The 18th – a century of change
In 1776 the American colonists threw off the British yoke and many people proclaimed with satisfaction, if somewhat relieved and anxious, the Independence of the American people, although they primarily came from Britain. Those who were against Independence made their way northwards to what became Canada. Following the loss of the American colonies, Britain had to quickly find a replacement to put its ne’er-do-wells and unhanged criminals, thus the rediscovery of Australia was timely.
It was the eve of the Industrial Revolution, which is generally acknowledged to have started with James Watt’s 1783 invention of the condenser for the steam engine. Apparently, Watt was walking across Glasgow Green to his office at the University when he had his ‘Eureka’ moment. He was a product of the Scottish Enlightenment, which had been running for a few decades and featured such luminaries as David Hume, philosopher, and Adam Smith, who famously wrote the ‘’The Wealth of Nations’’, the ‘bible’ on economics. He was enticed back to Glasgow University from Oxford and, when asked why, he replied because it involved ‘less drinking and more thinking’!
Also, a few decades earlier Frederick the Great (Friedrich II) of the Hohenzollern family and a cousin of George I of Britain, was King of Prussia for about 46 years in the middle part of the 18th century, from taking over in 1740 until 1786. He was a highly intelligent man and able ruler, loved music and philosophy, corresponding with the distinguished French philosopher, Voltaire. He embraced the enlightened new ideas of the day. He was also a clever military strategist, improved the art of war, won the 7-years war against the Hapsburgs and expanded the boundaries of Prussia, by taking Silesia from the Austro-Hungarian Empire and parts of Poland and Lithuania. He also improved the system of agriculture significantly, and bemoaned the fact that his land was generally poor. This was part of the European enlightenment, running in parallel with the Scottish and Frederick was a key figure of it. At the end of his days, he saw the major changes brought about by the 1776 American War of Independence and the ructions pending in France, the French Revolution as well as the birth of the Industrial Revolution.
The middle class was growing in Vienna towards the end of the 18th century, life was changing, such that Mozart tried out a new genre from the church music of Bach and Haydn. He felt that the people wanted the music to represent life more and he produced such wonderful works as the Marriage of Figaro to great acclaim. This was overshadowed by the exploits of Napoleon but when all is said and done it is the beautiful music that Mozart, and his successors such as Beethoven, wrote that has stood the test of time.
It was a time of great upheavals. The bloody French revolution, a revolt of the people with the end of the monarchy, which alarmed neighbouring countries, most notably Great Britain and the Hapsburgs in Austria. The rise of Napoleon, Emperor, whose troops conquered much of the land of Europe, dominated political affairs for two and a half decades. He attempted to conquer Russia in 1812, but he risked his supply lines for a comparatively short campaign and forgot these would be badly strained if extended, and was also caught in a terrible Russian winter. He had to retreat in a disorderly fashion back to France. He escaped from captivity and gathered his troops for one further showdown which took place at Waterloo in 1815. He narrowly lost the battle, thanks to a last-minute intervention by General Blucher of Prussia, which gave the victory to Wellington. After Waterloo, Napoleon was captured and exiled to the island of Elba where he died.
Early 19th century
The treaty of Versailles of 1815, which followed, coincided with the biggest volcanic eruption for 73,000 years at Tambora in E. Indonesia which redefined the landscape and left 36,000 dead and more. Two years of no summer and lost harvests and famine in China, N. Ireland, and northeast of the USA were three of the disasters which the eruption affected in many places across the world.
After the Treaty of Versailles, a number of definitive developments took place. It is an unfortunate aspect of war that some of the most significant advances are developed during a major campaign. From the Napoleonic wars, scientists and engineers had opened their minds to civilian possibilities from matters learned. That plus the follow up to Watt’s invention of the steam condenser, the first steamship in the world, called the Comet from Haley’s comet of 1809, made a successful maiden voyage in the same year on the River Clyde from Port Glasgow. Discussions took place from 1816 that the military requirements for revetments and buttresses and for better roadways and so on would have a growing civil use and a small group of British engineers got together and formed The Institution of Civil Engineers in 1819.
This was the first professional body in the world and gave rise to what became a major discipline. It was granted a royal charter in 1829 and the University of Glasgow began teaching the subject about the same time. In addition, in 1825 Robert Stephenson’s steam engine, the Rocket, successfully ran for 30 miles between Stockport and Darlington in the north of England, the first use of steam for land transport by rail. From then on, there was no stopping developments, their improvements, and new inventions. Railways and shipbuilding expanded exponentially. Glasgow grew to become the second city of the British Empire and for a century was the shipbuilding capital of the world.
The Americans still had a Civil War to go through in the mid-1850s before it began to see itself as one nation, the United States of America, although there was still quite a divide in attitudes between north and south, which has not been entirely resolved to this day. Great Britain meanwhile was at the peak of its Empire days, the biggest empire the world had ever seen, supported by being the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution. By the middle of the 19th century, several events had taken place. A young Queen Victoria was declared Empress of India and a great display of scientific and technical advances was held at an Exhibition in London in 1850 in a specially designed building, the Crystal Palace.
Medical advances were also taking place, but arguably the most important ‘discovery’, despite the perceived wisdom, was that cholera and typhoid were not miasmas, air borne, but were water borne. The building of piped water to the cities from upstream fresh water lakes commenced, the first in Britain being to Glasgow from Loch Katrine, which still operates to this day with some of the original pipework. This significantly added to the growth of cities across Britain.
The expansion from the Industrial Revolution saw the emigration of many poor Irish and the Scots Highlanders, which took place mostly in the first part of the 19th century and flooded the expanding USA and Canada as well as the cities of Glasgow and Liverpool. The bases of some of the other major cities in Britain was founded then and expanded rapidly as new ideas with technological advances were encouraged, unfettered by the politicians ostensibly looking after the people’s interests! That would come later.
The Irish were forced to depart by a disastrous potato famine, with no sympathetic assistance from the British government, the lack of action resulting in great bitterness over the disaster, which has lasted to this day although more muted now. The Scots Highlanders were driven off land, which they had held for generations and replaced by sheep, more profitable use of land. Again, some bitter resentment but more directed to the landowners. The Irish mostly went to the US and the Scots to Canada and, for instance, gave rise to the province of Nova Scotia (New Scotland), a few, the more enterprising, taking some of the more developed aspects of the Industrial Revolution with them. The politics in Britain were changing, in response to the needs of new industries and systems they were generating.
2nd Half of the 19th Century
Meanwhile, the several independent principalities/states that occupied the lands of Germany finally were persuaded by Prince Otto von Bismarck of Prussia that they should amalgamate and form one country of similar peoples; hence Germany was born and Berlin became the agreed capital. The Kaiser, Wilhelm I, of Prussia, close relative of Queen Victoria, his aunt, was made titular head of the new Germany, which incorporated Prussia.
The German states really embraced the Industrial Revolution and quickly developed industries that were leaders in their field. At the same time so did the USA where there was a steady influx of Europeans getting away from poverty, persecution or simply hardship, as well as the Irish, to a chance for a better life. And the US thrived.
Prussia were at odds with the French and went to war in 1870. The French were expected to win but were unexpectedly trounced, which gave the ‘modern’ German army with its Prussian aristocratic leadership a boost to its confidence. One factor that was very important for subsequent events, such as the First World War, was that, in the amalgamation of states that led to Germany, the Prussian army was not controlled by the Bundestag, the civilian government in Berlin, but was solely answerable to the Kaiser in his role as King of Prussia
Come the 1890s, Bismarck was getting old and Hindenburg and Ludendorff were promoting the strength of the army, persuading the ambitions of the Kaiser, now Wilhelm II, who had succeeded from his father, Wilhelm I. Wilhelm II, whose favourite aunt was Queen Victoria, suffered from mood swings and was quite malleable in the hands of the army. A sideshow took place in S. Africa, except from the British viewpoint. This was the Boer War at the end of the 1890s; one ugly development during the war was put into later tragic effect by the Nazis, the concentration camp.
First half of the 20th Century
New ideas were stirring at the start of the new century. Women were restive and were pushing for recognition through the vote. In Britain they were called suffragettes. The new Germany was becoming more aggressive with the Kaiser in the hands of and influenced by the Prussian/German army. Germany was increasingly industrialising and thereby becoming a force in Europe. Queen Victoria died after the century dawned and her son, Edward VII, came to the throne as a middle-aged man and lasted for a decade. Karl Marx had published his principles of socialism, which appealed to the growing and better educated working class.
