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A South American NATO?

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With the rise to power of President Bolsonaro in Brazil, there is often talk about the granting of military bases to the United States army on the soil of the South American country, and possible concertation between the two states in war and strategic affairs. The dream of a united Latin America, which was interpreted at the beginning of the 21st century above all on the economic level, thanks to institutions such as MERCOSUR, has however strong political implications. The rift that seems to open up in Latin America between very different integrative tendencies, such as in the function of an autonomy from North America, such as with it, is likely to redesign the political scenario for the years to come. The main carrier of a possible pan-American integration with the United States seems to be, therefore, a strategic and military one. There is no doubt, however, that whatever the future developments will be, either one way or another, they will focus on the development of a supranational dimension.

As we know, Brazil has always been one of the leading countries in the process of political integration and unification of Latin America. Its history, its extension and its economic capacity are one of the reasons why it has always been a very important element within the regional scenario. Its effect, in this sense, is also evidenced by the existence in the 19th century of the Empire of Brazil, which then also included Uruguay. The nature of Brazil, which covers a large part of the continent, is that of a large state – not by chance federal – projected like all the great contemporary states towards the future of large political and spatial aggregations. Today, states of this type are the USA, the People’s Republic of China and Russia, demonstrating the importance of geographical dimensions in this particular historical context in which the globalization of goods, finance and human movements puts sovereignty of the small countries to the test.

Latin America has always had unification as its implicit goal. This was the “big dream” of Simón Bolivar, the necessary outcome of the process of liberating the continent from the European colonial presence. The myth of Bolivarianism has long fueled the political narratives of Latin American countries, and still remains unchanged today in its prominent symbolic significance. To date, it is Venezuela governed by the United Socialist Party to make it a political flag, the same Venezuela that Bolivar was able to consider “a barracks”. Specifically, the phrase attributed to el libertador Bolivar was that “Ecuador is a convent, Colombia is a university and Venezuela is a barracks”. This phrase, which reflected the dimension of unity that the commander of the liberation process imagined for Latin America, also stresses another fundamental point concerning the importance of mastering large geopolitical spaces. That is, the diversification of the roles attributed to the controlled regions, for the maintenance of autarky of a super-State.

Of course, in order to guarantee a vast territorial unity, if this has not been conquered with iron and fire, at least a certain cohesion of intent is required given by ideological proximity. This ideological proximity was given, for a certain period of time, by a major political project, launched in 2004, which represented a very important guideline for South American concerted political planning. Here, we are talking about UNASUR, the intergovernmental organization born of twelve South American nations, which joined the already existing MERCOSUR, the common market of Latin America.

The history of these types of unification, or even before that of regional trade, has in many ways been similar to that of the European Union, which has inspired UNASUR. As in Europe, this process began with trade, starting from the coal and steel sectors, to prevent interstate frictions such as those that had led to world conflicts. In Latin America, in the contemporary age, we can also glimpse the process of rapprochement between states in its early stages in projects such as LAFTA, launched in 1960. This project took full advantage of the knowledge developed over the past few decades on the importance of economies of scale, a principle deeply studied in the era of Fordism and which had guided pre-war European conceptualizations on the need for a continental union. Another ancestor of MERCOSUR, contemporary to LAFTA, can be considered the Common Market of Central America. LAFTA subsequently evolved into LAIA, just as the European Coal and Steel Community changed into various subjects before reaching the European Union as we know it.

In this process, which promoted greater political cohesion through the liberation of market forces internal to the continent, as also suggested by the functionalist school for European integration, the pre-eminent role – together with that of Argentina – was that of Brazil. Relations between these two countries have begun to bind even more, as many scholars note, with the common return to democracy. This occurred in a transformed framework of the political models that were being proposed in Latin America, testifying to the importance of the element of cultural proximity and of the aims, if not exactly of ideological coincidence:

“In the first half of the 1980s, the commonality of perceptions in the two countries facilitated dialogue and understanding. These commonalities came from a varied set of political, economic, technological, and security factors, which displayed their effects and consequences on the internal as well as the international plane. In the political sphere, democratic consolidation and relations with the United States were prominent on the agenda. Reacquired democratic status was arguably the most powerful factor of convergence between Argentina and Brazil. […] Increasing competition on the world markets and the decline of the development models adopted under the military administrations provided Argentina and Brazil with additional reasons to look at each other as potentially close partners.” [1]

This clearly had as a compensation, in the same period, also certain global economic trends, which corresponded very specifically to those guidelines that established the need for south-south trade in a context of market transformation. This characterized the international scenario for a long time:

