An Action Agenda for Sustainable Development is a report of 23 October, 2013 prepared for the UN Secretary General by the Leadership Council of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN), which engages scientists, engineers, business and civil society leaders, and development practitioners for evidence-based problem solving.
The report identifies four dimensions of sustainable development:
(i) the right to development for every country,
(ii) human rights and social inclusion,
(iii) convergence of living standards across countries, and
(iv) shared responsibilities and opportunities.
Ten interconnected priority challenges each contributes to the four dimensions of sustainable development:
(1) End Extreme Poverty Including Hunger: End extreme poverty in all its forms, including hunger, child stunting, malnutrition, and food insecurity; and support highly vulnerable countries (MDGs 1-7).
(2) Achieve Development within Planetary Boundaries: All countries have a right to development that respects planetary boundaries, ensures sustainable production and consumption patterns, and helps to stabilize the global population by mid-century.
(3) Ensure Effective Learning for All Children and Youth for Life and Livelihood: All girls and boys complete affordable and high-quality early childhood development programs, primary, and secondary education to prepare them for the challenges of modern life and decent livelihoods. All youth and adults have access to continuous lifelong learning to acquire functional literacy, numeracy, and skills to earn a living through decent employment or self-employment.
(4) Achieve Gender Equality, Social Inclusion, and Human Rights for All: Ensure gender equality, human rights, the rule of law, and universal access to public services. Reduce relative poverty and other inequalities that cause social exclusion. Prevent and eliminate violence and exploitation, especially for women and children.
(5) Achieve Health and Wellbeing at All Ages: All countries achieve universal health coverage at every stage of life, with particular emphasis on primary health services, including mental and reproductive health, to ensure that all people receive quality health services without suffering financial hardship. Countries implement policies to create enabling social conditions that promote the health of populations and help individuals make healthy and sustainable decisions related to their daily living.
(6) Improve Agriculture Systems and Raise Rural Prosperity: Improve farming practices, rural infrastructure, and access to resources for food production to increase productivity of agriculture, livestock, and fisheries, raise smallholder incomes, reduce environmental impacts, promote rural prosperity, and ensure resilience to climate change.
(7) Empower Inclusive, Productive and Resilient Cities: Make all cities socially inclusive, economically productive, environmentally sustainable, secure, and resilient to climate change and other risks. Develop participatory, accountable, and effective city governance to support rapid and equitable urban transformation.
(8) Curb Human-Induced Climate Change and Ensure Sustainable Energy: Curb greenhouse gas emissions from energy, industry, agriculture, built environment, and land--use change to ensure a peak of global CO2 emissions by 2020 and to head off the rapidly growing dangers of climate change. Promote sustainable energy for all.
(9) Secure Ecosystem Services and Biodiversity, and Ensure Good Management of Water and Other Natural Resources: Biodiversity, marine, and terrestrial ecosystems of local, regional and global significance are inventoried, managed, and monitored to ensure the continuation of resilient and adaptive life support systems and to support sustainable development. Water and other natural resources are managed sustainably and transparently to support inclusive economic and human development.
(10) Transform Governance for Sustainable Development: The public sector, business, and other stakeholders commit to good governance, including transparency, accountability, access to information, participation, an end to tax and secrecy havens, and efforts to stamp out corruption. The international rules governing international finance, trade, corporate reporting, technology, and intellectual property are made consistent with achieving the SDGs. The financing of poverty reduction and global public goods including efforts to head off climate change are strengthened and based on a graduated set of global rights and responsibilities.
The world has changed profoundly since 2000 when the Millennium Declaration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted. In particular, five shifts will make the coming fifteen-year period, 2015-2030, different from the MDG period ending in 2015:
(i) The feasibility of ending extreme poverty in all its forms,
(ii) A drastically higher human impact on the physical Earth,
(iii) Rapid technological change,
(iv) Increasing inequality and
(v) A growing diffusion and complexity of governance.
The SDSN supports the Rio+20 vision of sustainable development as a holistic concept addressing four dimensions of society: economic development (including the end of extreme poverty), social inclusion, environmental sustainability, and good governance including peace and security.
