The CSS Blog Network

Keyword in Focus: North Korea

When will this border be crossed again? photo:fresh888/flickr

After Tuesday’s incident, in which North Korea reportedly shot 170 rounds of artillery on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong killing two civilians and two marines, tensions have been at an all-time high in East Asia. Increasingly unpredictable and volatile in its behavior, the Kim regime seems to have embraced a whole new level of brinkmanship in this long-running conflict. Explanations in terms of reasons for such a brazen attack vary, from the internal power dynamics of the elder Kim shifting power to his newly appointed heir-apparent, to simple blackmail. Although we may never know what caused North Korea to risk so much (also in relation to its increasingly impatient ‘big brother’, China) the worry that the Koreas and their closest allies might be drawn into a war because of a provocation or freak accident is as worrying as ever.

I don’t believe that this conflict will escalate further. North Korea has pushed proverbial buttons before and will undoubtedly continue to do so, whether to consolidate the heir-apparent’s power base in the military or in order to push members of the six party forum to grant it further concessions in a yet unforeseeable round of talks. It is, however, unlikely to be willing to sign its own death certificate in the form of a highly destructive war and one which could involve the threat or actual use of nuclear weapons (shudder). We may not want to place much trust on the rational capabilities of Kim and his entourage, but China, for one, will do all it can to prevent this. » More

China, a Superpower. Really?

A Shaolin Warrior, courtesy of Sven Laqua/flickr

Last week, my colleague Kaisa Schreck wrote an excellent blog post on China. In it she argued that China had already saved the world economy and that it was bound to rule the region if not the world in the near future. Forbes’ ranking of Hu Jintao as the most powerful man in the world seemed to validate this assessment.

I personally think that China is lacking one key element to become a superpower: moral gravitas and appeal. And if we look at history, every powerful region or country has not only been powerful economically or militarily, but also “morally”.

Let’s look at the Roman Empire first. The empire ruled the whole Mediterranean region for centuries and its capital, Rome, had more than one million inhabitants,  a significant number 2000 years ago. The Empire was not only powerful because it could crush its enemies, it was also morally powerful. By taking up Greek philosophy and focusing on philosophical and scientific education, the Romans quickly surpassed their enemies in thought and morality. The arts had a powerful place in Roman civilization and it shined from the shores of Portugal to Iran. Its values of citizenship, arts and philosophy were not only adopted by the Roman elites, but also by many of the neighboring elites. » More

Saving the World, Ruling the Earth?

China: Where modernity is a mantra, photo: Trey Ratcliff/flickr

China’s rise to the center stage of world affairs has been much faster and more multifaceted than anyone expected.

The Chinese themselves seem to have been taken aback by their new-found might, and although prophesies about China’s future dominance should be taken with a whole spoonful of salt (a lot can still go wrong), a deep confidence is permeating the country. And it seems like the rest of the world is finally taking note.

I wrote a short piece in October 2008 for the Finnish Business and Policy Council (EVA) about what I thought would be the geopolitical ramifications of the financial crisis, in its very early stages at the time. America, as the epicenter of the crisis, was shocked into a state of socio-political and economic self-denial and panic that was given tangible expression in last week’s midterm elections. In many of the individual races the anger and vitriol was directed at the great ‘new’ menace- China. In the meantime a real and perceived shift to the East has taken place. It is only beginning to take shape, but its effects are already being felt. » More

From ESPO to Druzhba?

Close-up of a pipeline

Close-up of a pipeline

Some of Russia’s pipelines have names that reflect more than just technical realities – such as the Druzhba (Friendship) pipeline system that brings oil to Central Europe. Yet, others are of a more prosaic kind, including the recently opened Eastern Siberia-Pacific Ocean Pipeline (ESPO). ESPO will bring the black gold from Eastern Russia to China and Russia’s Pacific Coast. Whether this new pipeline is the beginning of a new Russian-Chinese energy-friendship remains to be seen.

China’s growing appetite for gas and oil will be hard to saturate in the next decades. According to projections of the International Energy Agency, China’s demand for primary energy will nearly double from 1,765 million tons of oil equivalent (Mtoe) in 2007 to 2,539 Mtoe in 2020 and 3,451 Mtoe in 2035. The country will account for 30 percent of the increase in global primary energy demand for that period. Oil demand is expected to more than double while the demand for natural gas will more than triple.

Before that backdrop one would expect Russia, home to 5 percent of the world’s proven oil reserves and 24 percent of all proven gas resources, to be eager to enter this growing market; even more so, since the focus of Russia’s oil and gas production is moving eastwards. There are untapped hydrocarbon resources in Eastern Siberia and Russia’s Far East that are expected to cover falling production elsewhere. Furthermore, hooking up with China holds major potential for developing an economically backward region and would add another trump to Russia’s hand when bargaining with its European energy customers.

But that’s not how Russia seems to view the situation. » More

Peeking Behind the Curtain

Unity of purpose or crippling complexity? photo: Paul Watson/flickr

The image of a carefully crafted Chinese juggernaut, controlled and steered by the all-knowing Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has proven surprisingly resilient and enduring in public debates about China, its policies and its rise. The sheer complexity and diversity of the country and its problems are often obscured by the triumphalist (and sometimes blatantly simplistic) accounts of China and its future. Ignoring not only the complexity of the situation that China finds itself in as modernization kicks in full force, such accounts also overstate the ability of the Beijing administrators to steer a unified course.

Behind the curtains power struggles play out and are gaining rare publicity. They play out at the central level, at the provincial level and between central administrators and independent-minded local leaders. They play out between the government and the people; between globalists and fervent nationalists that exert surprising power over a government that has no electoral promises to keep. They also play out between the future leaders of the country, eager to rise up the ranks and to secure influential positions in the Politburo Standing Committee of the CCP as the old guard starts to retire. » More

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