“The United States and the European Economic Community (EEC), two traditional markets for Argentine and Brazilian goods, increased protectionism, targeting both agricultural produce and manufactured goods. Furthermore, these industrialized countries accompanied protectionism with export incentives to facilitate national producers’ competitiveness in third markets. This situation was a stimulus to forms of South-South cooperation in two ways. First, the search for new markets reinforced the Latin American orientation of Argentina and Brazil and induced them to look at each other’s market. Second, suffering from the same setbacks and complications in the world trade, the two countries coalesced in defence of their common interests within multilateral economic arenas.” [2]

These trends were clearly consolidated with a changed system of international relations set by the end of the bipolar opposition between the US and the USSR, but the prodromes were clearly antecedent and could also be traced in the economic level. However, even the experience that Latin America had of the Cold War was reflected in the search for a common paradigm for a new world phase. These thrusts could not fail to be influential in the approach of regional state institutions. A whole series of pieces were forming in a framework that led, in the 21st century, to the founding of UNASUR. This framework is that of the BRICS project, which, from a meeting table between emerging economies, has been able to propose its own precise idea of coexistence and political concertation [3]. This line also ran counter to the development model hypothesized by the West after the end of the Cold War, setting new working hypotheses [4]. Once again, the economic structural outline and ideological synthesis met.

“Given that economic growth rates among emerging powers (principally China) have been consistently higher than those in the core over the past decade, it seems that we are witnessing a process of deconcentration of economic power. Applying this analysis to the BRICS, it is telling that what contributed to the success of the first meetings is a common discontent with the distribution of institutional power in the international system and interest in changing it and solving the “mismatch” between the distribution of institutional power and the distribution of actual power. The desire to revise the current distribution of power has thus been one of the powerful shapers of the BRICS identity and a key motivation for the grouping’s creation.” [5]

Within this conceptual culture broth, a renewed interest in regional integrations has developed, following a first genetic phase (the Bolivarian one), a second in the second post-war period and a third due to changes in the economic paradigms of the eighties. To date, we are still in this phase in the face of a whole series of needs that are imposed by globalization and at the same time by new technologies.

UNASUR was the result of this type of approach, adding a fundamental political determinant to an area of economic exchange that seemed – at that point – to be no longer enough. One of the reasons for its genesis is indeed to be found in the fact that “China, India and other emerging economies are making profound changes in the international economic scenario, opening up new sources of development and opportunities for the countries of Latin America” [6].

The countries that took part in this project were united by this neo-democratic, continentalist and counter-hegemonic dimension while being in opposition to the previous world para-subordination arrangements [7]. From this came a solid relationship of collaboration. To better specify the mechanics of this type of aggregation we can think, for example, of ALBA, another body which on the one hand aims to bring together the socialist and social-democratic countries of Latin America. Its political neighbourhoods are self-evident, on the other proceeds to greater integration with UNASUR for the guiding principles previously stated.

“ALBA and Unasur have added a new dimension to South-South cooperation and post-hegemonic regionalism via the creation of stable channels for social movement participation in regionalism, alternative media outlets, anti-corporate development enterprises and autonomous pharmaceutical industries, development banks, and a mechanism of asymmetric military cooperation.” [8]

Clearly, this type of collaboration in order to move towards integration must also and above all consider the military dimension. This is favoured by the fact that Brazil is “the only major arms producer and exporter in Latin America [and therefore promoted] the development of its military industry, and greater cooperation and integration of companies in the sector throughout the region” [9] . In this regard, the South American Defense Council was designed. This body, which currently has a consultative value, was born under the tutelary deities of Brazil and Venezuela in 2008, and its purpose was – in addition to the exchange of information and consultations in the defence field – to create joint commands [10], on the model of what NATO is in Western Europe. Not surprisingly, this project has also been named South American NATO.

“The Brazilian initiative and the […] creation of this South American Defense Council cannot be released from the proposal made by President Chavez in 2003 to create a South Atlantic Treaty Organization (OTAS) or “South American NATO”, or to establish a military alliance based on ALBA […]. Again, the initiatives of the South American Security Council seem to confirm the strategy followed by this country with relations with Venezuela, “regionalizing” and “South Americanizing” the proposals of President Chavez. That is, by bringing it back to forms that are compatible with Brazil’s regional leadership strategy and promoting viable consensus by incorporating the interests of other countries, and by limiting the most radical edges of Chavismo. This also allows to achieve two objectives of Brazil which in another form would be incompatible: on the one hand, gradually remove the political and military influence of the United States in the region, and maintain cordial relations with the superpower, placing Brazil, as “moderate country”, in the position of a mediator and preferential interlocutor for the external actors of the region.” [11]