The report argues that the world needs an operational sustainable development framework that can mobilize all key actors (national and local governments, civil society, business, science, and academia) in every country (developed and developing) to move away from the Business-as-Usual (BAU) trajectory towards a truly Sustainable Development (SD) path.
"Produced by the Development, Concepts and Doctrine Centre (DCDC), Global Strategic Trends (GST) is an examination of the strategic context that faces defence and the challenges and opportunities it provides for the Ministry of Defence (MOD)".Click here
"This is the 4th edition produced by DCDC as part of the Global Strategic Trends programme, and describes how the period out to 2040 will be a time of continuing transition, characterised by uncertainty, challenge and opportunity. The document gives a detailed consideration of how climate change, global inequality, population growth, resource scarcity and the shifting balance of global power will transform the strategic context and create persistent, complex, global challenges."
Updated to 17 October, 2013, the DCDC document covers much of the grounds highlighted in the National Intellignce Council (NIC) Report's "Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds" dated December 2012. Click here
Both the DCDC and the NIC research documents serve as an up-todate strategic tour d'horizon of global trends, threats and opportunities in the coming decades.
Greetings! May I wish you peace and progress in a troubled world.
With the Ukraine face-off between Russia and the West, the world is now a very different place. I am not just talking about Russia's "near-abroad". I am referring to the possible emergence of a new Cold War.
Will this drive Russia closer to China, the latter's expanding eastern Siberia settlement notwithstanding? Will the United States have to re-balance its Asian Pivot, given changed global dynamics, strained financial and military resources and a war-weary electorate? Will this unfold a new era of Chinese diplomacy? How will the Grand Chessboard be playing out?
As for China, with a slowing economy, shadow banking risks, worsening ecological strains, and uncertain foreign relations, what is the outlook for 2014 and beyond? Would China and the United States be able to seize the opportunity of stabilizing the world's monetary and economic systems? Will blue skies ever return to China's cities? How realistic is the "China Dream"?
Meanwhile, e-commerce and re-shoring are changing businesses and banking paradigms. High-speed rail and a "Golden Age of Gas" are reshaping geopolitics and geo-economics.
On the above topics and more, I hope you may find some food for thought in the following analyses -
What next over Ukriane? (An analytical commentary)
A Second Cold War looms in the horizon (An analytical commentary)
Ukraine caught in Russia's tussle for power with the West (My Op-ed in the South China Morning Post)
Grand Chessboard over Ukraine's Future (An analytical commentary)
Khodorkovsky arrives in Germany (My radio interview on BBC World Service)
The Future of Europe and the Ukrainian crisis - George Soros (Gist of his interview with Spiegel)
A New Era of Chinese Diplomacy Unfolds?(Will China dominate or lead the world? An analytical commentary)
Global Dynamics of the China Dream and Possible Turkish-China Relationship in a New Silk Road to Renaissance (My 8,701-word research Paper accepted for presentation at an international conference at Cambridge University, UK)
Japan should have the courage to face its past (My Op-ed in the South China Morning Post)
China's Human Rights Report on the United States (My interview on on RT, Russia's premier English-language TV channel)
How the United States and China could help stabilize the world's monetary and economic systems (An analytical commentary)
Challenges of a Rising China
Will China dominate the 21st Century? (An analytical commentary)
In defense of the Communist Party of China (CPC) - by Eric X Li, venture capitalist and political scientist on TED (A subsequent more balanced debate )
Is there growing tension within China's Communist Party? Would a Rising China start a war? (An analytical commentary)
Third Plenum - Bold Reforms for the China Dream(A presentation to the Samurai Group, a Japanese business network in Hong Kong)
Why is it getting harder for Beijing to govern?(A review of Professor David M Lampton's book “Following the Leader: Ruling China, From Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping”, University of California Press, 2014)
Technology and Business
China's Economy - Outlook for 2014 (My feature article for The Global Analyst, a business journal based in India)
World Wide Web - Global Force for Good? (My appearance on a TV panel discussion on Inside Story with Aljazeera English Channel)
High Speed Empire - China's global rail ambitions (A feature report in Foreign Policy)
How technology will transform Asia's and potentially the world's finance and banking (A Working Paper by Senior Fellow Andrew Cainey of the Fung Global Institute)
Next-Shoring: A CEO Guide (A Mckinsey Quarterly report )
