Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Georgia-Russia Conflict: Origins of the Conflict and Georgian and Russian Motives

Part 1 of a 6 part essay on the recent conflict in Georgia, its causes, and its potential implications.

Russia’s retaliatory bombing and invasion of Georgia last month and the ongoing aftermath has developed into one of the most troubling international episodes of this decade. Russia’s belligerent response to Georgian operations in South Ossetia, a Georgian breakaway province, confirmed what had already been Russia’s scarcely hidden intention to dominate its neighbors, particularly those in the Caucasus and in Eastern Europe. The anemic Western response in the face of Russian aggression against one of its newest allies underscores the significant leverage Russia has attained this past decade over Europe and America, and such inaction bears disturbing similarity to the feeble Western response to Hitler’s aggression preceding WWII. In the following months, the United States and Europe would do well to punish Russia in a more meaningful manner than they have so far, or else resurgent Russia will be only further emboldened to bluntly wield its hard power over its weaker neighbors.

Of all of its comparatively weak Caucasus neighbors, perhaps none have been more of a thorn in Russia’s side lately than Georgia, particularly in the four years since the election of President Mikheil Saakashvili. Under President Saakashvili’s liberal economic reforms, the once poor Georgian economy is showing signs of life, experiencing 10% growth in 2007 (although unemployment and poverty could have been lower).[1] In addition, President Saakashvili rooted out much of the corruption that had existed within the government under its previous president – the former Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.[2]

Worse yet for Russia, President Saakashvili has consistently taken a defiant stance towards its giant neighbor. From the very beginning of his Presidency, President Saakashvili has strived to reestablish Georgian control over the country’s several breakaway provinces: indeed, in the first months of his Presidency he succeeded in regaining control over the Southwestern breakaway province of Ajara.[3] In addition, President Saakashvili has reached out to the West, particularly the United States: Georgia had as many as 2,000 troops in Iraq as part of the coalition forces, and U.S. President George W. Bush received an exceptionally warm welcome from President Saakashvili and the rest of Tbilisi in 2005, among other things.[4]

Most critical of all, Georgia has increasingly sought membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a move that Russia has repeatedly stated it would not tolerate, and it is easy to see why: for a Russia that seeks to have a strong influence over its neighbors, the idea of a Western alliance being extended to include one of its bordering countries, particularly one in an area that Russia has long considered to be in its sphere of influence, is unacceptable.[5]

Conveniently for Russia, though, Georgia’s breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia have presented a relatively easy opportunity for undermining the increasingly pesky Caucasus state. These two separatist regions won de facto independence in the first few years after the independence of Georgia itself after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Although no country recognizes either region’s statehood (except for Russia, which formally recognized the areas a few days ago), their autonomy has been preserved for over a decade, thanks in large part to significant Russian aid and a ceasefire arrangement monitored by Russian “peacekeepers.”[6]

The Georgians claim that both regions are integral parts of Georgia and that there would be a Georgian majority in both territories if it were not for the forced deportation of Georgian citizens, and so they have been outraged at the regions’ autonomy, viewing it as an unacceptable violation of Georgia’s territorial integrity, not only by the Abkhaz and Ossetian separatists, but also by the Russian “peacekeepers” that have been stationed in the regions. The Abkhaz and the Ossetians, meanwhile, argue that their distinct languages and cultures should give them the right to self-determination.[7]

Like other ethnic issues in the Caucasus, though, the question of the legitimacy of either of these claims has no easy answer. It is difficult even today for historians to agree on when exactly the Georgians, the Abkhaz, and the other numerous Caucasus tribes gained their present identity. It is true that for part of history, including during much of the Middle Ages, the Abkhaz and Ossetians were part of a Georgian kingdom, but this kingdom itself was a multiethnic entity consisting of various tribes; indeed, the very concept of a Georgian race takes into account several different tribes. Numerous migrations and resettlements of populations have also complicated each ethnicity’s historical ties to the areas each one claims.[8]

The Russians, though, have clearly not reached out towards Abkhazia and South Ossetia because of any sympathy for either region’s aspirations for statehood. Indeed, the Russians have played a complicated game of their own in bolstering these two Georgian breakaway regions, since Russia too rules over several Caucasus regions and peoples that also warm at the idea of statehood, particularly the Chechens. In supporting Abkhazia and South Ossetia, then, the Russians have in fact undermined their authority inside their own borders.[9]

Evidently, though, Russia does not seem to care about promoting such double standards as long as Georgia is weakened as a result; indeed, Russia has gone to great lengths to support the two breakaway territories at Georgia’s expense. In conjunction with imposing several rounds of sanctions on Georgia, Russia has not placed any sanctions on Abkhazia or South Ossetia, allowing movement of people and goods across its borders with the two areas. Russian financial aid helps to keep the regions’ economies and governments afloat, and Russia has even distributed Russian passports to much of the population in each region.[10]

Although Georgia technically initiated last month’s violence by sending troops into South Ossetia, such a conflict seems to compliment Russia’s interests and past support of South Ossetia and Abkhazia too well for one not to be suspicious of a possible Russian instigation of hostilities. The presence of Russian “peacekeepers” and passport holders gave Russia a possible excuse to justify a Russian intervention to the West in the event of Georgian operations. The speed at which the Russian military mobilized and invaded Georgia in response to Georgian military action in South Ossetia seems to suggest that Russia was too ready and prepared for retaliation for it not to have had a hand in the initiation of violence; indeed, with Russian “peacekeepers” already in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, egging on the separatist forces does not seem so hard for Russia. With West-backed Kosovo recently independent from Russian ally Serbia, Georgia up for potential NATO admission in a few months, and much of the world focused on the Beijing Olympics, the timing seemed all too perfect for Russia to strike a blow against its defiant neighbor and send a resounding message to its other neighbors and the West.

Perhaps President Saakashvili was met with a significant enough provocation from Ossetian separatists to justify sending Georgian troops to the region; perhaps he was bent on retaking South Ossetia while the rest of the world was distracted by the Olympics in order to cement his legacy. Whatever the reasoning, though, President Saakashvili should have known better. Instead, he played right into the bear’s hands.

[1] http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/01/04/europe/georgia.php
[2] http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22519891/
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/weekinreview/10traub.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Taunting%20the%20Bear&st=cse&scp=1
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/weekinreview/10traub.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Taunting%20the%20Bear&st=cse&scp=1
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/weekinreview/10traub.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Taunting%20the%20Bear&st=cse&scp=1
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/weekinreview/10traub.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Taunting%20the%20Bear&st=cse&scp=1
[7] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/weekinreview/10traub.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Taunting%20the%20Bear&st=cse&scp=1
[8] http://armenianhouse.org/villari/caucasus/caucasus-history.html
[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/weekinreview/10traub.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Taunting%20the%20Bear&st=cse&scp=1
[10] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/10/weekinreview/10traub.html?pagewanted=1&sq=Taunting%20the%20Bear&st=cse&scp=1

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The Georgia-Russia Conflict: The Direct Impact on Georgia

Part 2 of a 6 part essay on the recent conflict in Georgia, its causes, and its potential implications.

