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Whither the European (Dis)Union?

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on November 14, 2011


Is significantly greater integration the surest way to prevent both the euro and even the entire European Union from

A droplet of water falls from a tap in front of the euro sculpture at the European Central Bank in Frankfurt, Germany, Friday, Nov.11, 2011. (Photo: Michael Probst / AP)

blowing apart? Or is EU federation–and the basic powers national governments now wield being weakened in the process–exactly the kind of radical fusion certain to send countries jealous of their sovereignty fleeing for the exits? As euro zone members now consider drastic, big-bang solutions to overcoming their currency’s crisis, leaders of all 27 EU member states find themselves grappling with the question of whether more or less Europe is necessary to safeguard the bloc’s future.

The spread of the single currency’s existential crisis–which began as a debt problem initially believed to imperil only a few small nations before expanding to shake Europe’s biggest economies to their foundations–mirrors the rising pressure posed by a similarly essential dilemma over the wider European Union project, and evoking similar denial from leaders. While most officials agree that deep and dramatic measures must be undertaken to finally contain the debt-driven euro emergency, their concord evaporates over the different options for action—especially centralization of budget and debt rules, and giving real intervention power to the European Central Bank. Central to that disagreement are clashing views over just how bound together EU members should be—a long-standing confrontation between Euroenthusiasts and Euroskeptics that has resurged in crisis anew. As such, moves to save the euro will probably shape the direction—or even future—of the entire EU as it seek a collective horizon to look toward.

News reports Nov. 10 stated France and Germany were consulting partners on potentially radical harmonization measures between euro zone members—or at least those capable of and willing to accept far stricter budgetary and fiscal rules that greater convergence would involve. If true, it suggests the euro zone’s two biggest economies are contemplating tossing unsustainably indebted currency partners out of what would become a smaller, tighter euro ship. German Chancellor Angela Merkel denied those reports, insisting scission of the euro 17 wasn’t an option. Yet her comments elsewhere indicated the status quo could not endure, either. Read the rest of this entry »


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How Will China Respond to a New U.S. Military Presence in Australia?

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on November 11, 2011


U.S. plans to station troops in Australia to help counter China’s growing clout might be expected to provoke cries of

US Marines Humvee four-wheel drive vehicles and a US Navy Landing Craft Air Cushion position themselves for the Talisman Saber 2009 joint exercise on July 15, 2009 on Freshwater Bay Beach near Townsville, Australia. (Photo: Department of Defence / Getty Images)

indignation from Beijing. But the development, which President Obama and Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard are expected to formally announce on Nov. 17 during Obama’s visit to Australia, has thus far generated little in the way of complaint from the Chinese government. That could change once the plan is formally outlined.

The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the deal would lead to increased exercises and allow the U.S. to place hardware in Australia, but would not lead to the creation of new U.S. bases. The Sydney Morning Herald added that U.S. Marines will be stationed at an existing Australian base near the northern port city of Darwin, which Obama and Gillard will visit next Thursday.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei responded to the news Thursday by saying Chinese officials “hope relevant countries’ bilateral cooperation will be conducive to the Asia-Pacific region’s security, peace and stability,” the Journal reported. Earlier this year China launched its first aircraft carrier, and it has been involved in increasingly heated disputes with Vietnam and the Philippines over overlapping claims to the South China Sea. The Global Times, a tabloid owned by China’s Communist Party, quoted an unnamed expert yesterday who said that because the U.S. has seen China’s increasing ability to threaten forces in the “first island chain”—the line of islands in the Western Pacific stretching from Japan to the Philippines, it is now focusing on defending positions further removed from China.

The U.S. and Australia already jointly operate two military facilities: the Pine Gap surveillance station near Alice Springs near the geographical center of Australia and the Harold Holt naval communication station in Western Australia. Plans to increase the U.S. presence in Australia have been mooted over the past year at the annual AUSMIN talks between the two countries. In September, U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the U.S. and Australia were “making steady progress in developing options for our two militaries to be able to train and operate together more closely, including more combined defense activities and a shared use of facilities.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Russia’s Putin Visits Beijing: Friendly Neighbors or Strategic Competitors?

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on October 11, 2011


Russia's Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (C) and China's Premier Wen Jiabao (L) inspect an honour guard during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on October 11, 2011 (Photo: Takuro Yabe / POOL / AFP)

Regular readers of stories from China’s state-run Xinhua News Agency know that relations between China and nearly every country whose leader visits Beijing merit a positive appraisal. “Malawi treasures its friendship with China and is grateful for China’s selfless support for Malawi’s national development,” gushed one Xinhua article last year, while another on Oct. 11 noted that “China and Namibia have become ‘all-weather’ friends.” Today, as Russia’s Vladimir Putin began a two-day trip to China accompanied by a 160-member delegation, a Xinhua op-ed piece proclaimed: “China-Russia cooperation conducive to a more balanced world.” The Chinese media group splashed “rarely-seen photos” of Putin and his family members of its website homepage, along with a link to a close-up of the Russian leader captioned: “Cute or cool, another face of Russian Prime Minister Putin.”

