Category Archives: Asia & Oceania

Why the White House Is Reading Greek History

Michael Crowley reports for Politico:

Image result for ThucydidesThe Trump White House isn’t known as a hot spot for Ivy League intellectuals. But last month, a Harvard academic slipped into the White House complex for an unusual meeting. Graham Allison, an avuncular foreign policy thinker who served under Reagan and Clinton, was paying a visit to the National Security Council, where he briefed a group of staffers on one of history’s most studied conflicts—a brutal war waged nearly 2,500 years ago, one whose lessons still resonate, even in the administration of a president who doesn’t like to read.

The subject was America’s rivalry with China, cast through the lens of ancient Greece. The 77-year-old Allison is the author of a recent book based on the writings of Thucydides, the ancient historian famous for his epic chronicle of the Peloponnesian War between the Greek states of Athens and Sparta. Allison cites the Greek scholar’s summation of why the two powers fought: “What made war inevitable was the growth of Athenian power and the fear which this caused in Sparta.” He warns that the same dynamic could drive this century’s rising empire, China, and the United States into a war neither wants. Allison calls this the “Thucydides Trap,” and it’s a question haunting some very important people in the Trump administration, particularly as Chinese officials arrive Wednesday for “diplomatic and security dialogue” talks between Washington and Beijing designed, in large part, to avoid conflict between the world’s two strongest nations.

It might seem curious that an ancient Greek would cast a shadow over a meeting between a group of diplomats and generals from America and Asia. Most Americans probably don’t know Thucydides from Mephistopheles. But the Greek writer is a kind of demigod to international relations theorists and military historians, revered for his elegant chronicle of one of history’s most consequential wars, and his timeless insights into the nature of politics and warfare. The Yale University historian Donald Kagan calls Thucydides’ account “a source of wisdom about the behavior of human beings under the enormous pressures imposed by war, plague, and civil strife.”

Thucydides is especially beloved by the two most influential figures on Trump’s foreign policy team. National security adviser H.R. McMaster has called Thucydides’ work an “essential” military text, taught it to students and quoted from it in speeches and op-eds. Defense Secretary James Mattis is also fluent in Thucydides’ work: “If you say to him, ‘OK, how about the Melian Dialogue?’ he could tell you exactly what it is,” Allison says—referring to one particularly famous passage. When former Defense Secretary William Cohen introduced him at his confirmation hearing, Cohen said Mattis was likely the only person present “who can hear the words ‘Thucydides Trap’ and not have to go to Wikipedia to find out what it means.”

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Fight Terrorism Or Control Resources: What’s the Real Reason for U.S.’s Increased Presence In Africa?

David Love reports for the Atlanta Black Star:

Although the Trump administration has not expressed much of an interest in Africa, the U.S. has an increased presence in the continent. As China has ramped up its economic presence and enlarged its footprint in Africa, the U.S. is not waging economic war but rather a shadow commando war.

Uncle Sam is building a massive presence of the U.S. Army Special Operations Command as VICE news reported, with an unprecedented growth in deployment among elite units such as the Army Green Berets and Navy SEALs. While at least 116 special operations missions took place at once around the world in 2011, today these commando units are engaged in close to 100 missions in Africa alone. More specifically, 1,700 Americans are involved in 96 missions in 20 African nations at any one time, according to a declassified October 2016 document from the Special Operations Command in Africa, or SOCAFRICA. SOCAFRICA supports the United States Africa Command, or AFRICOM, which is responsible for Defense Department operations on the African continent. The U.S. military has divided the world into six geographic sectors — AFRICOM, NORTHCOM, PACOM, SOUTHCOM, EUCOM and CENTCOM. As reported by HuffPost, AFRICOM now maintains 46 U.S. military bases in 24 African countries.

The Government Accountability Office report on Special Operations Forces documented a dramatic rise of U.S. commandos in Africa, from 1 percent of all special forces abroad in 2006 to 3 percent in 2010 to over 17 percent last year. Only the Middle East has more elite U.S. forces conducting operations in its region.

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How China Is Building the Post-Western World

Patrick Lawrence writes for The Nation:

China's New Silk Road[…] Beijing has been into big-think for a long time. In the late 1990s, when there was talk of an Asian Monetary Fund and “regional financial architecture,” China took considerable measures to stabilize other Asian currencies devastated by speculative onslaughts. It simultaneously developed formal relations with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, at bottom a creature of the Cold War. In 2001, a big step: It founded the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, bringing together the four Central Asian republics plus Russia to develop mutual interests across the board—political, economic, diplomatic, strategic, and so on. India and Pakistan—sign of the times—joined as full members two years ago.

