By Dan Conway
27 July 2009
The California Assembly approved a series of 31 separate bills Friday to close the state’s $26 billion budget shortfall through drastic cuts in social programs and education. The vote comes after a bipartisan agreement between state Democrats and governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to resolve the budget crisis on the backs of the working class.
It is widely expected that despite the latest agreement, the state’s fiscal woes will deepen. California’s official unemployment rate is expected to rise during the remainder of 2009 and currently stands at 11.6 percent, the sixth largest in the nation.
Steve Levy, economist at the Center for the Continuing Study of California Economy, stated, “Next year’s budget will start with a very large shortfall even if there’s a good recovery.” He also cautioned that the state will face continued hardship once federal stimulus funds run out.
Democratic state senate president Darrell Steinberg, for his part, said after last Thursday’s vote, “I have no illusions that we may be back [to address the deficit].”
Approximately 60 percent of the budget reductions are being made to core state services, while the remainder will be delivered by raiding local government funds and through accounting maneuvers, including the deferral of state employee paychecks by one day in order to delay deficits until fiscal year 2010-2011.
The largest portion of the budget reductions includes $8.1 billion in cuts to public education. Of this sum, $6.1 billion will be taken from K-12 education and community colleges, and $2 billion will be taken from higher education. California elementary and high school students will now rank last in the country in per pupil spending
In response to the higher education cuts, the California Faculty Association representing 22,000 faculty members at the California State University system, voted by a 54 percent majority to mandate that faculty members take two unpaid furlough days each month, while the California State University Employees Union approved a similar furlough agreement earlier in the week. Additionally, the system has reduced enrollment by 40,000 students. It has also raised student fees by 20 percent and reduced course offerings. Students and parents are essentially being asked to pay a great deal more for a great deal less.
About $1.3 billion in cuts have been made to the state’s Medi-Cal program, which provides health care to low-income families. Half a million will be cut from the state’s welfare program, and $124 million from an insurance program for children.
Another $1.3 billion was taken from state workers through a mandatory three unpaid furlough days a month, which amounts to a net 15 percent pay cut per worker. There is also a distinct possibility that state workers will be asked to take an additional fourth and fifth unpaid furlough day each month, resulting in a total loss of pay of 25 percent.
In addition to the closure of state offices in accordance with the furlough days, it is widely expected that state infrastructure will be severely affected. Potholes and even traffic lights may go un-repaired. Most recently, a hazardous chemical spill in San Luis Obispo was not cleaned for a full ten hours due to the unavailability of Department of Transportation workers.
Local infrastructure will also be devastated by $2 billion in forced borrowing from local governments to the state. These funds will not be repaid until 2012, if at all. As a result, needed repairs to bridges and roads will be postponed until funding is procured.
The state will also take $1.7 billion from local redevelopment agencies, devastating urban communities in particular.
A further $1.7 billion in new revenue will also be achieved by requiring taxpayers who make quarterly-estimated tax payments to make larger payments in the first two quarters, and $600 million will also be received from increased income tax withholdings from paychecks.
The sale of a portion of the State Compensation Insurance Fund will yield $1 billion. This is effectively the beginning of the privatization of workers compensation insurance.
Two provisions-one on offshore drilling and another on requisition of local funds-failed to pass the Assembly. The governor has indicated that he will respond to the resulting budget gap by using his veto power to enforce further cuts in social spending.
As far as the state’s issuance of registered warrants (IOU’s) is concerned, state controller John Chiang has reported that the state will continue to issue the warrants in lieu of actual cash payments. Most large banks, including Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase, stopped accepting the IOUs on July 10, despite each already being the recipients of tens of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.
The issuance of the IOU’s was a result of the fact that the state could not sell short term loans, or what it calls Revenue Anticipation Notes, to outside investors. The situation was exacerbated by the Obama administration, which flatly refused to underwrite the notes.
The state’s bond ratings were reduced to near junk status by Fitch and Moody’s rating services, placing further pressure on the state to reach a solution to the budget crisis in the interests of Wall Street investors. Despite the fact that the desired solution was achieved, the ratings agencies have not yet upgraded the state’s credit rating.
The budget crisis reveals in stark terms the class character of American society, and in particular the role of the Democratic Party and the media. At a state level, the Democratic Party has fully supported the principle that the budget crisis must be solved on the backs of the working class.
