RealClearWorld Articles

How the American Public Views China

Alexander Hitch - October 18, 2019

An important debate has cracked open about the future of the U.S.-China relationship. This was inevitable. But the debate, while increasingly contentious, has been limited to politicians, policymakers, and pundits, largely overlooking what most Americans think.

Worse, the failure to account for public opinion is happening at a moment when both sides of the U.S. political establishment are converging on a much sharper approach toward Beijing. In October alone, the Trump administration blacklisted several of China’s top artificial intelligence startups and imposed visa restrictions on Chinese officials linked to abuses in the western region of Xinjiang. The ongoing trade dialogue is likely to be tense, and expectations for a breakthrough remain low.

In fact, the mood in Washington toward Beijing has darkened over the last year or more. Even before the protests in Hong Kong took off in June, U.S.-China relations had become notably more adversarial. In today’s Washington, the stock description of China’s future as a “responsible stakeholder” has been replaced by “strategic competitor.” Talk of great-power competition is widespread. Former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson accurately captured the shift in mood at a speech in Singapore last year, saying “nearly everybody is arguing that the results of U.S.-China dialogue and engagement have been poor.”

Nor is Washington alone in its recent turn on U.S.-China relations. U.S. business leaders, too, have begun treating China with new caution. The recent standoff between Beijing and the National Basketball Association, and the resulting media reaction, is just the most recent example.

American Brexit

Tom Engelhardt - October 13, 2019

Donald Trump may prove to be the ultimate Brexiteer. Back in August 2016, in the midst of his presidential campaign, he proudly tweeted, “They will soon be calling me MR. BREXIT!” On the subject of the British leaving the European Union (EU) he’s neither faltered nor wavered. That June, he was already cheering on British voters, 51.9% of whom had just opted for Brexit in a nationwide referendum. They had, he insisted, taken “their country back” and he predicted that other countries, including you-know-where, would act similarly. As it happened, Mr. “America First” was proven anything but wrong in November 2016.

Ever since, he’s been remarkably eager to insert himself in Britain’s Brexit debate. Last July, for instance, he paid an official visit to that country and had tea with the queen (“an incredible lady... I feel I know her so well and she certainly knows me very well right now”). As Politico put it at the time, “In just a matter of a few hours, he snubbed the leader of the opposition -- who wants a close relationship with the EU after Brexit and if he can’t get it, advocates a second referendum on the options -- in favor of meeting with two avid Brexiteers and chatting with a third.” Oh, and that third person just happened to be the man who would become the present prime minister, Brexiteer-to-hell Boris Johnson.

Since then, of course, he’s praised Johnson’s stance -- get out now, no deal -- to the heavens, repeatedly promising to sign a “very big” trade agreement or “lots of fantastic mini-deals” with the Brits once they dump the European Union. (And if you believe there will be no strings attached to that generous offer, you haven’t been paying attention to the presidency of one Donald J. Trump.) In Britain itself, sentiment about Brexiting the EU remains deeply confused, or perhaps more accurately disturbed, and little wonder. It’s clear enough that, from the economy to medical supplies, cross-Channel traffic snarl-ups to the Irish border, a no-deal Brexit is likely to prove problematic in barely grasped ways, as well as a blow to living standards. Still, there can be little question that the leaving option has been disturbing at a level that goes far deeper than just fear of the immediate consequences.

Remember, we’re talking about the greatest power of the late eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries, the country that launched the industrial revolution, whose navy once ruled the waves, and that had more colonies and military garrisons in more places more permanently than any country in history. Now, it’s about to fall into what will someday be seen as the subbasement of imperial history. Think of Johnson’s version of Brexiting as a way of saying goodbye to all that with a genuine flourish. Brexit won’t just be an exit from the European Union but, for all intents and purposes, from history itself. It will mark the end of a century-long fall that will turn Britain back into a relatively inconsequential island kingdom.

America Undercuts Its Global Leadership by Denying Refugees

Issam Smeir - October 7, 2019

The Trump administration recently announced its intention to set a refugee ceiling of just 18,000 for fiscal year 2020, cutting the number of refugees allowed into the United States to a historic low. It is a clear sign to the world that America is abandoning its moral leadership.

By lowering the refugee ceiling, the United States will be abandoning its commitment to the 1951 UN Convention, which ensured host countries were responsible for refugees’ rights to work, move freely, and receive justice and protection.  The 1951 Refugee Convention was adopted by the United States following the country’s failure to accept refugees during the Holocaust. Scant decades later, it seems we have already forgotten the horrific tragedies that led to the Convention’s adoption.

Now embraced by most of the world, the protocol has rescued millions of people from slaughter since its ratification. Horrific genocides in Rwanda and Cambodia could have been even much worse had neighboring countries not opened their borders for fleeing refugees.

If the administration’s refugee cap goes into effect, it will send a signal to hosting countries around the globe that they, too, could abandon their responsibilities toward refugees. The U.S. government has cited the 1951 Convention in previous attempts to pressure countries around the globe to abide by their responsibilities; now we are stepping precariously close to hypocrisy.