Look at a map and forget about the South China Sea for a moment: China has been pushing westward and southwestward in pursuit of ports and land routes, stable economies, and global markets. And by “westward,” it soon became clear, Beijing meant “Westward.”

Xi became general secretary of the Communist Party in 2012 and president of the People’s Republic a year later. Since then, it has been one big move after another: He announced the AIIB, the World Bank’s aforementioned alternative, as soon as he became president. As Obama and Jack Lew folded their arms, the world piled in. The bank is now capitalized at $250 billion, can lend two and a half times that, and has 77 members—seven inducted the day before this week’s big-tent forum. (I would have loved to be in the room when Lew got word that even the British joined, which was quickly after the bank was launched.)

This week’s summit was called the Belt and Road Forum. This initiative sits atop all just outlined. When Xi announced it—again, as soon as he assumed the presidency—it was called the Silk Road Project. It is almost certainly the largest single infrastructure program in human history, intended to build linkages connecting China and the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Side streets, let’s call them, lead into Southeast Asia and elsewhere. It is about highways, rails, power plants, bridges and tunnels, communications grids. The projects now number nearly 1,700, and the money is breathtaking: Financing—public and private investments, joint ventures, loans, development aid—will come to trillions of dollars.

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A Murderous History of Korea

Bruce Cumings, the author of several books on the Korean Peninsula, writes for the London Review of Books:

Image result for A Murderous History of KoreaMore than four decades ago I went to lunch with a diplomatic historian who, like me, was going through Korea-related documents at the National Archives in Washington. He happened to remark that he sometimes wondered whether the Korean Demilitarised Zone might be ground zero for the end of the world. This April, Kim In-ryong, a North Korean diplomat at the UN, warned of ‘a dangerous situation in which a thermonuclear war may break out at any moment’. A few days later, President Trump told Reuters that ‘we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.’ American atmospheric scientists have shown that even a relatively contained nuclear war would throw up enough soot and debris to threaten the global population: ‘A regional war between India and Pakistan, for instance, has the potential to dramatically damage Europe, the US and other regions through global ozone loss and climate change.’ How is it possible that we have come to this? How does a puffed-up, vainglorious narcissist, whose every other word may well be a lie (that applies to both of them, Trump and Kim Jong-un), come not only to hold the peace of the world in his hands but perhaps the future of the planet? We have arrived at this point because of an inveterate unwillingness on the part of Americans to look history in the face and a laser-like focus on that same history by the leaders of North Korea.

North Korea celebrated the 85th anniversary of the foundation of the Korean People’s Army on 25 April, amid round-the-clock television coverage of parades in Pyongyang and enormous global tension. No journalist seemed interested in asking why it was the 85th anniversary when the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was only founded in 1948. What was really being celebrated was the beginning of the Korean guerrilla struggle against the Japanese in north-east China, officially dated to 25 April 1932. After Japan annexed Korea in 1910, many Koreans fled across the border, among them the parents of Kim Il-sung, but it wasn’t until Japan established its puppet state of Manchukuo in March 1932 that the independence movement turned to armed resistance. Kim and his comrades launched a campaign that lasted 13 difficult years, until Japan finally relinquished control of Korea as part of the 1945 terms of surrender. This is the source of the North Korean leadership’s legitimacy in the eyes of its people: they are revolutionary nationalists who resisted their country’s coloniser; they resisted again when a massive onslaught by the US air force during the Korean War razed all their cities, driving the population to live, work and study in subterranean shelters; they have continued to resist the US ever since; and they even resisted the collapse of Western communism – as of this September, the DPRK will have been in existence for as long as the Soviet Union. But it is less a communist country than a garrison state, unlike any the world has seen. Drawn from a population of just 25 million, the North Korean army is the fourth largest in the world, with 1.3 million soldiers – just behind the third largest army, with 1.4 million soldiers, which happens to be the American one. Most of the adult Korean population, men and women, have spent many years in this army: its reserves are limited only by the size of the population.

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Will Donald Trump Start The Second Korean War?