Recent columns in the Los Angeles Times by Steve Lopez have sought to blame the current crisis in California education on a handful of so-called bad teachers, as if the $20 billion funding cut during the past year alone is of negligible importance. In a recent column, Lopez gave support to a reactionary organization called “Parent Revolution,” a group that aims to issue threats to form charter schools when public schools in their district don’t perform to their expectations. His article finished with a call to “Storm the gates and take no prisoners.”
The Obama administration has pushed charter schools and other right-wing proposals on education, while standing by as California has implemented its crippling cuts in public education.
As a result of these cuts, more than 40,000 teachers and staff will not be returning to their jobs this September, meaning that the remaining teachers will face excessively large class sizes and in many cases will be forced to teach subjects that they are unqualified to teach.
The budget crisis continues to reveal the desire of the American ruling elite to transform class relations within states across the country, dismantling whatever remains of the social safety net along with vital resources and infrastructure.
The Socialist Equality Party will be holding a meeting on Saturday, August 1 in South Pasadena, California to address the crisis and build a conscious movement in the working class in opposition to it. We urge all workers, student youth and intellectuals to attend this important event. Click here for more information.
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by Robert Jensen
Honoring President Obama’s request that the controversy involving a black Harvard University professor and a white Cambridge police officer become “a teachable moment,” here’s my contribution to an old lesson that we white people tend to be slow to learn.
In lectures about the United States’ system of white supremacy and the privileges that white people have in that system, I have sometimes told a story about being stopped by police in Austin, TX.
I was driving home in a dilapidated old Volkswagen Beetle on a busy street, late at night after a long day at work. I was dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, feeling rather cranky and looking rather raggedy. Eager to get home, I saw the yellow light and gunned it. Next I saw the flashing red lights of a police car.
I turned off onto a dark side street and dug in my wallet for my license. Just as the officer got to my car, I was opening the glove compartment to get the vehicle registration when out popped a small knife I keep for emergencies. I looked at the knife, looked at the white officer, and wondered what he would say.
“Sir, would you mind if I held that knife while we talked?” he asked politely. I handed him the knife and my documents, and he walked back to his car. When he returned he handed me those documents, along with a ticket, and my knife, without comment. “Please drive safely,” he said. And safely I drove home.
When I told that story to illustrate white privilege, I asked people of color in the room what they imagined might have happened to them in such a situation. The black and Latino men, especially, laughed. “Do you mean before or after I’m on the ground with a gun at my head?” one of them said.
My point was not that every cop is out to harass or brutalize every person of color, but that people of color could never be sure a routine traffic stop would play out routinely. I could be reasonably sure that, barring unusual circumstances, such a stop would be uneventful. Even when the knife popped out, I didn’t feel at risk.
I was feeling proud of myself for making this point to the mainly white audience, when I saw a hand go up. I called on the young black man, assuming he would endorse my analysis.
“You really don’t get it, do you?” he said. “You think your privilege started when the cop came up to the car and saw you were white. Has it ever occurred to you that when you turned onto a dark side street you were taking your privilege for granted?”
My first response was to explain: I had been on a busy street and turned to avoid blocking traffic. I was trying to be considerate of other drivers, I said.
“I know why you did it. My point is that I would never turn onto an unlit street with a cop behind me,” the young man said. “I would have pulled over and blocked traffic. I’m not going to take myself out of public view with a cop.”
My next response was to feel appropriately foolish for my unwarranted self-righteousness, and then to be grateful to the man for using that teachable moment.
He wasn’t suggesting that I be ashamed of myself, only that I recognize the burden he carries in the world that I don’t. The story was one more example of the privilege that comes with being a member of the dominant group in an unjust hierarchical system. It’s the same lesson men should learn about the sexual violence women face. Heterosexuals should learn it about the condemnation that lesbians and gays endure. The wealthy should learn it about the insecurity that poor and working people cope with. U.S. citizens should learn it about the fear of arbitrary authority that haunts immigrants no matter what their status.
I still tell that story when I lecture, now emphasizing that the man’s comments had reminded me no one with privilege ever fully “gets it.” It doesn’t mean we whites — or men, or heterosexuals, or the well off, or citizens — are consigned to perpetual stupidity, but rather that we should never think we have it all figured out.
