Our 36th year
of publishing The International Observer
VIEWING THE WORLD
A most significant development of the last
weeks is the continued presence of Xi Jinping, 64. On 25 October, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of
China (CPC) elected the Secretary General for a second term. Before the 19th CPC National Congress met there was some concern about inside opposition but it became clear that rivals had been
removed with the sweeping anti-corruption campaign or decided not to be visible. As far as preventing any diversion of attention from the congress, efforts were effective but did
not make the problems and trouble spots disappear. Still, not only in China but in Asia and the world at large Xi’s dynamic direction of reforms and assertive
influence will stay and drive the country‘s rise to superpower rank. At least two groups of major problems are getting in the way: the social-political attempt
to use the party and power to successfully manage people by trying to make party and people one, including trying to turn the non-Chinese ethnic inhabitants of
Tibet and Xinjiang into Chinese. The other obstacles are economic, lending themselves to better but painful solutions: opening the Chinese market to foreign
competition or endangering access abroad; lowering growth; repairing state-owned enterprises; and resolving the debts of failing domestic firms.
Recent weeks saw setbacks in
Iraq and Spain where Catalonians and Kurds had launched campaigns for self-government, complete with referendums and
declarations of independence. Besides the Iraqi government, especially Turkey is viscerally opposed because of the encouraging effect on its own Kurdish
minority. Spain declared all Catalonian actions unconstitutional, arresting key personalities, and is trying to take control of the autonomous region. While
there was some sympathy for the Kurds who had been given a vague promise of independence in 1920, established states, including the United States of America and
those of the European Union (EU), offered no encouragement.
Australia has received unwanted international
attention with the treatment of Asian migrants and attitude toward aborigines. The United Nations are criticizing the government for handling of its detention
center on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, which it closed on 31 October, leaving some 600 refugees and asylum seekers without protection, food, and water. A few
days earlier, after indigenous leaders had suggested in May of setting up an advisory body as a “voice in parliament,” the government rejected the proposal with
condescending remark that the majority of Australians would not accept the idea, BBC reported.
Among the most
noticeable developments of the last few weeks we must mention in no particular order the first legally-binding Treaty on
the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Adopted by a United Nations (UN) conference in July, it opened for signature on 20 September. Next to the greatest threat to the world, uncontrolled global warming changing the
climate, accidental or willful use of nuclear weapons is the second-ranking threat to humanity. Underlining the dangers posed by the weapons, the UN Secretary
General on 26 September remarked bluntly “The only world that is safe from the use of nuclear weapons is a world that is completely free of the nuclear weapons
themselves.” While most of the non-nuclear states will sign up, countries with nuclear weapons, including the United States of America, are in no rush to
follow. Unless they can all agree to simultaneously give them up, the treaty will remain unfulfilled.
Speaking about climate change, it is noteworthy that a number of prominent speakers at the General Debate of the new General Assembly, especially those
from Pacific island nations, asked
for speedier action. Without doubt, the recent devastations of
Caribbean islands and in the southernmost US ─ not necessarily all due to a change in climate ─ are dramatizing urgency. The French president noted that the
next climate conference will be held in December in Paris.
Changes of a different nature are in store for the European Union (EU). Both, the president of the EU
Commission and the head of state of France are pushing the issue and have made more detailed recommendations. While there is no overall agreement and comments
that the Macron suggestions are better suited to France, the German Chancellor gave her full support for them.
In Germany, Bundestag elections have been held. Chancellorship will not change about the shape of the next
coalition government remains uncertain. A further complication is the not unexpected rise of the far-right neo-Nazi anti-immigrant and anti-EU Alternative for
Germany (AfD) party which placed third and will make its influence felt in committees.
Aside from conflicts and disputes (see Situation Updates), attention in the next months will continue to be
occupied with the Qatar-Saudi Arabia quarrel, Turkey playing its influential power role, independence movements in Kurdistan and Catalonia, exploitation of the
Rohingya misery in Burma by others, and the further undemocratic moves by the former Khmer Rouge leader in Cambodia to stay in power.