Paraguay and the Friends We Keep

Emanuele Ottolenghi - October 1, 2019

Last week, Paraguayan Vice President Hugo Velazquez Moreno visited Washington for three days. Velazquez has been accused of being one of Paraguay’s more corrupt politicians. So why did the United States give him the red carpet treatment at the Departments of Treasury, State, and Justice, and on the Hill?

The answer may be that Velazquez is also Paraguay’s shrewdest political operator. The Trump administration needs Paraguay to do its bidding in Latin America. The administration’s efforts to disrupt Hezbollah assets in Latin America likely top the agenda. Hezbollah has entrenched its illicit finance networks along Paraguay’s porous borders, and the group has bought influence among Paraguay’s politicians. It uses their cover to continue laundering drug-trafficking proceeds through the U.S. financial system. Organized crime is also overtaking the country. For years, corrupt politicianshave been reluctant to rein in contraband and an illicit economy reportedly worth $18 billion a year along Paraguay’s unruly frontier. Only a ruthless insider might be able to take the proverbial bull by the horns.

Accusations have dogged Velazquez for much of his public career, suggesting that he has been part of the problem rather than the solution. Putting him in charge may backfire spectacularly. Inviting him to Washington will confer him a legitimacy at home he does not deserve. Yet given the right incentives, Velazquez might deliver what Washington needs.

In recent years, Velazquez has emerged as a Paraguay’s most effective powerbroker. Prior to entering politics, he worked as a public prosecutor. He began work in 2003 as district attorney in Ciudad Del Este, his country’s side of the Tri-Border Area of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay. The area is widely reputed to be a “consumer mecca” of counterfeited global brands and contraband goods that handles hundreds of millions of dollars in retail transactions every week. From humble beginnings then, he quickly rose through the ranks of the ruling party, first entering parliament in 2013 and becoming vice president only five years later.

Plugging the Gaps in Saudi Arabia’s Air Defenses

Michael Knights & Conor Hiney - September 30, 2019

Israel Can't Bear the Cost of a Unity Government

Gidon Ben-Zvi - September 30, 2019

In the aftermath of Israel’s inconclusive snap election on Sept. 17, the country’s chattering class has worked hard to convince Israelis that they want a national unity government. To drive home their point, commentators have drawn parallels between Israel in 1984 and the country today. But the comparison doesn’t hold.

The Israeli economy was on the brink of collapse, with inflation running rampant, when Likud leader Yitzhak Shamir and Labor’s Shimon Peres agreed to share power in 1984. The country was also in the grip of the first Lebanon War. In 2019, Israel's economy and security are relatively stable, and they have been that way for some time. Despite regular skirmishes with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces aren’t waging a ground war on enemy territory.

So why the rush to convince Israelis that they want a unity government? Because in a country increasingly divided along political, religious, and economic lines, national unity has an appeal that intoxicates even seasoned observers. In their enthusiastic embrace of the idea, commentators are ignoring the danger a grand coalition would pose to the wellbeing of Israeli society. That danger relates to the problems such a government would be unable to address.

The cost of living in Israel is exploding. Sure, the country’s macroeconomic performance is impressive, especially compared to 1984. But a report released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) sheds light on economic difficulties Israelis have been living with for years.

The Anxiety Behind China's Swagger

Matthew Goodman - September 30, 2019

Democracy for Hong Kong and Taiwan

Humphrey Hawksley - September 26, 2019

TAIPEI: The ongoing protests in Hong Kong offer insights into China’s flexibility of governance and its patient ability to challenge the current world order. Much has and will be written on this issue. But for an answer on how governance may unfold, consider Taiwan, which for 70 years has stood in the storm’s eye of a hostile and suspicious China.

One conclusion being mooted through think tanks in Beijing and Taipei is that the most pragmatic way forward is for China to be confident and counterintuitive enough to grant Hong Kong full democracy. Such a move would take the wind out of protesters’ sails, extinguish flames of discontent and enhance China’s global standing while being no threat to its own system of governance. The identities of the think tanks and academics involved remain confidential, but this is their argument.

Hong Kong and Taiwan are both developed economies with highly-educated Chinese populations. Taiwan is a democracy. Hong Kong is not. Sovereign control lies with Beijing, although under the “one country, two systems” agreement between Britain, its freedoms, capitalist system and way of life are meant to continue until 2047.

The first major protests erupted in 2014 because voters were denied direct election of the chief executive. Instead a committee was created to favor Beijing’s choice.

The Future of Europe: The Spanish Case

Ryan Bridges - September 26, 2019

What happens to supranational organizations like the European Union that promise their members prosperity in exchange for surrendering some sovereignty once those bodies can no longer deliver on their promise? We got glimpses at the answer in the previous decade, as crisis-wracked Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Ireland. Anti-EU forces gained prominence across the bloc, and one country even voted to leave it altogether (though the U.K.’s reasons for doing so are complex and go far beyond the crisis of recent years). And for almost a year, Germany, the growth engine of Europe, has been straining to outrun recession. Whether this race ends in a Great Depression-like catastrophe or just a period of prolonged stagnation, Germany looks likely to lose, and it will inevitably drag the rest of Europe down with it. What does this portend for the EU as a whole? This is a question we’re going to investigate going forward.