In the Far East, Japan, following the restitution of the Meiji dynasty in 1868, were also industrialising and signed a close cooperation treaty with Britain in 1903, arguably the most serious European power with Far East interests. (Grandfather, Scott Younger was appointed by Emperor Hirohito as the Hon Japanese Consul for Glasgow & W of Scotland, 1911-31). Meanwhile, the US had been recovering from the mid-century Civil War and been expanding and growing. The first decade of the 20th century saw Theodore Roosevelt as President and he embodied the ‘go get ‘em’ spirit, anything is possible.
Then we come to 1914-18, the First World War, started by the assassination of Hapsburg Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June 1914, the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, in Sarajevo. After some political jockeying Germany mobilised its armed forces and moved against Poland which had a back- to- back treaty with France in turn bringing in Belgium and Britain. Four long years of senseless slaughter followed, those in authority not getting to grips with what had to be done, fighting a 20th century battle with tactics back in the 19th century. More deaths were caused by disease- rat-borne typhus- than bullets and then followed by the flu pandemic which ensued in 1919 and caused 20 million deaths. Europe was exhausted but it is worth looking at what was happening to the principal actors in the drama.
The US had adopted an isolationist stance, said it was totally a European fight and only joined the Allied cause when a leaked document showed that the Germans were trying to incite the Mexicans to take up arms against the Americans. The US involvement, in the last year of the war, tipped the balance in the Allies favour. Germany capitulated and ‘the war to end all wars’ concluded in November 1918. At the peace negotiations which followed much squabbling ensued, none of the protagonists showing much leadership. Onerous reparations were demanded of Germany which constrained their recovery and within a comparatively short time gave rise to the Nazi party and Hitler. The Japanese were treated poorly and the ultimate insult was the US insistence that the British rescind their 1903 treaty with Japan in 1923 which caused a big loss of face. The Japanese then started to look at the European powers that had colonial interests in the Far East at a time when prominent citizens of those colonised countries were questioning why they had to put up with their colonial masters. The European powers were surprisingly thin on the ground.
The US were running into domestic problems with a great economic depression and were not greatly interested in foreign affairs through the 1920s and 1930s. Meanwhile, socialism was taking root in Europe; in Russia, with the murder of Tsar Nicholas and his family by the Bolsheviks in 1917, Lenin, a disciple of Marx and following a short interregnum, was busy preparing the way for the communist form of socialism, which lasts to this day.
The societies of the other main protagonists of the Great War as it was called, Britain and France, were going through a change, socialism’s ideas were gaining ground along with a determination that they should not countenance such a disruptive war again with such a loss of life. Women were finding a voice, particularly since they had had to undertake many jobs, that were formerly the preserve of men, during the war because the men were away fighting and dying. They were not going to be just housewives any more. That and the Labour movement with the ideas of socialism and the economic depression in Britain was leading to significant changes in society. Domestic issues prevailed in Britain as well; little attention was given to what was happening in Germany and the rise of Hitler and the Nazi party.
The Allies had placed strict rules on German rearmament, but with all that was going on domestically and the changes taking place across Europe little attention was paid to what the Germans were doing. Hitler took advantage of this and from the mid-1920s, entrenched as Chancellor, with a nod of approval from Hindenburg, embarked on a rapid rearmament programme. He tried to see what reaction he would provoke by carrying out sorties in the Sudetan land of Czechoslovakia and finally annexing it. No adverse response! His planes were also active on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, a forerunner to WWII. Hitler was ready to expand the territories of the 100- year Third Reich.
Meanwhile, the Japanese had gone to a war footing having beaten the Russians off Vladivostock, and had successful interventions into Manchuria, northern China in 1931 and more notoriously at the city of Nanjing, where many of the citizens were massacred in 1937. Come the end of the 1930s they were ready to expand into Southeast Asia and this was triggered by the USA slapping a trade embargo on them, particularly with regard to oil, in 1941. This would have stifled their economy and their unspoken aims for expansion.
The USA, as stated above, through the 20s and 30s were absorbed by the Great Depression and mainly internal affairs and certainly did not want to be drawn into another world war of European making. They did not enter, only joining the Allies in early 1942 after the surprise attack on Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, by the Japanese on 7 December 1941, Day of Infamy! Before this they had supplied Britain with food and armaments, but that was all. It was the action by the Japanese which triggered the US response.
With the USA fully involved from 1942 with the Allies the odds had dramatically changed. It merely became a question of time before Germany would have to capitulate. Russia, who had originally ‘secretly’ joined the Nazis in 1939 until the Nazis turned on them at the end of 1940, were an ally of the Western powers, being supplied in part by them, originally so that they could keep the Nazis occupied on the eastern flank. Hitler had to win quickly over the Soviets. He didn’t, and the siege of Leningrad has gone down in history as an epic piece of resistance. Hitler had made the same mistake as Napoleon over a century earlier, trying to conquer the sizable Russian army in the middle of winter with unacceptably long lines of communication. Thereafter, it was a question of time once the US entered the war.
The US, with good numbers of troops, took charge of the Pacific arena, where they had been attacked by the Japanese and felt they had a significant score to settle. Japanese had run over most of Southeast Asia and were trying to get into India. They were stopped at Kohima, in W Burma, in 1944 on the way to India by a British/Indian army group, which successfully held a siege line for months and signalled the end of their expansion goals. Lack of food and long supply lines finally, after several months of trying, made the exhausted Japanese retreat. The dropping of atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1946 brought the Pacific War to an end and thus ended WWII.
The war in Europe had ended some 16 months earlier and the first stages of the Cold War boundaries between the Communist regime of Russia, henceforward to be known as the USSR, and the western powers had been drawn up, after a fashion! Russia had overrun much of Eastern Europe and these countries were absorbed into a USSR hegemony until the 1980s when many of these countries, such as Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary, were given their liberty from the USSR yoke. In time they were granted membership of and integrated into the European Union.
Berlin was divided into 4 parts in 1945, each run by one of the four Allies, USA, Britain, USSR, and France. The east Germans hated the USSR domination and the communist rule and escaped to the west in significant numbers across the border dividing East Germany from the western powers, until the communist government of East Germany became very alarmed and built a wall, the Berlin wall, to stop the brain drain. This stayed in place up till 1989 when the USSR retreated, the Russians regime having changed, softened, earlier in the 1980s, and the reunification of Germany was enacted. The Russians had realised that they could not keep up with the US economically.
Back to the end of the WWII. The western powers did not make the same mistake as they had after WWI, when they had demanded reparations from the Germans for the damage and losses sustained, feeding into an underlying resentment. The USA had resources and offered $13 billion under a European Recovery Plan to the economies of Western Europe, effective 1948. The architect of the plan was Secretary of State George Marshall. The USSR was similarly offered but rejected it and did not allow any of its satellite states to participate either. They thought that communism was the right approach to government and considered that they would succeed over the western powers.
The USA, in particular, were strongly opposed to communism and feared its spread, which coloured its thinking for the following decades, and it realised that it would have to take the lead on this important political issue and would need the western allies to support. Consequently, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) was formed to counter the spread of communism. It was a time when the UN was formed also, the successor to the League of Nations, the unsuccessful attempt after WWI to launch such a body, and the World Bank. The US was hence fully engaged with the world and this was signified by their hosting these organisations in New York and Washington respectively.
Back in the rest of the world, particularly the Far East, time was running out on colonialism. The US did not like colonialism, although they had slaves for over a century to run their tobacco and cotton plantations, not the same thing perhaps. Also the self-government movements that had been taking root and growing were vociferous in their demands, particularly in India and Dutch East Indies (Indonesia), helped by the interregnum of the Japanese involvement in many countries during the war years. Thus, in a short period after WWII the Dutch and British had started to grant independence, from 1947, particularly with respect to the Dutch East Indies and India, respectively. The French followed in 1955 in Vietnam, after their loss at the battle of Dien Bien Phu to the N. Vietnamese.
2nd Half of the 20th Century- from 1950 onwards
China had also embraced communism after the defeat of Chiang Kai Chek by the army of Mao Tse Tung. Chiang Kai Chek with his forces took flight to and set up a government in Taiwan, in 1949. Communist China over the years became a force to be reckoned with.
Gradually the newly independent countries settled down but there were still two wars to be fought, the Korean in the 1950s and the Vietnam in the 1960s into the early 1970s. Mao Tse Tung became the President of the Chinese communist party and leader of the country. He believed to really follow the communist path that he had to (re) educate the populace and so he moved the people – The Long March, in which millions died. In fact, more people died because of Mao, 20 million, last century, than died at the hands of Stalin or Hitler, each of whom did not care for human life if it got in the way of their plans.
