An article dated 3 October, 2018 by Judah Grunstein, Editor-in-Chief of World Politics Review, a New York-based bipartisan publication, points out that President Trump's much-hyped transformational foreign policy initiatives are beginning to look like old wine in a new bottle bearing his name. Examples include his latest declared triumph on reinventing NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement), his tactic on NATO members to pay more, his deal on North Korea, and his trade talks with the European Union which borrow heavily from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which he has torn up.
The article contends -
"That means that the other major crises on Trump’s docket, rather than escalating, might end up being defused in a similar fashion. Certainly China will try to wind down its own trade war with the U.S. by offering enough superficial concessions to allow Trump to declare victory and come home. Iran, too, might begin to see the appeal of pursuing a Trump-rebranded nuclear accord that differs only marginally from the one he withdrew from in May."
"On the more worrying side, NAFTA and NATO both have long-standing constituencies in the U.S. that make tearing them up politically costly".
"It’s possible that the U.S. might have benefited from the approach that fueled Trump’s rise in the early years of his public life. A brash risk-taker who questioned sacred cows and challenged conventional wisdoms might have reinvigorated U.S. foreign policy in the face of a rising China and resurgent Russia. Instead, the later Trump has prevailed, promising much, delivering little and making sure his name is featured prominently on the marquee."
Whether the article's assertions turn out to be fully substantiated remains to be seen. The litmus tests are over North Korea, Iran and China. Nevertheless, evidence shows that there is already more than a grain of truth in Grunstein's observations.
An in-depth report inThe Diplomatof 9 August by Masashi Murano, research Fellow at the Okazaki Institute (Tokyo). This show that in response to advanced nuclear threats from Russia, and highly-developed anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capabilities of China and North Korea, the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) "commits to maintaining and modernizing the U.S. nuclear triad — intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and strategic bombers — and positioning dual capable aircraft (DCA) that can be deployed globally as an important element in the extended deterrence toolkit."
What apparently hasn't been assessed are risks of resorting to low-yield (0.3 kilotons) nuclear missiles. Although much less devastating than the Hiroshima nuclear bomb (15 kilotons), the nuclear destruction and fall-out can be frightening. Even meant largely as a deterrent, its proliferation and readiness are likely to increase the probability of use. Potential rapid escalations are not amenable to easy control. Any unintended level of escalation due to perceived existential national security could plunge the world into an all-out nuclear war.
(My quarterly Newsletter goes out to some 7,000 professional contacts worldwide. The following is my September 2018 issue. Back numbers may be accessed under What's New on this website)
Greetings! After an extended visit to Europe, I am back in Hong Kong for a long, hot summer. Temperatures are rising everywhere. An all-out great-power tussle masked as a trade war is being played out between the US and China. America First continues to be pressed home across the globe, weaponizing hegemonic powers in finance, trade and currency. Not even allies are spared. Decades of established global rules and norms are being up-ended. The only constants appear the laws of nature and the law of the jungle. As the big elephants fight, the "wary rest" are all hedging their bets. The world order as we know it is fracturing. Would all the king's horses and all the king's men come to the rescue if the king wants to start anew? How will China respond to the new paradigm?
Nevertheless, US frustrations with China's trade practices are widely shared. It is in China's interests to address them. However, any fundamental redress necessitates structural reforms to the Chinese economy already bracing from headwinds. China's retaliation against America's tariffs has so far been measured and targeted, with an eye to negotiations. But what reforms can China implement quickly? How would the trade war play out?
Amidst this great anxiety, the following may offer some fresh perspectives.
I have accepted an invitation as a Sponsored Speaker at the Amadeus Institute's 2018 MEDays Forum in Tangier, Morocco from 7-10 November. I will be speaking on The New Silk Road to Africa, South-South Partnership and Disruptive Leaders. I will be uploading my presentations on my website in due course.
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On the one hand, this massive initiative provides much-needed capacity-building infrastructure to cash-strapped developing countries. On the other, it raises concerns about opacity, enslaving indebtedness, lack of corporate governance, and risks of creating a China-centric regional order blind to perceived "predatory trade practices".
As pointed out by these reports, absent joint development of rules of engagement with a wider range of stakeholders, not least international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank, and advanced countries such as those of the European Union, the Belt and Road Initiative will struggle to inspire global confidence and to fulfill its ambition of realizing a "global community of common destiny".
Nevertheless, in terms of freight between China and transcontinental destinations, perhaps nothing illustrates the logistical advantages of the Belt and Road Initiative better than the 10,000 km long Zhengzhou-Europe Railway – also known as the China-Europe Railway Express (Zhengzhou) or CR Express Zhengzhou.
The line passes through Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, Poland and Germany (Hamburg and Munich). It takes about 15 days from Zhengzhou to Germany via the Zhengzhou-Europe line - about three to four weeks less than travelling by the sea route. The cost of railway transport is anywhere between 20% and 80% that of air transport, and the heavier the cargoes the bigger the saving.
According to HKTDC Research, the Railway represents a unique “one main line, three branch lines” multimodal network, "connecting the Zhengzhou-Europe line with the eastern coastal ports, including Qingdao, Lianyungang and Tianjin. Zhengzhou is also making use of multimodal transport to connect with Busan and Incheon in South Korea, and with Tokyo and Osaka in Japan; and taking advantage of China’s high-speed railway network by connecting the Zhengzhou-Europe line with the Beijing-Guangzhou Railway and Lanzhou-Lianyungang Railway, in a bid to improve its domestic distribution network."
Feng Hao'sarticle of 6th July in China Dialogue, an independent organization focussing on China's ecological challenges, outlines the import of China's latest 2018- 2020 Air Pollution Action Plan and catalogues some of the achievements and shortfalls of the antecedent Action Plan.
The latter Plan only set PM2.5 targets for the three big city clusters of Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei and the Pearl and Yangtze Deltas.
"In Beijing this meant reducing PM2.5 levels from 89.5µg/m³ (micrograms per cubic metre) down to 60. To do so, Beijing closed its coal-fired power stations, and banned people in surrounding areas from burning coal for heat. These measures were costly and controversial, but they enabled the city to achieve an annual average PM2.5 level of 58µg/m³ – a drop of 35%.
..... In the end, China’s three biggest city clusters (Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei, and the Pearl and Yangtze deltas) all beat their targets.
But even so, no Chinese city yet reaches the World Health Organization’s recommended annual average PM2.5 level of 10µg/m³. And as of the end of 2017, only 107 of China’s 338 cities of prefectural level or higher had reached the WHO’s interim standard of 35µg/m³."
Without setting new targets, the new Action Plan puts pressure on laggard cities and regions. Emphasis is placed on the rust-belt Fen-Wei Plains, which include Xi’an and parts of Shaanxi, Henan and Shanxi provinces. Also targeted is the worsening problem of ozone pollution, adding new reduction targets by 2020 of 10% for VOCs (volatile organic compounds)and 15% for nitrogen oxides emissions (on a 2015 baseline).