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China’s foreign policy quid pro quo (cont.) 23, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Foreign Policies.
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To add to my earlier article on China and its foreign policy calculations, the Chinese Vice Premier Zeng Peiyan has just been visiting Luxembourg extolling the merits of closer cooperation. In a meeting with the country’s Prime Minister, Xinhua reports that the two politicians discussed the current political and international situation and, quelle surprise, the Chinese VP thanked the the PM for Luxembourg’s “steadfast adherence to the one-China policy.”

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-01/23/content_7482000.htm

Saudi driving ban to be lifted 23, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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It is official: the law banning women from driving in Saudi Arabia is to be lifted ‘by the end of the year,’ a government official has claimed. However, there are still issues to be resolved. Practicalities such as insurance, setting up schools for younger women to learn how to drive, not to mention the thorny question of whether women must, for safety reasons, remove the veil when driving, could still cause problems and delays in implementation.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2008/01/21/wsaudi121.xml.

Saudi laws relax…a bit 22, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Saudi Arabia.
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If you are a single woman in Saudi Arabia, now you can go and stay in a hotel by yourself. Houra! Obviously, this is only if you have photo ID, which will then be shown to the police, but still, it is a start.

One report but with differing reports of it 22, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Western-Muslim Relations.
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The World Economic Forum have just released a major new report on the state of Western-Islamic relations. It was complied by a veritable cornucopia of experts in the field and runs to some 156 well-spaced pages of sensible, articulate, and accurate observations and conclusions on the current state of affairs.

Th BBC covered the release of the report with the headline “Islam-West rift widens, poll says”. Contrast this with the headline ran by the Arab News: “Muslim-West conflict can be avoided: Report”. Both headlines are correct: that is to say that what they suggest is indeed to be found in the report and neither article, in the end, comes across as biased one way or the other. However, the crucial thing is the overall impression that each news agency wants to impress upon its readers: one of pessimism; one of hope.

Why the difference? Neither the BBC nor the Arab News are known for being overly hawkish or dovish. The answer may lie within the report itself. One part of the report deals with what people in the West and the Muslim world think about each other. On the specific question of how they view closer ties and interactions between the two worlds, it is Europeans who are most uneasy with this notion. Contrarily, it is the US, Israel and the Islamic countries polled whom believe that closer ties would more beneficial to both sides.

It seems, therefore, that the BBC and the Arab News are simply conforming to their culture-wide stereotypical beliefs as described by the report. It will be interesting to see more reaction in the coming days from the media to see if they carry on the trend, in many ways, vindicating and confirming the report’s conclusions.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/7200514.stm

http://www.arabnews.com/?page=4&section=0&article=105951&d=22&m=1&y=2008

China’s foreign policy quid pro quo 21, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Foreign Policies, Saudi Arabia, Soft Power.
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On any given day China announces various deals, exchanges, missions, activities, exhibitions, events, parties, celebrations, and agreements between itself and any given country. On Thursday last week, it was a technological and scientific agreement with Sierra Leone. On Friday, as reported, it was various cultural exchanges in Malta. What, you might be asking, do Malta and Sierra Leone have in common? The short answer is nothing. Obviously, they need investment and/or support in ventures, but that is hardly a distinguishing feature, after all, who doesn’t? These countries are simply the latest recipients of attention by Beijing and its prodigious foreign police making machine. No country is too small or seemingly too insignificant for Beijing’s attention in a concerted campaign to make friends and – more crucially – influence people.

To this end, China has been making vast steps forward in expanding their soft power. This is a kind of power whereby – crudely put – the country or actor in question will do what China want them to do because they see their goals as being shared by China, they want to follow China’s lead out of loyalty or a belief that it will be to their longer term benefit to do so. Soft power is conveyed in a myriad of ways. It can be through an attentive Ambassador including local business leaders in meetings or conferences, the exporting of a country’s culture through music, theatre, films or technology, thereby theoretically creating a better understanding or empathy or it can be the education of diplomats in Beijing – getting them used to the ways of the Chinese and making contacts that they may well find useful a at later date. China have been pursuing just such polices in East Asia recently with considerable success.

The opposite of soft power is – unsurprisingly – hard power, which is coercion of one form or another: you don’t follow China’s lead because you want to, but because there are implicit or explicit military, economic or diplomatic threats. Whilst the use of hard power can be effective, it is surely better to persuade and finesse countries towards your goals and ends, as opposed to being pressed into doing so, inviting resentment and general antipathy.

But what are these policies and why does China care if they have relations – good or bad – with Sierra Leone or Malta? Most of the time China seek resources or one kind or another. This is clearly the case in Sierra Leone where the Chinese have been harvesting timber (often illegally) for years. In the Maltese case it would be more accurate to say that the Chinese simply want – like all countries – good relations with all countries. However, the Chinese also want one other thing which is utterly central to all of their politics and policies: international recognition and corroboration of the one China policy. This was explicitly reported in the Xinhua report of the Sino-Sierra Leone cooperation agreement and is implicit in every other Chinese policy.