First, it’s important to set some boundaries for this exercise. We know that European unity is in trouble, but we don’t know what form the crisis will take. The outcome hinges on questions like whether there is a complete, sudden breakup; a gradual, partial breakup that leaves a rump EU intact; or just a creeping irrelevance and loss of influence from Brussels. If there’s a breakup, it matters whether it is peaceful or violent. Also critical is the settlement of debt obligations and questions like what happens to a state’s euro-denominated debt if it leaves. What if the euro is eliminated? These latter questions will be especially important for highly indebted states, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll have to leave them aside. We’re also going to assume for simplicity’s sake the most extreme scenario for the EU: total collapse.

The Case of Spain

We’ll focus here on Spain – an oft-overlooked but significant member state with a unique set of circumstances. Spain’s population and economy are both fifth-largest in the EU, with 47 million people and a gross domestic product of $1.4 trillion. Somewhat miraculously, it survived the past decade’s crash, bailouts and austerity, and in 2019 is one of the few Western European economies still experiencing moderate growth.

Doubts About Rule of Law Hamper India's Economy

James Glassman - September 24, 2019

The trade war between China and the United States is doing at least one nation good. It is the latest reason India has a chance to finally emerge as the economic powerhouse it should have been long ago. 

Under Prime Minister Narenda Modi, India has whittled away at burdensome regulations, trimmed a stultifying bureaucracy, and reduced extreme poverty. Modi came to office in 2014 with a pro-growth platform, and he was elected to a second term earlier this year. Under his leadership, India has climbed up the rankings of the World Bank’s Doing Business Report, which measures whether a regulatory climate is conducive to starting and operating a business. India has moved from 134th to the 77th place in the ranking.

Most remarkable is that India, traditionally hewing to mercantilist policies to protect home-grown industries, has appeared to welcome outside capital. For the fiscal year ending March 31, $64 billion in foreign direct investment flowed into the country -- a record, and an increase of 42% over Modi’s first year in office.

India is benefiting from the U.S.-China trade war in two ways. First, tariffs are raising the prices of goods exported by India’s competitors. Second, global business leaders who worry about committing capital to China are looking to India instead. Still, those same leaders worry, with good reason, that India is an uncertain place to commit capital. The government isn’t following the rule of its own law. 

Israeli Gridlock

Jacob Shapiro - September 21, 2019

Parliamentary elections held Tuesday in Israel produced a remarkable and unfamiliar result: everyone, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history, lost. Neither his religious-conservative bloc nor the slightly-to-the-left party led by his primary challenger, former military chief Benny Gantz, secured enough support to form a majority. Avigdor Liberman, the head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, a one-time Netanyahu ally and current kingmaker, could deliver a majority to the incumbent if he wanted to but appears hellbent on keeping him and his religious partners out of power.

Netanyahu has offered to negotiate with Gantz and Liberman over a potential unity government, which would feature a joint premiership like the one Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Shamir had after the 1984 election, but Gantz isn’t interested, committing again to forming a “broad and liberal unity government” on Thursday. His second in command, former prime ministerial hopeful Yair Lapid, told reporters that Gantz will form such a government as soon as Netanyahu steps aside. In short, whether or not Israel is dragged into a third election this year will depend on the unlikely event that Netanyahu abdicates power or is forced to step down as leader of the Likud party.

Israel Election Results

(click to enlarge)

When Good Intentions Hurt

Elizabeth Brandeberry - September 13, 2019

In March 2019, Cyclone Idai devastated the coastal nations of southeast Africa. Over a million people were displaced while death tolls reached the hundreds, and hundreds more went missing. Humanitarian aid poured in to affected nations from non-governmental organizations and governments alike. Food and medical supplies also poured in, along with emergency personnel. Moved by the scenes of dramatic destruction, private donors rushed to provide funding for these efforts.  

For many, humanitarian aid and its promise of relief provide hope when the chance of recovery seems dim. But too often, funds for humanitarian aid are directed toward projects that seem urgent but have less meaningful impacts on overall recovery, leading to long-term effects that can be just as devastating as the original disaster.

Haiti’s experience after it suffered a devastating 2010 earthquake offers a telling example. Moved by scenes of widespread destruction, the international community rushed to send aid. Without a doubt, this saved lives. But poor prioritization of needs and a lack of communication with the Haitian government  severely weakened Haiti’s economy in the long run.

Food supplies were shipped to Haiti to prevent starvation. While this aid served its immediate purpose, large amounts of donated rice also made their way to the local market, where it was sold at such low prices that Haitian farmers couldn’t compete. With their main source of income greatly reduced, many farmers sought other forms of employment to support their families. When the aid organizations eventually left Haiti after completing their work, there were no longer enough farmers to grow the crops needed to sustain the nation, leaving the country dependent on expensive foreign imports for basic sustenance.