Doug Bandow writes for The Huffington Post:

[…] It’s hard to assess whether President Donald Trump is serious about going to war. He has no constitutional or legal authority to attack North Korea.

A majority of Americans say they are “uneasy” with his approach. Moreover, South Korean and Japanese assent would be necessary for Washington to use American forces stationed on their soil — unlikely given the potentially catastrophic consequences of starting the Second Korean War.

For the last quarter century a nuclear North Korea was prospect rather than reality. No longer. The North is believed to possess enough nuclear material for 20 bombs today and may accumulate enough material for 100 by 2024. With Pyongyang developing long-range missiles, the U.S. appears destined to face a small but potent North Korean nuclear deterrent.

The possibility is disconcerting, to say the least, even though there is no reason to believe that the North’s 33-year-old Kim Jong-un is suicidal. Still, who wants to rely on his good judgment to keep the peace, especially when matched against the equally impulsive and unpredictable Donald Trump?

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NPR Can’t Help Hyping North Korean Threat

Glen Frieden writes for Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR):

NPR: As North Korea Acts Out, A Search for Kim Jong Un's MotivesUN Ambassador Nikki Haley told the UN Security Council on March 8 that “all options are on the table” regarding North Korea. Between then and April 27, NPR.org published 60 stories on US/North Korea relations.

[…] North Korea’s dictatorial government uses the threat of war as a propaganda tool against its own population—fostering loyalty to itself and its military establishment. As NPR’s own reporting (3/23/16) put it, North Korea’s Kim Jong Un “needs to establish his own legitimacy, and that means standing up to enemies.” According to Brookings’ Sheena Greitens, interviewed in that piece: “North Korea might use a range of strategies…but we should remember that they’re all aimed at the same underlying, fundamental objective: ensuring Kim’s political survival.”

If North Korea’s warlike propaganda is so transparent, what should we think of the US media? Of course, professional journalists claim to pursue the truth, and report it in nobody’s interest but the public’s. But what if even a “serious” outlet like National Public Radio launches a flurry of fear-mongering at a word from the Pentagon? A survey of its coverage since March 8 suggests that NPR has promoted the perspective of the US government at the expense of public understanding of US/North Korean relations. The construction of foreign “threats” benefits both a national government hungry for legitimacy—and news organizations hungry for an audience.

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World’s Biggest Building Project Aims to Make China Great Again

Tom Phillips reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Belt and Road initiativeWhen the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, unveiled what some call the most ambitious development plan in history, Zhou Jun decided almost immediately he should head for the hills.

The 45-year-old entrepreneur packed his bags and set off for one of his country’s most staggeringly beautiful corners: a sleepy, high-altitude border outpost called Tashkurgan that – at almost 5,000km (3,100 miles) from Beijing – is the most westerly settlement in China.

“I saw a great opportunity to turn this little town into a mid-sized city,” Zhou explained during a tour of ‘Europa Manor’, a garish roadside spa he recently opened for Chinese tourists along the Karakoram, the legendary 1,300km highway that snakes through China’s rugged western mountains towards the 4,700m-high Khunjerab Pass.

Zhou said he was part of a wave of entrepreneurs now pouring into this isolated frontier near Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, hoping to cash in on President Xi’s “Belt and Road initiative”, a multi-billion dollar infrastructure campaign that looks set to transform large swaths of Asia and the world beyond.

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The War Between Globalism and Nationalism Is Just Getting Started

Ian Bremmer writes for Time Magazine:

When the storm turns out to be less severe than the warnings, there’s always a sigh of relief–and maybe a bit of over-confidence after the fact. If fans of the European Union felt better after populist Geert Wilders came up short in the Dutch elections in March, they also took heart from the absence of anti-E.U. firebrands among the leading contenders for this fall’s German elections. Then came May 7. The victory of Emmanuel Macron over Marine Le Pen in France’s presidential elections signaled that “the season of growth of populism has ended,” Antonio Tajani, president of the European Parliament, said on May 8.

Not so fast. Europeans will soon remember that elections are never the end of anything–they’re a beginning. And whether the issue is unelected Eurocrats’ forcing voters to abide by rules they don’t like or fears that borders are insecure, there are good reasons to doubt that the anti-E.U. fever has broken. France’s Macron now faces powerful opposition on both the far right and the far left. Hungary and Poland are becoming increasingly illiberal. Brexit negotiations are getting ugly. And resentment toward the E.U. is still rising throughout Europe.

