PRC related to democracy, rule of law and the environment. With support from the U.S. government, for example, the American Bar Association has supported both Wang Canfa’s Center for Legal Assistance to Pollution Victims as well as various universities to train public interest lawyers to specialize on the environment and provide expertise to the new environmental courts. Vermont Law School similarly engages partners such as SunYat-sen University to help improve China’s environmental policies, systems and laws. Climate change is also garnering growing interest as an area of cooperation.

The state of California is already pushing forward on several fronts, including enhancing transparency in energy use in Jiangsu Province and fostering interagency cooperation at the local level to address climate change. Still, the majority of interest and attention in the United States and China is focused on the opportunity for technology cooperation and transfer. This technology will only be effective, however, if China has the appropriate political environment to support its use. To tackle an issue of the magnitude of climate change, will require far more of a concerted and coordinated international effort by the United States and its partners to bolster the rule of law, transparency and accountability within China.


General Stanley A. McChrystal’s military strategy in Afghanistan

October 6, 2009
General Stanley A. McChrystal‘s review of U.S. military strategy in Afghanistan, in which the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan calls for an increase in troops, can be read here.

The Washington Post also reports on the military debate over whether to withdraw from isolated rural parts of Afghanistan where U.S. troops are more vulnerable to attack and refocus on urban centers.

Read full story.

President Barack Obama meets with General Stanley A. McChrystal, in the Oval Office at the White House, May 19, 2009.

President Barack Obama meets with General Stanley A. McChrystal, in the Oval Office at the White House, May 19, 2009.


Former U.S. President Bill Clinton in North Korea

August 4, 2009
 

John Fitzgerald Kennedy shaking hands with teenager Bill Clinton.

John Fitzgerald Kennedy shaking hands with teenager Bill Clinton.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton made a surprise visit to North Korea to try to convince the government to liberate two imprisoned U.S. journalists.

The journalists – Euna Lee and Laura Ling, of U.S. media outlet Current TV – were arrested on the North Korea-China border in March. The women were sentenced to twelve years of hard labour for entering the country illegally and for “hostile acts.”

Bill Clinton is well respected in North Korea, as he almost visited Pyongyang toward the end of his presidency, and because he met with North Korea’s top military commander, Jo Myong-rok, in Washington in 2000. North Korea and the United States also made a deal to freeze plutonium-based nuclear reactor at Yongbyon under the Clinton administration.

Former South Korean government official Park Chan-bong tells the Wall Street Journal the talks will probably serve as a launching point for bilateral discussions between the two countries.

Read full story.


New Afghanistan strategy

July 31, 2009

Lieutenant General Stanley A. McChrystal, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, is preparing a new strategy for U.S. forces, calling for unconventional methods for dealing with the Taliban fighters.

McChrystal will reportedly ask for a doubling of the number of U.S. and NATO troops stationed in Afghanistan, and will call for a change in the “operational culture” of U.S. and NATO forces. He will recommend that commanders boost personal contact with Afghans, possibly living in towns and spending more time on foot patrols.

The Los Angeles Times interviews McChrystal on the assessment of military operations.

Read full story.


India gets nuclear submarine

July 9, 2009

India will launch its first nuclear submarine later this month, the Financial Times reports.

The submarine would add India to a short list of countries with the capability to launch a nuclear strike from the sea.

Read full story.


Protected: China’s public relations strategy

July 8, 2009

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U.S. marines launch major Afghan offensive

July 2, 2009

MARINES

U.S. marines launched today a military offensive to retake the Helmand River Valley in south-western Afghanistan from Taliban militants.

The U.S. military says this operation is the largest since its invasion of Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004. The focus of the offensive will be bolstering local Afghan governments and protecting civilians. Pakistan says it deployed troops to a stretch of its border to prevent insurgents from fleeing across.

Reuters provides a Q&A on the new military offensive.

Read full story.


Iran’s New Revolution

June 10, 2009

Iran entered its final day of campaigning before its presidential elections tomorrow. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s challengers held rival protests in the city, criticizing the president for his crackdowns on personal freedoms and his troubles managing Iran’s struggling economy.