Now, Georgia and the rest of the world will have to deal with the consequences of Russia’s calculations and President Saakashvili’s miscalculation. For Georgia, the short war with Russia has been devastating: thousands of its people have died or have become refugees, and much of its civilian and military infrastructure has been damaged.[1] Worse yet, the status quo now enforced by the Russians, in which Abkhaz and Ossetian separatists control all of their respective regions and Russian “peacekeepers” even patrol a buffer zone a few miles within Georgia proper, is much worse than the one President Saakashvili tried to reverse with last month’s operations.[2]

In addition, the conflict has highlighted some glaring problems in the Georgian military, which seemed to be inadequately trained and was unable to effectively respond to Russian warplanes and tanks in the weeklong period of intense combat. These tactical failures greatly contributed to Georgia’s defeat in a conflict that has thoroughly underscored Georgia’s relative weakness compared to Russia.[3]

Such a sound defeat of Georgia has sent, as the Russians intended, a clear signal to the Caucasus and Eastern Europe that Russia has no qualms about enforcing its will and backing up its statements in stark contrast to the West, which has taken few practical measures to back up its statements and assurances of support. Russia’s neighbors, particularly Ukraine and Azerbaijan, neither of which have acted as much in accord with Russian interests as Russia would have liked, will likely wonder if they might soon face a similar fate as Georgia if they do not comply with Russian demands.

Indeed, Ukraine and Azerbaijan as well as Moldova also have unruly or disputed regions that have historically been backed by Russia, and one cannot help but wonder if Russia might in the future use such territories as windows for influence and intervention as they did with Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia.


[1] http://www.usatoday.com/news/world/2008-08-27-Georgia-damage_N.htm
[2] http://www.cbc.ca/world/story/2008/09/09/russian-troops.html?ref=rss
[3] http://www.redorbit.com/news/international/1525797/georgian_army_proves_to_be_no_match_for_the_russian/

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The Georgia-Russia Conflict: Possible Implications for Ukraine and Crimea

Part 3 of a 6 part essay on the recent conflict in Georgia, its causes, and its potential implications.

Ukraine’s control over the Crimean peninsula in the Post-Cold War era has been a particularly sore spot for the Russians. Crimea is considered by many to be an integral part of Russia and was under continuous Russian control for centuries.[1] Indeed, ethnic Russians make up a majority of Crimea’s population today (though only after decades of eviction of the Crimean Tatars and resettlement by the Russians).[2] After the creation of the Soviet Union, Crimea was part of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR), but in 1954 it was given to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (UkSSR). At the time such an act had little practical significance, but when the former SSRs gained independence with the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Crimea found itself as a part of Ukraine instead of Russia because of the earlier transfer.[3]

While Crimea’s historical ties to Russia and its allure as a tourist destination inevitably made the Russians unhappy with the loss, a more critical matter dominated tensions over Crimea: what to do with the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet anchored at the peninsula at Sevastopol.

Such tensions would be eased for the moment, though, with the Treaty of Friendship in 1997 between Ukraine and Russia, in which Russia essentially recognized Ukraine’s sovereignty over Crimea and, in return, Ukraine let Russia have most of the Black Sea Fleet as well as a long-term lease of a naval base in Sevastopol.[4] Many at the time hoped this agreement would spell the end of the dispute over Crimea and Sevastopol and might eventually pave the way for better relations between Ukraine and Russia. However, tensions have since flared up again between Ukraine and Russia, particularly in the years following the election of the pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko (who, incidentally, was mysteriously poisoned while campaigning in 2004).[5] Ukraine’s ambition to join NATO, as with Georgia’s, has especially angered Russia. Now, in light of last months’ events in South Ossetia and Georgia, Ukraine can only help but wonder if it will pay the same price as Georgia for defying Russia and if such a price will be extracted through a renewal of the dispute over Crimea.

[1] http://8.12.42.31/1997/oct/05/news/mn-39673
[2] http://8.12.42.31/1997/oct/05/news/mn-39673
[3] http://8.12.42.31/1997/oct/05/news/mn-39673
[4] http://8.12.42.31/1997/oct/05/news/mn-39673
[5] http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/1213/p01s02-woeu.html

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The Georgia-Russia Conflict: Possible Implications for Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh

Part 4 of a 6 part essay on the recent conflict in Georgia, its causes, and its potential implications.

Ukraine, though, should not be as worried about possible Russian involvement in Crimea as Azerbaijan should be about a possible Russian intervention in its breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh. This predominantly Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan was able to break away from Azerbaijani rule with the help of the military of the country of Armenia in the years following the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In fact, by the time a ceasefire agreement was reached, Karabakh and Armenian troops were in control of all of Nagorno-Karabakh as well a significant amount of the surrounding territory, including some that bordered Armenia, which allowed for a direct overland connection between Armenia proper and Nagorno-Karabakh.[1]

The Azerbaijanis have naturally been unhappy with the autonomy of Nagorno-Karabakh and the Armenian troops occupying much of its territory, but they have not had sufficient military might to challenge the status quo.[2] Still, tensions have remained high: skirmishes between Armenian and Azerbaijani troops continue to erupt sporadically, and Azerbaijan has steadily invested its new oil wealth into building up its military, seemingly with the goal of eventually being strong enough to retake the enclave by force.[3]

In taking action with regard to Nagorno-Karabakh, though, Azerbaijan must contend not only with Armenia, but also with Russia, which has been shipping arms and natural gas to Armenia and maintains a sizeable military base in the country. As with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russia’s support of Nagorno-Karabakh through Armenia has nothing to do with any sympathy towards the Armenian enclave but rather is a means by which to weaken Azerbaijan.[4] Russia certainly has an interest in undermining Azerbaijan: in addition to being one of its bordering countries, Azerbaijan is also the origin of several East-West oil and natural gas pipelines (some of which run through Georgia) that bypass Russian soil, helping to loosen Russia’s hold on European energy markets. [5] In light of its successful, fairly unimpeded operations against Georgia through South Ossetia and Abkhazia last month, Russia may decide to reassert its dominance over Azerbaijan and, by extension, over energy markets by escalating the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh.

[1] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/nagorno-karabakh.htm
[2] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/nagorno-karabakh.htm
[3] http://www.eurasianet.org/departments/insight/articles/eav070307.shtml#
[4] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/nagorno-karabakh.htm
[5] http://www.slate.com/id/2198292/

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The Georgia-Russia Conflict: Possible Implications for Moldova and Transnistria

Part 5 of a 6 part essay on the recent conflict in Georgia, its causes, and its potential implications.

Perhaps no breakaway region has been as strongly supported by (and, as a result, dependent on) Russia as tiny Moldova’s even tinier breakaway region of Transnistria has been. This miniscule Ukrainian and Russian enclave amidst a country of mostly Romanian-related Moldavians was able to achieve de facto independence in 1992, in no small part due to the support of the former Soviet 14th Army that was stationed there.[1]

Ever since gaining such autonomy, though, Transnistria has been in a rather precarious position. A sliver of land across from the Dniester River spanning only 1,607 square miles, Transnistria has little space for any sort of production (though it is fairly industrialized) and has virtually no cushion in the event of a serious attack. In addition, the small separatist region is landlocked in between Ukraine and Moldova proper, making any sort of trade tricky, since Ukraine does not recognize it and Moldova, of course, still claims it. Indeed, smuggling has been one of the primary sources not of only revenue, but also of goods for Transnistria, but even this option is growing less successful: in recent years Ukraine and Moldova have started to crack down more and more on such smuggling activity with the separatist region.[2]

Fortunately for Transnistria, though, Russia has long provided a good deal of support and aid to the breakaway region so that it has been able to maintain its autonomy from Moldova. From various routes, Russian aid and goods have reached Transnistria, helping it keep its economy afloat. As in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Russian passports have been distributed to the people of Transnistria. Most critically of all, though, Russian troops remain in Transnistria, helping to ensure that the weak Moldovan military has little chance of retaking the enclave by force.[3]

Although Russia has been able to maintain a strong presence in Transnistria, it would be significantly more difficult for Russia to launch full-scale military operations against Moldova from the enclave than it was for Russia to do so against Georgia through Abkhazia and South Ossetia, mainly due to the fact that Transnistria does not border Russia, as Abkhazia and South Ossetia do, and also that, given the current tensions, there seems to be little to no chance that Ukraine would allow Russian troops to march through its territory to reach Transnistria. For the moment, though, Russia has no interest in such an operation, since Moldova has not been as troublesome as Ukraine and Azerbaijan, and indeed Russia already maintains a strong hold over Moldova because of its support of Transnistria. However, the possibility of such an operation is certainly on the table, particularly in light of the recent events in Georgia.