In this allegedly “post-racial” era, these teachable moments are an important reminder that white supremacy is woven deeply into the fabric of this country. A system as perverse and pervasive as white racism — in all its forms, conscious and unconscious, brutal and subtle, personal and institutional — will not end simply because we appoint black professors or elect a black president.
In this moment, we white folks should ask ourselves, after so many teachable moments, why we still have so much to learn.
Chidanand Rajghatta, TNN
involvement in the insurgency in Balochistan, and Washington attaches no credibility to Islamabad’s charges in this regard, a top US official has indicated.
The US view on Pakistan’s allegation came during a briefing by the Obama administration’s Af-Pak envoy Richard Holbrooke, who, while acknowledging that Pakistan brought up the subject during his recent visit to the country, told Washington’s foreign press corps, “I would be misleading if I said it didn’t come up, but the narrow answer to your question (has Pakistan given you any credible evidence of India’s involvement?) is no.”
Holbrooke’s terse response to the Balochistan wrangle – the latest between India and Pakistan — broadly squares with the assertion in New Delhi that while Pakistan has raised the issue of India’s alleged involvement in the region, it has offered no evidence, even as it falsely propagates in the Pakistani media that it has give a dossier to New Delhi in this regard. The Pakistani press is full of dark conspiracies of Indian intelligence involvement in the province, an inference to which New Delhi credulously allowed Islamabad to incorporate in a joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh.
The US has now, in effect, bailed out New Delhi. Holbrooke has previously rubbished Pakistan’s charges about alleged Indian provocations from its consulates in Afghanistan, saying he had no reason to believe Islamabad’s charges, and Pakistan would do well to examine its own internal problems. Other officials too have said Pakistan is merely trying to externalize a serious internal crisis while evading responsibility to crack down on home-grown terrorism.
In fact, Holbrooke’s briefing following his latest visit to the region was notable for its dire tone with regard to Pakistan, a country which he characterized as “facing a staggering number of front-page story problems at one time.” Describing efforts to stamp out terrorists in Pakistan frontier province, Holbrooke said it “hard to imagine a more dangerous area on the face of the earth today than an area which contains al-Qaida, Pakistani Taliban, Afghan Taliban, two and a half million refugees. It’s just extraordinary how difficult it is.”
The US envoy also trashed speculation about a rift with India that led to the reported cancellation of his visit to New Delhi with an extraordinary revelation. “You know, if there’s a rift between me and India, it would be the first rift between me and India since I was seven years old. You know, India was the first country in the world I was ever aware of. I have a very special feeling for it,” Holbrooke said.
Such expression of personal affection for countries is seldom expressed by US officials and is certain to rankle Pakistan, which is already sour about a perceived American tilt towards India over the last decade. Holbrooke went on to clarify that the only reason he scrubbed the New Delhi leg of his visit was because three of the four Indian interlocutors he engaged with were all going to be out of town. He would be going back in mid August, “within the limits of Indian independence (day).”
The Cheap High is Never as Good the Second Time!
31. July 2009. | 07:12
Source: EMportal, Washington File
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) announced a package of measures aimed at providing loans of up to $17 billion over five years to low-income countries that have been hit hardest by the global economic crisis.
“This is an unprecedented scaling up of IMF support for the poorest countries, in sub-Saharan Africa and all over the world,” IMF Managing-Director Dominique Strauss-Kahn said July 29 in Washington. The Group of 20 (G20) nations asked the IMF to respond to the global financial crisis, he added, and this is part of that effort.
The resources — which include funds generated by the planned sale of IMF gold — are expected to increase IMF lending up to $17 billion through 2014, including up to $8 billion over the next two years, the fund said.
The IMF said there would be no interest payments through the end of 2011 for loans to low-income members and lower interest rates on a permanent basis after that. “A new set of lending instruments will underpin this increased support,” the fund said.
While the current economic crisis began in the advanced Western economies, its most visible impact has been on emerging-market countries, the fund said. A third wave of the crisis has threatened the economic achievements of the last decade for many low-income countries.