Several media have noted that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s challengers, mostly the reformists Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, once appeared pretty weak but seem to have gained momentum in recent weeks. It remains to be seen, of course, whether any of the challengers stands a chance of unseating the president. Some analysts have predicted that Mousavi and Karroubi will split the reformist vote, undermining one another.

The Economist says the results of the vote could hinge primarily on voter turnout, with higher turnout benefiting the reformists. The piece notes that recent televised debates seem to have energized Iranians “as much as any [election] since the Islamic revolution of 1979.”

The New York Times reports the state of the Iranian economy has emerged as a defining issue ahead of the vote.

EurasiaNet has an analysis arguing that Ahmadinejad may be trying to foment a “revolution within the Islamic Revolution” in hopes of establishing a “neoconservative dictatorship with the blessing of the country’s spiritual leader.” The problem, the article says, is that Ahmadinejad’s opponents are stronger than the Iranian president once thought.

Foreign Policy has a special report on the elections questioning whether a new revolution might be taking place.

Read full story.


U.S. treasury secretary Geithner urges combined U.S.-China efforts to boost global economy

June 1, 2009
 

United States Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner

United States Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner

Timothy Geithner, in his first visit to China as U.S. Treasury Secretary, presented a plan for the United States and China to work together to rebuild the global economy and restore growth.

In a speech today at Peking University, Geithner stressed that there is much that both the United States and China need to do to rebalance the world economy. He called for China to make its currency more flexible in exchange for fiscal reforms in the United States. He also said China would need to diversify its economy beyond relying so heavily on exports for growth, and that the United States, in return, would focus on mitigating its ballooning deficit to protect massive Chinese investments in U.S. government debt.

Chinese media focused on Geithner’s implication that China should play a more significant role in global economic policymaking. China Daily says the primary goal of Geithner’s trip, which has included meetings with several leading Chinese economic policymakers, has been to reaffirm China’s faith in U.S. dollar-backed assets and still fears that U.S. budget deficit and loose monetary policy will prompt inflation, undermining Chinese holdings of both the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasury bonds.

Below is the text of Timothy Geithner’s speech.

***

The United States and China, Cooperating for Recovery and Growth

 Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner

Speech at Peking University – Beijing, China
June 1st, 2009

 It is a pleasure to be back in China and to join you here today at this great university. 

I first came to China, and to Peking University, in the summer of 1981 as a college student studying Mandarin. I was here with a small group of graduate and undergraduate students from across the United States. I returned the next summer to Beijing Normal University. 

We studied reasonably hard, and had the privilege of working with many talented professors, some of whom are here today. As we explored this city and traveled through Eastern China, we had the chance not just to understand more about your history and your aspirations, but also to begin to see the United States through your eyes. 

Over the decades since, we have seen the beginnings of one of the most extraordinary economic transformations in history. China is thriving.  Economic reform has brought exceptionally rapid and sustained growth in incomes. China’s emergence as a major economic force more fully integrated into the world economy has brought substantial benefits to the United States and to economies around the world.  

In recognition of our mutual interest in a positive, cooperative, and comprehensive relationship, President Hu Jintao and President Obama agreed in April to establish the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. Secretary Clinton and I will host Vice Premier Wang and State Councilor Dai in Washington this summer for our first meeting.  I have the privilege of beginning the economic discussions with a series of meetings in Beijing today and tomorrow. 

These meetings will give us a chance to discuss the risks and challenges on the economic front, to examine some of the longer term challenges we both face in laying the foundation for a more balanced and sustainable recovery, and to explore our common interest in international financial reform.

Current Challenges and Risks

 The world economy is going through the most challenging economic and financial stress in generations. 

 The International Monetary Fund predicts that the world economy will shrink this year for the first time in more than six decades. The collapse of world trade is likely to be the worst since the end of World War II. The lost output, compared to the world economy’s potential growth in a normal year, could be between three and four trillion dollars.

In the face of this challenge, China and the United States are working together to help shape a strong global strategy to contain the crisis and to lay the foundation for recovery. And these efforts, the combined effect of forceful policy actions here in China, in the United States, and in other major economies, have helped slow the pace of deterioration in growth, repair the financial system, and improve confidence. 

In fact, what distinguishes the current crisis is not just its global scale and its acute severity, but the size and speed of the global response.