[1] http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/moldova.htm
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2006/05/28/world/europe/28ukraine.html?pagewanted=print
[3] http://www.american.edu/ted/ice/moldova.htm

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The Georgia-Russia Conflict: Possible Responses and Long Term Impacts

Part 6 of a 6 part essay on the recent conflict in Georgia, its causes, and its potential implications.

If the West and the rest of the world do not want to see further Russian incursions into countries in Eastern Europe or the Caucasus, they will need to punish Russia more effectively for last month’s incursion into Georgia than they have so far. Unfortunately, the West’s options are constrained by the significant leverage Russia has attained over it. In particular, Western Europe has come to rely heavily on Russian energy exports: the European Union (EU) currently imports nearly half of its natural gas and 30% of its oil.[1] Russia has demonstrated in the past that it is willing to use its energy exports as a political tool, and so European nations are rightfully worried that if they respond too harshly to Russian actions in Georgia – like by imposing sanctions, perhaps – Russia may very well retaliate by halting the exportation of oil and natural gas to the said countries or by raising the prices of such resources. Either move would have a devastating effect on the economies of Europe.

Even the United States has had to rely on Russia in recent years. Sufficient Russian diplomatic pressure could potentially tip the scales in favor of or against the United States with regard to Iran, Sudan, and North Korea. Such support from Russia could not really be counted on, though, if the United States responds too forcefully to last month’s invasion of Georgia.[2]

Despite the weight of Russia’s leverage, Western rhetoric has at least been critical of Russia’s aggression, with EU countries, particularly France, condemning Russian military operations and President Bush calling Russia’s actions “unacceptable in the 21st century.”[3]

China, meanwhile, has not overtly supported or condemned Russia: through a joint statement of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, China officially supported “the active role of Russia in assisting peace and cooperation in the region” but at the same time expressed “deep concern over the recent tensions surrounding the South Ossetia question and calls for the sides to peacefully resolve existing problems through dialogue.”[4]

Still, the West can and should do more to express its discontent with Russia’s recent actions towards Georgia. Rhetoric may effectively convey opinions and stir emotion, but it has limited practical effect. The option of expelling Russia from the G8 also does not seem very pragmatic and indeed might weaken the legitimacy of the organization. With sanctions seeming too risky and double-edged and direct military intervention absurd, the West should instead focus on rebuilding Georgia, particularly its infrastructure and military, and it should also not put an end to Georgia’s as well as Ukraine’s hopes for joining NATO (though at the same time it should entreat Georgian and Ukrainian leaders not to act so rashly in the future so as to lessen the chances of a repeat of last month’s events in Georgia). In particular, the United States should continue to have military advisors train the Georgian military[5] and should start shipping more weapons to Georgia as well. Such actions would not directly punish Russia, but they would in effect undo some of the gains that Russia hoped to achieve by invading Georgia in the first place.

If nothing else, hopefully last month’s events will push the West to reduce its reliance on Russia in the long term. For Europe, this means lessening its dependence on Russian energy by continuing to pursue alternatives to fossil fuels as well as to keep looking for energy routes (such as the Caucasus pipelines) that bypass Russia. For America, this means moving away from the highly personal relationship with Russia that Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin had cultivated with U.S. Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. Instead, the United States should move back towards a stricter, more interest-based relationship with Russia.[6]

No matter what further action is taken, though, last month’s Georgia episode has clearly been one of the greatest strains on the current international system of checks and balances. At the moment, the long term lesson from this incident has been that, with enough hard power, a country can do what it pleases without consequence. Indeed, in a way the United States itself has reinforced this impression with its fairly unilateral invasion of Iraq and conduct in its “war on terror.”

Such an environment is eerily similar to that which existed in the years preceding WWII as the international community and the League of Nations did little to hinder the aggressive advances of Japan and Nazi Germany. This would eventually lead to the end of the set international order and of the League of Nations. Hopefully, a similar restructuring will not take place now.

With Russia, though, the rest of the world might get lucky. Russia’s resurgence has been no Renaissance: it has not invested its oil and natural gas wealth into long term economic stability, and so its influence will likely wane as oil and natural gas fall out of use and favor.

The rise of powers such as India and China, though, seem inevitable. Perhaps the most enduring effect of last month’s events in Georgia is what lessons these and other rising countries will take from them.



[1] http://www.heritage.org/Research/Europe/bg2083.cfm
[2] http://www.thewashingtonnote.com/archives/2008/08/why_we_need_to/
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/12/world/europe/12diplo.html
[4] http://www.wsws.org/articles/2008/sep2008/sco-s03.shtml
[5] http://www.redorbit.com/news/international/1525797/georgian_army_proves_to_be_no_match_for_the_russian/
[6] http://www.nsnetwork.org/node/933

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Friday, August 15, 2008

The Mongolian Economy: the True Cause of Mongolia's post-Election Violence

In many ways, Mongolia seems like a country rooted in the past. Much of its people still herd animals astride their horses, living the same, nomadic lifestyle that their ancestors had lived for millennia.[1] Even the steppes over which they herd seem unchanged, with little infrastructure or development puncturing their vast reaches.[2] Any settlements are spread far apart from one another: it is no wonder, then, that Mongolia is the most sparsely populated country on Earth.[3]

Perhaps most telling of all, the ancient, 800 year-old persona of Genghis Khan remains the most prominent figure – and the biggest celebrity – in Mongolia: his image can be found on a host of products, and there are many monuments in his name. Even a side of a hill is adorned with his image. This larger than life figure, who began the conquest of what became the largest contiguous empire in history, embodies the proud past of the Mongol people; a time when they were the rulers of nearly all the known world; a time when nomads were still widespread across the earth, defying the steady advance of sedentary civilization.[4]

For the Mongols, this glorious past seems far better than the present reality they find themselves in, with their country being slow to develop and one of the poorest in Asia, not to mention being sandwiched between two, giant, powerful neighbors: Russia and China.

And yet, in the present global scene, Mongolia finds itself hailed as a hallmark for the future: the United States has referred to Mongolia’s peaceful transition from Communism to a relatively successful democracy as a model of what the post-Cold War era should look like. Even as many of the former Soviet bloc countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia have struggled to implement true democracy and are starting to flounder under renewed Russian influence and even as newly established democracies in Iraq and Gaza have struggled, Mongolia’s democracy has remained relatively fair and functioning, which has made Mongolia attract significant praise – and foreign aid – from the United States.