As part of its response, the IMF more than doubled its financial assistance to low-income countries. New lending to low-income countries through mid-July reached $2.9 billion compared with $1.5 billion for all of 2008. Supporting this effort further, the IMF will double average loan-access limits for the poorest nations.
“All this represents a historic effort by the fund to help the world’s poor,” Strauss-Kahn said. And there will be greater emphasis in IMF-supported programs on poverty reduction and growth objectives, which will include targets to safeguard social and other priority spending, he added.
“We are responding with a historic set of actions in terms of support for the world’s poor. The new resources and new means of delivering them should help prevent millions of people from falling into poverty,” Strauss-Kahn said.
The G20, composed of advanced and emerging economies, met in London in early April, and will meet again in Pittsburgh on September 24–25.
KARACHI: The first F-22P Frigate was handed over to the Pakistan Navy in a ceremony at Hudong Zhonghua Shipyard in Shanghai on Thursday.
According to an ISPR (Navy) press release, the ceremony was followed by commissioning of the ship, in which Pakistani flag was hoisted on the ship.
Officials from the navies of both countries attended the event. Naval Chief Noman Bashir told the audience that with the passage of time ties between Pakistan and China had grown deeper.
Bashir said Pakistan was proud of its close association with China, adding that this unique relationship had no parallel elsewhere in the world.
The vessel is equipped with state-of-the-art weaponry and sensors and also carries a Z9EC helicopter. Earlier, while welcoming the guests at the event, Chief Naval Overseer Commodore Mahmoodur Rehman said the successful culmination of the project was the result of efforts and competence of the officials involved. app
Do strange clouds associated with recent Chinese earthquakes offer photo evidence of HAARP attacks?
According to the China Earthquake Networks Center, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake hit southwest China’s Ao’an Country in Yunnan Province at 7:19 pm, July 9, at a depth of about 10 kilometers. Half an hour after the quake, peculiar phenomenon appeared in the sky above Yao’an.(www.Yunnan.cn photo)
Evidence of HAARP?
Previous Chinese Quake, 12th May was preceded by these strange glowing clouds and odd formations
By M K Bhadrakumar
Like the star gazers who last week watched the longest total solar eclipse of the 21st century, diplomatic observers had a field day watching the penumbra of big power politics involving the , Russia and China, which constitutes one of the crucial phenomena of 21st-century world politics.
It all began with United States Vice President Joseph Biden choosing a tour of Ukraine and Georgia on July 20-23 to rebuke the Kremlin publicly for its “19th-century notions of spheres of influence”. Biden’s tour of Russia’s troubled “near abroad” took place within a fortnight of US President Barack Obama’s landmark visit to Moscow to “reset” the US’s relations with Russia.
Clearly, Biden’s jaunt was choreographed as a forceful demonstration of the Barack Obama administration’s resolve to keep up the US’s strategic engagement of Eurasia – a rolling up of sleeves and gearing up for action after the exchange of customary pleasantries by Obama with his Kremlin counterpart Dmitry Medvedev. Plainly put, Biden’s stark message was that the Obama administration intends to robustly challenge Russia’s claim as the predominant power in the post-Soviet space.
Biden ruled out any “trade-offs” with the Kremlin or any form of “recognition” of Russia’s spheres of influence. He committed the Obama administration to supporting Ukraine’s status as an “integral part of Europe” and Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic integration. Furthermore, in an interview with The Wall Street Journal, Biden spoke of Russia’s own dim future in stark, existential terms.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov promptly responded in an interview with the Moscow-based Vesti news channel. He said, “I hope the administration of President Obama will proceed from the agreements reached in Moscow. We believe the attempts by some people from within the administration to pull all of us back into the past, the way that Vice President Joe Biden, a well-known politician, did it, are not normative.”
Return to Reaganism
Lavrov added, “Biden’s interview with the Wall Street Journal seemed to have been copied from the speeches by leading officials of the George W Bush administration.” However, it is difficult to be dismissive of Biden as an unauthentic voice. It was Biden who spoke of “resetting” the US’s relations with Russia. He did raise expectations in Moscow. And Obama’s visit to Moscow early in July has been widely interpreted as the formal commencement of the “reset” process.
