Reign in the Drones

IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight. Location: NAVAL AIR...

IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight. Location: NAVAL AIR STATION, FALLON, NEVADA (NV) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies
Micah Zenko

Council on Foreign Relations
January, 2013

Have drones become the hammer that has turned every U.S. foreign policy challenge into a nail? Micah Zenko isn’t ready to go quite that far, but he does suggest that the lack of a policy framework to regulate their use hurts the U.S., and that we are best served long-term by helping to promulgate a set of international rules and norms to govern their use.

The piece is not directly China related, but given China’s active effort to develop its own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) force, Zenko’s calls for international norms should bring China immediately to mind.

Greening China’s Grid

“China’s Great Green Grid”
Laurence Brahm

PacNet 71A
Center for Strategic and International Studies

November 14, 2012

I have been a longtime follower of Beijing-based attorney and author (and now, apparently, political economist) Laurence Brahm. Over the years, the longtime China hand has been a source of some thoughtful thinking on how to approach the challenges of China. He’s also invested in a couple of decent restaurants in the capital.

True to form, in a recent paper for the Pacific Forum CSIS, Brahm calls for China to dump coal for renewable energy. Dismissing the issues with wind and solar as “merely simple or technological issues that can be addressed through finance and investment,” Brahm calls on China’s leaders to shove the politically powerful coal interests aside and embrace (and finance) a wholesale shift to renewables.

Admirable goals, indeed. Unfortunately, the problems with the proposals as laid out in his paper are substantial. Brahm offers scant evidence that the political will exists in Beijing (or, more important, in the provinces) to sideline powerful coal interests, nor does he hint at what might incite such a will. Are the technical challenges constraining solar and wind really just a matter of money, or are there brutal problems of basic science, politics, and weather that will not easily yield even to the biggest of all checkbooks? What does that massive SOE, China Grid, think about all of this?

And the really big elephant in the room: can conservation, solar, and wind ever satisfy China’s demand, and what would it take in terms of changes in lifestyle and expectations for that to happen?

Admittedly, it is a little unfair to ask a political economist, even one with the credentials of Mr. Brahm, to address all of these issues in under a thousand words. Yet somehow I feel the author would have been better off listing the barriers to a green grid and a pathway around or through them rather than suggesting that money and a good five-year plan was the answer.

Why China Still Needs Fast Trains

High speed rail, hangzhou

High speed rail, hangzhou (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“China’s High-Speed Rail: A Reassessment”
David Wolf

Wolf Group Asia
September 30, 2012

China’s massive investments in high-speed rail (HSR) have come under intense scrutiny, particularly in the wake of the fatal collision in Wenzhou last year and continuing revelations of graft, waste and mismanagement in the construction effort.

In this paper, the first in a series, I argue that despite the systemic failures that have dogged the system, China’s particular circumstances make the construction of the HSR network not only defensible but farsighted – not unlike the construction of America’s transcontinental railroads. The problem is in the details, not the general direction. Discussions on the future of the system should focus on the measures China must take to eliminate the graft, ensure safety, efficiency, and success.

Catching Famine Early

Chinese officials engaged in famine relief, 19...

Chinese officials engaged in famine relief, 19th C. engraving (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Famine Early Warning and Early Action: The Cost of Delay
Rob Bailey

Chatham House
July 2012

Famines are tragedies that have been with mankind since before recorded history. What is different today, however, is that there are a growing number of systems and tripwires that can warn the world when and where a famine will strike long before it does.

The problem, finds Chatham House’s Rob Bailey, is that such warnings are greeted not by action on the part of NGOs and the UN, but delay and prevarication. Examining past cases, Bailey isolates why, despite advanced notice, people were allowed to die, and he offers a blueprint to improving the process between warning and response.

With China’s growing appetite and the specter of global warming hovering over the world’s agricultural output during this long, hot summer, Bailey’s could not have come at a more apt time.

Radio, Television, and Public Diplomacy

A reporter for RFE/RL's Afghan Service intervi...