This past July, though, Mongolia’s acclaimed democracy showed perhaps its first sign of considerable strain when the Democratic Party accused the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP) (the former Communist Party) of election fraud in the parliamentary elections that month that were won by the MPRP. These allegations prompted a protest in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, which soon degenerated into an angry mob that began vandalizing and looting nearby buildings and even set several buildings on fire, including the headquarters of the MPRP. The Mongolian authorities responded in full force, declaring a state of emergency and deploying the police and the military to restore order in Ulaanbaatar.[5]

This post-election saga came as a surprise to many in Mongolia and abroad given the performance of Mongolia’s young democracy up to that point. Indeed, the Democratic Party’s accusations do not seem entirely substantiated: international election observers disagreed with any such allegations.[6]

It is likely that the main trigger of the violence was not anything to do with the election dispute but rather the poor economic condition of Mongolia, with the election dispute acting as the catalyst for unleashing such frustration. Given the state of Mongolia’s economy, it is easy to see where the frustration stems from. Less than 1% of Mongolia’s land is fit for farming,[7] most of it being barren steppe and desert, forcing its people to herd animals for food (which, indeed, has been going on ever since Mongolia has been inhabited by people). While deeply rooted in tradition, such a nomadic lifestyle is unforgiving, which has prompted many to move to the cities, particularly Ulaanbaatar. Often, though, they end up in shantytowns outside the city, having exchanged one life of poverty for another.[8]

The lack of infrastructure across the vast steppes and deserts has remained a hindrance to further economic development. Although the former Communist rulers sought to modernize Mongolia and did have some impact, there is still less than 2,000 km of paved roads in Mongolia, which has an area about the size of Alaska.[9]

Mongolia hopes that its saving grace can be its vast, largely untapped deposits of minerals such as copper, gold, and coal. Unfortunately, the government has had a hard time regulating its nascent mining industry, and foreign companies still see most of the profits. Only a few Mongols reap the benefits while much of the rest of the Mongols remain poor.[10]

Perhaps the most telling example of the public frustration over the mining industry and the government’s inability to effectively regulate such mining is a 2006 windfall tax passed by the Mongolian parliament that would tax gold and copper profits at up to 68%. The Mongolian parliament passed this sweeping law in response to popular dissatisfaction with the foreign mining companies culminating in the burning of an effigy of Robert Friedland, then the head of Ivanhoe Mines Ltd, during a popular protest. The Mongolian government hoped that the new tax would enable the Mongolian people to profit more off of the gold and copper mining that has been undertaken by foreign companies.[11]

Unfortunately, the move seems to have backfired, partly because of the poor timing and execution of the Mongolian parliament: the tax was proposed and then enacted so swiftly that the mining companies had virtually no time to adjust, which alienated many and drove them away from current and future investment in Mongolia’s mines. Those that did stay had to rework contracts and delay new investments so that they could compensate financially for the sudden taxing change. The drop in mining from the foreign companies ultimately offset the higher tax rate, causing Mongolia’s revenue to decrease.[12]

Although not very well received by the public, Mongolia has had to rely on such foreign investment for a long while given its barren soil, harsh climate, its lack of development, and other economic handicaps. Such foreign aid dates back to the days of the Cold War when the Communist government in Mongolia received aid from the Soviet Union: indeed in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War the Mongolian economy fell on hard times after the Soviet aid stopped flowing into the country.[13] In recent years, other foreign companies and governments, particularly those of the United States, Japan, and China, have filled the void left by the Soviets.

Indeed, China has become perhaps the most important trading partner of Mongolia in recent years. The raw resources of Mongolia have helped China sustain its surging economic growth, while Chinese manufacturing and agricultural products have found a needy market back in Mongolia.[14]

The continued hardships of Mongolia’s economy have yet to translate into a change from democracy to another political system. That does not mean that there have not been grumblings, though. Some people long for the sort of socialist welfare programs that existed in the Communist regime but have since fallen out of favor since the introduction of capitalism and democracy.[15] Last month’s violence in Ulaanbaatar was a troubling sign of such dissatisfaction that the Mongols have with their daily lives. If the lives of the Mongols do not start to show signs of improvement soon, it may lead to a desire to try another form of government. It is such popular dissatisfaction with their lives rather than corruption or allegations of election fraud that the United States and other proponents of democracy should be most worried about with regard to Mongolia.

It is in the hands of the Mongol leaders, then, to help improve the state of the Mongol people to ensure their own success – and the success of the political system they head. In turns of immediate action, instituting some of the welfare policies that Mongolia is lacking may not be such a bad idea if for no other purpose than to alleviate some of the poverty.

Economically, greater regulation of mining and other industries would be a good move for the government so as to instill confidence in investors and to maximize output in such industries. Too much foreign investment may be unpopular and harmful in the long run, but at the moment it may be a necessary evil for Mongolia so as to generate some sort of economic activity. In the meantime, the government should focus on building up the country’s infrastructure and education systems so as to create a solid foundation from which Mongolian society may one day be able to sustain itself more through its own businesses as opposed to foreign ones.

If the Mongolian government implements such measures and continues to uphold its democratic form, then perhaps the Mongols will not erupt into an angry mob at the slightest bit of strain. Perhaps the Mongols will have lasting faith in their government. Perhaps the Mongols will look forward to the future rather than to seek solace in the past.

With democracy and established democratic nations faltering somewhat worldwide, whether it be the chaos in Iraq or Russia’s sound defeat of Georgia, never more has the fate of Mongolia meant so much for the United States and for the spread of democracy in general.

[1] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6252741.stm
[2] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mg.html
[3] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mg.html
[4] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6252741.stm
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/08/world/asia/08mongolia.html
[6] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/08/world/asia/08mongolia.html
[7] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mg.html
[8] http://www.amurtmongolia.org/
[9] https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/mg.html
[10] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2008/07/200873104041725239.html
[11] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2008/07/200873104041725239.html
[12] http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia/2008/07/200873104041725239.html
[13] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/2779.htm
[14] http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9B02E1D8123BF93AA35754C0A9629C8B63&scp=3&sq=Mongolia&st=cse
[15] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6252741.stm

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Friday, August 1, 2008

A Lengthy Analysis of China: Introduction

Post 1 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

The new reality over the past few decades has been the resurgence of China on the world stage. Spurred by rapid economic growth, China’s commercial and political actions have become some of the dominant factors shaping the world today, elevating China back towards the powerful, influential position it has been in for most of human history.

But even as China’s growing economic and political clout has enabled it to start to reemerge as a world power, several important domestic issues continue to deter and distort China’s development. The recent upheaval in Tibet is just the latest indicator of the internal challenges that China must face before it can complete its reemergence. In fact, the tumultuous situation in Tibet is an accumulation of a number of these internal problems, in particular China’s territorial and sovereignty disputes, the condescending attitude of the Han Chinese towards other ethnicities, the unregulated and imbalanced Chinese economy, and the Chinese government’s autocratic rule.

In addition, as China’s influence continues to grow, so will the various pressures it will face from the international community as it adjusts and reacts to the effects of not only China’s economic and political might, but also of its internal issues.

Truly, China has not fully reemerged quite yet. How China deals with the growing international scrutiny as well as with its internal issues, such as those that have antagonized the situation in Tibet, will determine just what kind of power China develops into.

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A Lengthy Analysis of China: Origins and Early History of the Tibet and Xinjiang Disputes

Post 2 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

Fundamentally, the problematic situation in Tibet is a result of long-standing territorial disputes within China, particularly with regards to Chinese sovereignty over Tibet and Xinjiang. In these remote, non-Chinese regions, cultural and nationalist pride have presented significant challenges to a Chinese rule that in these areas remains distinctly foreign. Indeed, contrary to Chinese claims that these areas are “inseparable” parts of China, Tibet and East Turkistan, as the native Uyghurs call it, have been independent of Chinese rule for most of history and at times have even built empires that have rivaled China itself.

China’s first enduring control over these regions, and perhaps the true basis of present-day China’s claim to them, came as a result of the conquests of the last imperial dynasty of China, the Qing (who, incidentally, were of Manchu, and not Chinese, lineage, though by this time the Manchus were fairly sinified). At its height, after nearly a century of expansionism, the Qing ruled an empire encompassing not only traditional China, but also Manchuria, Mongolia, Xinjiang, Tibet, Korea, and parts of present-day Russia as well as compelled tribute from neighboring Vietnam, Burma, and Nepal.[1]

Although the Chinese had made some past forays into parts of Central Asia and other non-Chinese areas, they never before had ruled over a multicultural empire of such huge size. Like the Russians, the Ottomans, and the rulers of other multinational empires, the Qing were faced with a critical decision in how to govern their foreign lands: whether to try to exercise direct control over them and risk breeding more determined resistance in such areas or to grant them a degree of autonomy and risk undermining central authority in general.