Moreover, this structure is located on a line of continuity with respect to the long process of South American integration. It has, as an ancestor the Congress of Panama of 1826 and, among other things, aims to organize a regional army of 60 000 people [12]. However, if “from a geopolitical-economy perspective, defence and military cooperation is the sine qua non of multi-polarization” [13], it must be said that this process of multi-polarization, which is taking place in these post-Cold War decades, is not entirely clear or unambiguous. Given that it would be correct to identify the current phase as a polycentric moment, in which the structures are being redefined in the light of a change in the power relations, it is, therefore, necessary to realize two very important elements. These elements allow us to understand the present with appropriate tools: the first is that, in this phase, it is not possible to compete or at least survive without the political and economic disposition of vast territorial spaces; the second is that the lines of demarcation are not as clear as many exponents of purely theoretical geopolitics based on ethnological or cultural aspects want us to believe. Add to this how several different narratives can be conflicting in relation to these phenomena.

We talked previously about Bolivar’s dream, but this was not the only Pan-American unification project. Another direction, set by the United States of America on other bases, was that of the Monroe Doctrine. The latter envisaged not so much a federal unity of American states (on the model of what had been created by the Founding Fathers in North America itself), as the idea that the affairs of the western hemisphere were the affairs of the US. His motto was “America to Americans” [14], and it was a way of excluding the powers of the Old Continent from that geographical space.

This concept, according to which there existed a western hemisphere which represented an area in itself with respect to Europe, in its essential foundation was no different from Bolivar’s ideas. American republicanism (northern and southern) was often born on very similar cultural grounds and did not make a Simón Bolivar very different from a George Washington. Clearly, it was the historical turn dictated by some structures of the economy and the power relations that profoundly changed the aspect of the matter, in a century that produced, among other things, redistributions of power within North America, as evidenced by the Civil War [15]. On the other hand, the other side of the Monroe Doctrine was the so-called “gunboat policy”. This policy allowed North America to guarantee its interests by ingesting in the internal politics of Latin American countries through the use of coastal bombing.

All things considered, it is clear that the organization of differences through structures such as UNASUR, with its necessary military sector of the South American Security Council, is one of the folds that international politics could have taken, but not the only one. Still, it is the only one that has been investigated and attempted with some consistency so far.

To reorganize integrative projects of any kind, on any organizational basis, which is not UNASUR, however, it is clear that a different ideological discourse becomes necessary that can guarantee certain credibility for its purposes, or at least counterbalance the previous discourse. An image seems to have re-emerged in the last period, without having perfectly organized itself into a coherent discourse. This is due to the change in political orientation that many Latin American countries have experienced in the latter period.

If the forces that guided the integrative process were basically of a so-called “progressive” extraction, ranging from social democracy to Bolivarian nationalism, to indigenous socialism, a whole series of profound political changes brought to power heterogeneous political forces. However, these tend to be positioned on the right-wing. This is clearly an extremely reductionist description, which uses categories (such as right and left) whose sense in many ways is running out, as well as many issues (nationalism is one of them), are widely transversal in the political discourse of opposite fronts, although of course, they decline it differently. In addition, where some of these groups came to power through the representative democratic process, others – as in Bolivia – have obtained the levers of command in an unorthodox manner.

Nonetheless, these new command groups are demonstrating that they are pursuing other projects than those brought into play by previous administrations. Once again, the leading country for this transformation is Brazil. With the election of its new president, Jair Bolsonaro, many elements previously taken for granted in the country and in Latin America have been called into question.

Jair Bolsonaro was trained in the ranks of the army, and for this very reason, he understands how the military element can be, under certain conditions, an important driver of politics. Especially if, as mentioned in the lines above, this serves as the engine of the approach and integration processes. Bolsonaro, who previously distinguished himself for political campaigns marked by the opposition to the privatizations of sectors of the public economy, simultaneously transformed his political-economic ideas for the benefit of a neoliberal line in open conflict with the model of the previous governments of the Labor Party. It is implicit how certain economic schemes correspond to as many geopolitical positions, given the stormy past of the region during the Cold War, including guerrillas, coups, attempts at external interference such as Operation Condor.

If the intent of UNASUR was to fundamentally counter-hegemonic with respect to a certain type of dominance that the United States could exercise in the region [16], the intentions of the new South American governments seem to be different.

