Voices from Russia

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Are Chinese Media Reports Making the USA Anxious?

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Some Chinese scholars speculate that because Chinese media presented an exaggeratedly positive invincible image of China to the outside world, it fuelled “China threat” fears in the West, particularly in the USA. Indeed, some Chinese media outlets should reflect on their exaggerated reports. However, while such scholarly arguments are well intended, their speculation doesn’t take into account the real and direct cause of the growing unsteady relations between the USA and China since Donald Trump became US President. China’s confident and practical strategy to engage the world is appropriate, even justified, given the changing times and thus we should refine it rather than halt or abandon it. Consequently, Chinese media should continue presenting China to the outside world as a positive global force, but in a more multi-varied manner.

In retrospect, Trump‘s visit to Asia on 3-14 November 2017 presaged the beginning of the US administration’s strategic shift from cooperation and competition to rivalry with China. For example, a consultation report, “Sharp Power: Rising Authoritarian Influence”, sponsored by the Washington-based National Endowment for Democracy and released on 5 December 2017 attempted to define China’s soft power as “sharp power”. In a sense, the authors of the report used “sharp power” as a new and more powerful concept than soft power, in order to label any attempt by China to engage with the world, be it cultural exchanges such as the Confucius Institutes, the Belt and Road Initiative, or major country diplomacy, as malignant. Moreover, the White House National Security Strategy Report, released in December last year, categorises China as a “strategic rival” or “strategic competitor” of the USA. A flurry of op-ed commentaries in US and European media ensued to bolster the official US stance toward China.

This public opinion campaign (rather, US-style propaganda) aimed at legitimising US moves led to some ideologically-biased politicians such as Senators Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz going against the very academic freedom they claim to value by pressuring a couple of universities in their respective states of Florida and Texas to close down Confucius Institutes. In contrast, thanks to its collaborative, holistic, and win-win ideology, China is attempting to further develop its economy and thus help others do the same by aligning with the Belt and Road Initiative. In short, China wants to work with other countries to build a community of a shared future for mankind. This cooperative strategy of China won’t only help change American culture from a culture of competition bordering on violence to a culture of cooperation and collaboration, but also help alleviate Chinese scholarly worries about deteriorating US-China relations.

30 May 2018

Jia Wenshan

China Daily

http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/cndy/2018-05/30/content_36295695.htm

Korean Peninsula Peace on Bumpy Road

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Peace Process is Slow but Positive

Pyongyang and Washington stayed on track to hold the planned summit despite their differences on how the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula should proceed. However, Trump changed his stance on 24 May, cancelling the planned meeting. The DPRK attaches the greatest importance to its security and regards its nuclear programme as a guarantee for self-defence. In 2008, Pyongyang blew up the cooling tower of a nuclear plant in accordance with an agreement at the Six-Party Talks but resumed its nuclear programme after pulling out of the agreement because of the USA’s rigid stance.

Even this time, Washington tried to put maximum pressure on Pyongyang by not easing the sanctions and conducting the “Max Thunder” military drill with the ROK, which the DPRK condemned as a security threat. Nevertheless, the dramatic development didn’t come as a surprise, as Trump and Kim refused to budge from their respective rigid stance on the denuclearisation process. Both left the door open for a possible meeting, though, for the sake of the DPRK, the USA, and the world. If the two sides indeed agree to hold the summit on 12 June, it’d be a big signal that the peace process is moving in the right direction.

Shen Haitao

Professor

Northeast Asian Studies College

Jilin University

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Don’t Pin Too Much Hope on Summit

The fact that Washington and Pyongyang failed to resolve their vital disagreements on the denuclearisation process and the DPRK’s security requirements created doubts whether the planned summit would occur. Washington stuck to its “complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement” of Pyongyang’s nuclear programme, the DPRK insisted on a “phased denuclearisation” plan. Due to this stalemate, they couldn’t make adequate preparations for the planned summit, which in turn undermined the meeting’s practical effects on the denuclearisation process.

Trump brought the so-called pragmatic style of a businessman to his presidency. He seems determined to continue using cohesive and confrontational tactics based on an “America First” policy to fulfil his promise of “make America great again” even if they threaten regional and global peace and stability. Moreover, in his wishful thinking, he thought his tough stance, including the insistence on onetime complete denuclearisation, would force the DPRK to agree to his terms relatively quickly. However, he should’ve realised that the two countries had vital and complicated disagreements over denuclearisation for three decades. If Washington and Pyongyang can still hold talks on denuclearisation, we’d regard it as a remarkable achievement.

Fan Jishe

Senior Fellow

Chinese Academy of Social Sciences             

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New US-DPRK Game on Peninsula

Since Trump called off the Washington-Pyongyang summit, even after the latter released three American hostages, stopped its nuclear and missile tests, and blew up the Punggye-ri nuclear test site, the international community expected the DPRK to give a fitting and strong response to the USA. However, the DPRK didn’t choose to do that. Instead, it said it’s still willing to hold a summit “at any time, in any form”.