At the outset, the Qing rulers granted a great deal of autonomy to such areas, making Tibet[2] and Korea[3] protectorates but essentially letting them govern themselves and exercising only very loose control over Xinjiang[4] and Mongolia.[5] The Qing reasoned, wisely, that to risk antagonizing such areas by enforcing direct rule would be pointless and imprudent given how hard it already was for them to administer and police their vast empire and to establish their credibility in China itself (so that the Chinese would be content to be ruled by the foreign Manchus).

As the Qing Dynasty began to reel in its waning years under internal rebellions and European and Japanese imperialism, it started to exert greater control over Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia for the first time. Only a few years after finally suppressing the long, bloody Muslim Rebellion in the west, Qing troops occupied Xinjiang in 1884 and put it under direct Chinese rule: in fact, it was then that the Qing named the region Xinjiang, meaning “new territory,” which implies that the Qing never before had considered the region a true part of China.[6] After a small British force invaded Tibet from India in 1904, the angry Qing government officially proclaimed to the British that China had sole sovereignty over Tibet, and in 1910 Qing troops enforced this statement by marching into Tibet and establishing direct Chinese rule.[7] Increasingly fearful of Russian influence in the north, particularly after the Russians occupied Manchuria during the Boxer Rebellion, the Qing drastically tightened their rule over Inner and Outer Mongolia and increasingly tried to sinify these areas.[8] Indeed, it is even possible that Korea might have also been subject to greater rule had it not come under the influence of and later the rule of Japan in 1895 and 1910, respectively.

The unprecedented Chinese control in these regions would prove short-lived, though, when just a few years later, in 1912, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown. The disintegration of the Qing government left the former empire without a strong central authority, and so central Chinese control in far-flung domains like Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia virtually ended. Indeed, there was no central Chinese control in China itself, as regional warlords and factions fought each other for power and plunged China into chaos.

For the next 40 years, with China embroiled in civil war and ravaged by recurrent Japanese invasions, Tibet, Xinjiang, and Mongolia came to fend for and govern for themselves. In Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his administration would rule undisturbed for much of the period.[9] In Xinjiang, the Uyghurs resisted invasions by frontier warlords and twice established an independent East Turkistan Republic.[10] In Outer Mongolia, the Mongols, with Tsarist support, declared their independence in 1911 and later, with Soviet support, would repel invasions from both the White Russians and the Chinese.[11]

For Tibet and East Turkistan, though, this period of self-rule would also prove short-lived. In 1949, the Communists finally eliminated the last of their rivals, the Guomindang (Nationalists), and gained control of China proper. With traditional China finally reunified under their direction, the Communists set about retaking the lands of the former Qing Empire, and by the early 1950s Communist troops had occupied Tibet and East Turkistan to bring back Chinese rule for good. Only the strong presence of the Soviet Union kept Mongolia from a similar fate (although, far from complete self-rule, it was more or less a Soviet satellite state until the 1990s).

Once again ruling over many nationalities, China once again had to decide whether to directly rule Tibet and Xinjiang or grant them a degree of autonomy. At this critical juncture, the Chinese government picked up right where the late Qing left off and asserted itself in full force over these territories, crushing the various uprisings and incorporating these regions as “autonomous” provinces in which Chinese officials, not Tibetan or Uyghur, had ultimate power. Still consolidating its rule throughout all of China, the Communists likely felt that granting any sort of true autonomy at this time would have undercut its authority in other places.

[1] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/110832/Qianlong/1318/Dynastic-achievements#ref=ref3567&tab=active~checked%2Citems~checked&title=Qianlong%20%3A%3A%20Dynastic%20achievements%20--%20Britannica%20Online%20Encyclopedia
[2] http://www.cwru.edu/affil/tibet/documents/DragonandSnowLion.pdf
[3] http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/693609/history-of-Korea#tab=active~checked%2Citems~checked&title=history%20of%20Korea%20--%20Britannica%20Online%20Encyclopedia
[4] http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/china0405/index.htm
[5] Kotkin, Stephen, and Bruce A. Elleman. Mongolia in the Twentieth Century. N.p.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.
[6] http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/china0405/index.htm
[7] http://www.cwru.edu/affil/tibet/documents/DragonandSnowLion.pdf
[8] Kotkin, Stephen, and Bruce A. Elleman. Mongolia in the Twentieth Century. N.p.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.
[9] http://www.cwru.edu/affil/tibet/documents/DragonandSnowLion.pdf
[10] http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/china401/facts.html
[11] Kotkin, Stephen, and Bruce A. Elleman. Mongolia in the Twentieth Century. N.p.: M.E. Sharpe, 1999.

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A Lengthy Analysis of China: Tibet and Xinjiang under Communist Rule

Post 3 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

As time went on, successive uprisings, such as the latest riots in Tibet, have only led the government to tighten its grip on these so-called “autonomous” regions. Like elsewhere in China, the Communist government has consistently throughout its 60 year reign made heavy use of the military and the police (and little use of human rights) to forcibly suppress unrest and eliminate any sort of challenge to its rule. In addition, the government has made full use of its control over the media to carry out propaganda campaigns aimed at encouraging loyalty towards China and away from “separatists,” the collective term for any sort of opposition, violent or peaceful, to Chinese rule and policies in these areas.[1][2]

Over the years, China has also used some more unconventional methods to enforce order. In Xinjiang, for example, the Uyghurs allege that the Chinese have performed nuclear tests in Xinjiang and have forced Uyghur women to have abortions in an effort to reduce the Uyghur population,[3] and in the wake of 9/11, the Chinese government was even able to get the international community to brand Uyghur “separatists” as “terrorists” in an attempt to legitimize their crackdowns in the region.[4]

Not only has the Chinese government forcibly kept the Tibetans and Uyghurs in line, but it has also instituted policies aimed at assimilating them into Chinese culture at the expense of their traditional cultures in much the same way that the Qing incorporated Inner Mongolia a century earlier. In particular, the Chinese have striven to undermine one of the most critical aspects of Tibetan and Uyghur culture: religion. In Tibet, the Chinese government has arrested a significant number of Buddhist monks and has forced the monasteries to teach “patriotic education” classes to their monks.[5] In an even more blatant attempt at controlling Tibetan Buddhism, the Chinese recently handpicked the new Panchen Lama and arrested the boy who the Tibetan monks had determined to be the true Panchen Lama.[6] In Xinjiang, the Chinese government has targeted Islam, widely practiced by the Uyghurs, as a source of separatist sentiments. Using this as justification, the Chinese government has required imams to take patriotic strengthening classes similar to those imposed on Tibetan monks, and it has forbidden any expression of religion in Uyghur schools. The Chinese government has even gone so far as to dictate what version of the Koran may be used and where religious practices may be held.[7]

As they suppress religion and other aspects of indigenous culture, the Chinese government has encouraged Han Chinese migration to Tibet and Xinjiang in an effort to literally remake these areas into Chinese regions with Chinese culture. Spurred on by economic incentives offered by the Chinese government, growing Han immigration to these areas has significantly diluted the regional population: in 2005, for example, Han Chinese made up 41% of Xinjiang while Uyghurs made up 47% (by comparison, in 1949 a little under 5% of Xinjiang was Han Chinese while over 90% was Uyghur).[8] With this influx of Chinese comes an influx of Chinese culture, which is further eroding the traditional Tibetan and Uyghur cultures. Although, as the Chinese are quick to point out, such migration has also instigated economic activity in these regions, the Han have been the main beneficiaries of such commerce, which has only added to the resentment felt by the Tibetans and Uyghurs towards their Chinese overlords. As Han Chinese, Han prosperity, and Han culture continue to infiltrate Tibet and Xinjiang, the Han Chinese government has been able to argue on more and more grounds that these territories should indeed belong to China. Should these trends continue, and should aspects of Tibetan and Uyghur culture, such as religion, continue to weaken, these regions may indeed lose their ethnic and cultural identities, like Inner Mongolia largely did under the late Qing Dynasty, and then China’s arguments would indeed prove true.