Considerable effort is made in China to prevent any diversion of attention from the 19th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CPC)
in Beijing on 18 October under the leadership of the current General Secretary: Closure of Tibet to travel, increased restrictions placed on Kazakhs, Tibetans,
and Uighurs, closing off more Internet access, websites, citizen reports on incidents, and increased use of so-called “social management.”
focus of Beijing's approach to "the entire sea-bound region"
'... and today, as China's self-regard has swollen, along with its newfound power, Japan has returned to the center of the Chinese gaze in the form of a
bull's-eye; the focus of Beijing's approach to the country (and indeed to the entire sea-bound region that once defined the tribute system, and especially
Vietnam and the Philippines) is to restore what from the perspective of the Central Kingdom is considered the natural order. This, it must be said, is not
merely the preoccupation of the Chinese state, though. It has also increasingly become a consuming obsession of rising populist nationalism."
Howard W. French: Everything Under the Heavens How the Past Helps Shape China's Push
for Global Power. New York NY: Alfred A. Knopf, 2017, p. 11.
Noticed and Noted
Al Jazeera closure demand rejected as unacceptable attack on press freedom
The attack by Israel, Saudi Arabia and its allies
against the Al Jazeera news network based in Doha, Qatar, and operating worldwide, has also elicited strong condemnation from Amnesty International (AI),
Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and the United Nations.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights
(UNHCHR) rejected the demand that Qatar close Al Jazeera as an ‘unacceptable attack’ and described it as “extraordinary, unprecedented and clearly
unreasonable.” He said “whether or not you watch it, like
it, or agree with its editorial standpoints, Al Jazeera’s Arabic and English channels are legitimate, and have many millions of viewers.” The High Commission’s
spokesman added that “the demand that they be summarily closed down is, in our view, an unacceptable attack on the right to freedom of expression and opinion.”
Preparations are being made for the 19th Party Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) in Beijing and the anticipated reconfirmation of
General Secretary Xi Jinping. Those supporting him point to his steady spread of the People’s Republic’s influence around the world, especially in Africa,
advancing the Belt & Road infrastructure project, asserting sovereignty in the East and South China Seas, widening leadership of the CCP, the anti-corruption
campaign, increased social management of the people of China, and continuing economic growth. But all is not well. Xi is seizing too much power for himself ─
“the core of leadership” ─ has used disciplinary and frugality actions to destroy rival networks, appears to be avoiding preparing, much less designating
someone to succeed him, tightening regimentation of people, failing to reach acceptance or conciliation with the native population of Tibet and Xinjiang.
Abroad, aside from generally cordial receptions in Europe, he is criticized for being unable or unwilling to restrain North Korea nuclear efforts, growing
control of the internet and social media, interfering with the rights of Hong Kong voters, condoning unseemly and inhuman harassment of mourners of Nobel
Laureate Liu Xiaobo who died in prison on 13 July after spending more than a decade in prison for asking for political reform and keeping his wife under
unofficial house arrest.
‘Putting America first is simply wrongheaded’
In an opinion piece former Secretary of State Colin Powell took issue with the president’s approach to diplomacy and his proposal to cut the budget of the
Department of State and foreign aid programs by about 30 percent. The former general noted that he had “learned plenty about war on the battlefield, but I
learned even more about the importance of finding peace.” Powell severely criticizes “The idea that putting Americans ‘first’ requires a withdrawal from the
world is simply wrongheaded, because a retreat would achieve exactly the opposite for our citizens… Indeed, we are strongest when the face of America isn’t only
a soldier carrying a gun but also a diplomat negotiating peace, a Peace Corps volunteer bringing clean water to a village or a relief worker stepping of a cargo
plane as floodwaters rise…. With 95 percent of the world’s consumers outside our borders, it’s not ‘America First’ to surrender the field to an ambitious China
rapidly expanding its influence, building highways and railroads across Africa and Asia.” Powell emphasizes “America is great when we’re the country that the
world admires, a beacon of hope and a principled people who are generous, fair and caring. That’s the American way.”
Colin Powell: Leadership Isn’t
Free. New York NY: The New York
Times, 25 May 2017. (The author served as National Security Advisor 1987-1989, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 1989-1993, and Secretary of State 2001-2005.)