The US were very concerned with the apparent power and rise of the USSR and initially, to a lesser extent, China. They gave full support to the S Koreans and the western allies joined them. The war was the first serious encounter between communism espoused by China and the western democratic countries, led by the US. With no obvious side winning a truce was agreed in 1955.
President Eisenhower’s 8-year tenure was in the 1950s and he was very familiar with Europe and the pressure and threats of communism having been the General in charge of the allied troops during WWII. He was pro NATO and fully realised the importance to that organisation of US involvement. He knew that to avoid the spread of the communist movement, either through the USSR in the west or China in the east, that the leadership of the US was essential. Similarly, the US spent a lot of effort preventing unwanted communistic ideas taking root in S. America, which they saw as their own backyard.
The US became increasingly involved in Vietnam, taking over from the French, throughout the 1960s but could not find a way to win, frustrated by the N. Vietnamese, Vietcong, with their series of underground tunnels. When General Westmoreland asked for additional troops, the US Congress realised that something was wrong and pulled the plug after a decade of increasing involvement with no end in sight. They withdrew the last troops leaving in somewhat of a shambolic fashion from Saigon in 1972; a strategic withdrawal it was not.
The US had fought this war for the then fear of communism spreading throughout Southeast Asia. President Soekarno of Indonesia, head of the largest of the Southeast Asian nations, as a result of his imbuing socialist ideas when in Europe in the 1930s, was sympathetic to communist China, but he was forced to resign in 1967 through poor management of his country, and the army, in the form of Soeharto, took over. The US were much relieved and this signalled henceforth a pro-western change of direction for a key country and arguably the end of the threat of the spread of communism – at the moment anyway.
The end of the1950s/ start of the 1960s saw some significant inventions which led to major leaps forward on several fronts. For instance, Baird’s 1930s invention of television had made great strides commercially, both the USSR and the US had successful first moves into space with the Americans being the first to put a man on the Moon, and the discovery of the properties of the silicon chip heralded the advent of commercially available computers leading to the digital age. Scientific advances were henceforward dramatic with computers. Society also changed. There were generations growing up who had not been directly touched by WWII. Pop music became a reality! The Beatles became a cult creating a step change just as Mozart had created a step change in music two and a quarter centuries ago.
The decade of the 1970s saw an unforeseen rise in the birth rate, such that the 3 billion population of the late 1960s grew to approaching 9 billion today. China caught onto it and reacted to the problem that a fast birth rate would cause in terms of demand outstripping food production. It forcibly introduced a one child policy, which led to another problem later on, an imbalance of the sexes. Indonesia with improved management of the economy under Soeharto, who rightly knew that the economy had to be handled by experts and allowed the Berkeley trained economists, the mafia as they were called, to get on with it. There was a steady acceptable growth rate, and the population was gradually lifted out of poverty, one benefit being increased longevity. The Indonesian government of the day advised its adults to restrict its families to two children – dua anak cukup. Notwithstanding, the Indonesian population, through sensible policies, had doubled to 200 million and the average longevity increased from a low of 47 years to 70 years over the 30 years leading up to the turn of the century.
The UK at last joined the European market on 1st January 1973, when Ted Heath was Prime Minister for a few years, an interregnum between Labour governments of Harold Wilson and Jim Callaghan. The 1970s were very difficult for the UK. It started when the price of oil went up by 4 times overnight and the economy was strapped. Heath instituted a 3-day working week, the miners went on strike and a general election was called with the catch phrase ‘who ran the country, the unions or the Government?’ The Labour party was elected but by a very narrow margin and with no overall majority. It called for Wilson to hold another election at the end of the year to increase the Labour vote. Heath resigned to make way for Margaret Thatcher and Wilson stepped aside for Callaghan. The economy remained in a mess. Europe was not foremost on people’s minds, although Europe had to contend with the oil price as well.
The years of Callaghan’s Government were very difficult, ending with a call on the IMF, which was greatly embarrassing. The Labour government had struggled with the economy and lost the election of 1979, which brought Margaret Thatcher to the fore, the first female prime minister in UK history. She served for the next decade.
Meanwhile, come 1980 Jimmy Carter, a Democrat and peanut farmer, had been defeated by Republican Ronald Reagan, a B movie actor who was re-elected to complete a stint of 8 years in the White House. The most significant issue in Carter’s years was his signing of an agreement with Deng Xiao Ping of China in 1979. The signing of the agreement was meant to bring a closer cooperation between the US and China. Reagan’s years were deemed a good term of office and he had a good working relationship with Margaret Thatcher.
Nearly 3 years into office, Margaret Thatcher had a small war to contend with when the Argentinians tried to take over the Falkland Islands with force, the Malvinas, as Argentina called them. She handled this firmly, had the support of the US, and earned another term in office, which was being questioned because she had taken on the trade unions and was pushing a mandate to privatise several of the industries which the Labour governments had nationalised. She got on well with Reagan, as stated, each was all for government underpinned by capitalism and the private sector. Reagan completed his term of office in 1988; Margaret Thatcher had lost the trust of many of the senior members of the Conservative party and was forced to resign, making way for John Major, largely her protégé.
Much to people’s surprise he managed to win at the next General Election in 1992, possibly because John Smith, the Labour leader, had died, giving way to a largely unprepared Neil Kinnock, which meant the Conservatives were in office till 1997. Meanwhile, Bill Clinton had regained the presidency for the Democrats and was resident in the White House for 8 years till 2000, surprisingly beating the incumbent George Bush, Snr.
In the Bush Snr 4-year term of office started in 1988 when he took over from Reagan. Well into his term he began the US engagement in the Middle East, at the behest of the Saudis, when Sadam Hussein attacked and temporarily annexed Kuwait in 1991. The neighbouring countries, most notably Saudi Arabia, were concerned and sought US help. This brought the US into the problems of the Middle East and they have been there to this day albeit latterly they have indicated they want to withdraw.
But first we must look back at the complex structure of the Middle East, but we shall restrict this to post 1948, when the State of Israel was mandated. The history of the Middle East should really go back several millennia, to Babylon and earlier, and the subsequent interaction of the three main monotheistic religions.
Another sign that matters were changing came in 1956 when Col Nasser took over in Egypt and his attempt to take over the Suez Canal from the Anglo-French consortium that had run it for many decades, having built it. The French with British help sent in the troops and asked for American assistance. It was somewhat of a shock when it was not forthcoming, a warning that one had to get permission first when the Americans were to be involved. It was another lesson for the British and French that their influence in the Middle East was declining rapidly.
The Palestinians were less than happy when they were cut off from Jerusalem and even resorted to war. In 1967, the Arabs were confident about winning the 6-day war which erupted but were soundly beaten. The Palestinians lost some territory but, most importantly influence among the other Arab nations. The US had always supported Israel and this has been strengthened with the passage of time.
In Europe the USSR had been crumbling by the 1980s, Stalin was long gone. By the end of this period the Berlin Wall had come down, 1989, leading to the reunification of Germany, and most of the other satellite countries in the USSR hegemony were released from their ties to Moscow. Although Yugoslavia had not been under Soviet control it was a country that was made up of 3 separate parts, Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia. With the relaxation of any lingering Soviet threat, the three parts started to quarrel amongst themselves. It became quite serious in 1992 and lasted for three years, as neighbours who had lived comfortably side by side for years under Tito’s Yugoslavia, turned against each other because of background and/or religious belief. The Serbians were Greek orthodox Christians, the Croatians Catholic while Bosnians were followers of Islam, from the days when the land was run by the Ottomans, but with a significant number of people who considered themselves Serbs or Slavs.
This was a job for the UN to keep the peace, but they only had a mandate as peacekeepers. They went in with instructions not to interfere and watched while the combatants competed bitterly, no quarter given. The genocidal massacre at Srebinica by the Serbians was the last straw and the UN were then given the mandate to act with force, using units of the British and French armies. Peace was restored. The US was not involved except from the side lines and the subsequent peace process.
In the Far East, the nations of China, ASEAN, S Korea and Japan had been prospering. That is until 1997 when the Asian Economic Crisis struck, first in S Korea and spread to several countries most notably Indonesia. There the effect was dramatic, bringing about the end of the 30-year rule of Soeharto and a change in direction of the way Indonesia was governed to a more democratic manner. Vietnam was showing signs of opening up to western ways of governance although still espoused a single party state. It took the better part of five years to throw off the setback of the Crisis for Indonesia to recover to a growth rate of 5% but none of the countries of the Far East was affected to the same extent when an Economic crisis hit the US banks and financial institutions in 2008, spilling over into Europe, to a significant extent.
