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Esotericism and Strategic Doctrine in China

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The prologue in Heaven of this topic took place in France, in the last flash of the profound and integral scientific philosophy of a Europe that, years later, Benedetto Croce called “civil”.

  In fact, pending the First World War, Henri Bergson, the brilliant and powerful philosopher of the élan vital(vital impetus or force), besides being the first great theorist to seriously study Einstein’s theory of relativity, developed some new concepts on war and politics that it would be useful to currently revise.

 As President of the Comité France-Amerique, which was very active during the First World War, Bergson believed that, at the time, power did no longer lie in the simple possession of the territory, but in the control of the “vital points of communication” in the various countries at war, not at war and in the whole globe.

Hence, he overcame the difference between belligerent and neutral countries, as well as between viable countries and non-viable areas, which is still a very topical issue.

 The de-territorialization of war is now complete, given that China, like the USA and, to a lesser extent, the European countries, focus on Network-centric Warfare.

In any case, there is no direct link between territory and control.

 From this viewpoint, and only in this sense, something completely new happened in France and in the USA, during the first global war clash, a new phenomenon that, as the historian Arno Mayer said, put an end to the long line of the Ancien Règime: at the dawn of the First World War, for the very first time, the world domination became materially possible.

Therefore, from that time on, it was possible to exploit the opposing populations without having to deport them. Another novelty that Bergson did not neglect at all.

Hence, according to the philosopher of the creative evolution, the United States that entered the war in 1917 brought the “supplement of force” which was necessary to close the allied strategic equation, i.e. support from the Sea and from the Sky.

In current terms, this means the coverage of all the control points that allows – when you control many of them – to end war operations and declare the Winner.

According to a sapiential mythology that manifested itself also at the end of the Second World War, the Atlantic sea was the symbolic and strategic factor that took away the “terrestrial miasmas” of central Europe – as Bergson put it. That recreated a “new collective imagination” of peoples, which is another very topical issue in contemporary strategic thinking.

It was no longer linked to the land to conquer, but to the series of intangible points to control.

 Wars were also waged to reconstruct deep symbols or to “bring the new gods to others”, as Bergson said, by recalling Theseus’ bones or Sophia’s cult typical of Themistocles.

The Greeks who colonized Southern Italy brought their gods, before starting to economically exploit the coast, while the Italic peoples in the South fled to the mountains, bringing their idols and hiding them in forests.

Furthermore, in his war treatises of the time, the French philosopher outlined a substantial difference between the “force that is used” and the “force that is not used”. It is a particularly topical issue.

 This is a very “Chinese” concept: the force that is used puts you on display and makes you be noticed. It makes you immediately be considered in the enemies’ calculations and it becomes a probable foothold for their direct reaction against your moves.

 The “Force that is not used”, instead, is always invisible, hence incalculable and, above all, always moral, even when it regards the deployment of forces: what is not used immediately in the fight is what is really used in the end, because it is only what allows duration – just to use a philosophical concept typical of Bergson.

The winners are those who last one minute longer than their opponents – hence the winners are those who wisely dose and measure out their still unused forces, by hiding them.

This is another classic theme of the Chinese strategic thinking: “cross the sea without the emperor’s knowledge”, the First Stratagem of the classic Thirty-Six Stratagems of the Chinese art of war, means, in essence, that Yin, the art of deception, is already all inside Yang, the art of action.

 There is no clear separation between the two moments, between the force we are obliged to use and the force which remains covert.

 “Create something from nothing” is another Stratagem and this is about creating the illusion that something does not exist or that something exists – but it is the same thing.

 War is waged and made mainly in the mind of our opponent, which is exactly what is moving against us “under the sky”.

Those who see only the Visible Force see nothing. They only see pieces of a chessboard without knowing the rules, which are always the Tao, the invisible that adapts to every moment, remaining always the same because it always changes.

Another Stratagem is “decorate the tree with false blossoms” i.e. make important what is worth little, thus reversing the order of apparent values, just as a magician could do.