Blue Skies for China’s Cities - A multi-dimensional strategy (My presentation at the International Green Economy Association Conference in Beijing, 18-19, January, 2014)
Forging a Sustainable Future for the Mekong (A report by ChinaDialogue, an international environmental journal)
Watch the beauty and majesty of Earth from above ("Home" , a visually-stunning and emotionally-touching film produced in 2009 by Goodplanet.org)
Cheer up and chill out
If too much serious reading gets you down, here is a repertoire of inspirational music videos which may provide you with an uplift in spirits
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Speaking and lecturing opportunities
Throughout the year, subject to mutual agreement, I am open to invitations for speaking engagements or visiting lectures worldwide on China-related topics. The following suggestions may be of interest -
The China Dream and the Third Plenum
The Ascent of the RMB, the Chinese currency
How technology, rural land reform, and financial liberalizasion would revolutionize banking services in China
A business networking and speaking platform in Hong Kong
As an Advisor to the Denmark-based Executives’ Global Network (EGN) Hong Kong, may I extend to you the opportunity of fielding a suitable speaker for an EGN event in Hong Kong? This will be entirely at our cost with acknowledgement of your support or that of your organization, provided that we are not asked to cover any speaking fee, travel or accommodation expenses.
For background on EGN, please visit the following links -
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Chairman and CEO, Andrew Leung International Consultants Limited (Founded in London) Brain Trust Member, The Evian Group (global think-tank), Lausanne, Switzerland Senior Analyst, Wikistrat, an online global strategic consultancy Gerson Lehrman Group (Global Experts) Council Member International Expert, Reuters Insight Community of Experts, Thompson Reuters China Futures Fellow, Berkshire Publishing Group, Massachusetts, USA Distinguished Contributor, Asymmetric Threats Contingency Alliance (ATCA) (global think-tank) Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (FRSA) Elected Member, Royal Society for Asian Affairs Visiting Professor, London Metropolitan University Business School Visiting Professor, Sun Yat-sen University Business School, China (2005-10) Senior Consultant, MEC International Global Commercial Agent, Changsha City, China Member, Board of Advisors of Denmark-based Executive Global Network (EGN), Hong Kong Member, Board of Advisors of The Global Analyst, India Member, Board of Multitude Foundation, a HK-registered charitable trust (The following until 19 May 2010, on permanent relocation back to Hong Kong) Governing Council Member, King’s College London, UK (2004-2010) Advisory Board Member, China Policy Institute, Nottingham University, UK (2005 -2010) Founding Chairman, China Group, Institute of Directors City Branch, London, UK (2006-2010) Vice Chairman, 48 Group Club, UK (2008-2010) Committee Member of RSA, London Region, UK (2006-2010)
Included in UK's Who's Who since 2002 Awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star (SBS) in the July 2005 Hong Kong Honours List
In his provocative TED talk A Tale of Two Political Systems in June 2013, Eric X Li articulates how the Communsit Party of China (CPC) can achieve Adaptability, Meritorcracy, and Legitimacy.
Li stresses, rightly, that he does not mean to discredit Democracy, but merely tries to show that multi-party democracy may not be the only trick that works in a diverse world. He is also right to point out that the CPC is in continual metamorphosis to keep up with the times. The system is unique to China's circumstances and is not meant to serve as a model for other countries.
Yasheng Huang, Professor of Political Economy and International Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management, however, took Eric X Li to task in a comprehensive critque on a TED Blog on 1 July 2013. Click here.
The Professor doesn't argue that democracy will necessarily lead "to a nirvana" but that "it can help prevent a living hell". He admits that he is not for democracy on "messianic" but on "pragmatic" grounds - i.e. that it works better on the whole. Throughout his arguments, he sets great store on the right to vote.
There is much in Professor Huang's robust argument to commend itself. However, China now doesn't pretend that the Communist system is the be-all-and-end-all to be emulated by the rest of the world. Indeed, the leadership has repeately refrained from this hubris.
Perhaps the debate would have been more precise if the focus was shifted to whether China for the past few decades would have fared better as a democracy. Such a hypothetical question, of course, cannot be supported by facts. However, evidence shows that gripping social and environmental costs notwithstanding, the CPC managed to channel huge national resources and productivity over a sustained period, building the solid human capital and physical infrastructure which have driven the country's dramatic rise so far.