At the G-20 Leaders meeting in London in April, we agreed on an unprecedented program of coordinated policy actions to support growth, to stabilize and repair the financial system, to restore the flow of credit essential for trade and investment, to mobilize financial resources for emerging market economies through the international financial institutions, and to keep markets open for trade and investment. 

That historic accord on a strategy for recovery was made possible in part by the policy actions already begun in China and the United States. 

China moved quickly as the crisis intensified with a very forceful program of investments and financial measures to strengthen domestic demand.

In the United States, in the first weeks of the new Administration, we put in place a comprehensive program of tax incentives and investments ¨C the largest peace time recovery effort since World War II – to help arrest the sharp fall in private demand. Alongside these fiscal measures, we acted to ease the housing crisis. And we have put in place a series of initiatives to bring more capital into the banking system and to restart the credit markets.  

These actions have been reinforced by similar actions in countries around the world. 

In contrast to the global crisis of the 1930s and to the major economic crises of the postwar period, the leaders of the world acted together. They acted quickly. They  took steps to provide assistance to the most vulnerable economies, even as they faced exceptional financial needs at home. They worked to keep their markets open, rather than retreating into self-defeating measures of discrimination and protection. 

And they have committed to make sure this program of initiatives is sustained until the foundation for recovery is firmly established, a commitment the IMF will monitor closely, and that we will be able to evaluate together when the G-20 Leaders meet again in the United States this fall. 

We are starting to see some initial signs of improvement. The global recession seems to be losing force. In the United States, the pace of decline in economic activity has slowed. Households are saving more, but consumer confidence has improved, and spending is starting to recover. House prices are falling at a slower pace and the inventory of unsold homes has come down significantly. Orders for goods and services are somewhat stronger. The pace of deterioration in the labor market has slowed, and new claims for unemployment insurance have started to come down a bit. 

The financial system is starting to heal. The clarity and disclosure provided by our capital assessment of major U.S. banks has helped improve market confidence in them, making it possible for banks that needed capital to raise it from private investors and to borrow without guarantees. The securities markets, including the asset backed securities markets that essentially stopped functioning late last year, have started to come back. The cost of credit has fallen substantially for businesses and for families as spreads and risk premia have narrowed.    

These are important signs of stability, and assurance that we will succeed in averting financial collapse and global deflation, but they represent only the first steps in laying the foundation for recovery. The process of repair and adjustment is going to take time. 

China, despite your own manifest challenges as a developing country, you are in an enviably strong position. But in most economies, the recession is still powerful and dangerous. Business and households in the United States, as in many countries, are still experiencing the most challenging economic and financial pressures in decades. 

The plant closures, and company restructurings that the recession is causing are painful, and this process is not yet over. The fallout from these events has been brutally indiscriminant, affecting those with little or no responsibility for the events that now buffet them, as well as on some who played key roles in bringing about our troubles.

The extent of the damage to financial systems entails significant risk that the supply of credit will be constrained for some time. The constraints on banks in many major economies will make it hard for them to compensate fully for the damage done to the basic machinery of the securitization markets, including the loss of confidence in credit ratings. After a long period where financial institutions took on too much risk, we still face the possibility that  banks and investors may take too little risk, even as the underlying economic conditions start to improve. 

And, after a long period of falling saving and substantial growth in household borrowing relative to GDP, consumer spending in the United States will be restrained for some time relative to what is typically the case in recoveries. 

 These are necessary adjustments. They will entail a longer, slower process of recovery, with a very different pattern of future growth across countries than we have seen in the past several recoveries. 

Laying the Foundation for Future Growth

 As we address this immediate financial and economic crisis, it is important that we also lay the foundations for more balanced, sustained growth of the global economy once this recovery is firmly established. 

A successful transition to a more balanced and stable global economy will require very substantial changes to economic policy and financial regulation around the world. But some of the most important of those changes will have to come in the United States and China. How successful we are in Washington and Beijing will be critically important to the economic fortunes of the rest of the world. The effectiveness of U.S. policies will depend in part on China’s, and the effectiveness of yours on ours. 