Finally, the last Stratagem we need here is “inflict injury on yourself to win the enemy’s trust”, another traditional criterion that is aimed at fighting not only against some material forces, but also against the mental image that the enemy creates and possesses of us. This is exactly what we must really fight, besides the visible forces (that “are used”, as Bergson would say), but especially those that are not used, which always remain covert and hence move the visible.

 The moral force cannot certainly be seen, but it is the one that really counts since, to some extents, it can make up for the other forces and it is the force that really makes us win.

After all, in Bergson’s mind, his creative evolution is properly a vis a tergo(a force behind).

 All powers are a force according the French Jewish philosopher, who dared to put on David’s yellow star and go outside, just before dying, while the SS were combing Paris in search of Jews to be sent to extermination camps.

But the Force and the vital impulse itself are always finite and limited. It is a Force that does not last, precisely because it cannot help showing itself and being used.

Let us now analyse in depth the issue of the sapiential philosophy of war in China, which is also currently in place and operating in the planning of the post-modern war of IT Networks and Nodes.

 The Chinese sapiential philosophy, which is timeless, maintains scientific and rational effects that still last. They can be observed in many fields ranging from management to finance, from cultural and influential operations to political negotiations and diplomacy.

In Chapter 11 of the fundamental text, “The Science of Military Strategy”, regarding the management of the Chinese war of the future, we can read about Tai-Kung, the proverbial lucky and skilful Chief of the Chinese tradition of “warring States”.

 The example of the successful leader is an essential lesson to be learnt: it is the ability of the strategic commander, as well as his shrewdness and far-sightedness,which are at the core of the troops’ morale and cohesion. Not the other way around.

Mao Zedong, however, maintained the same in his Problems of Strategy in Guerrilla Warfare: in that type of warfare command should absolutely be centralized at top management and fully decentralized in campaigns and battles.

 The Centre is the Force that is not used, the one that never fades away because it is essentially spiritual.

 The Force that is not used lies in the centre, while the one that is used lives at the visible edges of the forces’ field.

Hence Sun Tzu’s traditional criterion: commanding many soldiers is exactly the same as giving orders to a very few. It is a problem of troop division and specialization.

 The leader is worth as much as and even more than all troops – an unusual, but very clear doctrine in a Communist country like present China.

Hence,when the current Chinese doctrine speaks about “hi-tech local wars”, the post-Maoist theory of the 21st century echoes  SunTzu’s.

In other words, it is maintained that – in China’s modern and old doctrine -the Chinese victory is s “precise application of violence”. It should also be recalled that, in Clausewitzian thought, Victory is a vague and voluntaristic concept, considering that, for the winner, it is a matter of “placing the enemy under his own will”, an evident Kantian echo of the Prussian military.

If it is a matter of Force that is used, everything must be visible and clear. Powerful, immediate and concentrated in one point. Like the Thunderbolt, the sapiential symbol of war.

Will, however, is not used and does not fade away in a single act of war.

Sun Tzu’s tradition is still evident in the current Chinese doctrine, where – again with reference to peripheral hi-tech wars – it is stated that “nodes must be attacked to destroy the entire network”. Not all nodes, but those that are needed to permanently block the Network. The “territory” is not necessary. What is needed is the victory over the minimum number of points, which are necessary to block the flows on the Network.

A minimax problem, as mathematicians would say.

However, this is something we have already seen in Bergson, albeit expressed in other words.

Hence total destruction, which is carried out through a sufficient and limited destruction of nodes to protect one’s own Force, while eliminating the Force that the enemy is using. 

 In this way -immediately afterwards -we obtain political, psychological and organizational effects, which lead to a complete and uncontrollable pressure on the enemy’s mind and spirit – which is the real goal of Chinese war, from Sun Tzu to current times.

Therefore, the enemy’s destruction and annihilation is the real aim of the clash, when this is objectively possible. This applies to both Mao Zedong and Sun Tzu, as well as China’s contemporary strategic doctrine.

 Obviously, for Sun Tzu, victory was not so much the physical annihilation of the enemy, but rather the destruction of his plans and strategies. One must win by possibly not fighting any battle.

The logical principle, however, is the same: if we destroy the enemy’s plans and strategies, we really destroy him in the core of the Force he does not use and hence we deprive him of any political and military identity.

