Only 30 years ago, when China’s state-owned enterprises began the uncertain process of market-oriented reforms—resulting in large closures, downsizings, and mass layoffs—the employment outlook for young people in China promptly clouded over. The world that they once felt was opening wide before them suddenly filled with redundant workers. After years of slow growth and rising prices, many college students found themselves on the cusp of graduating without jobs.
In the 2000s, “public diplomacy” became a central part of the function of diplomacy. As a result of the communications and transportation revolutions, diplomats, national leaders, and more can now be seen and heard by more people in more places than at any previous time in history. Skillful public diplomacy can influence public opinion beyond one’s own country to support policies and positions, and can influence foreign peoples to have a favorable view of one’s country. Conversely, blundering public diplomacy can undermine even well-conceived policies and positions, and can project an extremely negative image of a country.
Lee Kuan Yew is best known for having taken Singapore from the third world to the first world, an improbable achievement that he chronicled in a lengthy 2000 memoir. As he prepares to turn 90 this September, however, the cohesion, equanimity, and order for which his country has become legendary are coming under strain. Amidst rising income inequality and growing popular discontent about a government proposal to attract more foreign workers, some question how much longer Singapore’s current model of governance can endure.
Not too long ago, Brazil, Russia, India, and China were looked upon with envy by the international arena. Predictions of decoupling—a theory in which emerging economies have strengthened so much that they no longer depend on the United States for economic growth—were seen as a foregone conclusion for the BRIC nations. To the surprise of many, what was once a mere formality is now a distant reality.
Lately, BRIC nations have encountered different degrees of turbulence with engineering economic growth. The European economic crisis, coupled with sluggish U.S. growth, has hindered the BRIC’s economic growth when analyzed as a single bloc—discarding the decoupling phenomenon and proving the opposite is still the norm, to the chagrin of BRIC leaders. In addition, corruption continues to be an endemic problem for all BRIC members, dampening not only their political systems, but also investor confidence. High taxes and heavy regulation are thorny matters that never appear to cease, stalling future productivity, investment and growth, especially in Brazil and India. In short, not all is rosy in BRIC land.
In 1958 a young Chinese Cuban named Armando Choy posed for the camera in front of a drab brick farmhouse in Fomento, a town close to the Escambray Mountains in central Cuba. Choy stiffened almost to attention, his shirt buttoned to the collar, his hands clasping an old rifle by the muzzle. His seven comrades in crumpled fatigues, stranding alongside or squatting before him, smiled through bushy black beards that would become emblematic of Fidel Castro’s socialist revolution.
For Choy, growing up in Cuba had not been easy. The son of a humble Chinese shopkeeper, he suffered from the racism and wretched living conditions that plagued Havana under Fulgencio Batista’s regime. Batista’s brutal social indifference to poorer Cubans was, as Arthur Schlesinger Jr. put it, “an open invitation to revolution.”
China’s villages, which used to be models of communal unity or flashpoints of stormy peasant uprisings, now languish in the shadow of the nation’s prosperity. They appear to be losing more to urban growth than mere acreage or precious groundwater. Year after year, young men and women from China’s hinterland go off to work in big city factories, along with millions of other migrant workers. But the women are not returning home—at least not at the same rate as their male peers.
Marriage prospects in China’s big cities are brighter for young rural women. This has not always been the case. Historically, women in the countryside have enjoyed little choice in their matrimonial fate. Typically, they married from within their village, or nearby, and at times they had no say in whom they married.
While the U.S. presidential candidates were slugging it out during the debates on foreign policy, India remained conspicuously absent from the narrative. At face value, the omission of India from the debates gave an impression that the country hardly matters in U.S. foreign policy. However, the case was exactly opposite. If there was one foreign policy issue where the Republicans and Democrats had more or less similar views, it was the role of India in the future of U.S. Grand Strategy. In some sense, the presidential elections settled the debate on India’s importance in the U.S.'s world view and future strategic plans. While the campaign was reaching its crescendo, India and the U.S. were engaged in their third annual strategic dialogue–an event of immense geo-political significance first started in 2010. The annual strategic dialogue clearly indicates the level of strategic convergence between New Delhi and Washington, DC.
When poor farmers in Ningbo, one of China’s oldest and richest cities, barricaded a road near a controversial petrochemical refinery in October, they triggered a series of protests that ran for three days and culminated in a mass demonstration in the city’s central square. Riot police had to use tear gas and clubs to disperse an angry mob throwing bricks and bottles.
Protestors said Sinopec, which operates the refinery, colluded with local government officials to conceal incriminating health and environmental data gathered to assess a planned multi-billion dollar expansion.
The big concern was paraxylene (PX), a highly toxic chemical the facility produces for use in paints and plastics. If inhaled or absorbed through the skin, it can cause serious damage to the central nervous system, liver, and kidneys. Local residents feel certain it is responsible for a sharp rise in birth defects and cancers in the area.
Is China moving towards democracy? Seemingly capitalist, seemingly communist, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) frequently engages in half-hearted reforms that never quite reach their full potential. Laws passed in the last few years have well-intentioned goals such as strengthening the judicial system, increasing the rights of small town farmers to the proceeds of selling the land they work on, and reducing corruption. These reforms all seem to indicate the Chinese leadership’s intent to address the issues which lead to hundreds of thousands of protests every year, especially in the rural countryside. With such well-intentioned reforms, it would seem as though the march towards a democratic China is all but assured.
The India-China border dispute is not only the largest territorial dispute in Asia, but is also one of longest-running conflicts in the history of post-WWII Asian politics. The two nations share a 2520 mile-long border, and have been embroiled in a contest for over 47,000 square miles of Himalayan territory. In 1962, they fought a war across the Himalayan frontier in which India was defeated.
But even after 50 years of the border war, India and China have not been able to amicably resolve the dispute. After 1962, the two countries broke off diplomatic ties. Negotiations on the border dispute did begin again until 1981 at vice-ministerial level, leading to a total of eight rounds of bilateral meetings until 1987. In 1988, a Joint Working Group (JWG) was constituted to expedite the resolution of the conflict. Today, fifteen rounds of talks have taken place. However, as David Scott points out discerningly, irrespective of such long history of bilateral negotiations “there seems to have been little substantive progress on the territorial issue”.
Copyright 2006-2013 The Diplomatic Courier™. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.