As has happened in countless other multinational empires in history, though, China’s direct, authoritative rule over Tibet and Xinjiang has indeed caused more determined resistance in such areas. Although it has brought some economic activity and immediate order, China’s autocratic rule has ultimately strengthened the very separatist sentiments it has worked so painstakingly to suppress. Centuries of distinctness from Chinese sovereignty and culture laid a strong foundation for such sentiments to begin with in Tibet and Xinjiang, which the strong imposition of Chinese rule has only reinforced. In addition, the successful independence of Mongolia and the later independence of the other Central Asian states after the collapse of the Soviet Union have given even more momentum to calls for Tibetan and Uyghur independence.

More fundamentally, though, the controlling, intrusive style of Chinese rule has made many Tibetans and Uyghurs equate independence with preserving their ethnic identity and way of life. With Chinese actions encroaching into religion, education, and other aspects of daily life, clearly the current Chinese policies must be changed in order to preserve Tibetan and Uyghur culture. With no peaceful means of changing such policies and with no sign that the current Chinese government will relent, let alone grant true autonomy, independence increasingly seems the only practical solution for the Tibetans and Uyghurs.

This reality will inexorably continue to breed unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang, which will continue to destabilize these regions and hamper their ability to prosper, weakening China domestically. Furthermore, such upheaval will doubtlessly continue to sap the money and will of the Chinese government even as more pressing problems loom on the horizon.

Internationally, the Tibetans and the Uyghurs have and will continue to garner sympathy: in the wake of the recent Tibetan crackdown, for example, pro-Tibetan rallies sprung up throughout towns in India[9] and Nepal,[10] bringing the crushing weight of the Tibetan crisis on the villages they march in. In addition, China faces a stream of international scrutiny for their repressive crackdowns against the Tibetans and Uyghurs, not the least from pro-Tibetan and human rights groups that have harassed the Olympic torch on its journey to Beijing. Truly, China’s authoritative, controlling rule over the non-Chinese regions of Tibet and Xinjiang has been and will continue to be a great obstacle to China’s development, both internally and externally.

[1] http://www.cwru.edu/affil/tibet/documents/DragonandSnowLion.pdf
[2] http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/china0405/index.htm
[3] http://www.taipeitimes.com/News/archives/1999/10/14/0000006433
[4] http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/china0405/index.htm
[5] http://savetibet.org/tibet/index.php
[6] http://www.savetibet.org/campaigns/pl/index.php
[7] http://www.hrw.org/reports/2005/china0405/index.htm
[8] http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/china401/facts.html
[9] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/18/world/asia/18exiles.html
[10]http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/features/article_1397349.php/In_photos_Nepal_Tibetan_Protests

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A Lengthy Analysis of China: The Status of Taiwan Part 1

Post 4 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

In addition to Tibet and Xinjiang, another, somewhat more complicated territorial dispute involving sovereignty over Taiwan has been a tremendous burden for China, particularly internationally, where it has been one of the most sensitive global foreign policy issues of the last 60 years.

Like Tibet and Xinjiang and, for that matter, Outer Mongolia, Taiwan is a domain of the former Qing Empire that modern China sought to reestablish control over. Unlike with the others, though, Communist China sought Taiwan less out of a desire to reassert Chinese control over its former empire and more out of a desire to cement its own control in the Chinese heartlands: the last of its Guomindang (Nationalist) adversaries in the Chinese Civil War, led by Chiang Kai-Shek, fled to Taiwan with the remnants of the Republic of China (ROC) (the government that officially succeeded the Qing in 1912 and that had been dominated by the Guomindang since the 1930s) after losing control of mainland China. Thus, the new People’s Republic of China (PRC) (the government that the Communists established after the flight of the ROC) desired to conquer Taiwan and the ROC, which, despite its desperate situation, still claimed all of China as under their rule, in order to put a final end to the Chinese Civil War and eliminate all doubt as to who was the true master of China.

The international politics of the time, though, would prevent the PRC from bringing closure to the Chinese Civil War. Consistent with its newly established containment policy, the United States supported the Guomindang even before Chiang’s flight in order to deter the further spread of Communism. After Chiang’s retreat across the Taiwan straits, the United States continued to back Chiang and the ROC, refusing to recognize the PRC and providing military and economic aid to Taiwan so as to strengthen it in the event of a Communist invasion.

For the first few decades after Chiang’s retreat, such an invasion seemed imminent. Emboldened by the U.S. support, Chiang fortified Taiwan and other surrounding islands under ROC control, while the PRC, not yet relenting just because of the opposition of the United States, responded by bombarding Chiang’s fortifications, particularly those near mainland China’s coast. Several thousands of soldiers on each side died in these skirmishes, and indeed the Chinese Civil War seemed to have resumed.

Fearing what seemed like an inevitable Communist invasion of Taiwan, the United States took its commitment to the ROC to the next step, signing a mutual defense treaty with the ROC in which the United States pledged to come to Taiwan’s aid militarily in the event of a Communist invasion and threatening the PRC with a nuclear strike if it continued to shell ROC islands.

With the possibility of all-out, nuclear war with the United States looming, the PRC finally backed down, and by the 1960s it had ceased shelling ROC islands (aside from the propaganda leaflets that both sides continued to launch at each other throughout the 1960s and 1970s). For its part, the ROC, realizing that the United States would only commit troops to a defense of Taiwan and recognizing the growing military might of the PRC, would also eventually back down and abandon any serious plans to reconquer the Chinese mainland.

Although this reluctant, somewhat forced stalemate would end direct military confrontation between the two sides (as of now), it would not precipitate a resolution to the conflict. Rather, the dispute over Taiwan would evolve into its own little cold war within the Cold War. The PRC, while not invading Taiwan, still claimed the island, and the ROC would not formally renounce its claim over the entire Qing Empire. Both sides continued to build up their military, with the ROC even trying to build nuclear weapons to match those of the PRC.

Diplomatically, the PRC strived to gain more international recognition as the legitimate government of China, trying to discredit the ROC claim of China with the fact that, with the stalemate, Communist rule over China was a fait accomplit. All the while, the ROC tried to hold on to its international recognition by appealing to fears of Communism in the West.

In fact, the dispute over Taiwan would become so deeply woven into the fabric of international and regional relations that it gained a life of its own, outlasting both the Chinese Civil War and the Cold War, making every effort on the part of both sides to progress and move on trickier and harder.

The ROC, for instance, began to stop focusing on retaking the mainland in the wake of the stalemate, particularly after the death of Chiang, for whom the recapture of the mainland that he had once been the preeminent ruler of became something of a personal quest. The next generation of the ROC acknowledged that Taiwan would be the only permanent domain of the ROC, and so they began to focus on developing the island. These efforts helped Taiwan develop a dynamic, market economy as well as a more democratic political system: a much different path from mainland China, whose economic restraints have only recently been loosened and whose political system remains decisively authoritarian. It would not be unreasonable, then, to suggest, as many people have, that the ROC is in fact the ruler of an independent Taiwan that is separate from the mainland.

