Myanmar: A Fight For Democracy Against the February 1 Coup

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 3, March 2021

This article is by an anonymous university student in Myanmar (Burma) who is currently supporting the pro-democracy social movements there against the February 1 coup. Anonymity has been granted to the author due to the threat against his person that might result from a byline.

Pro-democracy protesters in Myanmar (Burma) following the February 1, 2021 coup.

On March 15th, the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect (GCR2P) announced that they moved Myanmar (Burma) to the “Current Crisis” category, as populations here face crimes against humanity perpetrated by military coup leaders, known as the Junta. That followed the  the March 2 announcement by civil society groups of the Myanmar Military as a terrorist group. Their legitimacy and tactics are, in fact, those of terrorists rather than a government, as they have attacked democratically-elected government officials, and shot randomly into people’s homes in an attempt to quell a rising social movement in defense of President U Win Myint, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, other government officials, and civil society leaders. Continue reading

“Winning” the Geopolitical Competition with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 9, No. 2, February 2021

By Randall H. Cook

Source: Wikimedia

By all accounts, the U.S.-China strategic competition is alive and well.  The news that China displaced the United States in 2020 as the world’s preferred destination for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) was followed closely by publication of a new “Longer Telegram” proposing a U.S. whole of government strategy to contain PRC Premier Xi Jinping’s ambition to realign the geopolitical structure with China as the new fulcrum.  The Biden Administration has sharply changed tack from its predecessor on a range of policies.  But on China, there is remarkable continuity.  The Trump Administration reset the U.S. strategic paradigm and there will be no going back.  Complex interdependent engagement is out; realist bipolar competition is the name of the new (but really, a back to the future sort of) game.

This framing tends to draw commentators and policy makers into some familiar debates and blind alleys.  Shouldn’t the U.S. oppose Chinese influence everywhere and always?  Isn’t every Chinese advantage necessarily a U.S. loss?  If the U.S. has fallen behind in the FDI race, this conventional wisdom holds, then the U.S. must “do something” to win back the FDI flow.  While this elegant approach to ‘keeping score” in the geopolitical competition is intuitively appealing, it fails to account for a real world that, in fact, remains dynamic and complex.  Worse, it leads to a reactive approach to interpreting events and choosing strategies that ultimately will disadvantage the U.S. in the ways that matter most. Continue reading

China: The Struggle for Territory Eclipses Trade

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 6, June 2020

By William R. Hawkins

A tank unit of the Chinese Army underway. The number of tanks in China’s armored forces ranks third in the world. The main battle tanks have the ability to fight under nuclear and night conditions. Photo by: Sovfoto/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In February 1999, President Bill Clinton opened a major foreign policy speech by  claiming, “Perhaps for the first time in history, the world’s leading nations are not engaged in a struggle with each other for security or territory. The world clearly is coming together.” This was the height of the post-Cold War delusion that history had come to an end and that a new world order had dawned based on a global partnership for economic development. Yet, Clinton knew that this was still a work in progress. In the same San Francisco speech he talked about conflicts in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and the Balkans, the threat of nuclear proliferation, and the need to bring Russia and China “into the international system as open, prosperous, stable nations.” The emphasis, however, was always on economics, a peaceful way to rise within classical liberal theory, transcending political issues and separating wealth from power in an interdependent world.

The classical liberal view held that wealth could be best pursued outside the bounds of sovereign territory. Borders were not to impede the movement of people, capital or goods which were motivated by material gain and self-improvement. Their frame of reference was the efficient use of resources world-wide to maximize global output, not their relative use among national sub-units. Peace would be the result of economic interdependence as trade could gain access to resources at less cost than conquest, and that once entangled in global supply chains, the cost of disruption for political reasons would be unbearable. The classical worldview was very popular in the 19th century prior to World War I and revived briefly during the interwar years only to be once again vanquished by World War II. The rapid onset of the Cold War kept such idealism in check, but it burst forth again after the Berlin Wall came down, symbolically opening the world to new possibilities.

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Making Political Risk More Politically Relevant

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

Alicia N. Ellis, PhD, Arizona State University

Ukraine’s Independence Square in Fall 2013, taken only months before it erupted into violent protests culminating in the overthrow of the sitting government. A busy commercial and tourist hub that day, there was no sign of the war zone it would soon resemble. Photo: Alicia Ellis.

Executive Summary

This report assesses the state of the academic literature on political risk and evaluates its contribution to understanding and mitigating risk for both business and political professionals. This assessment concludes that policy-relevant research has been in some cases limited and, in most cases, ineffectively communicated. Several major problems contribute to the persistent disconnect between policy, industry, and academia. Political scientists do not approach their research questions in a communicable way, nor do they often take the necessary step of connecting their research to an end use. Risk rating organizations have become overly reliant on cross-national aggregate models. Mixed methods research has been applied inappropriately and thus, ineffectively. Systematic biases have been introduced to models at a structural level, and conceptual difficulties plague some of the most basic questions for risk analysts.