Although the United States and China start from very different positions, many of our domestic challenges are similar. In the United States, we are working to reform our health care system, to improve the quality of education, to rebuild our infrastructure, and to improve energy efficiency. These reforms are essential to boosting the productive capacity of our economy. These challenges are at the center of your reform priorities, too. 

We are both working to reform our financial systems. In the United States, our challenge is to create a more stable and more resilient financial system, with stronger protections for consumer and investors.  As we work to strengthen and redesign regulation to achieve these objectives, our challenge is to preserve the core strengths of our financial system, which are its exceptional capacity to adapt and innovate and to channel capital for investment in new technologies and innovative companies. You have the benefit of being able to learn from our shortcomings, which have proved so damaging in the present crisis, as well as from our strengths.  

Our common challenge is to recognize that a more balanced and sustainable global recovery will require changes in the composition of growth in our two economies. Because of this, our policies have to be directed at very different outcomes. 

In the United States, saving rates will have to increase, and the purchases of U.S. consumers cannot be as dominant a driver of growth as they have been in the past. 

In China, as your leadership has recognized, growth that is sustainable growth will require a very substantial shift from external to domestic demand, from an investment and export intensive driven growth, to growth led by consumption. Strengthening domestic demand will also strengthen China’s ability to weather fluctuations in global supply and demand.

If we are successful on these respective paths, public and private saving in the United States will increase as recovery strengthens, and as this happens, our current account deficit will come down. And in China, domestic demand will rise at a faster rate than overall GDP, led by a gradual shift to higher rates of consumption.  

Globally, recovery will have come more from a shift by high saving economies to stronger domestic demand and less from the American consumer. 

The policy framework for a successful transition to this outcome is starting to take shape.

In the United States, we are putting in place the foundations for restoring fiscal sustainability. 

The President in his initial budget to Congress made it clear that, as soon as recovery is firmly established, we are going to have to bring our fiscal deficit down to a level that is sustainable over the medium term. This will mean bringing the imbalance between our fiscal resources and expenditures down to the point - roughly three percent of GDP – where the overall level of public debt to GDP is definitively on a downward path.  The temporary investments and tax incentives we put in place in the Recovery Act to strengthen private demand will have to expire, discretionary spending will have to fall back to a more modest level relative to GDP, and we will have to be very disciplined in limiting future commitments through the reintroduction of budget disciplines, such as pay-as-you go rules.

The President also looks forward to working with Congress to further reduce our long-run fiscal deficit.

And, critical to our long-term fiscal health, we have to put in place comprehensive health care reform that will bring down the growth in health care costs, costs that are the principal driver of our long run fiscal deficit. 

The President has also proposed steps to encourage private saving, including through automatic enrollment in retirement savings accounts. 

Alongside these fiscal actions, we have designed our policies to address the financial crisis to carefully minimize risk to the taxpayer and to allow for an orderly exit or unwinding as soon as conditions permit. Across the various financial facilities put in place by the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and the FDIC, we have been careful to set the economic terms at a level so that demand for these facilities will fade as conditions normalize and risk premia recede.  Banks have a strong incentive to replace public capital with private capital as soon as conditions permit. 

Let me be clear - the United States is committed to a strong and stable international financial system. The Obama Administration fully recognizes that the United States has a special responsibility to play in this regard, and we fully appreciate that exercising this special responsibility begins at home. As we recover from this unprecedented crisis, we will cut our fiscal deficit, we will eliminate the extraordinary governmental support that we have put in place to overcome the crisis, we will continue to preserve the openness of our economy, and we will resolutely maintain the policy framework necessary for durable and lasting sustained non-inflationary growth.

In China, the challenge is fundamentally different, and at least as complex. 

Critical to the success of your efforts to shift future growth to domestic demand are measures to raise household incomes and to reduce the need that households feel to save large amounts for precautionary reasons or to pay for major expenditures like education.  This involves strengthening the social safety net with health care reform and more complete public retirement systems, enacting financial reforms to help expand access to credit for households, and providing products that allow households to insure against risk.  These efforts can be funded through the increased collection of dividends from state-owned enterprises.

The structure of the Chinese economy will shift as domestic demand grows in importance, with a larger service sector, more emphasis on light industry, and less emphasis on heavy, capital intensive export and import-competing industries.  The resulting growth will generate greater employment, and be less energy-intensive than the current structure of Chinese industry. Allowing the market, interest rates, and other prices to function to encourage the shift in production will be particularly important.