As stated above, before that the Middle East had embroiled the US, with forces from the allies, when Sadam Hussein of Iraq had attacked Kuwait in 1991. The regaining of Kuwait under UN mandate cleared the Iraqis but they were not pursued at that time beyond their border till much later. The US had become engaged and US forces presence in the region would continue.
The US and China in the 21st Century
In the 21 years of this century, the main protagonists have firmed up to be China and the US, the two largest economies in the world, the first following the dictatorial one-party communist path and the latter the US espousing the western democratic precepts of government.
China has been increasingly robust in internal affairs, for example its heavy-handed, sometimes brutal, handling of the Uighers and its dealings concerning Hong Kong where they have overridden the agreement signed with the British in 1997; one country two systems, which was supposed to last 50 years. They are showing signs of flaunting their disregard of international opinion for their actions in the S China sea where they have created islands in the building up sand banks, then claiming that these islands are China’s territory and establishing military bases on them. They pretend to take exception to when a foreign military vessel or airplane ventures close to the islands. These actions worry some ASEAN countries, especially those depending on the S. China Sea, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
The US was shocked when the landmark building, the 100 storey Twin Towers, was subjected to a suicide attack with highjacked airliners on 11th September 2001. The world looked on in horror as the towers came crashing down and thousands of people lost their lives. The shock was made more appalling because it was the first time that the US had been successfully attacked in their homeland. However, the US quickly picked up the pace to reply, and responded with some force. They arranged support from the UN on the basis of weapons of mass destruction which they claimed the Iraqis had produced, but was unproven. It was not long before Saddam was caught and hanged. The US built up the troops and propped up the replacement government. The end of Saddam led to instability between the two main factions of Islam, the Sunnis and the majority in Iraq, the Shias. This widened as the years went on, the US not fully understanding the requirements for peace in an increasingly complex situation. The troops were withdrawn by 2011 just as Syria went into conflict and widened the base and the number of interested parties, particularly the Al Qaeda/ISIS extreme religious faction. In 2014 the Americans came back, although its main focus was on Syria and increasingly on Iran.
The first two decades the US were fully involved in the Middle East except for the three years they up wound their operations in Iraq after 2011. Syria became embroiled in civil war in 2011 when pro-democracy insurgents tried to overcome the government of Bashar al Assad which brought in ISIS and Al Qaeda and other factions, the Kurds, for instance. The United States was brought in and placed sanctions on the government. The conflict has created a huge refugee crisis, not yet resolved.
The main thrust of US actions, however, was in Afghanistan because of Al Qaeda and their involvement in the Twin Towers. They threw out the Taliban government in 2011, but the Taliban were patient, waiting until the US were ‘tired’ of their role as policeman, foregoing the development programmes that were running in the country. This came about in August 2021 when the Americans pulled their troops, much to the shock of the Afghan people and somewhat the surprise of the American people The country is left in disarray in the hands of the mediaeval religious Taliban and no future, until either they are deposed or an acceptable compromise is found that is suitable for all the people.
The Chinese see that the US is not focussing on world affairs, after a 4- year term of the unusual Trump presidency – a genius from his own perspective!!- followed by the occasionally forgetful Biden. The pandemic has not helped. Expect the Chinese to make use, from their own expansionist aims viewpoint, of this rather weak period of US government. They may try to take advantage of the situation with regard to Taiwan risking UN protests on the way.
Final thoughts of the day
These are of some concern. The issues are from a political point of view i) China is flexing its muscles and might risk a conflict escalation over Taiwan and beyond. They feel strong enough to test the US which is dangerous. ii) the US may not show the leadership qualities we in the western world have come to rely on, and become embroiled in domestic affairs. They have a tendency for isolationism. China is watching this carefully. iii) Europe is somewhat lacking in direction following Brexit, changes at the top, and the difficulties it faces in dealing with some of the new members to the east of the union. Perhaps the headquarters should be more central for the size of the EU as it has become rather than Brussels in the early days. iv) Britain remains divided after Brexit, dreams of a future in a trans-Pacific trade partnership – unlikely, and looks back to the glory days of the past, where they will remain, iv) ASEAN will need to deal with the Myanmar problem and the creeping dominance of China in the S. China sea; worrying. v) The Middle East, the home of the three monotheistic religions, will rumble on for a good number of years, leading to more refugee crises. vi) Afghanistan: The Taliban are trying to create a mediaeval/ archaic religious state- will they be allowed to do this’ll? vii) Sub – Saharan Africa; a lot to do in terms of aid, not just money, and another billion in population forecast by the end of the century. The younger generation are eager. viii) Australia: they are concerned that China/Chinese is/are buying so much property. China not happy with them that they have signed a pact with Britain and the US in recent days- AUKUS.
The issues from an environmental point of view can be put in two interacting headings, namely population and the planet. The population of the world is given in the following table from the 18th century onwards:
1700 – 650 million
1800 – 1,00 billion
1900 – 1.85 billion
1970 – 3.00 billion
2021 – 8.50 billion
2051 – 10.00 + billion
It can be seen that the human race went on an astonishing expansion spree in the late 1960s, and we have almost reached what some scientists believe is the maximum that the planet can safely hold, without upsetting the environment irrecoverably. This feeds, no pun intended, into the climate debate which is very much on everyone’s mind. But the question of population, which was of concern 10-15 years ago, has dropped from prominence and been replaced by what the population is perceived to have done and do today to the climate.
It is interesting to note that for 170 years of the Industrial Revolution, till 1960s, when the fuel of choice was coal, the CO2 in the atmosphere had barely increased from 310ppm to 340ppm. It then increased to 425ppm in 60 years – as a result of human population growth and activity? We must always remember that CO2 is a building block of life; should it fall below 150ppm then all life will die off.
The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) is a high-level body steering governments towards addressing the issue of climate change. They are political in scope and with a goal that brooks no inconvenient information. Their agenda is set. However, they have stated that the Climate is a chaotic system and may remain out of reach! They have taken an average global temperature for their global climate change models (GCMs) because of the sheer computing power required; however, the world does not turn on an average global temperature and we certainly don’t live in one.
One way to divide the world is according to regional climates and the 200+ countries of the world will see how they fit and the type of pollution they must address. In this way, their contribution can be directed to their climate and they can address matters of environment close to home; population, urban v rural, waste and pollution, land and sea (if relevant), water supply, (de) forestation, energy – type and efficiency, and so on. Small countries or groups of countries working together can make a significant contribution in this way. In terms of sustainable development, this falls in line with the bottom up principle1 and all can see what they have to do. The larger countries, which have a major part to play should divide their countries up into areas of similar climate and examine what best to do in each part. This would apply to Russia, the US, China, Brazil for instance, and the EU can group nation states together. Something has to be done.
Looking to the Future
Imagine this is 2050. The millennial generation will be in the onset of early middle age, assuming the trend of longevity and that we have mastered the need to put a brake on population growth. For someone born today, last century will just be ’history’. The millennial generation will be at an age where they are mature and expected to take on responsibility. What will be the tools that will be available to them?
Today we accept that we have entered the digital age and it is extending to many walks of life. It is also the early days of artificial intelligence, something that would only have been considered a fantasy 70 years ago when we had not properly entered the computer age. Artificial intelligence is real but can we turn robots to think like human beings; will they have emotional intelligence? What will be their needs? Very exciting but fraught with obvious dangers.
Then there is space and the need for the enquiring mind. It has taken 60 years from the first men up in space, but hundreds of satellites circling the globe checking everything we wish from weather events and so on. NASA use the satellites to monitor climate, giving us the most accurate data to date. But a select few of the world’s billionaires are trying out commercial flights. Will it be the precursor to daily flights to the moon or into space for the more well-to-do?
There will be, however, a billion or so still in poverty. A blight on mankind’s endeavours! What would Frederick the Great and the other distinguished luminaries of 18th century life think of life 3 centuries on? They would understand poverty but they would have been amazed at what mankind had achieved and what he was still aiming to do. The Sun, which is our main source of heat, is supposed to last another 1 billion years which gives us plenty of time to find alternative accommodation for ourselves provided we find ways to develop sensibly.
A Brief Classification of Ambassadors
The forthcoming decennary of the Russian International Affairs Council gives us good reason to once again reminisce about RIAC’s many friends, fellows, partners and allies who have backed the Council throughout all these amazing and inimitable years. Along with directors of academic institutions, presidents of universities, federal ministers and heads of departments, editors-in-chief of field-oriented media and other opinion leaders of the Russian community of IR experts, it would be unfair to pay little tribute to foreign ambassadors, while they have played a significant role in establishing and promoting many areas of project work at RIAC.