Now it transpires that the “reset” might take the US’s policy towards Russia back to the 1980s and towards president Ronald Reagan’s triumphalist thesis that Russia could not be a match for the US, given its deeply flawed economic structure and demography and, therefore, the grater the pressure on the Russian economy, the more conciliatory Moscow would be towards US pressure.
As Stratfor, a US think-tank with links to the security establishment, summed up, the great game will be to “squeeze the Russians and let nature take its course”.
There is already some evidence of this coordinated Western approach toward Russia in the European Union’s “Eastern Partnership” project, unveiled in Prague in May, the geographical scope of which consists of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Belarus and Ukraine, and which aims at drawing these post-Soviet states of “strategic importance” towards Brussels through a matrix of economic assistance, liberalized trade and investment and visa regimes that stop short of accession to the EU but effectively encourages them to loosen their ties with Russia. Indeed, the EU thrust has already begun eroding Russia’s close ties with Belarus and Armenia.
An immediate challenge lies ahead for Moscow as the parliamentary election results in Moldova have swept Europe’s last ruling communist party from power by pro-EU opposition parties. The US and the EU have kept up the pressure tactic of April’s abortive “Twitter revolution” in Moldova to force a regime change that puts an end to the leadership of President Vladimir Voronin, who has pro-Moscow leanings. The EU has made generous promises of economic integration to Moldova and Moscow made a counter-offer in June of a US$500 million loan.
However, in a stunning development, China entered the fray this month and signed an agreement to loan $1 billion to Moldova at a highly favorable 3% interest rate over 15 years with a five-year grace period on interest payments. The money will be channeled through Covec, China’s construction leviathan, as project exports in fields such as energy modernization, water systems, treatment plants, agriculture and high-tech industries.
Curiously, China has offered that it is prepared to “guarantee financing for all projects considered necessary and justified by the Moldovan side” over and above the $1 billion loan. In effect, Beijing has signaled its willingness to underwrite the entire Moldovan economy which has an estimated gross domestic product of $8 billion and a paltry budget of $1.5 billion.
The Chinese move is undoubtedly a geopolitical positioning. In an interesting tongue-in-cheek commentary recently, the People’s Daily noted that “under the [Barack] Obama administration, the meaning and use of ‘cyber diplomacy’ has changed significantly … US authorities … stirred up trouble for Iran through websites such as Twitter … [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] said that this is the essence of smart power, adding that this change requires the US to broaden its concept of diplomacy”.
Moldova is a country where China has historically been an observer rather than a player. This is Beijing’s first leap across Central Asia to the frayed western edges of Eurasia. Why is Moldova becoming so terribly important? Beijing will have calculated the immense geopolitical significance of Moldova’s integration by the West. It would then be a matter of time before Moldova was inducted into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), before the Black Sea became a “NATO lake” and the alliance positioned itself in a virtually unassailable position to march into the Caucasus and right into Central Asia on China’s borders.
What we may never quite know is the extent of coordination between Moscow and Beijing. Both capitals have stressed lately of increased Sino-Russian coordination in foreign policy. The joint statement issued after the visit by the Chinese President Hu Jintao to Russia in June specifically expressed Beijing’s support for Moscow over the situation in the Caucasus. Clearly, a high degree of coordination is becoming visible across the entire post-Soviet space.
Islamists on the Silk Road
Thus, it is conceivable that Moscow would have sensitized Beijing about its intention to set up a second military base in Osh, Kyrgyzstan, which is located in close proximity to China’s Xinjiang, and is a principal transit route for Central Asian Islamist fighters based in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
There are definite signs of a revival of Islamist activities in Central Asia and the North Caucasus. China is carefully watching its fallout on Xinjiang. Though Western commentators take pains to characterize the renewed Islamist thrust into Central Asia as an outcome of the Pakistani military operations along the Pakistan-Afghan border areas which used to be sanctuaries for militant groups, the jury is still out. Chinese experts have pointed out that with the easing of cross-strait tensions in China’s equations with Taiwan, the scope for US meddling in China’s affairs has drastically reduced and this, in turn, has shifted US attention to China’s western regions of Xinjiang and Tibet.
There is much strategic ambiguity as to what is precipitating the fresh upswing of Islamist activities in the broad swathe of land that constitutes the “soft underbelly” of Russia and China. Within 48 hours of the outbreak of violence in Xinjiang earlier this month, Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi telephoned his Russian counterpart and Moscow issued a statement strongly supportive of Beijing.