In the U.S., President Donald Trump may be pushing what increasingly resembles a traditional Republican agenda, but polls show that his supporters are still eager for deeper disruption. Trump’s embrace of Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Egypt’s Abdul Fattah al-Sisi and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte suggests a lasting affinity with aggressive strongmen. His chief adviser and nationalist muse, Stephen Bannon, may be under fire, but he’s still there. The Trump presidency has only just begun.

In short, nationalism is alive and well, partly because the problems that provoked it are still with us. Growing numbers of people in the world’s wealthiest countries still fear that globalization serves only elites who care nothing about nations and borders. Moderate politicians still offer few effective solutions.

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The CIA Has a Long History of Helping to Kill Leaders Around the World

Ewen MacAskill reports for The Guardian:

Image result for CIA assassinationsSome of the most notorious of the CIA’s operations to kill world leaders were those targeting the late Cuban president, Fidel Castro. Attempts ranged from snipers to imaginative plots worthy of spy movie fantasies, such as the famous exploding cigars and a poison-lined scuba-diving suit.

But although the CIA attempts proved fruitless in the case of Castro, the US intelligence agency has since 1945 succeeded in deposing or killing a string of leaders elsewhere around the world – either directly or, more often, using sympathetic local military, locally hired criminals or pliant dissidents.

According to North Korea’s ministry of state security, the CIA has not abandoned its old ways. In a statement on Friday, it accused that the CIA and South Korea’s intelligence service of being behind an alleged recent an assassination attempt on its leader Kim Jong-un.

The attempt, according to the ministry, involved “the use of biochemical substances including radioactive substance and nano poisonous substance” and the advantage of this was it “does not require access to the target (as) their lethal results will appear after six or 12 months”.

The person directly responsible was allegedly a North Korean working for the foreign intelligence agencies.

A CIA spokesman refused to comment on the allegations.

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The Korean War’s Brutality Turned the Stomachs of America’s Most Hardened Soldiers

Darien Cavanaugh writes for War Is Boring:

[…] On a per-capita basis, the Korean War was one of the deadliest wars in modern history, especially for the civilian population of North Korea. The scale of the devastation shocked and disgusted the American military personnel who witnessed it, including some who had fought in the most horrific battles of World War II.

World War II was by far the bloodiest war in history. Estimates of the death toll range from 60 million to more than 85 million, with some suggesting that the number is actually even higher and that 50 million civilians may have perished in China alone. Even the lower estimates would account for roughly three percent of the world’s estimated population of 2.3 billion in 1940.

These are staggering numbers, and the death rate during the Korean War was comparable to what occurred in the hardest hit countries of World War II.

Several factors contributed to the high casualty ratios. The Korean Peninsula is densely populated. Rapidly shifting front lines often left civilians trapped in combat zones. Both sides committed numerous massacres and carried out mass executions of political prisoners. Modern aircraft carried out a vast bombing campaign, dropping massive loads of napalm along with standard bombs.

In fact, by the end of the war, the United States and its allies had dropped more bombs on the Korean Peninsula, the overwhelming majority of them on North Korea, than they had in the entire Pacific Theater of World War II.

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Pentagon Warns of Heavy Casualties in a New Korean War

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

While the content of a high-profile White House meeting in which the entire US Senate was briefed about North Korea has not been totally made public, official attempts to emphasize the non-military efforts being made appear to be just one aspect of the story, as the consequences of a military conflict appear to also have been discussed.

Military officials emphasized the increased naval buildup around the Korean Peninsula, and preparations being made for a new Korean War, while also offering some frank warnings that North Korea would certainly retaliate against an American attack, and that such a retaliation would include major attacks against US forces in South Korea, and the South Korean capital of Seoul.

This was something the Senate was warned about, but has been surprisingly rarely discussed in public as the US masses forces in the area and talks up “taking care of” North Korea one way or another. Indeed, the White House has gone out of its way to dismiss North Korea’s retaliatory capabilities.

