15 March 2009

World's Most Dangerous Cities

(From RealClearWorld)

If last week's violent attacks in Northern Ireland reminded us of anything, it's that every corner of the world - whether it be in Baghdad, Iraq or Belfast, Northern Ireland - holds its own elements of danger and instability. The world has been consumed for several years by two wars, as well as recent violence in the Middle East and Sri Lanka.

In determining the World's Most Dangerous Cities, the editorial staff at RealClearWorld instead decided to highlight some of the places around the world that have been overshadowed by the higher profile violence in other parts of the globe.

Cities like Kabul and Gaza City sadly find themselves the frequent source for headlines and news copy in world affairs pages and journals. But places may be dangerous for more reasons than just bullets and bombs. In our latest list, RCW dug deeper to present you with the cities often forgotten by the editors, reporters and pundits.

No. 10 London

11 March 2009

High Stakes on the High Seas

(From RealClearWorld)

The recent near-violent confrontation on the South China Sea between the Chinese navy and a U.S. navy reconnaissance ship brought back memories of the 2001 showdown over the crash landing of an American recon plane on Hainan Island. History has a funny way of repeating itself.

The Chinese intention is pretty clear - it wants to test a new American president who is even more of a rookie at international affairs than George W. Bush was in April 2001. But more important, the Chinese really would want to know how its navy stacks up against the world's premier sea power.

China's adventure into the Horn of Africa region last year was but a thinly disguised attempt to flex its new naval muscles. A land power throughout its history, China in recent years has made a concerted effort to bolster its maritime capabilities. It needs a stronger navy to provide safe passage for its growing number of freight and merchant ships - the backbone of the world's second-largest exporter.

But there is another aim at work. China may not be spoiling for a fight with the U.S. Navy, but it wants to make sure it won't be totally overwhelmed if a confrontation becomes inevitable. Of course, much of this has to do with Taiwan - China knows if it must take the island by force, a thousand missiles and a hundred divisions of the PLA won't get the job done if they can't get across the Taiwan Strait.

And there's the matter of the South China Sea, which has long been considered a "lake" by the Chinese, who claims ownership of all of the potentially oil-rich (on par with Kuwait by one estimate) Spratly Islands. Hainan Island serves as the hub of China's budding submarine fleet, a force that has undergone rapid modernization and is quickly becoming the second-strongest in the world.

So when an American ship crept nearby, it became a golden opportunity for China to fire a shot across the bow of USS Barack Obama. The new president's reaction, or the absence of, will give China important clues it's looking for.

10 March 2009

The Last Best Chance for Tibet

(From RealClearWorld)

On March 10, 1959, a violent uprising began in Lhasa - one that was orchestrated from the highest levels of the Chinese Communist Party, namely Chairman Mao Zedong himself. Mao wanted an excuse to crush the Tibetans, send the Dalai Lama into exile and put the nominally-autonomous region under the CCP jackboot.

All that was accomplished. And now, 50 years later, the Chinese government is at a loss on how to untangle this one last part of Mao's monstrous legacy.

The People's Liberation Army first invaded Tibet in 1950, shortly after the Communists drove Chiang Kai-shek off the mainland. But because Mao was heavily invested in the Korean War on the other side of the continent, the Chinese victory was tenuous, and its domination hardly comprehensive.

Still a teenager then, the Dalai Lama was invited to Beijing to visit with Mao, who appeared both gracious and charming to the Tibetan spiritual leader. In October 1951, he formally accepted the Seventeen-Point Agreement outlining the terms of an autonomous Tibet as part of the People's Republic of China. He would repudiate this document when he went into exile in India eight years later.

What the Dalai Lama has not repudiated, however, is Chinese sovereignty in an autonomous Tibet. He has tried vainly to negotiate, through emissaries, with the Chinese government on the basis of this framework. Yet, the CCP has been unable to reach a consensus on how to resolve the Tibetan issue, resorting mostly to the tired tactics of forceful crackdowns while labeling the Dalai Lama a "separatist."

What President Hu Jintao and his cabinet must realize, though, is that the opportunity for a peaceful resolution to the Tibet question is closing fast.

First, the aging and possibly ailing Dalai Lama (who will turn 74 this year) may be Beijing's best hope to reach a satisfactory settlement without further escalation and bloodshed. While he has stuck to the concept of autonomy without outright independence, a number of Tibetan dissidents have diverged from that position. But as long as he is still the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, and also recognized as such globally, any agreement with the Dalai Lama's consent would more than likely be respected and honored on the Tibetan side.

Second, the Chinese leadership has to recognize that the exercise of its soft power in recent years has resulted in much more gains than any saber-rattling with hard power. Hu needs to look no further than the rapprochement with Taiwan. A decade of military intimidation designed to meddle with Taiwan's elections only brought upon them rebuke from the island's voters. A more benevolent approach under Hu has delivered a much more desirable outcome - a political climate change in Taiwan, and a smoother path to a peaceful resolution in an unresolved civil war.

With its power reaching unprecedented heights in the midst of the global financial crisis, this is actually the best moment for China to show that it's a mature superpower-to-be that needn't resort to the gun barrel to solve problems at every turn. By offering very small amounts of magnanimity, a confident China can gain immeasurably in stature, both in the eyes of the west as well as an increasingly restive Tibetan community.

Finally, the continued demonizing of the Dalai Lama and imposition of martial law only guarantee further bloodshed at a time when China can least afford it. Fifty years ago, the quelling of the Tibetan uprising resulted in the death of 86,000, at the time an insignificant number while Mao was busy starving nearly 40 million Chinese to death in the midst of the Great Leap Forward. Today, with the 20-year anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre coming up in June, another crackdown that ends in thousands of deaths will only spark more unrest and violence in China's border regions and cause an alarmed Taiwan to once again drift away.

In 1959, the Dalai Lama escaped via the backdoor and a half century of antagonism ensued - despite some genuine Chinese contribution in improving the Tibetans' living standards. There is no better time for him to return - via the front door - as a dignitary worthy of the Chinese government's respect. A photo-op, followed by at least the beginning of a constructive dialogue between Hu and the Dalai Lama will achieve far more than 10,000 PLA troops and riot police can. China is unlikely to ever find a negotiating partner with nearly as much prestige and clout as the Dalai Lama.

Is Tibet part of China? That may be answered in the affirmative - only without bloodshed. But time is running out.

02 March 2009

World's Most Influential Women

(From RealClearWorld)

In 2008, the world saw two women assume positions of diplomatic power in the United States, as another battled for the premiership of her own country on the other end of the globe. The female chancellor of Europe's largest economy took center stage as the continent struggled to adapt to worsening economic conditions, as yet another woman fought to keep her premiership in a former Soviet republic.

Coming up with a list of the Top 5 Most Influential Women in the World is a daunting task. Hundreds of qualified women - working in both the public and private sectors - could've just as easily been mentioned. Women such as Oprah Winfrey and Melinda Gates could have made our list, not to mention U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and Xerox chairman and CEO Anne Mulcahy.

But as the world faces an increasingly dire economic crisis, and as much of the west remains embedded in two wars, the spotlight is shining brighter on a select few women wielding power in 2009.

No. 5 Cristina Kirchner