Thursday, November 11, 2021

Two International stories you should know about

Anyone would be forgiven if they assumed news about foreign matters is quiet this week. They would be wrong, but understandable. US news rarely covers international affairs, even as the conflict ramps up towards an issue. Here are two you should know about.

Belarus and the European Union

Belarus is a dictatorship in Eastern Europe. Alexander Lukashenkome was elected in 1994, and has been in power ever since. Although nominally a democracy, it is very much a dictatorship in the old Soviet style, but without even pretending to be anything more.

There is a lot of history, but let's ignore most of it for the purpose of getting to it. 

You may remember in May that Belarusian air traffic forced down a commercial plane in the capital with a fake problem. A dissident reporter traveling from Athens to Lithuania was pulled off the flight before it was allowed to leave. To signal its displeasure at air piracy from one EU country to another, the European Union put some serious sanctions on Belarus, above what it had due to election cheating early this year.

Belarus is not happy under sanctions. And so, the country has been flying Iraqi and Syrian immigrants to Belarus, then bussing them to the border of Poland to let them try cross. If they cannot make it, Belarus does nothing except not let them back into Belarus. It is purposely trying to create an immigrant crisis in the European Union, but without military use since that might provoke a response from NATO (and therefore the US).

If this gambit does not bring about the change they desire, they may resort to blocking the natural gas pipelines used by Russia to get gas to Europe. FYI, it is this situation - where Belarus or Ukraine can cut off Russia's export of gas - that has lead to the Nord and Sud gas lines trying to get from Russia to Western Europe around the problematic countries. And why German keeps ignoring us as we try to block the pipelines.

On to China

China's situation is not a crisis, but a significant change of policy that may well cause unexpected problems.

Since semi-capitalism was introduced by Deng Xiaoping (in 1997) China has had a system that changes the leader every five years, with a two year term limit. But, a few years ago, Xi Jinping has changed the rules. He abolished term limits (for himself). The official Communist degrees now put him alongside Mao and Deng in the official Chinese doctrine. Those three are the only ones mentioned by name. And their power was / is pretty complete.

How does this affect us? A few ways. Xi has been given great powers, and has used it to threaten his enemies, which seem to be changing all the time. At first it was corrupt officials. Then it was successful capitalists. Then he started breaking up companies he didn't like. He has promoted nationalist anger at Japan, South Korea, The United States and Taiwan at various times. Okay, Taiwan ALL the time.

But he still has to show progress of face some serious blowback. Here are his headwinds.

  1. The economy is not growing like it used to. The Chinese are mainly docile people because their country has become richer and more powerful. But Xi has throttled useless construction (which plays a massive part in the economy). And as the country grows richer, it is almost impossible to keep up that growth from this new higher base. Now there are lots of rich people in China, but still hundreds of millions that are not rich, and need to be satisfied.
  2. Those damn kids! China is having cultural problems like everyone else. The South Korean pop style is massively popular in Asia (and growing here as well). Xi finds this to be out of step with Communist Culture. He has banned television of popular singers and entertainers that are too feminine (not gay, but androgynous is the current style). 
  3. Covid. China is ruthless in locking down any area that has any Covid. Cities of tens of millions are locked down for weeks or months when 5 - 10 cases are found. Since Xi can't really do much about this, he has to do something to prove he is more powerful than Covid.
  4. Military "chicken" in Asia. Xi is threatening Taiwan almost daily (remember when this happened with Japan over the Senkaku-shoto islands, China calls the Diaoyu Dao, and Taiwan calls the Diaoyutai Lieyu?) Well China is repeating this distraction with Taiwan, but may easily do more here.
    They are also playing chicken with the United States and most of Southeast Asia over the South China Sea. Despite a ruling by the World Court that their claim is not valid, they have built airstrips and bases on atolls, They have been harassing fishing boats from Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. The US (along with Britain and Australia) have been running military boats in the area to keep sea-lanes open and to get China from going to far.
If Xi cannot deliver on economic growth, he may well start a military incursion to protect himself from domestic criticism. If that happens, expect the US to retaliate.

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