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Shocking Exposé Reveals Trump Associates and ISIS-Linked Vigilantes Are Attempting Coup in Indonesia

Amy Goodman speaks with investigative journalist Allan Nairn about his shocking new exposé that reveals backers of Donald Trump in Indonesia have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS in an attempt to oust Indonesia’s president. Writing in The Intercept, Nairn reveals that Indonesians involved in the coup attempt include a corporate lawyer working for the mining company Freeport-McMoRan, which is controlled by Trump adviser Carl Icahn. Video has even emerged showing the lawyer at a ceremony where men are swearing allegiance to ISIS. According to Nairn, two of the other most prominent supporters of the coup are close associates of Donald Trump—Fadli Zon, vice speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives, and Hary Tanoe, Trump’s primary Indonesian business partner, who is building two Trump resorts, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta. Nairn’s article is making waves in Indonesia. (Democracy Now!)

How Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner Personally Profit from Their Roles in the White House

Amy Goodman and Nermeen Sheikh speak with Vicky Ward, New York Times best-selling author, investigative journalist and contributor to Esquire and Huffington Post Highline magazine, about whether Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner are personally profiting from their official roles in the White House. (Democracy Now!)

Ivanka Trump Brand Secures China Trademarks on Day U.S. President Met Xi Jinping

Benjamin Haas reports for The Guardian:

Related imageAs Donald Trump and Chinese president Xi Jinping dined on Dover sole and New York strip steak earlier this month, thousands of miles away in China a government office quietly approved trademarks that could benefit the US president’s family.

On the day the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump met the Chinese leader, China granted preliminary approval for three new trademarks for her namesake brand, covering jewellery, bags and spa service, according to official documents.

Her company, Ivanka Trump Marks LLC, has been granted four additional trademarks since her father’s inauguration and has 32 pending, according to the Associated Press, which first reported the new approvals.

Donald Trump’s White House has created a minefield of ethics concerns, according to critics, and the president and his top officials represent one of the wealthiest cabinets in history, with business empires spanning the globe. Ivanka Trump was appointed assistant to the president last month, after previously saying she would not join her father’s administration.

Ivanka Trump no longer manages her clothing, jewellery and accessories brand, but still owns the business and is frequently seen wearing clothes from her own collection. She has put her business in a trust, run by family members.

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Advocates Urge President Trump to De-escalate Tensions with North Korea

Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez speak with Christine Hong, associate professor at University of California, Santa Cruz, and an executive board member of the Korea Policy Institute, and Bruce Cumings, professor of history at the University of Chicago and the author of several books on the Korean Peninsula including Korea’s Place in the Sun: A Modern History and North Korea: Another Country. Cumings’ most recent piece for The Nation is titled: This Is What’s Really Behind North Korea’s Nuclear Provocations. (Democracy Now!)

North Korea Says Syria Airstrikes Prove Its Nukes Justified

The Associated Press reports:

TV screen broadcasting a news report on North Korea's long range rocket launch on February 7, 2016.North Korea has vowed to bolster its defenses to protect itself against airstrikes like the ones President Donald Trump ordered against an air base in Syria.

The North called the airstrikes “absolutely unpardonable” and said they prove its nuclear weapons are justified to protect the country against Washington’s “evermore reckless moves for a war.”

The comments were made by a Foreign Ministry official and carried Sunday by North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. The report did not name the official, which is common in KCNA reports.

The airstrikes, announced shortly after Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up dinner at a two-day summit in Florida last week, were retaliation against Syrian President Bashar Assad for a chemical weapons attack against civilians caught up in his country’s long civil war.

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Trump Meets His Creditor – China’s Xi Jinping

Andreas Becker writes for DW:

Infografik US trade deficitUS President Donald Trump loves to portray his country as a victim of free trade. That’s because the United States buys many goods from all over the world, but sells far less in exchange. The US has done this year after year for decades – in fact, for 41 years in a row, and counting. It has gone ever deeper into debt to the rest of the world, running a trade deficit to the tune of $750 billion (704 billion euros) in 2016 alone.

Trump keeps calling that “unfair.” But is it really? And does running trade deficits actually harm the United States?
The US trade deficit is caused by American businesses importing more goods than the country exported. By contrast, the US exported more services than it imported – in 2016, it ran a surplus of $250 billion in the value of services exported over the value of services imported.

Those numbers played an important role in the US presidential campaign. Many Americans believe the US trade deficit in goods is linked to a long-term decline in US industries, in which factories have moved abroad – especially to Mexico and China – and millions of American jobs lost. Trump was elected on a promise to turn that situation around.