Still today, however, in the current Chinese military doctrine, priority is given to victory by stratagems rather than to victory connected with a direct and evident clash, with a Force that is used.

Nevertheless, in the reality of the network and hyper-technological clash of current wars, China’s strategic issue is the use of “limited force” to reach the goal traditionally stemming from the use of a fully deployed Force.

 The Void for the Full, the Little that becomes Everything, the little Force that becomes absolute. Basically, an act of magic.

This is the reason why, nowadays, Chinese strategists do not much discuss “mass war” and “long-term war”, i.e. Maoist themes which are no longer conceivable in a scenario of hi-tech local wars.

According to China’s current strategic thinking, however, future wars will also be “people’s wars”.

 The future “people’s war” will not be a Long March outside the enemy’s most natural and strongest lines of resistance, but a new mass war that will be fought in peripheral strategic lines, far from the State centre and from the Commander’s physical presence.

The “people’s war” is currently understood as the full mobilization not of all Chinese people, but of the civilian and military people who live and work directly at the junctions of the “network war”.

Furthermore, if the (present) and future technological wars  always cost too much and cannot become long-lasting wars even for the great capitalist and Western countries, the future will be characterized by quick battles and even faster decisions, which will sometimes be supported by Artificial Intelligence and Big Data technologies.

Therefore we have here a synthesis of Mao Zedong’s military thought, which aimed at an extensive but targeted use of Force, and of Sun Tzu’s thought which, instead, aimed at a minimum, quick and specific use of Force.

The two criteria are only apparently opposed: in hi-tech warfare we must use the targeted and economically rational attack, but such attack must be “Maoist”, i.e. it must strike hard and always use – in one way or another – the “people’s war”.

 It is always the crowds who are directly interested in Victory.

 The people are, however, the most widespread, useful and effective military resource.

 There is no populist myth, however, in Sun Tzu’s and Mao Zedong’s doctrines.

Still today, however, the current doctrines of the Chinese Chief of Staff underline some classic criteria of Sun Tzu: the minimal but powerful use of Force to acquire strategic objectives, as well as the need to precisely predict the effects of an action or a battle.

They also emphasize the importance of the tactical and strategic initiative, although with a typically Maoist approach on the concentration of forces which must be deployed in a cost-effective,  careful and powerful way, but only in one point, or can also be staggered over time, but always with a predefined and clear objective.

Once again a pretence of Maoist “long-lasting war”.

With a view to correlating Sun Tzu and Mao, but in the new configuration of the Network-centric warfare, we can note that, in the Chinese texts, the “strategic initiative” is still defined as “freedom of action of a player” that, in Bergson’s thought, is the Force that is not used.

Nowadays, China’s military decision-making is also defined as the possibility of obtaining a strategic initiative by reaching superiority both in materials and, above all, in the psychology of one’s own and of the enemy’s troops.

 It is not a matter of “own will imposing itself on the enemy” – as Von Clausewitz maintained – but of a model of action on minds and hearts that becomes the real aim of war, without the psychological inaccuracies of traditional Western philosophy.

We here return to Tradition, a word that is much deeper than Western “philosophy”, as taught to us by Giorgio Colli, who believed that the Greek Wisdom was mostly the dawn of thought, which later no longer reproduced itself with the same strength, even in the traditional Greek philosophy.

 After Heraclitus’ lightning, the slow discussion, which began and ended often without leading to immediate and complete enlightenment.

 In chapter 6 of Sun Tzu’s “Vacuity and Substance”, it is maintained that if we can concentrate our forces when the enemy is fragmented, we must do so when we ourselves are”shapeless”, i.e. we are the Tao that adapt – like water – to the immediate reality of the Full and the Void.

 This is another idea that can be found in Mao Zedong’s thinking: “the strategic initiative is nothing imaginary, but it is completely concrete and material”.

It is always active and real. The leader only needs to take the initiative and regard it in the reality of military movements and the creation of a great Theater of Shadows, namely psywar, which is never a corollary of the action on the ground, but the essence of strategic planning.