It is necessary to understand the reasons why Bolsonaro believes it is essential for Brazil, at this historical moment, to leave UNASUR, despite the country being the most important pivot of both the regional integration process and inter-state cooperation, thanks to its history and its specific weight. The path of UNASUR, which Bolsonaro has scaled down to an invention by Hugo Chavez, without clearly considering neither the role played by Brazil and Argentina within it nor the long previous integrative history, at the moment it is indeed in strong crisis. In 2019, in fact, under the aegis of Chile and Colombia, the Forum for the Progress and Development of South America, abbreviated as Prosur, was born. The latter, which was born in open competition with the institutions of UNASUR, adopts the cardinal principles of the free market and “liberal democracy”. A slogan that even President Bolsonaro has rediscovered.

This rearrangement, however, is not only represented by Prosur, to which Brazil has not yet officially adhered: this arrangement has another face and itis not merely diplomatic. Jair Bolsonaro has, in fact, proposed an unusual and unexpected work hypothesis in the military. In a 2019 interview with STB, the President of Brazil said very clearly that he was interested in providing military bases to the United States of America, in relation to the new Brazilian primacy policy in Latin America and the fact that – apparently – the United States is developing the plan to position itself in more strategic points on the continent. For its part, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg reiterated how Brazil and other South American countries should join this alliance.

“Trump and the new Brazilian president went along very well when they first met in Washington, Bolsonaro repeating his offer for a strategic partnership with the US, Trump speaking about the advantages of Brazil joining NATO. […] An association of the country to NATO […] is an intriguing thought – and raises the question what could, or should, be done in this respect with Australia, New Zealand, or Japan [17].”

In addition to having very important implications in the context of international relations, the possibility of extending NATO membership outside European borders, or that of being able to collaborate in providing the availability of one’s own national territory, has a clear weight on the South American dimension. In a time of structural crisis of UNASUR, which was supported by more or less solid alliances and renewed military and strategic collaboration projects, an important alternative proposed by Brazil, with the support of the United States, could change the game. Specifically, the case of the European Union must once again be taken as an example. The latter institution owes much of its solidity to participation in NATO, which constituted its military backbone in the absence of a real European army. Moreover, this army never existed due to the absence of a clear political dimension, on the contrary to the level of free trade, that of freedom of movement, and precisely that of participation in NATO.

Jair Bolsonaro’s vision in this sense seems more realistic than that of countries that simply want to join in the name of the “free market”. If this project was to be continued, it certainly could guarantee the basis for a reformulation of some of the fundamental rules of MERCOSUR, and certainly, generate a change of specific weight of the regional actors within this group. Nonetheless, it is important to understand how Bolsonaro’s hypothesis of collaboration with NATO, in whatever capacity it takes place, will certainly give greater weight to his country than to others in Latin America, precisely in the function of the role of geographical pre-eminence that Brazil plays always. This decision, which Bolsonaro consciously embraces in the intention of guaranteeing the primacy of Brazil, is, however, made in the specific perspective of the integrative need. A need which, even if we want to speak in terms of mere national interest, represents immediate outlets for Brazil on the internal markets of the region, the possibility of obtaining supplies favourably on the basis of the principle of comparative advantage, and undisputed recognition of a political primacy. For the United States, on the other hand, all this implies not only securing, in a rapidly changing world, very important assets, but also barricading itself once again behind the Atlantic Sea, and this time also behind the Pacific, in a revival for the 21st century of the Monroe Doctrine.

This epoch is ambivalent for the nation-states: on the one hand, they are largely deprived of their fundamental attributions by ever-increasing masses of power. On the other – if they manage to play their cards well – they are able to take advantage of those great conflicts between powers to obtain benefits that they will be able to maintain for an uncertain period. In this case, however, they exchange some small immediate advantages with longer-term planning, which considers a complete vision of the future and a weighted selection of alliances. This, however, is the case of Brazil, which as a proponent of a federative integration, proceeded to the South-South dialogue. It has tried to take advantage of other regional actors thanks to cooperation with the United States.

In any case, integration remains the future, in view of all the determinants at stake in the present phase of the history of the economy and production structures, as well as society and technical progress. It is only necessary to understand, at this point, which integrative vision – and which political and interest group that supports it – will prevail in Brazil and Latin America.

[1] Gian Luca Gardini, The Origins of MERCOSUR: Democracy and Regionalization in South America, Palgrave MacMillan, 2010, pp. 43-47.

[2] Ibdem, p 47.

[3] Andrea Goldstein, BRIC. Brasile, Russia, India e Cina alla guida dell’economia globale, Il Mulino, 2011.