There is ample evidence to show that the CPC has been renewing itself continuously, out of the sheer need to survive in the changing times. Moreover, it is doubtful whether, given the political, economic, social and historical bottlenecks that China inherited before the Reform Era, these herculean challenges could have been overcome better by Western democracy. Click here
For perspective, in an earlier TED Talk in July 2011, Professor Huang tried to answer the question if democracy stifles economic growth by comparing the models of development between China and India. The comparison shows that at best, the answer is nuanced. Neverthless, he omitted to point out that China's miraculous growth in recent decades owes not so much to politics as to the nation becoming the hub of a global trading and manufacturing system.
Following Professor Huang's India-China comparison, it is instructive that in Indian Foreign Policy, an Indian blog commentary dated 15 March 2014 concluded that "nuances of human rights aside and without hindsight ..... democracy does seem to slow the rate of growth in the case of India and China". Click here
Nevertheless, this does not mean that China will not embark on her own quest for a more democratic future. In face of rising aspirations of a massive middle-class, the current leadership is only too aware of the existential threat that lies ahead. Even though the dramatic reforms of the Third Plenum do not appear as revolutionary as they ought to be in some Western eyes, this does mark another clear watershed in China's continuing quest for development, unfettered by any "meta-narrative" of Western model of democracy. Click here
In conclusion, the jury is still out on whether and how China would be able to transform herself politically as the nation emerges as a well-off middle-income society. But so far, it seems unlikely that the country is about to embrace the Western model of democracy anytime soon.
The Arctic Region is looming as an epochal game changer. As the Arctic ice melts, a cornucopia of energy and other resources are open to possible scramble. Moreover, the Northern Passage of Canada as well as the sea passage north of Russia are likely to become more navigable, opening up much shorter sea routes for international trade that may circumvent the sea ports in the Asia-Pacific, as depicted by a Brookings Institution introductory YouTube video
It's opportune that the United States will be assuming chairmanship of the Arctic Council in 2015, taking the opportunity to enhance Arctic governance. A Brookings Energy Security Initiative Report "Offshore Oil and Gas Governance in the Arctic - A Leadership Role for the U.S." dated March 2014 outlines some recommendations.
This game-changer was heralded by Trausti Valsson in his book "How the World Will Change with Global Warming", University of Iceland Press, 2006. It was featured in my blog of 6 September, 2008 under How Green geopolitics and geo-economics will change China and the World.
As China has no legal right to any territorial claim in the Arctic Circle, the Middle Kingdom is likely to lose out in terms of claims on Arctic resources. What is even more important, the global gravitas of China's Pacific container ports is likely to wane. On the other hand, Arctic shipping routes will provide China with alternative sea routes bypassing Pacific Ocean "choke points" controlled by the United States. Click here
Hence China has been proactive in joining the Arctic Council as an approved Observer, alongside with other Asian countries i.e. India, Japan, Republic of Korea and Singapore. Click here
Be that as it may, the ecology of the Arctic is vital to the ecosystem of the whole planet, including ocean acidity, climate-changing currents, food chains and species survival, not to mention other global revulsions of Climate Change. There is thus irrefutable argument that the Arctic should remain a common heritage, which the Arctic "sovereign countries" should hold in trust for mankind.
It is therefore to be hoped that coming discussions to enhance Arctic governance will not morph into agreeing a plan to divide up the potentail sploils of Energy and Resource in the Arctic. More importantly, the opportunity should be taken of formulating a global agenda for the custody in trust of this relatively unspoilt treasure of Mother Earth
A recent interview with George Soros on The Future of Europe was conducted by Spiegelcorrespondent Gregor Peter Schmitz. Parts of it appear in their book,The Tragedy of the European Union: Disintegration or Revival?, just published by PublicAffairs.
At the interview, Soros discussed the Ukrianian crisis at length. He reckons that Putin's aggressiveness is really a sign of weakness, due to less than apparently solid popular support at home and vulnerability of the Russian economy. Nevertheless, he suggests that it would serve no useful purpose in pushing the impasse over the precipice. The question is how to resolve the situation hopefully safeguarding the West's advantage.