On July 10, a similar statement by the secretary general of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) followed, endorsing the steps taken by Beijing “within the framework of law” to bring “calm and restore normal life” in Xinjiang following clashes between ethnic Uyghurs and Han Chinese. The SCO statement reiterated the resolve to “further deepen practical cooperation in the filed of fighting against terrorism, separatism, extremism and transnational organized crime for the sake of [safeguarding] regional security and stability”.
Again, China has underscored that the regional security of Central Asia and South Asia is closely intertwined. Commenting on the SCO statement, the People’s Daily said it “demonstrated that the SCO member states understood well that the situation in Xinjiang bears closely on that of the entire surrounding region … Some Central Asian countries such as Pakistan and Afghanistan also fell victim to these evil forces … The evil forces have also crossed the border to spread violence and terrorism by setting up training camps. Links have been discovered between these forces and the recent riot in Urumqi, capital of Xinjiang. The fight against these evil forces will greatly benefit all Central and South Asian countries as evidence has shown that the ‘three evil forces’ are detrimental not only to Xinjiang but also to the whole region.”
Significantly, in another commentary, the People’s Daily launched a blistering attack on US policies in fanning unrest in Xinjiang. “To the Chinese people, it is nothing new that the US tacitly or openly fans the winds of resentment against China … the US indiscriminately embraces all those forces hostile to China … Perhaps, it is a customary practice for the US to adopt the double-standard when weighing its interests against others. Or, perhaps, it has some ulterior motive behind to ensure its supreme position will not be challenged or altered by splitting to weaken others … Since the end of the 1980s, the US has never moderated its intention to stoke so-called ‘China issues’ … This time, in their efforts to fan feuding between Han and Uighur Chinese by harboring and propping up separatist forces, the US is jumping out again to be the third party that would, for the secret hope, benefit from the tussle.”
There is no need, therefore, to second-guess that China supported the Russian initiative to call a quadrilateral regional security summit meeting in Dushanbe, Tajikistan, on Thursday, which was attended by the presidents of Russia, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Tajikistan. The Russian move poses a geopolitical challenge to the US, which has been monopolizing conflict-resolution in Afghanistan; keeping Russia out of the Hindu Kush; attempting to splinter the SCO-driven Sino-Russian convergence over regional security in Central Asia; stepping up diplomatic and political efforts to erode Russia’s ties with Central Asian states; and expanding its influence and presence in Pakistan and steadily brining that country into the fold of NATO’s partnership program.
The tempo of the regional security summit in Dushanbe was set by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmon when he told his Pakistani counterpart Asif Ali Zardari at a meeting on Wednesday that he expected to work closely with Pakistan to prevent the rise of instability in Central Asia. “We do share similar and close positions on these issues and our countries should have taken coordinated actions aimed against this antagonistic phenomenon,” Rakhmon said.
Conceivably, China will also use its influence on Pakistan to nudge it in the direction of regional cooperation rather than passively subserve the US’s regional policies. Zardari’s initial remarks at Dushanbe, though, have been non-committal. He blandly responded to Rakhmon, “We will stand together against the challenges of this century.”
Moscow tabled as an agenda item for the Dushanbe summit a proposal for regional cooperation that involves selling electricity from Tajikistan’s Sangtudinskaya hydroelectric power plant (in which Russia has invested $500 million and holds a controlling 75% equity) to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Ironically, the idea was originally an American brainwave aimed at bolstering the US’s “Great Central Asia” strategy that hoped to draw the region out of the Russian and Chinese orbit of influence.
Russia draws a Maginot Line
Equally, it is all but certain that while China is not a member of the Russia-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Beijing will draw satisfaction that Moscow is building up the alliance’s presence in Central Asia as a counterweight to NATO. After the unrest in Xinjiang, Beijing has a direct interest in the Russian idea of creating an anti-terrorist center in Kyrgyzstan and advancing the CSTO’s rapid-reaction force (Collective Operational Reaction Forces) in Central Asia.