In the Chinese tradition and contemporary theory of “unlimited” war, the strategic thinking is essentially political, economic, geo-economic and financial will and – only finally -strictly military will.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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East Asia

Importance of peace in Afghanistan is vital for China

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image source: chinamission.be

There are multiple passages from Afghanistan to China, like Wakhan Corridor that is 92 km long, stretching to Xinjiang in China. It was formed in 1893 as a result of an agreement between the British Empire and Afghanistan. Another is Chalachigu valley that shares the border with Tajikistan to the north, Pakistan to the south, and Afghanistan to the west. It is referred to as the Chinese part of the Wakhan Corridor. However, the Chinese side of the valley is closed to the public and only local shepherds are allowed. Then there is Wakhjir Pass on the eastern side of the Wakhan corridor but is not accessible to the general public. The terrain is rough on the Afghan side. There are no roads along the Wakhjir Pass, most of the terrain is a dirt track. Like other passages, it can only be accessed via either animals or SUVs, and also due to extreme weather it is open for only seven months throughout the year. North Wakhjir Pass, also called Tegermansu Pass, is mountainous on the border of China and Afghanistan. It stretches from Tegermansu valley on the east and Chalachigu Valley in Xinjiang. All of these passages are extremely uncertain and rough which makes them too risky to be used for trade purposes. For example, the Chalagigu valley and Wakhjir Pass are an engineering nightmare to develop, let alone make them viable.

Similarly, the Pamir mountain range is also unstable and prone to landslides. Both of these routes also experience extreme weather conditions. Alternatives: Since most of the passages are risky for travel, alternatively, trade activities can be routed via Pakistan. For example, there is an access road at the North Wakhjir that connects to Karakoram Highway.

By expanding the road network from Taxkorgan in Xinjiang to Gilgit, using the Karakoram Highway is a probable option. Land routes in Pakistan are already being developed for better connectivity between Islamabad and Beijing as part of CPEC. These routes stretch from Gwadar up to the North.

The Motorway M-1, which runs from Islamabad to Peshawar can be used to link Afghanistan via Landi Kotal. Although the Karakoram highway also suffers from extreme weather and landslides, it is easier for engineers to handle as compared to those in Afghanistan.

China is the first door neighbor of Afghanistan having a common border. If anything happens in Afghanistan will have a direct impact on China. China has a declared policy of peaceful developments and has abandoned all disputes and adversaries for the time being and focused only on economic developments. For economic developments, social stability and security is a pre-requisite. So China emphasizes peace and stability in Afghanistan. It is China’s requirement that its border with Afghanistan should be secured, and restrict movements of any unwanted individuals or groups. China is compelled by any government in Afghanistan to ensure the safety of its borders in the region.

Taliban has ensured china that, its territory will not use against China and will never support any insurgency in China. Based on this confidence, China is cooperating with the Taliban in all possible manners. On the other hand, China is a responsible nation and obliged to extend humanitarian assistance to starving Afghans. While, the US is coercing and exerting pressures on the Taliban Government to collapse, by freezing their assets, and cutting all economic assistance, and lobbying with its Western allies, for exerting economic pressures on the Taliban, irrespective of human catastrophe in Afghanistan. China is generously assisting in saving human lives in Afghanistan. Whereas, the US is preferring politics over human lives in Afghanistan.

The US has destroyed Afghanistan during the last two decades, infrastructure was damaged completely, Agriculture was destroyed, Industry was destroyed, and the economy was a total disaster. While, China is assisting Afghanistan to rebuild its infrastructure, revive agriculture, industrialization is on its way. Chinese mega initiative, Belt and Road (BRI) is hope for Afghanistan.

A peaceful Afghanistan is a guarantee for peace and stability in China, especially in the bordering areas. The importance of Afghan peace is well conceived by China and practically, China is supporting peace and stability in Afghanistan. In fact, all the neighboring countries, and regional countries, are agreed upon by consensus that peace and stability in Afghanistan is a must and prerequisite for whole regions’ development and prosperity.

