Forget Presidential Politics: Sri Lanka’s Green Movement Is Its Best Hope Against China

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

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Pumps dredge sand to reclaim land at the site of a Chinese-funded 1.4 billion USD reclamation project in Colombo on December 5, 2017.
Half of the reclamation project to build Colombo Financial City, previously known as Colombo Port City, has been completed, with Sri Lanka hoping to turn it into an international financial centre with special laws protecting foreign investment. / AFP / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI / Getty Images

Sri Lanka, like many countries in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), is not powerful enough to resist China on political or economic grounds – but hope lies in its burgeoning environmental movements.

This Saturday (November 16th), Sri Lankans go to the polls to elect a new president. The frontrunners are Sajith Premadasa, current Minister for Housing, Development, and Cultural affairs, and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, the ruthless military leader who played a large part in defeating the ‘Tamil Tigers’ during Sri Lanka’s civil war. Both have family ties to ex-presidents: Premadasa’s father, Ranasinghe, was president 1989-1993, and Rajapaksa’s brother, Mahinda, was from 2005-2015.

International media has largely focused on the geopolitical implications of the Rajapaksas regaining power. Mahinda Rajapaksa is seen as a key player in initiating China’s current economic ‘debt trap’ over Sri Lanka, which has now led to 99-year leases on territory around Hambantota Port and Colombo, where China is constructing an entire ‘Port City’. A President Gotabhaya Rajapaksa would rightly be seen as a return to China-friendly Sri Lankan foreign policy after President Maithripala Sirisena’s more US-aligned years in office. Continue reading

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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How Much Does Your Internet Service Provider Spend On Lobbying?

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

By Paul Bischoff

Comcast Headquarters in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 2011. Wikimedia/Smallbones.

When people think of lobbying, they often picture backroom deals made by big pharma executives. In reality, though, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) are one of the largest lobbying groups in the US. With this in mind, we analyzed publicly-available data to see just how much money your ISP spends on influencing legislators and regulators every year.

Why do ISPs lobby?

ISPs might provide a valuable service but they are, first and foremost, businesses. As such, they tend to lobby against anything which could impact profits. This might mean opposing bills that stop the sale of customer data, for instance, or scrapping rules that make it easier for competitors to get up and running.

Of course, this cuts both ways; if there’s the potential to make more money via lobbying, ISPs will almost always try. If your ISP has been trying to push through a massive merger or looking to scrap industry regulation so it can charge you for an inferior service, you can bet huge amounts of money has changed hands to expedite the process. Continue reading

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

Nasif Ahmed: Hong Kong Independence

“Hong Kong Independence”, by Nasif Ahmed.

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Defeating China: Five Strategies

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. U.S. President Donald Trump, however, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity) U.S. economy, and must be reelected this year to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion.[3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influence of our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incent allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Democratizing China Should Be The U.S. Priority

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Protestors hold placards and illuminated smartphones beside a large banner calling for democracy during a protest in Hong Kong, China, on June 26, 2019. Some protesters held signs calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to save Hong Kong. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. goals in relation to China, our biggest national security threat, tend to array along three main axes: military, diplomatic, and economic. But in deference to the failed strategy of engagement, we don’t use the significant normative and ideological power of democratization as a multiplier on these battlefields, nor does the prospect of democratizing China factor sufficiently in our cost-benefit analyses.

Militarily, we prioritize defense from China, but other than ongoing military support to Taiwan and the Tibet campaign of 1957-72,[1] we have not used our substantial military resources to promote democracy in China, for example in the rebellious zones of Xinjiang or Hong Kong. Economically, we prioritize U.S. market share in China, IP protection, and beating China’s GDP, technology and industrial strength. But we don’t condition our China trade on our lowest priorities, human rights and democracy.

In the short term our military and economic priorities are correct, but given the Chinese Communist Party’s growing strength globally, we must increase the prioritization of democracy as a long-term end goal in China, and we need to reevaluate opportunities to use our still substantial but relatively diminishing military and economic power to bring democracy to China. Continue reading

Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: An Interview with Leszek Buszynski

The book cover of Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: China, Japan and the US, by Dr. Leszek Buszynski. Routledge, 2019.

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019

This interview with Dr. Leszek Buszynski, author of Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: China, Japan and the U.S. (Routledge, 2019), took place by email with Dr. Anders Corr between May 31 and June 12.

Anders: What are some of your recommendations in the book?

Leszek: The recommendations are in the final chapter and have been written from the perspective of Australia as a a middle power and ally of the US.  Basically, the U.S. relies excessively on military power to counter China but this is creating the fear of a US-China clash in the region from which China benefits, particularly within ASEAN.  Scuttling the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a mistake because it is a way of bringing together the states of the region into cooperation with the U.S., Japan and Australia in a way which would offset Chinese influence.