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At 93, Henry Kissinger is Still Doing Deals and Courting Controversy in China

Heather Timmons and Ilaria Maria Sala write for Quartz:

Former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger listens to questions during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, January 31, 2007.   REUTERS/Jim Young    (UNITED STATES) - RTR1LU5MFormer secretary of state Henry Kissinger may be in his nineties, but he’s continuing to play a key, globe-spanning role in one of the most substantive foreign policy negotiations of the US presidency so far.

Kissinger, who brokered a ground-breaking detente between the US and China’s Communist Party’s in 1972, has served a valued go-between for the two nations for more than four decades, earning him the nickname of “old friend of the Chinese people.” It’s privilege he has shared with at least 600 people, although Kissinger may be the living person who has held the nickname the longest.

As recently as December, when then US president-elect Donald Trump threatened upheaval between the world’s most powerful nations, by accepting a congratulatory call from Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen, Kissinger was already in Beijing with Chinese president Xi Jinping, reassuring him that “overall, we hope to see the China-US relationship moving ahead in a sustained and stable manner.” (A Bloomberg report suggested that Xi may have turned to the venerable diplomat to better understand Trump, telling Kissinger he was “all ears” regarding what he had to say about the future of US-China relations.)

Kissinger met with the incoming Trump administration soon after the election, and helped to connect Chinese politicians with the US president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, the Washington Post reports—connections that ultimately led to this week’s meeting.

In doing so, he’s opened up a now familiar controversy in the US—who does Kissinger work for, exactly, and whose side is he on?

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South Korea Removes President, North Korea Test Fires Missile During Annual U.S. War Games

Amy Goodman speaks to University of Chicago professor Bruce Cumings, author of several books on the Koreas, and Christine Ahn, founder and international coordinator of Women Cross DMZ, about ousted South Korean leader Park Geun-hye and North Korea’s latest missile test. (Democracy Now!)

Suspect in North Korea killing ‘thought she was taking part in TV prank’

Oliver Holmes reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Suspect in North Korea killingAn Indonesian woman arrested for suspected involvement in the killing of the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s half-brother in Malaysia was duped into thinking she was part of a comedy show prank, Indonesia’s national police chief has said, citing information received from Malaysian authorities.

Meanwhile, Malaysian police said on Saturday they had arrested a North Korean man in connection with the murder.

The man was identified as Ri Jong Chol, born in 1970. He was arrested on Friday night in Selangor state, the police said in a statement. He is the fourth suspect to be arrested.

Indonesia’s national police chief, Tito Karnavian, told reporters in Indonesia’s Aceh province that the Indonesian woman, 25-year-old Siti Aisyah, was paid to be involved in pranks .

He said she and another woman performed stunts which involved convincing men to close their eyes and then spraying them with water.

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Steve Bannon: ‘We’re Going to War in the South China Sea… No Doubt’

Benjamin Haas reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Steve Bannon: 'We're Going to War in the South China Sea... No Doubt'The United States and China will fight a war within the next 10 years over islands in the South China Sea, and “there’s no doubt about that”. At the same time, the US will be in another “major” war in the Middle East.

Those are the views – nine months ago at least – of one of the most powerful men in Donald Trump’s administration, Steve Bannon, the former head of far-right news website Breitbart who is now chief strategist at the White House.

In the first weeks of Trump’s presidency, Bannon has emerged as a central figure. He was appointed to the “principals committee” of the National Security Council in a highly unusual move and was influential in the recent travel ban on citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, overruling Department of Homeland Security officials who felt the order did not apply to green card holders.

While many in Trump’s team are outspoken critics of China, in radio shows Bannon hosted for Breitbart he makes plain the two largest threats to America: China and Islam.

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Silicon Valley Super-Rich Head south to Escape from a Global Apocalypse

Hayden Donnell reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Global Apocalypse new zealandAt the Republican party convention in Cleveland last July, Trump donor Peter Thiel declared himself ‘“most of all, proud to be an American”. So it came as something of a surprise for New Zealanders to discover that the PayPal co-founder and Facebook board member had become an honorary Kiwi – joining a growing band of wealthy Americans seeking a haven from a possible global apocalypse.

Thiel was recently revealed to have bought a £4.5m lakeside property near the New Zealand town of Wanaka in 2015. When New Zealand Herald reporter Matt Nippert asked why Thiel had been allowed to buy land that appears to fit the classification of “sensitive” without permission from the country’s Overseas Investment Office, he was told it wasn’t necessary – Thiel was already a citizen.