[4] Kwang Ho Chun, The BRICs Superpower Challenge. Foreign and Security Policy Analysis, Ashgate Publishing, 2013.

[5] Oliver Stuenkel, The BRICS and the Future of the Global Order, Lexington Books, 2015, p. 155.

[6] Manuel Cienfuegos and José Antonio Sanahuja [edited by], Una región en costrucción. UNASUR y la intregración en América del Sur, CIDOB, 2010, p. 30.

[7] Oliver Stuenkel, The BRICS and the Future of the Global Order, Lexington Books, 2015.

[8] Fe Can Gürcan, Multipolarization, South-South Cooperation and the Rise of Post-Hegemonic Governance, Routledge, 2019, p. 109.

[9] Manuel Cienfuegos and José Antonio Sanahuja [edited by], Una región en costrucción. UNASUR y la intregración en América del Sur, CIDOB, 2010, p.p. 111-112 [translated].

[10] “The South American aspiration for the establishment of a system of the subcontinent released from Washington is also very significant. At the beginning of 2009, the President of Brazil proposed to Venezuela the establishment of a South American Defense Council, a project [which corresponds to] a real military alliance, with joint commands and exchanges of information and defense material” Sandro Sideri, La Russia e gli altri. Nuovi equilibri della geopolitica, Università Bocconi Editore, 2009 [translated].

[11] Manuel Cienfuegos and José Antonio Sanahuja [edited by], Una región en costrucción. UNASUR y la intregración en América del Sur, CIDOB, 2010, p.p. 112-113 [translated].

[12] Peter Coffey [edited by], International Handbooks on Economic Integration: Latin America – MERCOSUR, Springer Science + Business Media, 1998, p. 190.

[13] Fe Can Gürcan, Multipolarization, South-South Cooperation and the Rise of Post-Hegemonic Governance, Routledge, 2019, p. 147.

[14] Carl Schmitt, Il nomos della terra nel diritto internazionale dello “Jus publicum europaeum”, Adelphi, 1991, p. 129.

[15] A mention of the causes of international politics and redistribution of power that influenced the American Civil War is given in Orazio Maria Gnerre e Gianfranco La Grassa, Dialogo sul conflitto, Editoriale Scientifica, 2019.

[16] Fe Can Gürcan, Multipolarization, South-South Cooperation and the Rise of Post-Hegemonic Governance, Routledge, 2019.

[17] Theodor H. Winkler, Living in an Unruly World: The Challenges we Face, LIT Verlag, 2019, p. 217.

From our partner RIAC

Graduated in Political Science to the Catholic University of the Sacread Heart (Milan), Expert of international relations and geopolitics

Americas

Is the Washington-initiated Climate Summit a Biden Politrick?

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Earlier on, climate skeptics had wondered if President Biden’s January 27 Executive Order on “climate crisis” was “climate politrick?” Now, scholars in China have likened the US climate envoy’s hurried China visit last week to “a weasel calling on a friendly New Year visit to a chicken” – or a visit with evil intentions. Some overenthusiastic critics of the US in Beijing are even warning President Xi to not login for the online Earth Summit in Washington this week.

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People in China believe a snake and a wolf must never be rescued. The belief comes from a popular idiom: the Zhongshan wolf or “The Wise Old Man and the Wolf.” In a few words, the essence of the popular Chinese adage is well-captured in the following sentence: a popular fairy tale about the ingratitude of a creature after being saved. Last year, the idiom entered China’s foreign policy discourse as several IR commentators employed it to describe “ingratitude” of the Trump-led America towards the Peoples’ Republic. Following the ascent of President Biden in the White House, the Chinese commentariat quickly course-corrected itself, i.e. neither Trump nor Biden, it is the US bipartisan anti-China consensus which is the real “wicked wolf.”

Just like the curt and bland statement issued by China’s foreign ministry acknowledging China will host the US climate envoy Kerry for three days in Shanghai, 14-17 April, China released on last Sunday the text of the joint China-US statement following Kerry’s departure on Saturday. The statement said: “The United States and China are committed to cooperating with each other and also with other foreign governments to tackle the climate crisis which must be addressed with seriousness and urgency it demands.” Interestingly, or rather conspicuously, the statement neither indicated nor was followed by another press release regarding whether China will be represented at the upcoming crucial 40-nation Earth Summit being hosted by President Biden.

While it is true a few Chinese scholars and think tanks have welcomed the worlds’ two largest carbon emitting nations to come forward to cooperate with each other upholding the spirit of the Paris climate agreement. What is perhaps unprecedented and more significant is the warning to President Xi by a section of China’s leftist intelligentsia to beware of Biden’s “climate politrick.”