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Shared Territorial Concern, Opposition to US Intervention Prompt Russia’s Support to China on Taiwan Question

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image credit: kremlin.ru

The situation around the island of Taiwan is raising concerns not only in Chinese mainland, Taiwan island or in the US, but also in the whole world. Nobody would like to see a large-scale military clash between China and the US in the East Pacific. Potential repercussions of such a clash, even if it does not escalate to the nuclear level, might be catastrophic for the global economy and strategic stability, not to mention huge losses in blood and treasure for both sides in this conflict.

Earlier this week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that Moscow continued to firmly support Beijing’s position on Taiwan as an integral part of China. Moreover, he also underlined that Moscow would support Beijing in its legitimate efforts to reunite the breakaway province with the rest of the country. A number of foreign media outlets paid particular attention not to what Lavrov actually said, but omitted his other remarks: the Russian official did not add that Moscow expects reunification to be peaceful and gradual in a way that is similar to China’s repossession of Hong Kong. Many observers of the new Taiwan Straits crisis unfolding concluded that Lavrov’s statement was a clear signal to all parties of the crisis: Russia would likely back even Beijing’s military takeover of the island.

Of course, diplomacy is an art of ambiguity. Lavrov clearly did not call for a military solution to the Taiwan problem. Still, his remarks were more blunt and more supportive of Beijing than the standard Russia’s rhetoric on the issue. Why? One possible explanation is that the Russian official simply wanted to sound nice to China as Russia’s major strategic partner. As they say, “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Another explanation is that Lavrov recalled the Russian experience with Chechnya some time ago, when Moscow had to fight two bloody wars to suppress secessionism in the North Caucasus. Territorial integrity means a lot for the Russian leadership. This is something that is worth spilling blood for.

However, one can also imagine that in Russia they simply do not believe that if things go really bad for Taiwan island, the US would dare to come to its rescue and that in the end of the day Taipei would have to yield to Beijing without a single shot fired. Therefore, the risks of a large-scale military conflict in the East Pacific are perceived as relatively low, no matter what apocalyptic scenarios various military experts might come up with.

Indeed, over last 10 or 15 years the US has developed a pretty nasty habit of inciting its friends and partners to take risky and even reckless decisions and of letting these friends and partners down, when the latter had to foot the bill for these decisions. In 2008, the Bush administration explicitly or implicitly encouraged Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili to launch a military operation against South Ossetia including killing some Russian peacekeepers stationed there. But when Russia interfered to stop and to roll back the Georgian offensive, unfortunate Saakashvili was de-facto abandoned by Washington.

During the Ukrainian conflicts of 2013-14, the Obama administration enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the legitimate president in Kiev. However, it later preferred to delegate the management of the crisis to Berlin and to Paris, abstaining from taking part in the Normandy process and from signing the Minsk Agreements. In 2019, President Donald Trump promised his full support to Juan Guaidó, Head of the National Assembly in Venezuela, in his crusade against President Nicolas when the government of Maduro demonstrated its spectacular resilience. Juan Guaido very soon almost completely disappeared from Washington’s political radar screens.

Earlier this year the Biden administration stated its firm commitment to shouldering President Ashraf Ghani in Afghanistan in his resistance to Taliban advancements. But when push came to shove, the US easily abandoned its local allies, evacuated its military personal in a rush and left President Ghani to seek political asylum in the United Arab Emirates.

Again and again, Washington gives reasons to conclude that its partners, clients and even allies can no longer consider it as a credible security provider. Would the US make an exception for the Taiwan island? Of course, one can argue that the Taiwan island is more important for the US than Afghanistan, Venezuela, Ukraine and Georgia taken together. But the price for supporting the Taiwan island could also be much higher for the US than the price it would have paid in many other crisis situations. The chances of the US losing to China over Taiwan island, even if Washington mobilizes all of its available military power against Beijing, are also very high. Still, we do not see such a mobilization taking place now. It appears that the Biden administration is not ready for a real showdown with Beijing over the Taiwan question.

If the US does not put its whole weight behind the Taiwan island, the latter will have to seek some kind of accommodation with the mainland on terms abandoning its pipe-dreams of self-determination and independence. This is clear to politicians not only in East Asia, but all over the place, including Moscow. Therefore, Sergey Lavrov has reasons to firmly align himself with the Chinese position. The assumption in the Kremlin is that Uncle Sam will not dare to challenge militarily the Middle Kingdom. Not this time.