Image via Wikipedia

BBG’s Strategic 5yr Plan: to inform, engage and connect.

In the darkest days of the Cold War, the United States focused considerable effort on bringing to the world what can either be described as “the truth,” or “the truth according to the United States government ” with services like Voice of America and Radio Free Europe. We can argue about the value of these broadcasts to the people of Latin America, but it seems clear these broadcasts provided a critical information lifeline to the people of China and the countries locked behind the USSR’s Iron Curtain.

In the years since the opening of China and the end of the Cold War, however, these services have lacked the kind of clear mission they once had, and the rise of the Internet calls into question the value of broadcast services generally. I would argue, though, that America’s global broadcast assets remain a critical part of public diplomacy. Commercial enterprises like CNN and Fox News have their place, but they are not in the business of conducting information activities in support of US foreign policy.

The BBG spells out exactly why it should continue to receive funding over the next four years in its 2012 strategic plan. Admittedly awash in bureaucratese, the concrete steps it outlines take the organization a big step toward regaining the relevance it once had. Even given the glacial speed of governmental organizations, the plan is realistic and doable.

If the plan lacks anything it is a clearer vision of where the organizations need to be in 10 years. More needs to be done than what is outlined here, and both what and why need to be made clearer.

Nonetheless, even die-hard net-heads like myself cannot help but see the value of broadcast in America’s public diplomacy after reading this.

China’s Future: The World Bank Chimes In


SHARM EL SHEIKH/EGYPT, 19MAY08 - Robert B. Zoe...

Image via Wikipedia

China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society.

That China’s economy and polity are at an historic crossroads is so often repeated these days that it has become a truism. The question that faces prognosticators is what China should do about it. Even if the lessons of economic development of one country could be applied to another, the scale, speed, and urgency of China’s economic challenges seem push the nation’s leaders onto an uncharted course.

So what to do?

In joint effort with the Development Research Center of the State Council, The World Bank has produced a China 2030: Building a Modern, Harmonious, and Creative High-Income Society laying out a series of macro-level recommendations to address the issues China’s economy is facing over the next 20 years. What the framers of that report mean, of course, is that China faces these challenges today, but it is impolitic to suggest as much. (To suggest that the United States could also use such guidance would be similarly impolitic but no less accurate.)

What is compelling (read “different”) about this report is the participation of the Chinese government in the process. For that reason alone, the report is worth the read for the insights it should give into the kind of forward thinking that is “permissible” in the current policy environment.

The work has already been criticized for not addressing CCP politics and the role of the Party in the policy process. What I wonder about is the extent to which the World Bank was compelled to pull its punches on its recommendations

in order to retain the government’s participation. At a conference reported by Bob Davis ofThe Wall Street JournalWorld Bank Group President Robert Zoellick was fairly optimistic about both the resilience of the Chinese economy (“stress points will expand over time rather than turn into a crisis”) and about the possibility that some if not all of the reports recommendations would be carried out (“I think that in some form you’ll see this move ahead.”) That does not sound like a man doling out bitter medicine.

If the medium is the message, though, and this report does have legs, it may be as important as China’s own vaunted 12th Five Year Plan in helping to divine the future of China’s economic policy.

Japanese Science: Anything but Foreigners

Kyoto University, one of the most prestigious ...

Image via Wikipedia

“Revamp Math and Science Education, Kazuo Nishimura, AJISS-Commentary

The Japanese Institutes of Strategic Studies, a conservative think-tank in Tokyo, has published this op-ed by Kazuo Nishimura, a Professor of Mathematical Economics at Kyoto University.

In the op-ed, Nishimura calls for starting science education earlier, changing the structure of elementary courses, and keeping high-school kids in compulsory science courses longer in High school. More controversially, he also calls for a complete overhaul of the nation’s grading system.

All of these are good proposals, especially the latter, but the one policy Nishimura shies form is the one most likely to make a difference in the near term: allowing greater numbers of foreign scientists to come into Japan to work and offer their efforts to Japanese companies. Indeed, he believes this is the problem.

A fascinating article.