As evidence of this “more balanced world,” Xinhua pointed to China and Russia’s joint rejection of a U.N. draft resolution on Syria that would have condemned Damascus for its deadly crackdown on protestors. Xinhua also opined that “as key members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and leading emerging nations, China and Russia have played an important role in shaping a multipolar world and fostering democratization of international order.” The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a grouping of China, Russia and Central Asian nations that presents an alternate security alliance to NATO. Closer Russian-Chinese ties could provide a counterbalance to relations with the West.

Ahead of Putin’s China visit, some $7 billion in trade deals were discussed, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. (China is now Russia’s top trading partner, and trade will likely surpass $70 billion this year.) Further economic cooperation is expected to be finalized during Putin’s China stop—the Russian Prime Minister’s first trip abroad since he announced a controversial leadership plan in which he would try to reclaim the more important title of President next year. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ten Years After 9/11, Is It Now Time to be Afraid of China?

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on September 9, 2011


As the commentaries, retrospectives and meditations pile up ten years after 9/11, expect quite a few in their closing paragraphs to look toward the next grand geo-political challenge facing the U.S. A decade of costly adventurism in the Middle East and Afghanistan, many will argue, distracted U.S. policy making from the new realities of Asia, where some of the world’s main economies and rising powers are shaping the future decades of the 21st century.

The bogeyman here is not an ideology or some shadowy terrorist threat, but, to be blunt, China. Beijing’s rise as an economic and military power raises understandable concerns. The modernization of its navy and army seem calculated to directly challenge the preeminence of American power. As an authoritarian state, China has shown a penchant for a cold-blooded foreign policy, happy to support troublesome regimes from Khartoum to Pyongyang. A raft of pundits have already issued grim warnings about the future of the global liberal, democratic order — one which emerged during the 20th century’s Pax Americana — as it gets pressured by the new imperatives of a Chinese hegemon.

Tapping into this sense of alarm, an essay published last week in the National Review by Michael Auslin, the resident East Asia scholar at the right-of-center American Enterprise Institute, offers up a vision for American strategy in the Pacific. Though Auslin claims his proposal is more “pro-Asia” than it is “anti-China,” it’s hard to see how the two in his formulation are all that different.

Auslin’s essay —  entitled “Build, Hold and Clear: An American Strategy for Asia” —  is a re-invention of the U.S.’s “counter-insurgency” doctrine invoked in Iraq and Afghanistan of “clear, hold and build,” now applied across the wide tableau of the Asia-Pacific. Given the profound doubts hanging over U.S. operations in those two war-blighted countries, questions ought to immediately arise. Auslin shrugs off any concerns of U.S. decline or failure, and calls for policymakers to focus on “the next American era today.” This involves, ostensibly, reasserting U.S. interests across Asia by “building a larger community” of like-minded allies and confronting China more directly. Auslin writes: Read the rest of this entry »

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China’s Security Chief Goes on Tour—How Is Asia Reacting?

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on August 24, 2011

Posted by 

Over the past week, as I’ve traveled across Asia, I’ve discovered an unlikely partner in my continental peregrinations:

China's Politburo Standing Committee Member Zhou Yongkang arrives for a meeting in Kathmandu, Nepal, August 17, 2011. (Photo: Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters)

China’s security chief Zhou Yongkang. The senior Chinese envoy’s travels have taken him to Nepal, Laos, Cambodia and Tajikistan. The final stop is Mongolia, where Zhou is expected to head on Tuesday.

In Zhou’s wake, the narrative has tended to follow the same plot-line: first, China’s state media proclaims “mutually beneficial cooperation” and “longstanding friendship” between Beijing and the local government. Then a raft of trade deals or bequeathing of military goodies is announced. Finally, an undercurrent of unease follows, with regional analysts wondering about China’s growing economic and security might.

Last Saturday, Zhou was in Cambodia, where he met with Prime Minister Hun Sen. In addition to various mining, road-construction and farming deals, China has agreed to supply nearly $200 million in helicopters to Cambodia. Beijing is already the Southeast Asian nation’s largest foreign investor, and Hun Sen, who has quietly evolved into one of Asia’s longest-serving strongmen, has been vociferous in his support of China. His enthusiasm for Chinese largesse stands in marked contrast to his feelings toward Western donors who tend to attach pesky strings like human-rights commitments to their aid. The Phnom Penh Post quoted a local researcher worrying that “Cambodia will become subservient to China.” Read the rest of this entry »

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Europe Map Video Shows Changing Borders, ’10 Centuries In 5 Minutes’ (VIDEO)

Posted by Ram Kumar Shrestha on November 14, 2010

Trustworthy or not? If yes, then must be careful
Read the Article at HuffingtonPost

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