No doubt, the outcome of the CSTO summit meeting in the resort town of Cholpon-Ata in Kyrgyzstan this weekend will be keenly watched in Beijing. On the eve of this summit, an aide to the Russian president revealed in Moscow on Wednesday that an agreement had been reached in principle about the opening of a Russian base in Osh under the CSTO banner. A Kremlin source also told the Russian newspaper Gazeta that the summit meeting would discuss the situation in Afghanistan.
Viewed against this backdrop, the joint Russian-Chinese military exercises, dubbed “Peace Mission 2009″, held on July 22-26, cannot be regarded as a mere repetition of two such exercises held in 2005 and 2007. True, all three exercises have been held under the framework of the SCO, but this year’s has been in actuality a bilateral Russian-Chinese effort with other member states represented as “observers”.
Major General Qian Lihua of the Chinese Ministry of Defense claimed that the drills were of “profound significance” when the forces of terrorism, separatism and extremism are “rampant nowadays”. He said that apart from strengthening regional security and stability, the exercises also symbolized the “high-level strategic and mutual trust” between China and Russia and became a “powerful move” for the two countries to strengthen “pragmatic cooperation” in the field of defense.
Taking stock of the military-to-military cooperation between China and Russia, Qian said:
First, high-level exchanges have become frequent. It has become a routine for the two nations to arrange an exchange between defense ministers or chiefs of general staff at least once a year. Frequent exchanges between defense departments and high-level military visits have effectively driven the smooth development of bilateral military relations between China and Russia.
Second, strategic consultation has become a routine mechanism. Since 1997, the militaries of China and Russia established a mechanism to hold annual consultations between the two sides’ leadership at the level of deputy chief of the general staff. So far, 12 rounds of strategic consultation have been held, which has promoted mutual trust and friendly cooperation.
Third, exchanges between professional groups and teams have become pragmatic. The militaries of China and Russia have conducted pragmatic exchanges and cooperation in many forces and corps including communications, engineering and mapping.
Qian anticipated that with the Peace Mission 2009, the “strategic mutual trust and the pragmatic cooperation between the two militaries will enter a new stage”.
China’s concern is palpable in the face of the rise in militant Islamist activities in Central Asia. “The terrorists are quietly trying to take cover in Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan … They’ve lived in Afghanistan for a long time,” as Tajik Interior Minister Abdurakhim Kakhkharov put it recently. The Rasht Valley in the Pamir Mountains where the terrorists are gathering is only “trekking distance” from the Afghan (and Chinese) border.
There are reports of famous Tajik Islamist commander Mullo Abdullo having returned from Afghanistan and Pakistan with his followers after nearly a decade and that he is trying to recruit militants in the Rasht Valley. From various accounts, militant elements from Russia’s North Caucasus, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Xinjiang are linking up.
To quote the Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, “The Afghanistan situation is affecting not only Kyrgyzstan but Central Asia as a whole. People have come here to carry out acts of terror.” Bakiyev added ominously, “There are still forces out there that we do not know about, who are here and who are ready to indulge in illegal activities. They have one aim: to destabilize Central Asia.” Yet, NATO has pleaded helplessness in stopping the movement of the Taliban in the direction of the Tajik border.
Thus, the million-dollar question is whether the current unrest is a mere distant echo or is tantamount to a replay of the US efforts to fund and equip mujahideen fighters and to promote militant Islam as a geopolitical tool in Soviet Central Asia in the 1980s. That is why Biden’s remarks harking back to Reaganism will be taken very seriously in Moscow and Beijing – that the Russian economy is a wreck, Russia’s geography is ridden with a range of weaknesses that are withering, and the US should not underestimate its hand. China’s bold move in Moldova shows that it may have begun regarding the post-Soviet space as its own “near abroad”.
End of Chimerica?
The point is, there is a hefty economic angle to the maneuverings. The US’s Eurasia energy envoy Richard Morningstar bluntly admitted at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing two weeks ago that China’s success in gaining access to Caspian and Central Asia energy reserves threatened the US’s geopolitical interests.
Interestingly, the renewed spurt of unrest in Central Asia (including Xinjiang) - which Russian intelligence has been anticipating since end-2008 – is taking place along the route of the 7,000-kilometer gas pipeline from Turkmenistan via Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan and leading to Xinjiang that is expected to be commissioned by year-end. No doubt, the pipeline signifies a historic turning point in the geopolitics of the entire region.