An important part of this strategy is the government’s commitment to continue progress toward a more flexible exchange rate regime.  Greater exchange rate flexibility will help reinforce the shift in the composition of growth, encourage resource shifts to support domestic demand, and provide greater ability for monetary policy to achieve sustained growth with low inflation in the future. 

International Financial Reform

 These are some of the most important domestic economic challenge we face, and these issues will be at the core of our agenda for economic cooperation. 

But I think it is important to underscore that we also have a very strong interest in working together to strengthen the framework for international economic and financial cooperation.  

Let me highlight three important areas.

At the G-20 Leaders meeting, we committed to a series of actions to help reform and strengthen the international financial architecture.

As part of this, we agreed to put in place a stronger framework of standards for supervision and regulation of the financial system.  We expanded and strengthened the Financial Stability Forum, now renamed the Financial Stability Board.  China and other major emerging economies are now full participants, alongside the major financial centers, in this critical institution for cooperation.  We will have the chance together to help redesign global standards for capital requirements, stronger oversight of global markets like derivatives, better tools for resolving future financial crises, and measures to reduce the opportunities for regulatory arbitrage. 

We also committed to an ambitious program of reform of the IMF and other international financial institutions.  Our common objective is to reform the governance of these institutions to make them more representative of the shifting balance of economic and financial activity in the world, to strengthen their capacity to prevent future crisis, with stronger surveillance of macroeconomic, exchange rate, and financial policies, and to equip them with a stronger financial capacity to respond to future crises. We also committed to mobilize $500 billion in additional finance through the enlargement and membership expansion of the IMF’s New Arrangements to Borrow in order to provide an insurance policy for the global financial system.

As part of this process of reform, the United States will fully support having China play a role in the principal cooperative arrangements that help shape the international system, a role that is commensurate with China’s importance in the global economy.

I believe that a greater role for China is necessary for China, for the effectiveness of the international financial institutions themselves, and for the world economy. 

China is already too important to the global economy not to have a full seat at the international table, helping to define the policies that are critical to the effective functioning of the international financial system.

Second, we must cooperate to assure that the global trade and investment environment remains open, and that opportunities continue to expand.  As economies have become more open and more closely integrated, global economic growth has been stronger and more broad-based, bringing increasing numbers out of poverty, and turning developing nations into major emerging markets.    The global commitment to trade liberalization and increasingly open investment played a critical role in this process ¨C in the industrialized world, in East Asia, and, since 1978, in China.  As we go through the severe stresses of this crisis, we must not turn our backs on open trade and investment - for ourselves and for those who have yet to experience the fruits of growth and development. The United States, China, and the other members of the G20 have committed to not resort to protectionist measures by raising trade and investment barriers and to work toward a successful conclusion to the Doha Development Round. 

And third, one of the most critical long-term challenges that we both face is climate change.  Individually and collectively, there is an urgent need to ensure that each and every country takes meaningful action to deal with this threat.  Reducing land and forest degradation, conserving energy, and using clean technology are important objectives that complement both our efforts to achieve a new, sustainable pattern of growth and our goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. China and the United States already are working closely through the Strategic and Economic Dialogue in areas such as clean transportation, clean and efficient production of electricity, and the reduction of air and water pollution.  We must continue these efforts for the sake of our natio ns and the planet.

Conclusion

In the last few years the frequency, intensity, and importance of U.S.-China economic engagements have multiplied.  The U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue that President Obama and President Hu initiated in April is the next stage in that process.  I look forward to welcoming Vice Premier Wang, State Councilor Dai and their colleagues to Washington to participate in the first meeting of the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue.

 Our engagement should be conducted with mutual respect for the traditions, values, and interests of China and the United States. We will make a joint effort in a concerted way “同心协力”.  We should understand that we each have a very strong stake in the health and the success of each other’s economy. 

China and the United States individually, and together, are so important in the global economy and financial system that what we do has a direct impact on the stability and strength of the international economic system.  Other nations have a legitimate interest in our policies and the ways in which we work together, and we each have an obligation to ensure that our policies and actions promote the health and stability of the global economy and financial system.