Trump said Pyongyang’s actions weren’t convincing enough for him to lift the sanctions against the DPRK and make enough efforts to guarantee its security. In fact, the USA said it’d lift the sanctions and take measures to minimise the threat to the DPRK only after Pyongyang completely abandoned its nuclear programme and weapons. By calling off the planned summit, which was full of uncertainties to begin with, the USA is trying to pressure the DPRK to agree to its terms. Besides, if Pyongyang resumes its nuclear or missile tests, or takes any measure that Washington sees as a threat, the US administration will use it as an excuse to strengthen its “maximum pressure” policy, even use military force to denuclearise the peninsula.

Nevertheless, Pyongyang appears committed to promoting the peninsula peace process. At the Third Plenary Session of the Seventh Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea in April, Kim said the DPRK would shift its focus to economic development. If Pyongyang maintains this attitude, the USA would have no justification for intensifying its military activities on the Korean Peninsula or in its neighbourhood. That’s why the two sides are now more likely to start a new round of diplomatic and political games… of trying to force their respective requirements on the other. Therefore, it’d take a long time and the joint efforts of all countries to actually denuclearise the peninsula.

Jin Meihua

Researcher

Northeast Asia Studies Institute

Jilin Academy of Social Sciences

30 May 2018

China Daily

http://europe.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201805/30/WS5b0de72aa31001b82571d0be.html

Wednesday, 30 May 2018

Russian Billionaire Abramovich Gets Israeli Passport Amidst UK Visa Issue

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Editor:

Increasingly, the oligarchs are either fleeing to the West or adapting to increasing control by the state. First, it was Berezovsky. Then, it was Khodorkovsky. Now, it’s Abramovich. Russia is turning up the heat on the looters of the Nasty Nineties. I feel no compassion for these bloodsuckers. They stashed a lot of boodle in the West. They won’t suffer. Slowly, but surely, Russia is turning its back on that noisome decade. It won’t return to the USSR as it was, but it won’t return to the Nasty Nineties, either. A new synthesis is arising; it’ll take some time to show its true outlines. However, I’ll confide that it’d embody the best of the USSR, the Empire, and Old Russia. It’s all ours… or none of it is ours.

BMD

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The move came after Abramovich failed to extend his UK visa amidst Moscow-London diplomatic tensions. On Monday, The Times of Israel reported that Russian billionaire and owner of the British Football Club Chelsea R A Abramovich obtained Israeli citizenship. According to the Times, he arrived at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv earlier in the day and got an Israeli passport under the Law of Return due to his Jewish ethnicity. As reported by the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, Abramovich already opened a bank account in Israel. Previously, media reports stated that his decision to immigrate to Israel came amidst the diplomatic conflict between Moscow and London, a result of which being that he couldn’t extend his UK visa. His previous visa reportedly expired in April, when he was outside of Britain. Reportedly, his application for an extension is under consideration.

Last week, the UK House of Commons’ Foreign Affairs Select Committee issued a report “Moscow’s Gold: Russian Corruption in the UK”, in which it called on the UK government to boost sanctions against people close to the Kremlin, as well as those responsible for human rights violations. The committee also asked the UK government to work with the USA, the EU, and the G7 countries to tighten the sanctions regime on Russian sovereign debt. On Wednesday, in response, Ministry of Foreign Affairs source M V Zakharova said that the UK campaign against alleged Russian corruption in Britain looks laughable since London has long attracted foreign funds regardless of their origin and refuses to extradite criminals charged in Russia with corruption.

Over the last couple of months, after the alleged poisoning of former Russian intelligence officer Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yuliya with a deadly nerve agent, UK-Russian relations became increasingly strained. Both Skripals are out of hospital. The UK blamed Moscow for the attack and decided to expel Russian diplomats as a response. Russian officials strongly denied any involvement in the case.

28 May 2018

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/russia/201805281064887175-abramovich-gets-israeli-passport/

Monday, 28 May 2018

Interfering in Italy’s Democracy… and It’s Not Russia

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Italy’s political turmoil tends to prove the wry old saying that “if voting changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. The country is facing a mounting constitutional crisis amidst calls for impeaching the president after he blocked the formation of a new government. According to to the Financial Times, the crisis seems to be mainly about a clash over financial policy and a populist challenge to EU economic austerity. However, lurking too is a concern among the EU establishment in Brussels that a new populist Italian government is proposing to restore friendly relations with Russia. No doubt, Washington and NATO share that concern.

After the populist Five Star Movement (M5S) and League parties topped the polls in a general election in March, they formed a would-be coalition to govern. It took nearly three months of negotiations to hammer out a governance plan. Nevertheless, there are core policies on which the coalition partners are in strong agreement. Those policies include an end to the EU’s orthodoxy of neoliberal economic austerity; and, perhaps just as significant, to end EU sanctions on Russia in a step towards normalising relations. Both M5S and League praised Russia’s military intervention in Syria to end the seven-year war there. Both parties also blamed the USA and the EU for meddling in the Ukraine’s internal affairs as the cause of the continuing conflict in that country. The latter viewpoint turns upside-down the conventional USA-NATO-EU notion of accusing Russia of interfering in the Ukraine.