In fact, the diplomatic corps accredited to Moscow cannot help but impress with its diversity. Foreign ambassadors and heads of affiliates of international organizations are often surprisingly bright and extraordinary people; and once you have met them, these meetings will stick in the mind for a long time to come. I once broached the idea of publishing a collection of essays featuring most memorable of the diplomats who I happened to know at different stages of my winding life. Being fully aware of the complexity and the known delicacy that this endeavour would have entailed, I had to postpone this task for a far-off future, only limiting myself with only a brief classification of what foreign ambassadors could be. In my humble opinion, this could give impetus for a more thorough and detailed research in this riveting field.
Before anyone possibly asks questions or offers their critical remarks, I would like to emphasize that the classification that I propose here fails to correspond to conventional matters of cultural anthropology, sociology, let alone political science. In no way do I seek to deal with the peculiarities of the countries represented by ambassadors working in Moscow. I have also chosen to leave out of account such undoubtedly important grounds for classification as age, gender, wealth, tenure as an ambassador or size and composition of the diplomatic mission headed by the ambassador.
Nevertheless, a number of generalized psychological and behavioral types of foreign ambassadors have been identified. This attempt at classification is now humbly laid before the readership. I would like to emphasize that it would in no way be appropriate, let alone permissible, to consider this classification fitting to describe particular foreign diplomats who are currently working in Moscow or used to work to Russia. Any possible coincidences are incidental and unintentional.
A modern ambassador is undoubtedly very different from the arrogant Swede we meet in the popular Soviet film Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession, a diplomat who would demand the Kemsky volost from the tsar in a stubborn and straightforward fashion. There seem to be six major types of high-standing diplomats, with each having a whole set of features inherent only to their type.
The daydreamer. A distinctive feature of daydreamer ambassadors is their ardent, enduring and all-forgiving love for Russia. This love is typically rooted in a good command of the Russian language as well as a deep knowledge of Russia’s history and culture. More often than not, daydreamer ambassadors would begin their career as interpreters from Russian or with a long-term internship at one of the Russian (Soviet) universities. The ambassadorship in Moscow is a life-long dream, and the years in office are the best time and the pinnacle of their professional career.
In conversation, daydreamer ambassadors would but quote Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky or even Vladimir Vysotsky, who is less well-known outside Russia. In the ambassador’s office, one can find cultural relics made of blue-and-white Gzhel ceramics or golden-red-black Khokhloma dishes. The walls are hung with pictures showcasing Russian nature or urban landscapes of the old Moscow.
Daydreamer ambassadors tend to acquire wide contacts in the bohemia of the capital quickly and effortlessly, often attending premieres in Moscow theaters and being always present at the opening of exhibitions in metropolitan museums. They gladly give interviews to any media outlets, whether this is a government paper or a media resource of the radical opposition. They love to travel around Russia’s regions—moreover, they get to most abandoned of places in their wanderings, where the foot of the capital’s dweller rarely steps. They are stoic about the everyday and political vicissitudes of their life, since they are fully convinced of the bright future of both Russia and its relations with the native country. In public speeches, daydreamer ambassadors miss no opportunity to highlight how important are educational, cultural and humanitarian contacts, which are the basis for universal peace and friendship among peoples.
Upon leaving Moscow, daydreamer ambassadors would rather choose to give up on their diplomatic career, since any other position in foreign service would be a step backward rather than forward. Usually, they become professor emeritus at major universities or top contributors for leading think tanks, where they continue their struggle for better bilateral relations with Russia. Daydreamer ambassadors regularly return to the Russian capital to participate in various conferences, symposia and seminars, often publishing voluminous and touching memoirs about their historic mission in Moscow.
The businessman. This type of ambassadors refers to career diplomats or political appointees; far fewer such people come to the foreign service from the private sector. Usually, businessman ambassadors do not speak Russian, while having studied some Russian history and culture in the old days—obviously, not so deeply and thoughtfully as daydreamer ambassadors would. They arrive in Moscow convinced that discussions about the “mysterious Russian soul” are nothing more than idle fictions of a bunch of too excited cone-headed “friends of Russia” and that Russia, as a matter of fact, is no different from other countries and therefore requires a businesslike treatment rather than a romantic approach.
Businessman ambassadors are also confident in their ability to make inroads, while mainly relying on the overlapping interests of business elites of Russia and their own country. Such diplomats are quite well-versed in world oil, gas and wheat prices or other items of Russian export. They demonstrate a lively interest in the news about Western sanctions and Russian responses, new appointments in the economic sector of the government and any decisions of Russia’s Central Bank on the policy rate. The interior of their residence is distinctly business-like, minimalistic at times. Businessman ambassadors prefer to decorate the walls of their office with avant-garde painting or art photography.
Businessman ambassadors have extensive contacts in both Russian business associations and foreign business associations represented in Russia. They would always participate in all kinds of investment forums and other business events. Businessman ambassadors would never say no to cutting red ribbons at the opening ceremonies of industrial fairs and joint ventures. During public speeches, they would show presentations with detailed statistics illustrating the undoubted achievements in promoting trade and fostering economic cooperation between their native country and Russia.
Upon returning back home from Moscow, businessman ambassadors usually become consultants or even board members of large international corporations. Frequently, they set up new, and rather successful, consulting firms on their own or in partnership with other businessman ambassadors. They would rarely write personal memoirs; and if they do, stories about the time in Moscow would then be on the pages of a single—and far from the longest—chapter.
The box-ticker. In most cases, box-ticker ambassadors are career diplomats. An appointment to Moscow is a natural but not necessarily inevitable step in their diplomatic career, since they could just as likely serve as ambassadors to another major capital—be it Beijing, Brussels or New Delhi.
Box-tickers are usually self-restraint, attentive to details, prone to healthy conservatism. They may be lacking in the idealism of daydreamer ambassadors or the assertiveness of businessman ambassadors, but they would see—better than anyone in the embassy—into the intricacies of diplomatic protocol, etiquette and the established conventions of how foreigners work in Moscow. щ, unless absolutely necessary, would not overhaul things in the work of the embassy, whether the staffing table or the furniture left over from their predecessor. They believe that decorating walls with painting is redundant, and if one can see an artistic canvas in the ambassador’s residence, it most likely displays the national school of painting of the ambassador’s country. Box-tickers are ready to take on the lion’s share of the current tasks in the embassy. They would be the first to visit partners and experts. Should something important happen in Russia or in Russian foreign policy, they would be the first to send dispatches to their capital. Box-ticker ambassadors are not necessarily boring or reclusive: They can be very sociable, while remaining completely secretive. They are rather predictable and reliable interlocutors who do not deliberately ask provocative questions and never allow “accidental” leaks of information.
Box-ticker ambassadors attach great importance to their contacts with the Presidential Executive Office, the Russian Foreign Ministry, the Federal Customs and Border Services as well as with fellow ambassadors and heads of representative offices of large international organizations. They would regularly attend all diplomatic receptions and dinners, having at the ready a well-suited set of greetings and toasts that can be used for all occasions. A box-ticker could become the ideal doyenne of the diplomatic corps or a group of countries.
The appointment to the embassy in Moscow is certainly not the last in their diplomatic career. They stand a good chance of further career advancement—up to the highest positions in the Foreign Ministry. Box-tickers remain loyal to the diplomatic service even after retirement, but they rarely go into teaching or consulting. Box-ticker ambassadors leave Russia with a sense of accomplishment. Since they tend to be invariably discreet and disinclined to expression of emotions in public, one can’t help but guess what the true impressions from Moscow and Russia could be.
The martyr. As is known, one can be either born or become a martyr. Some ambassadors try on the heavy shackles of martyrdom during their preparations for a posting to Moscow, but desperate daydreamers or disaffected businessmen may well become martyrs along the way. Box-tickers are less likely to become martyrs, although such cases have sometimes been observed. A distinctive feature of martyr ambassadors is that they can discern insidious intrigues of the authorities or carefully planned provocations in the most mundane things, both in relation to their country and to them personally.
A martyr could be upset with literally everything, both with the long wait for the presentation of the credentials, or the inability to arrange a meeting with the deputy foreign minister, and the surveillance over them and the embassy staff by Russia’s special services. Martyr ambassadors categorically refuse to believe in the bright future of their country’s relations with Russia, and they see the future in dark colors only. This does not mean, however, that martyrs are but sullenly passive—they may well be hyperactive. In the residence of the so-called active martyr, there would constantly be many people of different backgrounds, such as leaders of non-systemic opposition, free-thinking representatives of civil society, journalists and the capital’s creative intellectuals, who serve to fuel the ambassador’s eternal fears and their constant concerns for the future.