We come together because we have shared interests and responsibilities.  We also have our own national interests.   I will be a strong advocate for U.S. interests, just as I expect my counterparts to represent China.  China has benefited hugely from open trade and investment, and the ability to greatly increase its exports to the rest of the world.  In turn, we expect increased opportunities to export to and invest in the Chinese economy.   

We want China to succeed and prosper.  Chinese growth and expanding Chinese demand is a tremendous opportunity for U.S. firms and workers, just as it is in China and the rest of the world. 

Global problems will not be solved without U.S.-China cooperation.  That goes for the entire range of issues that face our world from economic recovery and financial repair to climate change and energy policy.

I look forward to working with you cooperatively, and in a spirit of mutual respect.


North Korea Alert

May 28, 2009

Yonhap News Agency reports the United States of America and South Korea have increased their alert level toward North Korea and have ramped up surveillance following Pyongyang’s decision to scrap the treaty halting the Korean War.

The BBC has a news analysis attempting to gauge North Korea’s game plan

In a strategic paper published by the U.S. War Army College, experts Colonel Ray Midkiff and Dr. James Downey address the policy options available to influence North Korea.

Read full story.


The Geopolitics of Emotion: How Cultures of Fear, Humiliation, and Hope are Reshaping the World

May 9, 2009

geopolitics of emotion

Dominique Moïsi, a founder of the Institut Français des Relations Internationales, professor at Sciences Po Paris and Harvard University, and one of Europe’s leading geo-strategic thinkers, discusses in his new book how cultures of fear, humiliation, and hope are reshaping global politics.

“Fear, Humiliation, Hope, and the New World Order

Thirteen years ago, Samuel Huntington argued that a “clash of civilizations” was about to dominate world politics, with culture, along with national interests and political ideology, becoming a geopolitical fault line (“The Clash of Civilizations?” Summer 1993). Events since then have proved Huntington’s vision more right than wrong. Yet what has not been recognized sufficiently is that today the world faces what might be called a “clash of emotions” as well. The Western world displays a culture of fear, the Arab and Muslim worlds are trapped in a culture of humiliation, and much of Asia displays a culture of hope.

Instead of being united by their fears, the twin pillars of the West, the United States and Europe, are more often divided by them – or rather, divided by how best to confront or transcend them. The culture of humiliation, in contrast, helps unite the Muslim world around its most radical forces and has led to a culture of hatred. The chief beneficiaries of the deadly encounter between the forces of fear and the forces of humiliation are the bystanders in the culture of hope, who have been able to concentrate on creating a better future for themselves.

These moods, of course, are not universal within each region, and there are some areas, such as Russia and parts of Latin America, that seem to display all of them simultaneously. But their dynamics and interactions will help shape the world for years to come.

THE CULTURE OF FEAR

The United States and Europe are divided by a common culture of fear. On both sides, one encounters, in varying degrees, a fear of the other, a fear of the future, and a fundamental anxiety about the loss of identity in an increasingly complex world.

In the case of Europe, there are layers of fear. There is the fear of being invaded by the poor, primarily from the South – a fear driven by demography and geography. Images of Africans being killed recently as they tried to scale barbed wire to enter a Spanish enclave in Morocco evoked images of another time not so long ago, when East Germans were shot at as they tried to reach freedom in the West. Back then, Germans were killed because they wanted to escape oppression. Today, Africans are being killed because they want to escape absolute poverty.”

Buy your copy now from Amazon.


Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal at risk

May 4, 2009

The New York Times reports today that Washington is increasingly concerned about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal, including the potential of militants to steal a weapon or otherwise infiltrate nuclear laboratories or fuel-production facilities.

Meanwhile, the spokesman for Sufi Mohammad, the radical and increasingly influential Muslim cleric in Pakistan, said the Taliban would not lay down their arms in the Malakand region unless government military operations there are halted.

Read full story.


Fears About Pakistan’s Nuclear Weapons

April 27, 2009

As militancy grows in Pakistan, U.S. officials are increasingly concerned about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

The Washington Times reports that the military controls the country’s nuclear stockpile, so any scenario that changes the balance of power in the military – from a coup to a Taliban takeover – could endanger the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.

Read full story.


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