While agreeing that financial sanctions could work if properly targetted at financial inflows into Russia, Soros thinks that the West should put greater store in shoring up the finances of Ukraine and integrating it more vigorously into the economies of the European Union. This can be achieved in concert with an adequate IMF financial package as well as much closer economic, trade and investment links with the EU.
Soros also thinks that the EU doesn't have to have a confrontational relationship with Russia. Now with massive mutual investment and trade flows having become a reality, both the EU and Russia stand to benefit from a more benigh yet balanced relationship.
Click here for the full text of the Spiegel interview.
Soro's idea to achieve a more stable Europe tallies with Zbigniew Brzezinski's "Strategic Vision" for the United States to re-shape the global order, involving a re-balance of a "Complex East" and creation of a "Larger West", hoping to bring Russia (along with Turkey) into a Europe more amenable to Western norms. Click here
However, reality seems to dim the hope for a U.S.-led European order. One of Putin's closest advisors, Professor Aleksandr Dugin, a geostrategic and ideological theorist, recently published his visualization of three possible scenarios over the Ukrainian crisis, all interwined with the global order. One of these assumed Russia buckling under Western pressure, the second, armed conflict spiralling into global Armageddon, and the third, which he dubs “the Russian Spring,” featuring Russia leading a peaceful revolution across Europe, freeing the continent from alleged America-led Atlanticism, liberalist hegemony and Western financial oligarchy supported by dollar supremacy. Click here
Putin's latest aggression over Ukraine underlines the resurgence of Russian revanchism. In the circumstances, it seems that Brzezinski's America-led European vision is becoming even more difficult, if not totally unreal.
Notwithstanding the face-off between Russia and the West over Ukraine, the possibility of a Second Cold War emerging in Europe is often dismissed on grounds of Russia's perceived economic weakness, her vulnerability to sanctions, and declining support in the global commons. In short, the premiss is that unlike the last Cold War, Russia's hard power is now no match to America's economic and financial clout, supported by military supremacy. How valid is this thinking?
First,let's draw a comparison with China. The Middle Kingdom's military, notwithstanding recent rapid modernization and expansion, remains decades behind the United States. But is this sufficient to maintain the Age of Pax Americana? The answer is no. The reason is that with a more interconnected and globalized world, warfare takes many forms and is increasingly asymmetric and localized. China's A2/AD (anti-access, area denial) capabilities comes to mind, despite America's eleven ultra-modern aircraft-carrier battle groups and extensive global outposts. If American superiority is not stopping China's power projection, why should it stop an aggressive Russia on Putin's home turf? Moreover, if push comes to shove, Russia still possesses one of the world's most destructive arsenals with continental delivery abilities.
Second, following collapse of the former USSR, Russia is admittedly only a fraction of her former Cold War self. But she is in possession of a formidable weapon - an "empire of energy supply crisscrossing Europe. (See "Pipelines of Empire" on Forbes online by no less an eminent strategic thinker than Robert D Kaplan, an advisor to the Pentagon).Click here In anticipation of possible falling European demand for Russian energy, Putin is developing a much closer, though still guarded, relationship with China, the world's largest energy consumer for many decades to come. Russia became President Xi's first overseas port of call, where the two sides agreed to triple Russian oil exports to China to 45-50 million tonnes, possibly by 2018, making China sooner or later the largest consumer of Russian oil. This insurance policy is of no avail for the current Ukraine crisis. But likewise, short of an infrastructural miracle across Europe, it seems far-fetched to claim that American shale gas could replace Russian energy in Europe anytime soon.
Third,barring immediate security threats or a world-war, for which no world power has sufficient political appetite or financial firepower, nations treasure foremost the economy with all the jobs implied. For China, her global gravitas comes from the mere fact that 126 nations around the globe have China as the largest trading partner, compared with 76 in the case of the United States. Yes, Russia is no China. It doesn't trade as much. But she can hurt economies with her vast energy supplies to Europe, at least for now.
