An Oligarch, A Think Tank And The Rise Of American Kleptocracy?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Industrialist Len Blavatnik, left, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton speak at the Film Society of Lincoln Center 40th Anniversary Chaplin Award Gala at Lincoln Center in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 22, 2013. Clinton presented Barbra Streisand with the award honoring her work in film. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ukrainian-born billionaire Lenonard Blavatnik has ignited controversy once again with his lavish donations to British and American institutions. This time, it is by giving $12 million to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), an influential thinktank with close ties to senior business, government, intelligence and foreign-policy communities in the US.

The move has prompted a series of open letters signed by “U.S., European and Russian foreign policy experts and anti-corruption activists”, who fear that such donations are “a means by which Blavatnik exports Russian kleptocratic practices to the West”. Many of them are CFR members themselves, and their letters are rounded off with footnotes demonstrating Blavatnik’s links to Putin’s inner circle and questioning the sources of his wealth. Their second letter states that the impact of the donation “extends far beyond the potential value of the money…beyond even CFR. That impact will touch upon the health of American democracy.”

None of this will come as any surprise to those who have followed Blavatnik’s spending over the past 15 years. While his philanthropy has seen him knighted by the Queen in the UK and hailed by some as one of the world’s most generous benefactors, his donations within political and educational spheres have repeatedly led to scrutiny and protest.

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Greenpeace Working to Close Rare Earth Processing Facility in Malaysia: the World’s Only Major REE Processing Facility in Competition with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Michael K. Cohen

Partial screenshot from the Greenpeace website, taken on 10/3/2019, detailing Greenpeace’s leading role in the ‘Stop Lynas’ campaign. Source: Greenpeace.

Rare earth – the colorful metals derived from 17 extraordinarily hard-to-mine chemical elements – are a little-known part of all of our lives. They are crucial elements of mobile phones, flat screen televisions and more than 200 other consumer electronic devices that we use every day.

But these exotic elements are needed for more than just phones and televisions. Their lightweight properties, and unique magnetic attributes, are indispensable to military assets that use sonar, radar or guidance systems, lasers, electronic displays, and myriad other mechanisms.

The vast majority of rare earths that countries need to protect themselves are produced by one country: The People’s Republic of China. And it does not appear that the situation will change in the near future. China has in recent years worked to monopolize the production of these elements as a strategic resource.

China has made rare earths available to countries around the world that need them, but that could abruptly change. Chinese state-controlled media has warned that sales of rare earths to the United States could be restricted as part of a new front in the ongoing trade war. Continue reading

Clash of Ancient Philosophy and Modern Politics in China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Victor Mair, University of Pennsylvania

This photo taken on August 20, 2017 shows a drone flying in front of the statue of Lord Laozi during the Laojun Mountain Drone Convention in Luoyang in China’s central Henan province. STR/AFP/Getty Images

A new round of censorship in China is sufficiently significant that it should be called to the attention of readers, because it has not been brought to the surface outside of China, and even inside China the censors have done their best to hush it up.

In a nutshell, there’s a well-known scholar of ancient Chinese thought, especially Lao Zi (the fictive author of the Tao Te Ching / Daode jing), who has recently and suddenly run afoul of the authorities.

The imbroglio of Yin Zhenhuan 尹振环 and Lao Zi 老子 are occasionally mentioned online. News of Professor Yin Zhenhuan’s troubles surfaced on WeChat about two weeks ago.  It’s rather hard to figure out how research on an ancient thinker could arouse such a sensational reaction, even though from the contents of Yin’s book one may perceive slight, indirect indications of current politics.

Perhaps the best way to expose the complex nature of the current contretemps is by relaying the personal communications of three People’s Republic of China (PRC) scholars on the subject, which I reproduce below.

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Senate Undermines America as an Alliance Partner: The Resolution to Ban US Military Assistance in Yemen

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2018 

By William R. Hawkins

Tribal gunmen loyal to the Huthi movement brandish their weapons on March 26, 2015 during a gathering in Sanaa to show support to the Shiite Huthi militia and against the Saudi-led intervention in the country. Warplanes from a Saudi-led Arab coalition bombed Huthi rebels in support of Yemen’s embattled president, as regional rival Iran warned the intervention was a “dangerous” move. Credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

Those who pushed the U.S. Senate to adopt Senate Joint Resolution 54 (S.J.Res.54), “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress” in mid-December sought to avoid any mention of the strategic importance of Yemen, the nature of the civil war that has been raging there, or the support Iran has been giving the Shia Houthi rebels who started the conflict. Instead, the resolution aimed only at the U.S.-Saudi alliance and the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting to defend the internationally recognized Yemen government. No American combat units are involved in the Yemen conflict. The U.S. has been providing intelligence and logistical support to give a critical edge to the coalition forces that are doing the actual fighting.

The supposed purpose of the resolution was to “punish” Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi activist working to topple the regime. He is commonly called a “journalist” but was actually only a writer of opinion pieces published by The Washington Post and other liberal outlets. His views were not compatible with American interests in the Middle East as I outlined in the October 20 issue of this journal.

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Wall Street Elites Against Democracy? A Case Study in Pro-China Media Bias

Press Reaction to the November 2018 speech by Dr. Peter Navarro, Director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, was biased in a negative direction.

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2018 

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks before signing ‘Section 232 Proclamations’ on steel and aluminum imports with (2nd L-R) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on March 8, 2018 in Washington, DC. Trump signed proclamations that imposed a 25-percent tarriff on imported steel and a 10-percent tarriff on imported alumninum. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Dr. Peter Navarro, Director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, gave a speech on November 9 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. The title of the speech was “Economic Security as National Security”, which Dr. Navarro, a Harvard-educated economist, argues is the maxim of the Trump Administration. After the speech, Dr. Navarro was attacked in the media, but not about his main points. The negative, and one might argue biased, coverage came from the Wall Street Journal, CNBC, the Atlantic, and Director of the National Economic Council, Larry Kudlow, among others. The negative response centered on Dr. Navarro’s controversial claim that Wall Street elites have undue influence on U.S. policy having to do with China.  Tempers were likely frayed at the time due to planning, negotiations and internal maneuvering in advance of a high stakes late November meeting then being planned between Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping at the G-20 meeting in Argentina. Worries were high that lack of progress on at least the outline of an agreement at the meeting could lead to deepening tariffs between the countries, and fears in the financial sector of falling stock markets or even a recession. But the bias and infighting of the attacks were unbecoming of these media outlets, and of Mr. Kudlow, the Director of the National Economic Council.

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