Talking of those who welcomed Xi-Biden climate cooperation initiative – the first sign of bilateral cooperation since the Trump interregnum, Zhang Jianyu, chief representative and vice president of the non-profit Environmental Defense Fund’s China Program, reacted positively and said: “The fact that the joint statement has been signed, means that both Beijing and Washington believe in climate change. We are hoping both China and the US take bold actions.” Li Shuo, senior climate adviser for the environmental group Greenpeace, said China could soon respond to a new U.S. pledge with one of its own, building on the “momentum” of the Shanghai talks.“The statement in my view is as positive as the politics would allow: It sends a very unequivocal message that on this particular issue (China and the United States) will cooperate. Before the meetings in Shanghai this was not a message that we could assume,” Li added. 

In contrast, an article in Utopia, one of the influential “anti-US” platforms for ideological debate in China, cautioned China’s top leadership while questioning Biden’s credentials to host the Earth Summit. The pro-Mao, leftist online intellectual discourse forum advocates Maoist and communist ideology. In a signed article on the forum’s website last Saturday – the day John Kerry concluded his 3-day stay in Shanghai and left for Seoul, a commentator using strong words not only “condemned” Joe Biden for his “arrogant” and “hypocritical” foreign policy thinking, but also urged the Chinese leadership to thwart Washington’s attempt to regain the US leadership by holding the Earth Summit beginning Thursday. The article was entitled: “China must resist and fight back hypocrite Biden.”   

In fact, as early as in November last year, within days of the presidential voting, a section of scholars in China were writing “the election of Biden may or may not turn out to be a turning point for easing Sino-US frictions…with Biden in power, the nature of Sino-US relations will not see a fundamental change, but the mode of confrontation will be relatively soft and the direction of negotiations will be more predictable.” However, with each passing day since taking office, President Biden’s China policy has consistently been predictable in only one direction – in enduring the Trump legacy. The most recent manifestation of which was on display at the testy diplomatic summit last month in Anchorage where senior officials from the two countries “traded sharply critical assessment” of each others’ policies.

Another Chinese commentary has highlighted six ideological “attacks” the US has carried out against China in the international arena under Trump and Biden administrations respectively. First is the classic example of the US-Japan nexus in politicizing and turning on its head the Chinese opposition to Japan’s decision to release radioactive contaminated water from Fukushima into the sea; second is the Western governments and media carrying out slanderous campaign of China’s “economic colonialism” in Africa; third, as soon as China succeeded in containing fight against COVID-19 last year in May and started offering humanitarian assistance abroad, the US-led started defaming and discrediting China by launching “mask diplomacy” campaign against Beijing; fourth, just like vicious propaganda maligning China’s economic assistance to Africa and China’s humanitarian aid by free supply of PPE and masks, the US launched “vaccine diplomacy” campaign to vilify China; the fifth is attacking China using the virus trajectory and accusing China of developing COVID-19 virus and exporting it from chemical laboratory in Wuhan; the sixth and the latest anti-China “false” propaganda is the “genocide” in Xijiang. Unlike the genuine human rights violation by Japan to release the contaminated water into the sea, the false propaganda against China is aimed at creating anti-China world public opinion, creating social unrest and turbulence in China and ultimately achieving their goal of destroying China, the article stated.   

Finally, it is not incorrect to view President Xi’s highly charged remarks made at two most recent international events respectively in the context of strongly-worded articles published in Utopia and other left-leaning online websites in the past few days. Two days prior to the arrival of Kerry in China, President Xi, according to the Xinhua news agency, warned the US in his speech at the China-Germany-France trilateral video conference on climate change: “Climate change could be used as a tool to disparage some countries for not doing enough.” Then two days prior to the Earth Summit, Xi apparently reiterated his stern warning to President Biden: “We must not let the rules set by one or a few countries be imposed on others, or allow unilateralism pursued by certain countries to set the pace for the whole world.” The remarks by Xi were made at China’s annual Boao Asia Forum on Tuesday.    

China’s semi-official “independent” English language CX Daily interpreted Xi’s above remarks as “veiled swipe at the new US administration under Biden” who has been busy forming alliances challenging China over issues such as Taiwan, Hong Kong and Xinjiang. Of late, mainstream media in China has been accusing Biden of not only carrying on and enduring the Trump legacy in relentlessly “attacking” China, but also that Biden has gone far beyond Trump in insulting and condescending Beijing. In fact, the Utopia commentary uses another Chinese idiom “externally strong, empty inside” to caricature Biden’s personality. It cites two recent incidents to establish how weak and hollow is President Biden, i.e. the US-China talks in Alaska and Putin’s resolve to dare the US in the Black Sea – in both instances, Biden simply caved in after he was challenged, the commentary observed. “On Iran nuclear deal issue too we saw Biden acting in the same surreptitious and crude manner. He [Biden] is typical treacherous man,” the Utopia commentary continued its verbiage.