Martyr ambassadors love to travel to Russia’s regions but are afraid to do so. They would be referring to the restrictions imposed by the authorities and the possibility of the aforementioned provocations. For the same reason, they would behave extremely cautiously when communicating with local journalists, especially those who represent media outlets affiliated with the authorities. In defense of the martyr ambassador, it is worth noting that they are sometimes capable, like no-one else, of putting together an accurate and extensive list of challenges and threats facing Russia, and of outlining major yet unresolved foreign and domestic problems.
Upon their return to the homeland, martyrs count on a promotion as compensation for all the suffering they had to endure in the inhospitable Moscow. Once retired, such ambassadors would publish their memoirs exploring the various “horrors of the regime” and the few dissident heroes whom they met in Russia by some twist of fate. In their memoirs, they rather convincingly explain why their mission was doomed to failure from its very outset, while certain passages can make the sympathetic reader shed a quiet tear.
The hedonist. The complete opposite of the martyr is the hedonist ambassador. While martyrs are most often melancholic by nature, hedonists naturally include most of true choleric subjects. Much like as a martyr, one can become a hedonist having evolved from a daydreamer ambassador or a businessman ambassador, which happens when ambassadors become convinced that their initial expectations from the mission to Moscow were unrealistic.
If we compare the hedonist with the martyr, though, the former draws fundamentally different conclusions from the realization of the limitations of their abilities to radically change both the world and Russia. Without striving for great accomplishments as an ambassador, hedonists develop an amazing ability to turn their stay in Moscow into a most enjoyable pastime. Hedonist ambassadors can boast one of the finest chefs in Moscow’s diplomatic corps and a completely exceptional liquor cabinet. In any, even the most difficult situations, hedonist ambassadors still radiate calmness and contentment. The doors of the embassy are hospitably wide open for all sorts of politicians, businessmen, cultural figures and scholars. Sometimes, one would get the impression that hedonists are more interested in merely communicating with people than in discussing professional issues of diplomacy. It is no coincidence that box-ticker ambassadors rarely turn into hedonists, since box-tickers typically take themselves too seriously—as well as their work and the numerous formalities inevitably associated with this professional activity. Hedonist treat themselves and their work with a touch of irony, with many of the formal requirements of the diplomatic service appearing at best old-fashioned, if not downright ridiculous, to their taste.
Like daydreamers, hedonist ambassadors pay certain tribute to art—since they are rather weak at Russian, they have to contend themselves with opera and ballet instead of drama. One may often meet the hedonist on tennis courts or at elite golf clubs. Among hedonists, there are also those who are fond of the more unconventional sports, such as sailing yachts or go-karting. Hedonists travel around Russia with great pleasure, but this is more to replenish their personal collection of colorful memories, not so much for the sake of meeting the locals. Hedonists are always ready to go on a horse tour in the Altai Highlands or fly a helicopter to the Kamchatka Valley of Geysers. In a friendly conversation over dinner, they would casually mention how they climbed Kilimanjaro or hunted alligators in the Amazon Rainforest.
Hedonists leave Moscow with a feeling of slight sadness, though with no particular regrets, since they are completely sure that they will settle no worse in the next country of destination. In most cases, this confidence is fully justified. They usually refrain from writing memoirs as they do not fancy large texts and are always pressed for time—as befits a hedonist, they are in a hurry to live.
The philosopher. Perhaps, this is the most interesting type of foreign ambassadors. Apparently, any of the types described so far can become a philosopher. For this, the daydreamer must overcome their enthusiasm, the businessman must realize that business is subordinate to big politics, the box-ticker must loosen, if not break, the shackles of diplomatic protocol, the martyr must get rid of paranoia, and the hedonist must grow sick of the small pleasures of the ambassador’s life. Nevertheless, philosophers are often those who used to be in a high position (such as the head of the foreign policy planning department or even a deputy minister) in the Foreign Ministry of their country before moving to the post of the ambassador.
Issues of ambassador’s everyday life are rarely the focus of a philosopher’s attention. They are also much less interested in the specific day-to-day issues of their country’s bilateral relations with Russia, since the philosopher has an experienced and hard-working minister-counsellor or the resourceful chief of the trade mission. Philosopher ambassadors are more concerned with the broader issues of how the world and all of its nations evolve. They, as befits a philosopher, are lenient to the inevitable difficulties and irritations related to the post of ambassador. Philosopher ambassadors and all other staff at the embassy are divided by an invisible but irresistible line. While being in the spotlight, such ambassadors nevertheless look at them from a distance, just as the noble Athos in the famous novel “The Three Musketeers” by Alexandre Dumas. Although he took part in all the adventures of the courageous company, Athos still remained more of an outside observer than the protagonist.
Philosophers prefer chamber meetings with a narrow circle of selected guests to crowded receptions at the embassy. They are very picky but persistent in their contacts with local politicians and intellectuals. The ambassador is respected and holds authority in the diplomatic corps, with some younger ambassadors proudly calling them a teacher and a mentor. The end of a philosopher’s mission in Moscow turns into a long line of dinner parties and receptions hosted by the grateful colleagues.
For a philosopher, the post of ambassador to Russia is often the last avenue in their diplomatic career. Therefore, they regard the appointment to Moscow as an opportunity to take stock of their long and diverse professional life. If they choose to write some fundamental work after the stay, this will not be a personal memoir, since the philosopher understands well how futile their personal ambitions would be against the background of eternity. Rather, the book will be an expression of the author’s views on international relations and life in a broader sense, with scattered references to the rich professional experience of the philosopher ambassador.
Certainly, the brief classification of ambassadors proposed in this piece will raise many questions, probably coming under justified criticism both within the diplomatic corps and within the expert community. Not without reason, I could be accused of excessive sketchiness, impermissible simplification and insufficient understanding of how foreign embassies function. In my defense, I would like to note that I do not believe the task of classifying ambassadors to be resolved, and I sincerely hope that research in this direction will be continued by more competent and ponderate scholars.
P.S. In conclusion, being more serious, I would like to express my heartfelt gratitude to all the ambassadors who have worked with the Russian International Affairs Council over the past ten years and are still doing so. Surely, the ambassadors-partners of RIAC do not fit into this ironic classification, hardly lending themselves to any unambiguous typology. The Russian International Affairs Council is sincerely grateful to all of you for the interest that you and the staff of your embassies show in our activities. RIAC has always sought to reciprocate this interest, and we are pleased to think that our Council could support you in the difficult diplomatic work in Russia in one way or another. We hope that the cooperation established over RIAC’s first decade will become even closer and more robust, diverse and productive in the coming years.
From our partner RIAC
Chinese Debt Trap Diplomacy: The Debate and the Gaps in the Literature
The rise of China created issues in the international area as well in the domestic arena of many countries. The Chinese ambition of becoming a super power has started infusing skepticism to many scholars and policy makers of different countries. Again, the infusion of cash from China to the economies of third world countries brings fresh breath of air to the stagnated economies. The impact of the newly infused cash and the increasing influence of China in the loan receiving countries are the bone of contention among the scholars. The scholars are divided different groups on the issue of “Chinese Debt” and its consequences. The debate started when China took control of a strategically important port of Sri Lanka when Sri Lanka failed to repay the loan of China. This debate paper will focus on the issue of “China’s debt trap diplomacy”, where it will focus on whether China is using its economic power to influence other countries or not. So, our research question is: “Does China use debts as a tool of diplomacy to control over foreign lands, installations and sovereignty?” This paper will try to find the ideas of scholars and review them to find if “debt trap diplomacy” really exists or not. The literature review will examine the debate, the positions, the logics, the arguments, the strength, weakness and the robustness of the literatures on this issue. Before comparing, contrasting and synthesizing to see the nuanced picture of the Chinese debt situation, literatures will be considered separately on the basis of the debate camps at first.