Fourth, Russia's influence in Central Asia is unmistakable. Witness the expanding regional reach of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), of which Russia is a founding Member along with China. Current Members include Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, with Afghanistan, India, Iran, Mongolia, and Pakistan as Observer States; Belarus, Sri Lanka and Turkey as Dialogue States; and ASEAN, CIS states, and Turkmenistan as Guest Attendees. Moreover, the SCO has vastly widened its original scope to include trade, economic, diplomatic, cultural and military exchanges. In particular, there is a strong Islamic connection running through many of its Members at a time when Islamic influence in the world is on the ascendant. Turkey is anxious to become a full SCO member.. The strategic importance of Turkey, being a key member of NATO, goes without saying. This country connects Asia with Europe and is part of a "Larger West" conceived by Zbigniew Brzezinsky, a doyen of American foreign policy, as a key for America to maintain global balance (Strategic Vision, America and the Crisis of Global Power, Basic Books, New York, 2012)
Fifth,Russia may be weak with an aging and shrinking population. But as a vast country straddling two continents, she possesses immense wealth of natural resources, let alone territorial claims of reserves of resources in the Arctic Ocean.
Sixth,speaking of the latter, with the Canadian Northern Passage becoming more and more navigable with global warming, alternative trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific shipping routes along the northern Russian coast are likely to become viable in the coming decades. These are likley to connect the rest of Europe through the Davos Strait and the Denmark Strait on both sides of Greenland. When this eventually happens, it would buttress Russia's strategic position at the expense of traditional shipping routes (and ports) in the Asia-Pacific. (How the World Will Change with Global Warming, Trausti Valsson, University of Iceland Press, 2006).
Seventh,ideology no longer dictates outcomes. China and Russia have embraced capitalism, or at least state capitalism. Meanwhile, global gravitas has shifted from the West to the East. The G20 now counts more than the G8. According to research by BBVA, a Spanish bank, the EAGLEs (Emerging and Growth Leading Economies, including Turkey) and NEST countries (upcoming-EAGLEs) are together expected to contribute 68% to world growth between 2012-2022. China and India are each expected to contribute a higher share than the U.S. The G7 economies together will add a mere 16%. Goldman Sachs estimates that by 2050, the six EAGLEs combined economic weight, what may be called the E6, would be over two and half times more than the economies of US, Japan, United Kingdom and Germany combined. (Annual Report 2013, Economic Outlook - Eagles, BBVA, Madrid, March 2013. Click here
Eighth,Putin regards the collapse of the former USSR only as a temporary set-back. He harbors a strong ambition to restore Russia to its formal eminence, if not preeminence, given the country's sheer size, resources and cultural heritage. Putin and many Russians remain unconvinced that Russia is so broke that the country can no longer stand up to the West or for that matter for its desired place in the world order of the 21st Century. It is evident that Putin is proving to be a far-visionary global strategist compared with many of his Western peers.
The ideological and power dynamics of the past Cold War will not be replicated. But Ukraine is a lynchpin of Putin's Russian re-aggrandizement. With the West's enforced isolation of Russia, a Second Cold War is beginning to loom in the horizon.
As both Russia and the West are putting more military chips on the table, it seems that not only the future of Ukraine, but security and stability of the entire Eastern Europe if not the whole world hang in the balance.
The reality, however, remains that both sides don’t want and can’t afford an all-out war. Obama’s hands are tied with a war-weary electorate, budget constraints, an economy barely starting to recover, and increasing pressure on America’s Asian commitments. So, apart from using non-military leverage including visa bans and asset freezes, the West is unlikely to open fire.
For Putin, Russia's economy and finances are not at the best of times, with gas prices plummeting and risks of falling European energy demand being lured away by possible America’s exports of excess shale gas. So both sides have openly stated that military options remain the last resort.
Putin’s control over Crimea is a fait accompli. Not only are the miniscule Ukrainian forces there all being rounded up, but the vast majority of the Crimean people are of Russian extraction The Crimea leader asserts that more than 80% of the people there would support joining the Russian Federation. Click here
Likewise, there is a pro-Russian culture in eastern Ukraine increasingly resistant to Kiev interference, although most would still prefer Ukrainian unity. Click here
For both sides, the stakes are high. Click here It is not just Ukraine. For Putin, it is a lynchpin of his dream to restore the past glories of the former USSR through forming a "Eurasian Union" to rival the European Union. For the West, it may spell the beginning of the end of NATO’s credibility. Yet, both sides are likely to stop short of actually pulling the trigger, sabre rattling notwithstanding.
