Category Archives: China

Life and Fiction

The Outer Circle, the last part of The Counterpoint Trilogy, is set in 2024. Some of the events described there seem to be taking place much sooner. In the book a populist third party politician is rising by blaming other countries – we have Donald Trump (at the moment he is running as a Republican but he already indicated he’ll consider an independent run). In the book, a mainstream political candidate thinks he is above the law – we have Hillary “what e-mails?” Clinton. In the book, China is experiencing internal problems and a conflict is brewing in the South China Sea – we see problems in China and increasing China vs. US tensions in the South China Sea. In the book, corporate and government surveillance is pervasive – we have the latest most popular computer operating system monitoring everything you do and the issue of government surveillance was a hot button in the Republican debate. In the book, blockchain technology powers thriving underground economy – we see hundreds of millions flowing into blockchain-related startups. In the book, continental Eurasia coalesced into an economic superpower driven by the China–Russia rapprochement and non-Western financial structures – we have beginnings of the new “Silk Road” and the Asian development bank.

I am not claiming any particular insights. The trends are in the open if we want to look beyond the immediate surface. When only 20% of people trust our government to do the right thing, populists will rise. When a privileged political class emerges and special interests rule – as more and more people notice – politicians start considering themselves above the law. When government and corporate leaders think that only criminals desire privacy, they don’t worry about taking yours away – and people react by trying to protect what’s left of their privacy. When we act in an imperial fashion, other countries will form blocks to oppose us.

The spectacle of Donald Trump is all over the media. Could you have imagined him being a front-runner ten years ago? He is likely a precursor of a coming storm. Study after study shows that if there is one thing that Americans hate, it’s unfairness. When millions suffered through the Great Recession but those that caused it walked away with hundreds of millions, it’s not fair. When the inequality keeps rising and the middle class steadily erodes, that’s not fair. Vast majority of the Americans now believe that we are on a wrong track. Our ruling elite seems to be missing the point that popular discontent is building. Like many others before them, they must think that the populace will be sated with bread and circuses (and we do have the endless entertainment “circuses” galore). Like those others, they will be wrong. Major dislocations rarely go smoothly and dangerous people often come to power during times of discontent.

The Emerging Sino – Russian Alliance or How to Make Enemies

One of the premises in The Counterpoint Trilogy is the Sino-Russian alliance against the U.S. For example, in The Outer Circle, China and Russia are conducting joined naval maneuvers designed to oppose the American navy. In the “life imitates fiction” manner, a recent newspaper headline announced: “Chinese, Russian Navy to Hold Drills” (see http://www.manilatimes.net/chinese-russian-navies-to-hold-mediterranean-drills/179897/). This is the first time ever that Russia and China will conduct joint naval exercises. But probably not the last time.

The China – Russia alignment has accelerated in the past year, partly driven by geopolitical tensions between Russia and the West and the conflict in Ukraine. Other factors pointing to the rapid formation of a Sino-Russian alliance are the $456 Billion gas deal, cooperation on advanced weapons, high-speed rail, satellite navigation systems, large infrastructure projects, Chinese investments in Russia, and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (sources: http://www.cnbc.com/id/102106704, many others).

I am both surprised and dismayed by the views on the current tense Russia vs. the West standoff expressed by the Western political elite and the media. It’s easy to say that “our leaders know what they are doing, trust them.” Given our recent invasion of Iraq, this seems like a dangerous assumption. Do we always fully understand what the battle is about? What drives the other party? What comes to mind is Robert McNamara’s interview in The Fog War documentary, the part where he remembers meeting North Vietnamese foreign minister Nguyen Co Thach and being told: “You must never have read a history book. If you had, you’d know that we weren’t pawns of the Chinese or the Russians. We were fighting for our independence. And no amount of bombing, no amount of U.S. pressure would ever have stopped us.” Ideology, together with ignorance of history, blinded McNamara and the whole U.S. administration of the time, to the fundamental issue at hand. Countless lives were lost. And so was the war.

Sadly, this reminds me of our approach to Russia. No, Putin is not a pleasant character. But portraying him as someone feeding misinformation to his citizens that otherwise would not support his policies and that a bit of economic pressure would lead to his downfall is a dangerous fallacy. Putin has 86% approval rating at home precisely because the population there believes that they are defending themselves. Russians believe that the U.S. broke promises it made after the fall of the Soviet Union and that it is deliberately undermining Russia. Numerous participants in the Malta summit of 1989 and in subsequent discussions confirm that there was a promise to not expand NATO to Russia’s borders. See, for example, “Superpower Illusions” by Jack F. Matlock, Jr., 2010 by Yale University (http://www.amazon.com/Superpower-Illusions-Jack-Matlock-Jr-ebook/dp/B00492CRVU). Also “NATO Enlargement: Illusions and Reality” edited by Galen Carpenter and Barbara Conry, 1998 by the Cato Institute, especially “The Perils of Victory” by Susan Eisenhower (http://www.amazon.com/NATO-Enlargement-Ted-Galen-Carpenter/dp/1882577590). Instead, NATO has steadily marched to Russia’s borders. Russians’ approval of the United States collapsed from 60% to low 20’s. In Russia, we are facing a nightmare of a determined opponent convinced that they are fighting for their independence. It’s a nightmare of our own making.

China’s ambitions to become a superpower to rival and eventually overcome the United States are well known. China and Russia are not natural allies, they fought wars, they are suspicious of each other. But both now view the U.S. as the enemy and, as a saying goes, “enemy of my enemy is my friend.”  Together, China and Russia own most of Eurasia, with massive population and natural resources. They are afraid of the U.S., they need each other in order to oppose the U.S., and they are moving closer together.