Some Chinese scholars, therefore, have welcomed Xi’s remarks as clear rebuff to what the mainstream Western media, in particular the Wall Street Journal has been spreading, i.e. “Xi would participate in the US-initiated climate summit later this week.” These scholars are invoking yet another ancient Chinese proverb “Mouth honey belly sword” or Koumifujian in Chinese. The idiom is used as a metaphor for describing someone extremely sweet on the outside but actually shrewd, cunning and sinister. Most Chinese IR commentators are telling us, the idiom is a perfect description of Biden. 

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Americas

Russia Or China: Is Biden Right To Target Russia?

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No one can disagree with President Joe Biden when he wants to overhaul infrastructure — although a single-minded concentration on one aspect is likely to be longer lasting and a legacy.  Consider, for example, a high-speed rail link between New York and Los Angeles,  True high-speed, that is, and truly modern like the new lines in China with a design speed up to 350 km/h (220 mph), or preferably higher by the time the rails are constructed in the US.  It would make overnight coast to coast (3,000 miles) railroad trips a reality.  

What is more difficult to fathom is Biden’s foreign policy.  He appears to have identified Russia as an adversary or worse, starting with calling Vladimir Putin a killer and exposing several Russian companies that possibly support its intelligence services.  Do American companies ever provide cover for the CIA?  That is the obvious question coming to mind with an obvious answer.  Have western intelligence services including the CIA ever carried out assassinations?  If so, would the US president be called a killer?

At the same time, Russia is not the country with a stated goal of becoming the world’s leader in its economy, technology and military.  No, that’s China.  Russia only wants closer ties with the west but is being driven into the arms of China.

Given China’s stated goals and its progress towards them, it is transparent that its aims require the displacement of the US from its leadership position.  Any prospect of thwarting China’s ambitions would impel the US to cordon the  country to some extent or at the very least attempt to challenge its influence.  Instead, China is signing treaties with neighbors.  It is in Iran and it announced that it might send its own troops to Afghanistan to maintain its “peace” after the US departs.  Afghanistan, by the way, is rich in minerals and rare earth elements.  

So far Mr. Biden’s foreign policy initiatives appear tactical with a kind of tit-for-tat approach that is absent a coordinated (with allies) strategic plan to prepare the US for a confrontation politically and economically — not militarily, although as the US ramps up pressure, a skirmish here and there on the high seas could be a possibility.

A string of Chinese bases now ring the Persian Gulf extending west to East Africa and east along the Iran and Pakistan coast to Sri Lanka, across to Burma and then south to the western end of Indonesia.  The recent treaty with Russia allows convenient Eurasian access while the new closeness with Iran permits an overland route to its oil riches.  East of Iran is Pakistan which is a Chinese client state of long standing and where it has built the Gwadar port.

Given the circumstances, the US is obliged to reassess Iran from a geostrategic perspective but also Pakistan, a country that has been on the frontlines of the Afghan war since the beginning.  Pakistan is also a key to long term peace in Afghanistan as its own Pashtun population is connected to Pashtuns there through family ties and a traditionally porous border.  They also command a plurality as the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan. 

Further east China is increasing its influence in Sri Lanka, and is by far Burma’s largest trading partner.  The recent coup in Burma is its own story and an oft-reported tale in that country without noting China’s silence.  

Despite the local politics, the US can ill afford to surrender such a vast region to China without counter moves to ensure some freedom of movement within China’s tight embrace.

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Americas

Playing Politics in Times of Covid: AMLO’s Whimsical Inoculation Programme

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Image source: as-coa.org

Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) has capriciously modified Mexico’s inoculation programme as he sees fit. He has followed an improvised strategy along the way that follow no logical approach.

The initial vaccination schedule was set up in 5 stages that placed frontline and essential workers as priority sectors; the rest of the population would be divided up by age ranges and inoculated accordingly. However, last January, AMLO announced the creation of 10,000 brigades who would oversee the vaccination programme. Each brigade is made up 12 people majority of whose are active members of the president’s political party MORENA. They also were prioritised for vaccination, even ahead, some key workers. This process alone took up 120,000 vaccines that otherwise would have gone directly to frontline workers or the elderly.