G7 and NATO members disappointed
Most participants of North Atlantic Treaty Organization Meeting of Heads of State and Government in
Brussels on 25 May and the Group of Seven (G7) Summit meeting in Taormina, Italy on 26-27 May were sorely disappointed
by the lack of community spirit and contribution by the new US president. So much so that soon afterwards the German chancellor declared that dependence on the
US has become uncertain and that Europe better rely on itself.
BHP on the move worries secular and Muslim Indians
Attention stays fixed on the continuing influence and political strength of
the governing Hindu nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). After recent gains in state elections and installation of an extremist religious leader as chief
minister in Uttar Pradesh, secular and Muslim opponents are worried not only that the country may move farther right but that religious strife will again become
more commonplace. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is credited with widening economic development and advocating modernization but is not disassociating himself
from some of his militant Hindu supporters.
The new Administration in Washington is taking the country closer to domestic social and international influence setbacks with its diplomatic, economic, fiscal, and trade policies to the detriment of the nation and
especially of lower income and middle class Americans.
In France, about to elect a new president on 23 April and 7 May, its pro-European position and support for
the North Atlantic Alliance could be shattered if Ms. Marine Le Pen of the reactionary anti-foreigner National Front
(FN) should win the presidency.
on proposed constitu-tional changes would give the autocratic President Recep Tayyip
Erdoğan dictatorial control over government, courts and parliament. After having pursued for years placing himself at
the head of an Islamic state at the expense of reopening fights with Turkey’s Kurdish minority, attacking and insulting the leaders of Denmark, Germany, the
Netherlands, Switzerland, and the European Union, and arresting or firing some 100,000 of its own citizens while committing an ever growing number of violations
of human and political rights, he might be close to achieving his goal. There are, however, authoritative predictions that holding the ‘super-presidency’ will
place both him and the nation in peril from ensuing violent reaction.
In Turkey, an affirmative vote in the referendum on 16 April
The government of the United Kingdom is carrying out the wish of the Little Englanders after having given formal notice on 29 March to the European
Union about leaving. Meanwhile a growing number of
influential business leaders, economists, and politicians as well as Northern Ireland and Scotland are advancing their concerns, some calling it “a willful act
of self-destruction.” As it turns out, the prime minister’s plan of quickly elevating the kingdom to an influential and rewarding position in the world will be
slowed down considerably by the decision of the European Union of 31 March — first negotiations about withdrawal and retaining rights of EU citizens and
settling financial accounts, then talks about trade and benefitting from the European common market.
The Future of the West: Downfall or Comeback?
Munich Security Conference 2017
“What would [the conference’s founder’s]
generation say if they saw our world today? I fear that much about it would be all-too-familiar to them, and they would be alarmed by it.
They would be alarmed by an increasing turn
away from universal values and toward old ties of blood, and race, and sectarianism.
They would be alarmed by the hardening
resentment we see toward immigrants, and refugees, and minority groups, especially Muslims.
They would be alarmed by the growing
inability, and even unwillingness, to separate truth from lies.
They would be alarmed that more and more of
our fellow citizens seem to be flirting with authoritarianism and romanticizing it as our moral equivalent.
But what would alarm them most, I think, is
a sense that many of our peoples, including in my own country, are giving up on the West ... that they see it as a bad deal that we may be better off without
... and that while Western nations still have the power to maintain our world order, it is unclear whether we have the will. “
US Senator John S. McCain III at the
2017 Munich Security Conference (MSC), 17 February 2017.
Obstacle noted on Moldova’s path to Europe
A situation of concern may be developing next to Romania and Ukraine. On 13
November, Igor Dodon, a pro-Russian president was elected. The country, a former republic of the Soviet Union, is
already split when in August 1991 the eastern, predominantly Russian part declared its independence as the
Transdniestrian Moldovan Republic (TMR), backed up by Russian military forces that had never left. The majority of the
inhabitants are Moldovans who speak Romanian and recognize their cultural identity but so far have decided to remain
separate. Nevertheless, past governments have pursued an opening to the European Union (EU) and have entered into an association agreement. Now the move into
the union is stagnating and the new president is not only opposing partnership but wants to restore close relations with Russia while weakening any links to the
EU and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
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