For these reasons, that’s why the Italian government-in-waiting wants to abandon the EU position of imposing economic sanctions on Russia for the past four years since the Ukrainian conflict erupted in 2014. The EU’s sanctions require unanimity among its 28 member states for implementation. If Italy were to vote against the sanctions… as M5S and the League firmly propose to do… then, the USA-EU policy of trying to isolate Russia would collapse. After the populist parties won the Italian election in March, a Guardian headline captured the apprehension felt among the Washington and Brussels NATO axis:

Electoral gains or M5S and League may threaten Italy’s strong support for NATO and US.

In fact, this may be the decisive factor in the latest twist of Italy’s political crisis. Over the weekend, long-time President Sergio Mattarella sparked fury after he blocked the key appointment of a finance minister. The nominee for the position, Paolo Savona, is a prominent critic of the EU economic policy of austerity and tight fiscal control. The would-be coalition government nominated Savona because his Eurosceptic views dovetail with the populists’ demands for more public investment and a basic income for poor families. The populists believe that, in this way, Italy can stimulate its economy and grow its way out of high indebtedness, rather than through the orthodox neoliberal position prevailing in Brussels of reducing debt through cutting public spending and imposing austerity.

Italy’s largely figurehead President Mattarella said he refused to mandate the appointment of the populist finance minister out of “fears about Italian and foreign investors” pulling out of the country’s economy. Italy’s economy is the third biggest in the Eurozone, but it remained mired in sluggish growth for years, with a massive debt-to-GDP ratio of over 130 percent and soaring unemployment. The blocking of the new finance minister’s appointment rebounded in a constitutional crisis. Prime Minister-designate Giuseppe Conte resigned in protest. The coalition can’t form a new government, and there are furious calls from M5S and League for President Mattarella to be impeached for impeding the “will of the people”. Luigi Di Maio, the leader of M5S said:

Why don’t we just say that in this country it’s pointless that we vote, as the ratings agencies and financial lobbies decide the governments?

The League’s Matteo Salvini was equally vehement:

In a democracy, if we’re still in a democracy, there’s only one thing to do, let the Italians have their say. Italy isn’t a colony. We aren’t slaves of the Germans or the French or finance.

Incumbent President Mattarella faces accusations of being “pro-Brussels” and compliant with the dominant economic policy of austerity and strict public finances. Italy’s 132 percent debt-to-GDP ratio is more than double what EU rules allow, and second-highest to Greece, as cited by the BBC. Therefore, if a populist government in Rome were to relax debt rules and grow its way out of economic stagnation, the result would be a head-on challenge to Brussels, the EU administration, and the German government in particular, which is a fiscal hawk. However, the point is that a radical challenge to EU economic policy is what the Italian people voted for. Large numbers of them are fed up with “slave-like” obedience to fiscal policies that accommodate the priorities of financial institutions and foreign capital.

A sense that their votes are being overturned propels the fury felt in Italy over the latest crisis. That is, “if your vote changed anything, they’d make it illegal”. This perceived blatant interference in democratic rights on behalf of neoliberal economic interests and financial investors is bound to further rile up the populist backlash against the EU establishment… not just in Italy, but also increasingly across the bloc, from Britain to the Netherlands, from France to Germany, Austria, Denmark, Hungary, and elsewhere. However, another factor may be equally important, if not quite as openly stated. That is Russia and the geopolitics of the US-led NATO axis.

Perhaps, it’s significant that President Mattarella, like many of the traditional EU ruling elite, is very pro-USA and pro-NATO. For instance, when he was previously Italy’s defence minister, Mattarella strongly supported the USA-led NATO bombing of former Yugoslavia in the late 1990s. Already, as noted above, the incoming M5S/League government coalition proposes to end the EU policy of economic sanctions on Russia. Both parties said that we shouldn’t treat Moscow as a military threat, but rather as a partner and ally. As Italy is a founding member of the EU, its position on the matter of relations with Russia would be crucial. If the new government overturned the EU’s sanctions policy and restored friendly ties with Moscow that’d scuttle the pro-Atlanticist axis between Washington and Brussels. Arguably, for Europeans, that’d be a beneficial release from Washington’s irrational hostility towards Russia in recent years, a move that EU leaders lamentably followed.

In other words, huge geopolitical interests are at stake if the Italians exercise their democratic freedom to form a populist government. No doubt, Washington and its allies in Brussels stepped in to “brief” the Italian president on what’s deemed acceptable limits of democracy. Yet, laughably, the USA-NATO-EU Atlanticist axis has the brass to berate Russia continually for “interfering in Western democracies”.

28 May 2018

Finian Cunningham

Sputnik International

https://sputniknews.com/columnists/201805281064884502-italy-democracy-political-turmoil/

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