From our partner RIAC

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Russia-Japan Relations: Were Abe’s Efforts In Vain?

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Expanding the modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward.

One year after the end of Shinzo Abe’s long period of leadership, Japan has a new prime minister once again. The greatest foreign policy challenge the new Japanese government led by Fumio Kishida is facing is the intensifying confrontation between its large neighbor China and its main ally America. In addition to moves to energize the Quad group to which Japan belongs alongside Australia, India, and the United States, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration has concluded a deal with Canberra and London to provide Australia with nuclear-powered submarines which in future could patrol the Western Pacific close to Chinese shores. The geopolitical fault lines in the Indo-Pacific region are fast turning into frontlines.

In this context, does anything remain of the eight-year-long effort by former prime minister Abe to improve relations with Russia on the basis of greater economic engagement tailored to Moscow’s needs? Russia’s relations with China continue to develop, including in the military domain; Russia’s constitutional amendments passed last year prohibit the handover of Russian territory, which doesn’t bode well for the long-running territorial dispute with Japan over the South Kuril Islands; and Russian officials and state-run media have been remembering and condemning the Japanese military’s conduct during World War II, something they chose to play down in the past. True, Moscow has invited Tokyo to participate in economic projects on the South Kuril Islands, but on Russian terms and without an exclusive status.

To many, the answer to the above question is clear, and it is negative. Yet that attitude amounts to de facto resignation, a questionable approach. Despite the oft-cited but erroneous Cold War analogy, the present Sino-American confrontation has created two poles in the global system, but not—at least, not yet—two blocs. Again, despite the popular and equally incorrect interpretation, Moscow is not Beijing’s follower or vassal. As a power that is particularly sensitive about its own sovereignty, Russia seeks to maintain an equilibrium—which is not the same as equidistance—between its prime partner and its main adversary. Tokyo would do well to understand that and take it into account as it structures its foreign relations.

The territorial dispute with Russia is considered to be very important for the Japanese people, but it is more symbolic than substantive. In practical terms, the biggest achievement of the Abe era in Japan-Russia relations was the founding of a format for high-level security and foreign policy consultations between the two countries. With security issues topping the agenda in the Indo-Pacific, maintaining the channel for private direct exchanges with a neighboring great power that the “2+2” formula offers is of high value. Such a format is a trademark of Abe’s foreign policy which, while being loyal to Japan’s American ally, prided itself on pursuing Japanese national interests rather than solely relying on others to take them into account.

Kishida, who for five years served as Abe’s foreign minister, will now have a chance to put his own stamp on the country’s foreign policy. Yet it makes sense for him to build on the accomplishments of his predecessor, such as using the unique consultation mechanism mentioned above to address geopolitical and security issues in the Indo-Pacific region, from North Korea to Afghanistan. Even under Abe, Japan’s economic engagement with Russia was by no means charity. The Russian leadership’s recent initiatives to shift more resources to eastern Siberia offer new opportunities to Japanese companies, just like Russia’s early plans for energy transition in response to climate change, and the ongoing development projects in the Arctic. In September 2021, the annual Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok did not feature top-level Japanese participation, but that should be an exception, not the rule.

Japan will remain a trusted ally of the United States for the foreseeable future. It is also safe to predict that at least in the medium term, and possibly longer, the Russo-Chinese partnership will continue to grow. That is no reason for Moscow and Tokyo to regard each other as adversaries, however. Moreover, since an armed conflict between America and China would spell a global calamity and have a high chance of turning nuclear, other major powers, including Russia and Japan, have a vital interest in preventing such a collision. Expanding the still very modest elements of trust in the Japan-Russia relationship, talking through reciprocal concerns before they lead to conflict, avoiding bilateral incidents, and engaging in mutually beneficial economic cooperation is the way forward. The absence of a peace treaty between the two countries more than seventy-five years after the end of the war is abnormal, yet that same unfinished business should serve as a stimulus to persevere. Giving up is an option, but not a good one.

From our partner RIAC

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