To say such things, though, is highly controversial, and to act on such words would likely provoke the PRC into invading Taiwan. Although Taiwan has been de facto independent for nearly 60 years, its official status is still consistent with the One-China policy, which states that there is one China, of which both the mainland and Taiwan are a part. This policy is essentially the preservation of the outdated status quo of the Chinese Civil War, since, under the wording, both the PRC and the ROC could claim to be the rulers of this “one China.”

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A Lengthy Analysis of China: The Status of Taiwan Part 2

Post 5 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

The One-China policy became a mainstay of international diplomacy as recognition of the PRC increased. Even for those nations who did not have a strong position on the Taiwan dispute and simply thought it illogical to ignore a government that effectively ruled over more than 1 billion people, the PRC made acceptance of the One-China policy by other countries a condition for opening relations with the said countries, which in effect means renouncing ties with the ROC, since in recognizing the PRC a country affirms that the PRC, and not the ROC, is the legitimate government of the “one China” that includes Taiwan and the other islands ruled by the ROC.

As a result of being trapped by this rhetoric, Taiwan has no representation in the United Nations (it used to hold the China seat, but in 1971 the ROC representatives were expelled in favor of those of the PRC) and is no longer recognized by the majority of the world. This nominally illegitimate status makes dealing with Taiwan fairly difficult, as it cannot be party to any international treaties nor can it be directly negotiated with without alienating the PRC.

Even as it denies the legitimacy of the ROC, though, the PRC has established some informal ties with Taiwan, particularly on economic and travel matters. In addition, other surrounding countries, such as Japan, have unofficial relations with Taiwan due to the stake they have in Taiwan’s economy.[1] Indeed, although the United States officially renounced the ROC in 1979 in favor of the PRC and nullified the defense treaty, it still maintained close informal relations with Taiwan and continued to furnish it with high-tech weaponry and military funding in order to discourage the PRC from a potential invasion.

In a way, the PRC probably would not mind if the complexities of Taiwan’s status could just be swept away, allowing for Taiwan to officially become an independent state. The PRC’s informal contacts with the island demonstrate the PRC’s acknowledgement of the benefits of cooperation between the two, and indeed an independent Taiwan would still pale in comparison to the rising China and would probably loosen Chinese tensions with the United States.

The PRC, though, is compelled to continue to claim Taiwan and ensure that Taiwan does not declare independence in order to maintain the image of its strong authority, both domestically and internationally. The PRC has struggled throughout its reign to maintain its authoritarian hold over the Chinese people in general and in particular over the non-Chinese, dissatisfied regions of Tibet and Xinjiang. Any step viewed as letting Taiwan act more like an independent state will be duly noted by the Chinese as well as the Tibetans and the Uyghurs who will in turn likely push for similar treatment. In addition, the PRC fears, reasonably so, that its international clout would be weakened if it gave in to calls for Taiwanese independence.

As ridiculous as the Taiwan situation may seem and as outdated as it may be, it continues to have real implications for China and the rest of the world. The PRC has sought to influence Taiwanese politics, helping politicians that advocate adhering to the One-China policy.[2] Those that advocate otherwise are met with a weakening of informal ties and, in some cases, renewed invasion threats. In fact, in 2005, the PRC passed a law officially legalizing its right to invade Taiwan if it declared independence. Even before this law, fears of an invasion compelled Europe and the United States to ban the exportation of high-tech equipment and weaponry to China.

In another recent incident from 1995-1996, the PRC fired missiles close to Taiwan and practiced military operations for an assault on Taiwan after the United States granted a visa to the Taiwanese president at the time, Lee Teng-hui. In response, the United States deployed several aircraft carriers groups in the Taiwan Straits, a clear demonstration that U.S. military support for Taiwan in the event of a PRC invasion has not been ruled out. One can only hope that a devastating, nuclear war between the United States and China over Taiwan will not become the most far-reaching consequence of the dispute over Taiwan.

Truly, the controversial situation regarding Taiwan has become nothing but a nuisance and a hindrance for China, Taiwan, and the rest of the world. Unlike China’s other territorial disputes and, for that matter, its other lingering issues, this dispute, due to the potential implications it has for Tibet, Xinjiang, and, more critically, war with the United States, may never really be fully solved but rather continue to evolve and be a thorn in the side for China as it tries to develop into a superpower.

[1] http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/35855.htm
[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/21/world/asia/21taiwan.html

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A Lengthy Analysis of China: The Condescending Han Attitude Towards Other Ethnic Groups and its Effects

Post 6 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

On a certain level, the direct and far-reaching Chinese control over Tibet and Xinjiang has been driven not only by a desire to effectively rule such areas, but also by an underlying attitude of Han superiority over other ethnic groups – some would even call it racism – that, in its various forms, has stirred up ethnic tensions in Tibet and Xinjiang that have contributed to the tumult in such areas.

This condescending Chinese attitude is the culmination of centuries of historical dominance of Chinese civilization in East Asia. Being the first to become civilized in their part of Asia and developing in relative isolation from the other ancient forefather civilizations in India and the Middle East, the Chinese came to view themselves as the center of civilization – the Middle Kingdom – surrounded by a sea of uncivilized barbarians, which naturally made neighboring peoples inferior in Chinese eyes and also instilled the Chinese with the arrogant perception that they were the best in the world. Even now that classical Chinese civilization is no more and China itself is no longer the unquestioned superpower in East Asia, let alone the rest of the world, the Chinese still cling to their ancient pride and consequently look with contempt on neighboring peoples.

Given their stark cultural distinctness from China and the sensitivity of their political situation, the Tibetans and Uyghurs have become particular victims of this sinocentric attitude, and as more and more Han Chinese move into Tibet and Xinjiang, discrimination has become all the more commonplace, particularly in the economic environment. Since Han Chinese now own and operate most of the businesses in Tibet and Xinjiang, hiring and employment for high paying, management jobs have generally favored the Han at the expense of the Tibetans and Uyghurs, who have often had to settle for low income, labor-intensive jobs instead. This socioeconomic gap has consequently made it more difficult for Tibetans and Uyghurs to get access to high quality education, health care, and other services that are usually fairly expensive and are located in the cities as opposed to the countryside, where many Tibetans and Uyghurs live.[1][2] This gap has also made the Tibetans and Uyghurs as a whole seem poor and unskilled in Chinese eyes, only giving the Chinese another excuse to look down on them.

While such discrimination clearly happens in everyday interactions, the problem has most certainly been exacerbated by the actions of the Chinese government. Although it officially insists that ethnic discrimination exists “everywhere in the world except China,”[3] the Chinese government’s policies have in fact strengthened the very much existent ethnic tensions between the Han Chinese and the minority Tibetans and Uyghurs. Indeed, the element of Han supremacy seems to have greatly influenced the Han Chinese government’s policies towards Tibet and Xinjiang. The erosion of Tibetan and Uyghur culture, particularly religion, the widespread propaganda in the media and the schools, and the flood of Han Chinese people and customs[4] have done more than just enforce control, but have also worked to drown out Tibetan and Uyghur culture and supplant it with Chinese culture. This suggests that the Chinese government has a greater motive behind its policies than simply to control Tibet and Xinjiang, but to also impose on them what it views as the inherently superior Chinese way of life.