As of mid April, Mexico, with a population of 117 million people, has only vaccinated over 10 million people, roughly 8.5% of the population. Only 2.6 million have received the second shot, only 2.2%. The government also announced that it was prioritising the poorest citizens and indigenous communities. In a more recent announcement, he declared teachers would be also bumped up for priority vaccination ahead of the elderly. This again demonstrates the arbitrary standards of his vaccination schedule.

The government’s decision to inoculate teachers ahead of even health workers does not come as a surprise: they’re a key voting bloc. Mexico is holding mid-term elections this coming July, and vaccinating teachers so close to voting time is the latest evidence that the president is playing politics with the vaccinations. Just like in old times under the hegemonic party, unionised teachers are crucial for AMLO’s political party to win the most votes in the next elections.

Using certain sectors of the population to mobilise voters in favour of political party is not something new in Mexican politics. In Mexico, just like in many other unconsolidated democracies, political parties and candidates themselves can turn to political agents to ensure victory in elections through the use of patronage systems or vote-buying strategies.

To fully understand the role of the Teachers’ Union (SNTE and CNTE) as a political machine, it is essential to understand its history and role in elections over the last decades. The SNTE has more than 1.6 million members nationally, while the CNTE has over 100,000 members, it was founded in 1980 and has considerably less influence than the SNTE.

The SNTE was founded in 1949, and since then they served as a satellite organisation of the hegemonic party, PRI. Up until 1992, it was mandatory for all Union members to register as active party members. Therefore, throughout these years, the PRI, regularly received electoral support from the Union. The alliance between the hegemonic party and the SNTE strengthened in 1989 when Elba Esther Gordillo was appointed as the new leader of the Union.

What was behind the motivation of the SNTE in becoming an electoral agent? For many years, the Union received monetary incentives and access to political posts. Under this arrangement, political parties and even candidates may monitor the performance of such agents to make sure they are still aligned to those of the government, political party or candidate. As long as the interests of both sides are aligned, the electoral agent is expected to work efficiently to deliver the expected results either on election day or throughout the length of the administration.

In 2005, Elba Esther Gordillo was expelled from the PRI, ending the alliance between the SNTE and the hegemonic party. The leader of the Union founded her own political party, PANAL, and participated in the 2016 federal elections. However, due to the number of voters the newly created party attracted, it was only limited to proportional representation positions. Although PANAL, presented its own candidate for the presidency, Elba Esther offered the votes of the Union in the presidential elections to other political parties with greater possibilities of winning.

The SNTE supported Felipe Calderón, the PAN candidate in 2006 and in 2012 they backed the PRI candidate, Enrique Peña Nieto. The SNTE’s geographical outreach and the role of teachers as community and educational leaders facilitate their role as electoral agents. They’re able to influence informally the vote of others as well as the opinions and voting decisions of students and their parents.

In many democracies, it is not unusual for teachers to have strong ties to political parties and their candidates, and this is critical when it comes to explaining their effectiveness as electoral agents. It is not uncommon also for teachers to be appointed as voting stations representatives. The combination of these institutional characteristics opens the door for teachers to continue to influence voters through either legal or illegal.

AMLO’s courting of the Teachers’ Union dates to his electoral campaign in 2018. José Alfredo González, son in law of Elba Esther Gordillo, was seen in a presidential campaign event to support AMLO’s candidacy. He is also an active member of Redes Sociales Progresistas, a newly created party with links to Elba Esther Gordillo. Soon after AMLO’s inauguration in 2018, AMLO set to dismantle the education reform that has been approved by Enrique Peña Nieto in 2012. This was well received by the 2 Teachers’ Trade Unions. In 2020, the SNTE expressed its support for the president, and they also ratified its adherence to the political programme of the president. AMLO also publicly asked Elba Esther Gordillo to talk openly about the (alleged) fraud of 2006. AMLO’s intentions in doing this are very clear: He wants the former leader of the Union to enter the political game by talking about the issue and taking a stance that would not be antagonistic towards the incumbent party.

There is no doubt that the president has an underlying agenda in prioritising the vaccination of teachers when mid-term elections will be held in less than 2 months in Mexico. The president has chosen CanSino as the vaccination to be used to inoculate teachers across Mexico to allow schools to reopen by the end of May in some states. Now, with only less proven vaccine options, CanSino has an efficacy rate of less than 65%, questions undoubtedly arise as to how effective the inoculation of Mexicans will be with the use of these vaccines over the already proven ones.

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