Chinese economy is growing very fast in the last three decades which also contributed to the growth of its military and diplomacy. Now, China has become world’s largest creditor according to AidData (Reuters, 2021). China mainly credits the developing countries for the expansion of the flagship project of Xi Xingping, the “Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). China has credited the money to developing countries with secrecy with hidden clauses (Reuters, 2021). The amount that China credited to the developing countries is nearly $843 billion and the “hidden debt” is $385 billion according to AidData (Smith 2021). There were always been doubts on Chinese intention in the past about the lending, but in 2017 when Sri Lanka failed to return the money borrowed from China and agreed to lease the Hambantota port to Chinese authority for 99 years (Abi-Habib 2018), the doubt became real to many of the researchers and officials that China is crediting the developing countries to grab lands, sovereignty or strategic location for its expansion and world domination. But some researchers think that as China is becoming a superpower, it has some ambitions like BRI, that is why it credits the countries. Here starts a debate on China’s intention.
The debt trap is not new in the world and the third world countries are suffering from it (Dezner 2009). But the problem starts when China started to lend money which leads to acquire strategic assets from countries. In past some of the officials and researchers showed their concern over the Chinese money lending diplomacy. But after Chinese lease on Hambantota Port of Sri Lanka due to the inability of repaying the loans. Some countries that have taken loans from China are on the brink of bankruptcy as Sri Lanka. China might take advantages of that situation and take control of the sovereignty and strategic locations.
There are two main caps available in the debate. The first group think that China is using “debt trap diplomacy” and BRI for bad intentions. The second group think that “debt trap’ is a myth and China is just a creditor and using the money to expand its dream project BRI. A third group is skeptic of both the sides and think that it is not time to judge Chinese intentions now and the BRI project is full of uncertainties and a two-way path may prove bad for China too.
Indian strategic analyst Brahma Chellaney (2017) wrote an article on “Chinese Debt Trap Diplomacy” how countries are going down to the Chinese debt trap and losing the sovereignty. The “debt trap” theory has created a debate since then. In this article, Chellaney (2017) showed that China is funding the developing countries for infrastructure development and its ambitious BRI project. Supporting the claims of Chellaney, Wilsbach (2021) stated that the countries with weaker economies and in the immediate proximity of China in the Indo-Pacific are mostly under the debt. Moreover, the loans are very unsustainable because the countries are taking the loans have no ability to repay and the terms of loans are elucidated (Behuria 2018), the loans are untraceable, the terms are unknown which is deviated from the standard practice of IMF and other financial institutions (Horn, Reinhart, Trebesch 2020). In the condition of the loans, only Chinese companies can get the tenders with Chinese workers working for them. Countries soon fail to repay the loan and in return China can take some geopolitically important areas (Chellaney 2017, Wilbach 2021) which may fulfill China’s geostrategic goals like “String of Pearl” to solve its “Malacca Dilemma” (Parker, Chefitz 2018). Chellaney (2017) even argued that China use the loan to open up the domestic market of the loan receiving country for entering Chinese goods in the market and exploit the natural resources the country has. China even trying to recolonize Africa where the “debt trap diplomacy” is crippling the economies of Africa by pursuing own self-interests and skewing the balance of trade towards China (Kinyondo 2019, Schwab 2016). Though the theory is new, the debate is new but the concerns are old. Drezner (2009) predicted earlier that Chinese debts are becoming bad debts. Later US officials such as Hillary Clinton and Mike Pompeo said “Chinese debt trap” is “neocolonialism” and “predatory” with several senators showed concerns (Zengerle 2018) which supports Kinyandos article. SK Chatterjee (2020) labeled the debt trap as “Salami Slicing” and added more to the literatures that it is not just about territorial acquisition or border incursion but extend as far as sovereignty and cultural usurpation. Though struggling with debts are nothing new from third world countries, the Chinese debt and Belt and Road Initiatives threatens ability to achieve self-reliance (Greene 2019). Recently, Ibrahim (2020) narrated that in this Coronavirus pandemic Chinese debt trap will get boost. He added that military base of Djibouti, Hambantota, Maldives and Gwadar port of Pakistan, all are facing the same issue that Chinese sovereignty over them. From the discussion of the literatures above, it is clear that the China is being aggressive towards its economic and geostrategic goals where debt is an effective tool for China. Certainly, we understand the broader picture of Chinese intentions. However, the limited available literatures and data on the impact of Chinese debt make it hard to comprehend the nature of the debt. As a result, very few peer reviewed journal articles were written to support the idea of “Chinese debt trap diplomacy”.
On the other hand, the number of counterarguments against “Chinese debt trap” are already present. Deborah Brautigam (2020) labeled the concept “debt trap” as a meme and expressed that the Western media and governments fell into ‘negativity bias’. Vu (2021) thinks that the concept of “debt trap” fear is overestimation of Chinese capabilities. Followed by Chatham house report (2020), Lowy Institute report (2020), Singh (2021) and Brautigam (2021) labeled debt trap as ‘myth’. Li Jiang (2019) shows that the debt trap exists for third world countries since WW2. Maria Adele Carrai (2021) questions the Chinese debt trap rhetoric surrounding Hambantota Port. Even if the countries take loans from China, corruption, bad governance, inefficiency, bureaucratic red tapes weakening the capacity of utilizing the foreign investments (Shaikh and Chen 2021). China does not involve in the predatory behaviors in Africa and Caribbean Islands which is opposite of the debt trap narrative (Singh 2020). Brautigam (2018) showed that Chinese debt is not a major debt distress in Africa now. China has invested in 51 countries since 2001-2017 and have not seized any assets from them (Hurley et al. 2018). The Debt trap of Sri Lanka was its own making as the government of Sri Lanka was borrowing heavily for the infrastructures which was just inefficiency of the government and eye wash to its own people (Behuria 2018). Shahar (2018) on the Lowy International report supported Behuria (2018) that the Hambantota Port leasing incident does not provide enough evidences of Chinese strategies rather shows lots of evidences of bad governance of the recipient sides. Jones and Hameri (2020) on the Chatham House report argued that, it is not China that is shaping the debts and BRI but the recipient countries. In their recommendations the mentioned that China and Malaysia are not helpless rather inefficient in spending the money received from China. Sri Lanka was war torn and the internal politics of power mongering of the parties spent money to the unnecessary projects which let to the mess. Li (2017) argued that the unconditional loans of China limited the scope for the traditional donors and Chinese policy of “no string attached” after sanctioning the loans explains the different narrative of the debt trap narrative. Jiang Li (2017) mentioned that the Chinese debt trap narrative has been politicized. From these literatures, we understand that the debt trap narratives do not hold water against these evidences. Again, the BRI project and the debt trap narrative is very new. China has just started becoming a donor recently in compare to the other Western Countries and sources. So, though China is following the nonintervention policy to the other countries. Sri Lanka is a case study along with Zambia and some Pacific Island states fall in the category to study. These limited amounts of data are not sufficient enough to judge the whole scenario right now. So, there is an opportunity to debate over the issue of Chinese debt.
Another group is in the middle of the debate and they think that China sanctions risky loans. The process and the conditions that China puts on the debt are questionable and it is not a very opaque (Gerstel 2018, Behuria 2018) which might support the debt trap narrative. Again Gerstel (2018) thinks that China and IMF should work together to reduce risky loans and ensure sustainability and Behuria (2018) opposing the debt trap narrative by analyzing that Sri Lanka did to their own. Ferchen and Perera (2019) think that Chinese infrastructure deals are a two-way street and as China is weak in analyzing risks, as well as with the benefits, it might hurt China too.
The Western scholars, governments and the media are focusing on “Chinese debt trap diplomacy” as they are in fear of the growth of Chinese power and influence over the regions that previously were West dominated (Jiang 2017). But it is not entirely wrong that China is sanctioning the risky loans without analyzing the sustainability (Behuria 2018) and they put vague conditions (Gertel 2018, Behuria 2018) which can be exploited lately. Though the debt trap narrative is a meme (Brautigam 2021) which does not support the major distress in Africa (Brautigam 2018), did not find anything that supported the ‘debt trap’, the easy debt is crippling Africa’s self-reliance (Kinyondo 2019, Schwab 2016). Even China is taking advantages of being a donor country to exploit the natural resources and the huge market (Kinyondo 2019, Schwab 2016). Li’s (2017) argument was right for the time being that China has noninterventional policy towards the receiving country but the Sri Lankan incident challenged the narrative. If China did not want the strategically important port of Sri Lanka, the Hambantota, they would have found a way to bypass the lease as they did in Pakistan’s CPEC (Shaikh and Chen 2021). Sri Lanka is not the only aberration, military base of Djibouti, Pakistan’s Gwadar Port all are supporting Chellaney’s (2017) “Pearl of string theory” to dominate the Indian Ocean region to solve the “Malacca Dilemma” of China because China uses Malacca Straight as the prime business root to Africa, Europe, Asia and the Middle-East (Wilsbach 2021). Vu (2017), Singh (2021), Shaikh and Chen (2021), Behuria (2018) all indicated that it is not China but the receiving countries poor governance, corruption, bad management are dragging themselves down to the debts. Understandably that is true but the question always remains there that why does China sanctions that kind of predatory loans? The case of Sri Lanka is a great example how China is countering India and increasing its influence in the Indian Ocean (Chellaney). After sanctioning the loans, Chinese companies are becoming the contractors and the Chinese workers are working the project rather the local companies and the workers (Chellaney 2017, Wilbach 2021) which means the money China is providing for the development projects will be going back to China and again the locals are not getting the money in real rather they have to pay the money again. Id China was not a predatory country, it would have not tried to restrict 11 countries to enter their own Economic Zones at South China sea.