So what seems an attractive leverage for both sides is the public opinion card. For Putin, the largely-predictable outcome of Sunday’s referendum in Crimea is set to boost his bargaining chips. With rising protests on both sides in eastern Ukraine, the option remains open to Putin of suggesting a plebiscite to determine its future. The prospect dangles of eastern Ukraine becoming not exactly like Crimea but perhaps an extraordinarily autonomous region independent of Kiev's diktats, making it remain under Russian economic and political influence. Meanwhile, he is likely to continue to de-legitimize the interim Kiev government.
For the West, while rattling up NATO’s military postures to show muscle, Obama is likely to highlight Putin’s illegal strong-armed occupation of Crimea and his “engineered” Crimean referendum, undermining the legitimacy of Putin’s plot.
An excellent article of 6 March in the Washington Post suggests why Crimean independence or annexation may not be such a good idea for Russia. The arguments are largely centered on three fronts: (a) burden to Russia of having to support Crimea financially; (b) generating fear amongst small countries in the neighborhood likewise with sizable Russian populations; and (c) the chicken may come home to roost on Russian soil in sparely-inhabited eastern Siberian witnessing expanding migrant Chinese settlement from across the border. The risk is that one day, China may turn the table on Russia as sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.
On the other hand, as regards (a), if a cash-strapped Kiev can afford to support Crimea financially, so should the Kremlin. As regards (b), certain neighbours' fears are valid but they are unlikely to sever inherent ethnic and economic links to Russia. The risk that they may tilt towards China instead does not seem inevitable, not least because of perceptions that Turkic Uyghurs are not getting a very good deal in China. As regards (c), a resurgent Russia will serve for now to dilute America's capability to contain China in the Asia Pacific. So China is unlikely to stir any trouble in Russia's eastern under-belly, natural expansion of Chinese settlements notwithstanding.
It is unlikely that such a serious strategist as Putin would not have done his sums properly before plotting his moves in Crimea, including the advanced referendum.
An interesting twist is raised in an article of 10 March in The Diplomat, an online platform on international relations, by a researcher with the Tsinghua University School of Public Policy and Management. It advances a case for China’s involvement, perhaps in concert with some other BRICS members or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), helping to broker a deal with Russia to stabilize the situation. This, according to the article, would mean replacing the interim Kiev government with a new one more representative of the aspirations of pro-Russian people, a highly autonomous Crimea, and an eastern Ukraine driven by BRICS-led investment and more independent of Kiev. While the article’s allusion to a future solution for Taiwan is at best comparing apples with oranges, its suggested deal with Russia does not seem altogether impracticable.
Indeed, John J. Mearsheimer, Professor of Political Science at the University of Chicago, and author of "The Tragedy of Great Power Politics", suggests in the New York Times here that Putin's legitimate security concerns with an enlarging NATO be recognized and that a cooperative deal with Russia is preferable to pushing this vast country into an ant-West camp with China, "the only genuine potential rival to the United States."
Professor Mearsheimer's suggestions chime with an early Op-ed of 6 March by Henry Kissinger in the Washinton Post here . Kissinger proposes a “Finland model” to solve the Ukrainian crisis, comparing the Scandinavian country’s fierce independence while maintaining cordiality with Russia. This consists of (a) letting the Ukrainian people to choose their collective future, including with Europe; (b) not letting Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as this would unnecessarily provoke Russia; (c) Ukraine’s freedom to create any government compatible with the expressed will of its people, hopefully opting for reconciliation between the various regions and avoiding institutional hostility towards Russia and (d) in exchange for Russia’s recognition of Ukraine’s sovereignty. Crimea’s autonomy is to be reinforced in elections to be held with international observers. The process would include removing any ambiguities about the status of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.
Kissinger’s formula would no doubt help to de-escalate the rising tensions over Ukraine. Whether it could ensure that Crimea remains intact under Ukrainian sovereignty remains to be seen, as Putin seems to have stacked the cards in his favour.
Meanwhile, the world is waiting to see how Putin would move on Crimea’s Sunday referendum. However, it seems unlikely that he is going to back down or reveal his cards in any way before the referendum has taken its course.