Despite these problems, opportunities do exist for bridging the gap between research and practice, and producing policy-relevant research. This article proposes some recommendations for moving forward. Research questions must be structured in new ways to reflect the needs of end consumers that include non-academic professionals. Several research agendas in need of a practical-minded researcher are put forth, including the rise of China and what it means for global trade patterns, the ‘buy local’ movement spreading across the United States, and the problem of democratic consolidation. For each problem identified, the article makes suggestions for how we might reframe the questions in a way that produces more useful research on political risk. Continue reading

Beyond the Camps: Beijing’s Long-Term Scheme of Coercive Labor, Poverty Alleviation and Social Control in Xinjiang

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2019

By Adrian Zenz, Ph.D.
Senior Fellow in China Studies
Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation

1.0 Introduction

442 rural surplus laborers from Kashgar and Hotan, Xinjiang China, are sent off to work in an industrial park in Korla in a “centralized fashion”.

After recruiting a hundred or more thousand police forces, installing massive surveillance systems, and interning vast numbers of predominantly Turkic minority population members, many have been wondering about Beijing’s next step in its so-called “war on Terror” in Xinjiang. Since the second half of 2018, limited but apparently growing numbers of detainees have been released into different forms of forced labor. In this report it is argued based on government documents that the state’s long-term stability maintenance strategy in Xinjiang is predicated upon a perverse and extremely intrusive combination of forced or at least involuntary training and labor, intergenerational separation and social control over family units. Much of this is being implemented under the heading and guise of “poverty alleviation”.

Below, the author identifies three distinct flow schemes by which the state seeks to place the vast majority of adult Uyghurs and other minority populations, both men and women, into different forms of coercive or at least involuntary, labor-intensive factory work. This is achieved through a combination of internment camp workshops, large industrial parks, and village-based satellite factories. While the parents are being herded into full-time work, their children are put into full-time (at least full day-time) education and training settings. This includes children below preschool age (infants and toddlers), so that ethnic minority women are being “liberated” and “freed” to engage in full-time wage labor. Notably, both factory and educational settings are essentially state-controlled environments that facilitate ongoing political indoctrination while barring religious practices. As a result, the dissolution of traditional, religious and family life is only a matter of time. The targeted use of village work teams and village-based satellite factories means that these “poverty alleviation” and social re-engineering projects amount to a grand scheme that penetrates every corner of ethnic minority society with unprecedented pervasiveness.

Consequently, it is argued that Beijing’s grand scheme of forced education, training and labor in Xinjiang simultaneously achieves at least five main goals in this core region of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI): maintain the minority population in state-controlled environments, inhibit intergenerational cultural transmission, achieve national poverty reduction goals, promote economic growth along the BRI, and bring glory to the Party by achieving all of these four aims in a way that is ideologically consistent with the core tenets of Communist thought – using labor to transform religious minority groups towards a predominantly materialist worldview, akin to the Reform Through Labor (劳改) program. Government documents outline that the transformation of rural populations from farming to wage labor should involve not just the acquisition of new skills, but also a thorough identity and worldview change in line with Party ideology. In this context, labor is hailed as a strategic means to eradicate “extremist” ideologies.

The domestic and global implications of this grand scheme, where internment camps form only one component of a society-wide coercive social re-engineering strategy, are dramatic. Government documents blatantly boast about the fact that the labor supply from the vast internment camp network has been attracting many Chinese companies to set up production in Xinjiang, supporting the economic growth goals of the BRI.

Through the mutual pairing assistance program, 19 cities and provinces from the nation’s most developed regions are pouring billions of Chinese Yuan (RMB) into the establishment of factories in minority regions. Some of them directly involve the use of internment camp labor, while others use Uyghur women who must then leave their children in educational or day care facilities in order to engage in full time factory labor. Another aspect of Beijing’s labor schemes in the region involve the essentially mandatory relocation of large numbers of minority workers from Xinjiang to participating companies in eastern China.

Soon, many or most products made in China that rely at least in part on low-skilled, labor-intensive manufacturing, may contain elements of involuntary ethnic minority labor from Xinjiang.

The findings presented below call for nothing less than a global investigation of supply chains involving Chinese products or product components, and for a greatly increased scrutiny of trade flows along China’s Belt and Road. They also warrant a strong response from not only the international community in regards to China’s intrusive coerced social re-engineering practices among its northwestern Turkic minorities, but from China’s own civil society that should not want to see such totalitarian labor and family systems extended to all of China. Continue reading