This is the crux of their soft power policies. In return for a countries strict adherence to an avowed police of utter sovereignty and non-interference in other states’ affairs, China offer both unusual support even of smaller countries as well as, crucially, a reciprocated and fervent promise not to interfere in their policies. This policy leads China to deal unusually closely with some of the world’s more repressive regimes.

There are two distinct points of view to this. Firstly, from the other country’s perspective, China offer its help without conditions. There are no human rights complications, no promises for elections, and no pressure for free press. Countries such as Sudan and Zimbabwe appreciate China’s unquestioning support in return for arms, oil, trade or whatever is on offer. These kinds of policies – unsurprisingly – draw considerable international criticism. The Chinese charges d’affairs in South Africa recently defended China’s policies of engagement, trade and interactions with Sudan and Zimbabwe by saying that China was ‘simply protecting its own interests’.

Others, notably those from the West, find China’s foreign policy of interaction with often deeply despotic and repressive regimes anything from unfortunate to disgraceful. There is, strictly speaking, no right answer. Whist it is easy for the West to harangue China for these policies, we are not speaking from an unsullied pulpit ourselves, both historically and presently speaking. Selling billions of dollars of arms to various countries in the Middle East, all of whom fair poorly to atrociously on the Freedom House index, does not lend us the high ground. Nevertheless, entering such a kind of Faustian bargain with Saudi Arabia is better than the alternative of non-interaction. Take the recent example of the multiple rape victim in Saudi Arabia who was herself going to be flogged as she was sitting in a car with an unrelated man. The opprobrium that this created in the West was translated into international pressure heaped on the Saudis and can surely be credited with pressuring the Saudi King into pardoning the women. Would this have happened if China had been the major trade partner and the West not had any kind of sway? Obviously not.

What this goes to prove is that interaction is needed – but it must be the right sort of interaction. There is a fine line between exacerbating the problems inherent in the countries in question by trading with them, enriching and/or arming the elite, and simply ignoring them. Simply leaving the states as international pariahs will not work. Into this morally created void will walk China, shoring up the regime with trade and reciprocal promises of non-interference. One can only hope that through interaction with the West and the exchange of Western soft power, grandiose notions such as democracy and rights will filter down however slowly and become embedded to help guard against the seductive allure of a mechanical foreign policy of naked self interest.

 

China expanding its soft power 18, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Soft Power.
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China are setting up various cultural extravaganzas in the UK and Malta to coincide with Chinese New Year. The stated goals of the events as a whole are, as ever, to strengthen cultural understanding, forge relationships etc. The events in the UK will be organised by ‘China Now’ a private venture started by, among others, Peter Wong the executive director of HSBC. The Malta festivities will be smaller in scale and appear to be a Chinese government run activity.

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-01/18/content_7444421.htm

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-01/18/content_7446018.htm

Map of world oil reserves 17, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Oil.
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This map equates a countries oil reserves with geographical size.

Oil Reserve Map

Indian Soft Power 17, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Soft Power.
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An excellent article on Indian soft power.

http://2ndlook.wordpress.com/2007/12/20/softpower-india/

China is building up its soft power in Russia 17, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China, Soft Power.
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China are setting up a new television channel aimed at promoting China and its culture in Russia, it was announced. This is one aspect of a vast programme that China has been undertaking for years now to expand the attractiveness of China as a brand and to make China an easier, more approachable, more understood place to trade and work. This kind of programme has been especially prevalent in South East Asia in recent years. There are countless examples of exchanges of diplomats being offered as well as scholarships being set up for students and officials from various countries to go and study in China. The idea being that the more familiar foreign officials and foreign nationals are with China the more they will trade with them and come to rely on them as a whole.

“The channel will focus on news about Sino-Russian relations, how to do business in China, programs teaching the Chinese language, series on China’s art, culture, history, places of interest, and also well-chosen Chinese movies, teleplays, and cartoons. There will also be talk shows on hot issues discussing problems emerged during Sino-Russian exchanges.”

http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2008-01/17/content_7434371.htm

A riposte to Gallic arrogance 17, January 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in French IR.
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Mshari al Zaydi, the editorial editor for the Saudi daily ‘al Sharq al Awsat’ neatly summed up the hubris of Sarkozy’s intrepid international dealings in recent times. Indeed, this quote needn’t be restricted to this particular situation: simply replace country specific terms, in this case Syrian, with issues in Chad, the Emirates, Bulgaria, Libya, Colombia…

“If Sarkozy believes that he is more informed than the rest of the Arab countries that have repeatedly tried to have faith in the promises of Bashar Assad to no avail, then he is surely deluded. If he thought that he could tempt the Damascene regime to change then he is surely deluded.

http://www.asharqalawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=2&id=11356