Anders: Don’t you think that China is also creating fear with its military buildup? Wouldn’t countries like Japan and South Korea be even more fearful if they did not have the U.S. military there to protect them?

Leszek: This is not the issue, the answer is of course. But without a broader US presence in the region, one that is not just military based, regional countries such as those in ASEAN would feel the pressure to gravitate to China.  China has a way of undermining the U.S. presence and its alliance system by playing on regional fears of conflict and instability, the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte is a case in point. America has to counteract that. Continue reading

Canada’s Conflict With China Can Be Solved With Joint Tariffs By Democratic Allies

(Front L-R) Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro, French President Emmanuel Macron, Indonesia President Joko Widodo, Chinese President Xi Jinping, US President Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Salman, Japan Prime Minister Shinxo Abe, Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte, (Second row L-R) Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Egypt President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, British Prime Minister Theresa May, India Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, European Union President of the European Council Donald Tusk, Senegal President Macky Sall, Chile President Sebastian Pinera and Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and third row’s invited guests attend the family photo during the G20 Osaka Summit in Osaka on June 28, 2019. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP / Getty

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019 

By Anders Corr

Canada is in an awkward dispute with China. On the one hand, it wants two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, released from detention, under conditions some would call torture. The lights are left on 24 hours a day, they cannot see loved ones, they undergo daily interrogations without legal counsel present, and they only get short visits from their consular officials once a month. On the other hand, Canada wants to comply with its extradition treaty with the U.S., which wants Meng Wanzhou for alleged lies to financial institutions in order to evade Iran sanctions. Perhaps more urgently, Canada wants to continue its lucrative trade with China. A solution is for other allied democracies, including in the U.S. and Europe, to use their substantial power to impose tariffs on China to help out their fellow democracy, Canada. Our neighbor to the north could do the same, in its own defense. Canadian tariffs against China, linked to demands for the release of Kovrig and Spavor, would likely get them freed overnight.

China is not too subtle about its demands. It wants Meng sent back safe and sound to China. Until then, apparently, the two Canadians will be detained and Canada will undergo increasing difficulty with its agricultural exports to China. All of Canada’s China problems will go away if it just signs on the line and releases her from home detention, according to China and its Canadian intermediaries.

The Kovrig-Spavor predicament is awkward for Canada because it is arguably a result of decades of democracies’ prioritization of trade over human rights issues. That includes Canada. Now that Canadian citizens have been targeted, Canada is wondering whether it is getting the same cold shoulder from its allies that it gave to human rights activists in the past.

The newly-found Canadian human rights concern for Kovrig and Spavor rings hollow after it largely ignored, for purposes of trade, the thousands killed by China at Tiananmen Square in 1989, and the 1-3 million Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims detained in reeducation camps. By not taking a stronger stand on all of China’s human rights abuse, but instead focusing on just the two Canadians of the millions harmed by China, Canada undermines its own moral authority, and with it, any advocacy for the human rights of the two Canadians.

Canada’s rule of law argument is unconvincing to the CCP. China sees its own authoritarian rule as preferable to the “chaotic democracy” of Canada and its allies. It sees human rights, including those of the two detained Canadians, as something that should be sacrificed for the greater good of China’s Communist Party rule, which is the type of meritocracy the world needs, according to the most sophisticated of Chinese propaganda. Continue reading

Biden’s Embrace of Globalism Includes Waltzing with China

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

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands with U.S Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People on December 4, 2013 in Beijing, China. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Joe Biden drew considerable attention when he said at a campaign rally in Iowa “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” Many wanted to just dismiss this as another one of the former Vice President’s many gaffes. But there is reason to accept this statement as a true expression of his beliefs.

Biden’s soft approach to China is at the core of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, which opened its Washington DC offices in February 2018. The stated aim of the Penn Biden Center (the Penn refers to the University of Pennsylvania which provides the group’s institutional home) is to “Address Threats to the Liberal International Order.” These threats are set out as follows: “The postwar order that America built together with our allies is under attack. The siege comes from multiple directions—from authoritarians who strangle liberty in the name of security to terrorists who radicalize across borders and nationalist leaders who fuel fear and division at home.  Powerful illiberal states are capitalizing on this moment by filling the vacuum of leadership with values that do not match our own. They perceive the success of our system as a threat to theirs—fashioning a zero-sum world.” This is a fine statement, but leaves out who these authoritarian and illiberal adversaries are. China clearly fits the description, but is not mentioned. Russia, however, is: “In particular, under President Putin, Russia seeks to return to an era when the use of force prevails and the world is carved into spheres of influence.” The ethereal menace of “climate change” is also mentioned along with terrorism, cyber attacks and epidemics. So if a list is presented, why isn’t the Beijing regime on it?

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