Some of its actions seem to show utter indifference to Tibetan or Uyghur well-being, such as the decision to conduct nuclear tests in Lop Nor in Xinjiang as opposed to a predominantly Han area, which seems eerily similar to the Soviet decision to conduct nuclear tests in the non-Russian region of Kazakhstan. Others, though, particularly those designed to assimilate the Tibetans and Uyghurs into Chinese culture, seem to reflect the idea that in a way, the Chinese government is helping these previously inferior areas by introducing them to Chinese culture. As Hu Jintao himself arrogantly remarked in 2001, “The peaceful liberation of Tibet... ushered in a new era in which Tibet would turn from darkness to light, from backwardness to progress, from poverty to affluence and from seclusion to openness.”[5] Indeed, there may be some truth behind this statement: for years, the now beloved lamas in Tibet wielded significant power in conjunction with local landholders over a mostly enserfed population.[6] But at least these leaders did not try to “liberate” the Tibetans from their cultural identity.

The various Tibetan and Uyghur uprisings, including the latest Tibetan riots, are surely in part a testament to the daily, de facto discrimination the Tibetans and Uyghurs face and the arrogant, sinocentric undercurrent that the Chinese governs them with. The Chinese government, though, clearly either does not understand this or does not care, as none of these uprisings have led them to root out feelings of Han superiority among everyday Chinese or among the Chinese government itself. In fact, during the latest Tibetan unrest, the Chinese government used the ethnic tensions to garner public support for the crackdown, using their control of China’s media outlets to constantly replay images and stories of Tibetan mobs killing, looting, and pillaging, and conveniently leaving out any mention of the harsh Chinese crackdown to follow.[7] What is truly discouraging, though, both for Tibet and for China, is that the propaganda seems to be working: many Chinese have cheered the crackdown and have posted anti-Tibetan remarks on Chinese internet forums.[8]

In choosing to promote such discrimination, China has only given the Tibetans and Uyghurs more of a reason to seek independence, since clearly under the current policies they will be looked down upon and disadvantaged and under the current political system they have no peaceful means of changing such policies. Putting down future uprisings will continue to be a challenging, costly enterprise for China and one which the rest of the world will likely frown upon as China resorts to more and more forceful methods to suppress them. In addition, such discrimination will divide the country and create social and economic turmoil that will hinder China’s ability to prosper. Truly, China’s prolonging of the discriminatory status quo will negatively affect its development, both internally and externally, towards becoming an accepted world power.

[1] http://chinaaid.org/2008/02/06/chinese-curbs-leave-uyghur-youth-in-crisis/
[2] http://www.savetibet.org/news/publications/jampa.php
[3] http://www.savetibet.org/news/publications/jampa.php
[4] See Tibet and Xinjiang under Communist Rule
[5] http://www.chinaembassycanada.org/eng/xwdt/t37288.htm
[6] www.michaelparenti.org/Tibet.html
[7]http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/20/world/asia/20tibet.html?_r=1&pagewanted=1&sq=China%20Tibet%20discrimination&st=nyt&scp=2&oref=slogin
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/31/world/asia/31china.html

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A Lengthy Analysis of China: China's Unrestricted Economic Growth and its Effects

Post 7 of an 11 part essay on how the recent unrest in Tibet is a barometer of the various internal issues and the international pressure that China is struggling to deal with.

In addition to Tibet’s lack of autonomy and ethnic discrimination, the dissatisfaction of the Tibetans is also a result of the uneven economic growth that has been one of several unaccounted-for problems in China’s overall booming economy.

Even while mired in Mao Zedong’s backward Great Leap Forward – an agricultural and manufacturing collectivization plan – it should have been apparent that China and its more than 1 billion people were ripe to have a huge economic impact soon, comparable to the fundamental role it played in global trade throughout much of its pre-modern history. Doubtless, China has come a long way from Mao’s disastrous policies, and since pragmatists like Deng Xiaoping came to power, China has slowly, but surely, started to modernize and to loosen restraints on individual economic freedom, allowing the billions of Chinese to increase their entrepreneurial output and enter the modern economic fray.

Such economic activity has propelled the Chinese economy past even those of some of the long-standing industrial powerhouses, and, even as China’s full economic potential is yet to be realized, the world is already feeling the resounding effects of China’s resurgent economy. As more and more of the over 1 billion Chinese have started to enter modern economic life, they have consumed more and more needs like oil, natural gas, and electricity, which has further driven up the price and exhausted the supplies of such resources. These consumers have also become a new market for a variety of goods and services that foreign companies have been able to profit off of. Conversely, though, Chinese companies have become increasingly competitive with foreign companies in other countries with their ability to make mass amounts of cheap goods. With such investment abroad comes greater influence over client nations, particularly in many African countries, like Nigeria, that are becoming increasingly dominated by Chinese oil companies. The wealth generated by the increasingly dynamic economy has helped to swell the government’s coffers, enabling them to exercise new measures of power, such as loaning more and more money to the U.S. government.

As the recent Tibetan unrest has shown, though, not all of China has benefited from the economic boom. The rapid growth has largely been concentrated in China’s eastern seaboard in cities like Beijing and Shanghai. Much of inland China, like Tibet and Xinjiang, remains rural and poor. Bent on overall growth, the government has given inadequate attention to the growing differences in wealth between regions.

Moreover, the minimal attention it has given has mainly benefited the Han at the expense of minorities such as the Tibetans and Uyghurs: the mostly Han business owners typically hire more Han for the high paying, management jobs than minorities, perhaps for ethnic reasons, which forces most of the minorities to take up low income, laborious jobs instead. The difficulties faced by the Tibetans and Uyghurs due to this socioeconomic gap, particularly the trouble they have affording proper services, have only added to their resentment of the Chinese and their overall dissatisfaction.[1]

Although minorities have been hit the worst, even many Han have been victimized by the growing gap between the rich and the poor: more so than in other large economies, a great number of China’s employees work for modest pay at best doing labor intensive jobs while the business executives receive the bulk of the profits from the factories they run or the low-cost products they churn out (made possible by the cheap labor force).[2]

More ominous than the negligence of the economic imbalances has been the government’s negligence of the environment, which has not only damaged China’s environment, but has also contributed significantly to global warming. Unfiltered waste pours into China’s water bodies and is not always compensated by better filtration of potential drinking water. Carbon dioxide and other more harmful substances are emitted undeterred by Chinese factories, making the air intensely polluted and, in some cities, barely breathable.[3] Indeed, many are worried about the effect such air will have on the Olympic athletes that are set to compete in less than a week,[4] and some even blame the greenhouse gases for the increasing aridness of inland China.[5] Even as many criticize the United States for its lack of concern for global warming, the reality is that China’s deplorable environmental conditions more than offset any gains that United States initiative could bring about.

Like environmental standards, safety and quality product standards have been scarcely regulated, shunted aside by the desire for pure economic growth. Such poor quality is evident in recent scandals involving lead paint and chemical toxins present in children’s toys that were made in China.[6] The appalling quality of Chinese goods hurts its export economy, as countries like the United States have become increasingly cautious about purchasing such low-quality goods, despite their low price.

Ironically enough, the economic growth for which the Chinese have neglected to regulate and balance their economy is also proving more difficult to handle than perhaps previously thought: the steep increases in economic activity coupled with the economic slowdown in the United States and rising oil prices have caused sizeable inflation[7] in China that has begun to cause some concern.

Truly, even as China’s economic surge continues to have far-reaching effects, its deficiencies hamper China’s stability and development, as well as the entire environment.

[1] See Ethnic Discrimination
[2] http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/21/AR2005092100727.html
[3] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/world/asia/26china.html
[4] http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/29/sports/olympics/29china.html?hp
[5] http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/26/world/asia/26china.html
[6] http://www.cpsc.gov/cpscpub/prerel/prhtml08/08164.html
[7] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-07/23/content_6869002.htm

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