The revelation was met with confusion. By the time of his appearance at the Republican convention, Thiel had already bought 193 hectares of pristine South Island land using his rights as a Kiwi. Politicians asked why a billionaire most famous for adamantly supporting Donald Trump and bankrolling the lawsuits that bankrupted Gawker Media had been allowed not only to buy land in New Zealand, but to make the country part of his future and identity. Winston Peters, leader of the New Zealand First party, accused the National government of “selling citizenship” to foreigners.

Thiel, who retains his American citizenship, in fact became a joint US-New Zealand citizen in 2011 and has described the country as “Utopia”, investing heavily in business start-ups.

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China Urges Trump Administration to Grasp Importance of ‘One China’

Reuters reports:

Related imageThe new U.S. administration must fully understand the importance of the “one China” policy and appreciate that the issue of Taiwan is highly sensitive for the Beijing government, China said on Monday.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who was inaugurated on Friday, said in December the United States did not necessarily have to stick to its long-standing position that Taiwan is part of “one China”.

Earlier, Trump broke with decades of precedent by taking a telephone call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen.

According to Beijing’s one China principle, Taiwan and mainland China are inalienable parts of a single “China”. Beijing views Taiwan as a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

However, proudly democratic Taiwan shows no interest in being ruled by Beijing.

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China Ready To Assume ‘World Leadership’, Slams Western Democracy As ‘Flawed’

Tyler Durden reports for Zero Hedge:

Image result for China Ready To Assume 'World Leadership', Slams Western Democracy Is 'Flawed'Over the weekend China used the Trump inauguration to warn about the perils of democracy, touting the relative stability of the Communist system as President Xi Jinping heads toward a twice-a-decade reshuffle of senior leadership posts.

Without directly referencing the new president, China wrote that democracy has reached its limits, and deterioration is the inevitable future of capitalism, according to the People’s Daily, the flagship paper of China’s Communist Party. It devoted an entire page on Sunday to critiquing Western democracies, quoting former Chairman Mao Zedong’s 1949 poem asking people to “range far your eyes over long vistas” and saying the ultimate defeat of capitalism would enable Communism to emerge victorious.

“The emergence of capitalism’s social crisis is the most updated evidence to show the superiority of socialism and Marxism,” said one of the People’s Daily articles.

“Western style democracy used to be a recognized power in history to drive social development. But now it has reached its limits,” said another article on the same page. “Democracy is already kidnapped by the capitals and has become the weapon for capitalists to chase profits.”

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Trump Withdraws From Trans-Pacific Partnership Amid Flurry of Orders

David Smith reports for The Guardian:

Image result for trump tppDonald Trump has begun his effort to dismantle Barack Obama’s legacy, formally scrapping a flagship trade deal with 11 countries in the Pacific rim.

The new president also signed executive orders to ban funding for international groups that provide abortions, and placing a hiring freeze on non-military federal workers.

Trump’s decision not to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) came as little surprise. During his election campaign he railed against international trade deals, blaming them for job losses and focusing anger in the industrial heartland. Obama had argued that this deal would provide an effective counterweight to China in the region.

“Everyone knows what that means, right?” Trump said at Monday’s signing ceremony in the White House. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time. It’s a great thing for the American worker.”

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Trump Hypes Missile Defense Systems Targeting Iran and North Korea

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

Image result for Missile DefenseWithin mere minutes of his inauguration, President Trump’s White House website laid out a series of new policy positions, including a promise to develop a “state-of-the-art” missile defense system to protect against both Iran and North Korea.

The statement was prominently positioned, underscoring it as a point of emphasis for the new administration, but provided no details on what the announcement actually means, and indeed whether or not it marks any change from the existing missile defense systems the US has been throwing money at over the years.

The US started bankrolling anti-Iran missile defense systems way back in the Bush Administration’s waning years, a sore subject in US-Russia relations because Bush was positioning them all right along the Russian frontier, and far outside the range of Iran’s best missiles. In more recent years, the US has been scrambling to get a system in place in South Korea targeting their neighbor to the north as well.

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The Rise of the Strongman Is Bad News for Women

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed reports for The National:

Image result for The rise of the strongman is bad news for womenDark clouds are gathering overhead for the world’s women. With the inauguration of Donald Trump the state of global gender relations will probably face another onslaught.

We’ve seen the bad behaviours against women that he has exhibited at a personal level.