Though annexing Hambantota port of Sri Lanka, China has not done anything like that in past and present. As mentioned earlier, China has sanctioned loans to more than 50 countries all over the world and the sum is not very small one, China did not establish sovereignty over any other installations, ports of geostrategic important locations (Hurley et al 2018). Somehow this argument is enough to weaken the ‘debt trap diplomacy’ narrative. Chatterjee’s (2020) ‘salami slicing’ is true for the South China Sea and the land borders of China but what and how would China do ‘salami slicing’ in places like Sri Lanka and China? Moreover, Chatham House Report (2020), Lowy International Report (2020), Shaikh and Chen (2021), Singh (2021), Behuria (2018) all indicated that one thing that they did not find evidence of Chinese ill intentions rather they found evidences of the bad governance that cripple the economy which led to misuse of the money received from China.
China has been a major donor for not a very long time, just a decade or more. The timeline is very small to judge the actions and intentions of a rising power. It is true that, China is pushing for its global domination by creating its hegemony over others. But most of the evidences we gathered on behalf of the ‘debt trap diplomacy’, many of them are not research papers, rather magazine article, opinions new important new reports in the Indian and Western media. Though most of the counterarguments are published in peer reviewed journals, they are also based on a few years’ observations. Most of the literatures solely focused on few regions like Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The researchers barely focused on the geopolitical importance of the countries rather they focused more on the internal political, economical and sociological aspects of the receiving countries. Jiang’s (2017) argument might be invalid if China start involving in the politics and economics of the loan receiving countries or really the number of countries like Sri Lanka increases. For, China might have maintained the ‘no string attached’ attitude as China thinks that when more countries will take loans and the receiving countries take more loans that they can not repay, then China might grab what it wants one by one. Or it is just a politicized concept from insecurities to devalue the work China is doing to be a great power. The studies of the both sides lacked enough quantitative data, including the lacking of enough cases to study weakens the results. Without rigorous quantitative or qualitative study of the phenomena, the studies remain unfinished and unconvincing.
Undoubtedly to say, for the new phenomena like ‘debt trap diplomacy’, a decade of observation is not enough yet scholar from the both sides of the debate made compelling arguments in a very short time. But I think it is still hard to say which side has the better arguments to win the debate. There are so many lacking in data and case studies as stated earlier. To the proponents of the ‘debt trap diplomacy’ theory could add the strategic important areas for China and try to show how China is involving there. They could also try to show that how China is exploiting the bad governance of the countries to seize economic control and the strategic locations. Furthermore, they could show using data that how important geographic regions are receiving more Chinese loans and increasing Chinese presence in the area. Conversely, the opponents of the ‘debt trap diplomacy’ theory could show that Chinese investments are good for developing countries. They could use data and show how Chinese money leads to the betterment of the infrastructures and lives of the receiving countries without interfering in the policies. In future the true Chinese intention will be unveiled and both sides might get enough data and case studies to bolster their positions. If China starts working with IMF and start respecting the international standard of loans, aid and money transaction, it would be easier for China to be trusted from the West and skeptics. Only time will tell what is really happening.
Annual meetings of G20 leaders are sometimes compared to UN Security Council meetings. In both cases, the world’s most powerful nations sit together at the same table. In both cases, there is frank discussion on the most pressing problems on the international agenda. Both formats shape strategic decisions—ones designed to help resolve emerging crises, contribute to a more robust global security architecture and a bolstered world economy.
However, in terms of its impact on international affairs, the Group of Twenty is about as different from the UN Security Council as a hand grenade is from a sniper rifle. The Security Council adopts highly focused and carefully crafted resolutions largely dealing with specific crisis situations. In turn, G20 works on a larger scale in the sense that it discusses general issues of world development, touching on specific crises when it is strictly necessary.
When drafting its resolutions, the Security Council tends to be caught in a desperate struggle for every word, let alone every phrase and every paragraph. In G20 statements, preference is given to rounded, vague and compromise phrases, which do not cause fundamental objections from any participant. This is understandable, though, since UN Security Council resolutions are binding on all members of the international community, while their sabotage may lead to most painful implications, up to the use of military force against the violator. The documents adopted at G20 summits are of recommendatory nature, which means they should be supported by decisions of such organizations as the World Bank, the IMF, the WHO, the EU, etc.
This, however, does not mean that G20 is by definition a less effective institution than the Security Council. In some cases, it is reasonable to put down a sniper rifle and pick up a proven grenade. However, the potential of a hand grenade is obviously more difficult to predict, since it is almost impossible to foresee the trajectories, let alone the dispersal radius of its numerous fragments. The best way to guarantee the desired outcome is to throw grenades at the enemy, reducing the factor of randomness to a minimum.
That is why summits of the Group of Twenty sometimes evoke a déjà vu, as participants incessantly discuss roughly the same issues, including steps to keep trade open, ensure global financial stability, promote the SDGs, support the world’s poorest countries, counter economic crime and protect the environment. Year after year, G20 leaders methodically continue to launch their “grenades” into the global information space, believing that each new declaration and each new statement of their summits is, if modest, another contribution to the fight for the security and prosperity of the world at large as well as in the G20 countries themselves.
The same happened last weekend in Rome. Another political “grenade” loudly exploded, with its “informational” fragments splattering in all directions. Will they hit their targets? Will this meeting become historic to mark a new development track for world economy and global politics?
Naturally, all the right ideas about the need for international cooperation in order to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, effect a global transition to sustainable development and reduce global carbon emissions were repeatedly voiced in Rome. G20 endorsed the idea of introducing a minimum global corporate tax, also deciding to establish a working group on healthcare and finance. It is even possible that the participants of the Rome meeting will heed Vladimir Putin’s call to accelerate the mutual recognition of COVID-19 vaccines. However, as UN Secretary General António Guterres noted on the eve of the summit, the primary goal of the discussions at the La Nuvola conference center was to restore trust among the main actors of world economy and global politics.
Then, the trust of whom and to whom exactly was it supposed to be about in Rome? First, it could be about restoring confidence within the so-called “collective West”. This trust was severely undermined by the hasty and ill-organized withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan as well as by an equally hasty formation of the new AUKUS alliance, the direct consequence of which was Canberra’s unilateral rupture of the “contract of the century” for the supply of French submarines to Australia. While all the Western leaders present in Rome, including U.S. President Joe Biden, desperately demonstrated their unbreakable unity, it is at least premature to talk whether the confidence has been re-built within the Atlantic community.
Second, it could be about restoring trust between the East and the West, countering the dangerous process of the world sliding towards a new bipolarity. But the very fact that neither President Vladimir Putin of Russia nor President Xi Jinping of China was present in Rome in person, while only resorting to video messages to the participants of the Summit, speaks for itself. So, what kind of trust can we talk about if a fierce sanctions war continues along with endless talks about global solidarity between the West and the East, with the last ties between NATO and Russia severed and with new anti-Chinese blocs and partnerships established?
Third, we could discuss trust between the global North and the global South. Does the global South have any reason to count on generosity and bounty from the global North, though? All this comes against the background when in spite of all the proposals to restructure the debts of low-income countries, their debt has increased by 12% during the pandemic rather than decreased—or when, contrary to the constant calls of WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus, the vaccination gap between the North and the South continues to widen rather than narrow.
But the point is not that the interests of individual G20 nations do not completely coincide, while they significantly differ in some areas. Ultimately, there are no two countries in the world whose national interests are completely alike. The problem is that today’s G20 have fundamentally different views on the future of the world order, with their basic ideas contradicting one another. What is fair and what is unfair, legal and illegal, allowed and not allowed in world politics? Until their standpoints are brought somewhat closer, G20 meetings will look like pompous celebrations, with noisy, bright, beautiful and harmless “carnival fireworks”—rather than the scattering of “grenades”—in their wake.
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