Well-known economic historian Niall Ferguson has compared “Chinmerica” – the thesis that China and America have effectively fused to become a single economy - to “a marriage on the rocks”.
Ferguson anticipates, in the context of the Group of Two “strategic dialogue” between the US and China that took place in Washington this week, that a point will be reached when instead of continuing with the “unhappy marriage”, China may decide to “got it alone … to buy them global power in their own right”.
Factors influencing this are US saving rates soaring upwards and US imports from China significantly reducing; the Chinese feeling they have had enough of US government bonds, with the specter of the price of US Treasury bonds falling or the purchasing power of the dollar falling (or both) – either way China stands to lose.
Ferguson sees that China may have already begun doing this and its campaign to buy foreign assets (such as in Moldova), its tentative movement toward a consumer society, its growing embrace of the special drawing rights idea of a basket of currencies to replace the dollar – all these are signs of an impending “Chinmerica divorce”. But what does it entail for world politics? Ferguson says:
Imagine a new Cold War but one in which the two superpowers are economically the same size, which was never true in the old Cold War because the USSR was always a lot poorer than the USA.
Or, if you prefer an older analogy, imagine a rerun of the Anglo-German antagonism of the early 1900s, with America in the role of Britain and China in the role of imperial Germany. This is a better analogy because it captures the fact that a high level of economic integration does not necessarily prevent the growth of strategic rivalry and ultimately conflict.
We are a long way from outright warfare, of course. These things build quite slowly. But the geopolitical tectonic plates are moving, and moving fast. The end of Chimerica is causing India and the United States to become more closely aligned. It’s creating an opportunity for Moscow to forge closer links to Beijing.
Surely, a major difference will be that while this month’s solar eclipse is not expected to be surpassed until June 2132, there are no such certainties in the shifty world of big-power politics, especially the tricky triangular relationship involving the US, Russia and China. But one thing is certain. Like in the case of the solar eclipse that was gazed at from all conceivable corners of the Earth, the shift in the geopolitical tectonic plates and the resultant realignment of the co-relation of forces across Eurasia will be watched with keen interest by countries as diverse as India and Brazil, Iran and North Korea, Venezuela and Cuba, Syria and Sudan.
Ambassador M K Bhadrakumar was a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service. His assignments included the Soviet Union, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Germany, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kuwait and Turkey.
|www.chinaview.cn 2009-07-29 05:38:51|
BEIRUT, July 28 (Xinhua) — Six Israeli warplanes made their way right up to the north of Lebanon on Tuesday, in a serious violation of Lebanon’s airspace, the official National News Agency(NNA) reported.
The Lebanese warplanes conducted circular flights over Hasbayya, West Bekaa, Iklim Tefah and Marjeioun, according to the report.
It is rare for Israeli warplanes to enter northern Lebanese airspace, although Lebanon repeatedly accuses Israeli warplanes of violating its airspace on a daily basis.
The Lebanese army announced its readiness on that front, saying it has placed its troops on alert to face up any Israeli action, local media said. UN peacekeepers also were in a state of alert.
The flight of Israeli warplanes coincided with the movement of four Israeli tanks towards a recently built Israeli observation post in Kfarshouba hills with a 100-meter distance to Hassan gate.
Also during the day, representatives from the Lebanese army, the Israeli army, and the UN Interim Forces in South Lebanon (UNIFIL) held a meeting in the Lebanese town of Naqoura to discuss the breaches of UN Security Council Resolution 1701.
UN resolution 1701, which ended the 34-day devastating war between Israel and the Lebanese Shiite armed group Hezbollah in the summer of 2006, prohibits weapons smuggling to Hezbollah and forbids the group from engaging in military activities in south Lebanon.
Israeli officials have recently expressed apprehension over events in southern Lebanon which Israel claims suggest that Hezbollah is seeking to provoke another round of conflict.
On Monday, Israeli officials said they believe Hezbollah will try to escalate the tension on the border by organizing civilian demonstrations and protests in the Har Dov region along Israel’s border with Lebanon, as it did about a week ago, as part of an effort to launch a popular uprising against Israel.
The 2006 ceasefire installs a 13,300-member UN peacekeeping force along Lebanon’s border with Israel to assist the Lebanese army and prevent any hostile actions between Hezbollah and Israel.