Now what we must face up to is that his powerful public leadership status underscores a resurgence of the demagogic “strongman” in global politics. Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, Xi Jinping, and of course the persistence of the strongman in the Middle East affects the tenor of global politics.

The macho leader, egotistic, unilateral and chest-thumping, worries us because of the grandstanding, bullying and violence that all too often follows in their wake.

What a strongman at the head of a nation also does is to impact our ideas of what it means to be a “man” and what is acceptable male behaviour at an ordinary day-to-day level. It sets a precedent about how men can or even must behave in order to be men and gives permission for treating women – or minorities – badly. It gives permission to regressive notions of gender relations which still fall desperately short of balance for the genders.

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How Japan Has Almost Eradicated Gun Crime

Harry Low writes for BBC World Service:

Japanese man points gun at cameraJapan has one of the lowest rates of gun crime in the world. In 2014 there were just six gun deaths, compared to 33,599 in the US. What is the secret?

If you want to buy a gun in Japan you need patience and determination. You have to attend an all-day class, take a written exam and pass a shooting-range test with a mark of at least 95%.

There are also mental health and drugs tests. Your criminal record is checked and police look for links to extremist groups. Then they check your relatives too – and even your work colleagues. And as well as having the power to deny gun licences, police also have sweeping powers to search and seize weapons.

That’s not all. Handguns are banned outright. Only shotguns and air rifles are allowed.

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Nomi Prins: My Political-Financial Road Map for 2017

Nomi Prins, former managing director at Goldman Sachs and author of All The Presidents’ Bankers, writes:

Happy New Year! May yours be peaceful, safe and impactful!

As tumultuous as last year was from a global political perspective on the back of a rocky start market-wise, 2017 will be much more so. The central bank subsidization of the financial system (especially in the US and Europe) that began with the Fed invoking zero interest rate policy in 2008, gave way to international distrust of the enabling status quo that unfolded in different ways across the planet. My prognosis is for more destabilization, financially and politically.  In other words, the world’s a mess.

Over 2016, I circled the earth to gain insight and share my thoughts on this path from financial crisis to central bank market manipulation to geo-political fall out, while researching my new book, Artisans of Money. (I’m pressing to hand in my manuscript by February 28th – the book should emerge in the Fall.)

I traveled through countries Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, England and Germany, nations epitomizing various elements of the artisanal money effect. I spoke with farmers, teachers and truck-drivers as well as politicians, private and central bankers. I explored that chasm between news and reality to investigate the ways in which elite power endlessly permeates the existence of regular people.

In last year’s roadmap, I wrote we were in a “transitional phase of geo-political-monetary power struggles, capital flow decisions, and fundamental economic choices. This remains a period of artisanal (central bank fabricated) money, high volatility, low growth, excessive wealth inequality, extreme speculation, and policies that preserve the appearance of big bank liquidity and concentration at the expense of long-term stability.”

That happened. Going forward, as always, there’s endless amount of information to process. The state of economies, citizens and governments remains more precarious than ever. Major areas on the upcoming docket include – central bank desperation, corporate defaults and related job losses, economic impact of political isolationism, conservatism and deregulation, South America’s woes, Europe’s EU voter rejections, and the ongoing power shift from the West to the East.

For now, I’d like to share with you some specific items – which are by no means exhaustive, that I’ll be analyzing in 2017.

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The Long and Painful Journey to World Disorder

Martin Wolf, influential journalist and regular attendee at Bilderberg and Davos, writes for The Financial Times:

It is not true that humanity cannot learn from history. It can and, in the case of the lessons of the dark period between 1914 and 1945, the west did. But it seems to have forgotten those lessons. We are living, once again, in an era of strident nationalism and xenophobia. The hopes of a brave new world of progress, harmony and democracy, raised by the market opening of the 1980s and the collapse of Soviet communism between 1989 and 1991, have turned into ashes.

What lies ahead for the US, creator and guarantor of the postwar liberal order, soon to be governed by a president who repudiates permanent alliances, embraces protectionism and admires despots? What lies ahead for a battered EU, contemplating the rise of “illiberal democracy” in the east, Brexit and the possibility of Marine Le Pen’s election to the French presidency?

What lies ahead now that Vladimir Putin’s irredentist Russia exerts increasing influence on the world and China has announced that Xi Jinping is not first among equals but a “core leader”?

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