Wednesday, January 5, 2011

China BRICS up Africa, challenging the US strategies in Africa and the Indian Ocean

China BRICS up Africa, challenging the US strategies in Africa and the Indian Ocean
By M K Bhadrakumar

There can be no two opinions that Beijing made a smart move. Its decision to anoint South Africa as a new member of BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) will be projected as based on economic grounds, but there are any number of other dimensions.

The decision was hugely significant politically, and its announcement showed delightful timing - Christmas Eve. It also has vast geopolitical potential and it is undoubtedly based on strategic considerations. The choice of South Africa can even be spotted as a gutsy move to disprove a prediction from Jim O'Neill, chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management and guru of the BRIC concept, that Nigeria was better placed to make the grade.

The next BRIC summit - or BRICS as it will now be known - is scheduled for April in Beijing, where for the first time South Africa will participate as a member of the group.

Arguably, why South Africa? In the size of its economy, growth rate or population, South Africa lags far behind the BRIC average. Knowing that his grip on BRIC was waning, O'Neill bestirred himself from Christmas holidays to say, "It is not entirely obvious to me why the BRIC should have agreed to ask South Africa to join. How can South Africa be regarded as a big economy? And, by the way, they happen to be struggling as well." In fact, the rand touched three-year highs against the US dollar when the news broke.

The gross domestic product (GDP) of South Africa is about US$285 billion as compared to Russia or India's ($1,600 billion), Brazil's ($2,000 billion) or China's ($5,500 billion). GDP never quite tells the whole story, but even then, China has obviously made some smart calculations.

For one thing, China knew South Africa was interested to join BRIC and assessed that it pays in many ways to show Beijing is prepared to go the extra league to protect its number one African partner's interests. Beijing took a far-fetched investment decision to create political goodwill. O'Neill's laconic remark summed it up: "When I created the acronym, I had not expected that a political club of the BRIC countries would be formed as a result."

In his celebrated 2001 paper titled "The World Needs Better Economic BRICs", O'Neill used the acronym as a symbol of the shift in global economic power away from the developed Group of 7 economies toward the developing world. He argued that by 2050 the combined economies of the four BRIC countries would exceed the economies of the richest countries in 2001.

Yet, he was confident BRIC would never evolve into an economic or trading bloc - like European Union (EU) or the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). However, the BRIC acronym is extended with South Africa's admission, and BRICS is indeed heading to form a "political club", sidestepping the mode of the EU or ASEAN.

India faces some strategic choices if the grouping assumes a political orientation. Indeed, India wouldn't dream of opposing South Africa's admission but, strangely, to date, the Indian foreign ministry has not pronounced a word....

Both Russia and Brazil have acclaimed the Chinese decision and, interestingly, both noted the political significance of the decision. Russia's foreign ministry said South Africa is a "leading African country" whose entry into BRIC is "in line with ... the emergence of a polycentric international system". The Brazilian foreign ministry commended that South Africa will make an "important contribution" to the BRIC both on account of its economic relevance and its "constructive political action".

Brazil added, "The addition of South Africa will expand the geographic representation of the [BRIC] mechanism at a time that we are looking, on the international level, to reform the financial system and increase democratization of global governance." Part of India's nervousness probably lies in the reference by Brazil about "democratization of global governance".

India increasingly pins hopes on the US to advance its bid for UN Security Council membership and is making adjustments to its foreign policy so as to meet with Washington's approval. Its dilemma will be acute if the BRICS moves toward a common position on international issues that runs against the grain of the US' global strategies.

The official China Daily newspaper indirectly took note of Delhi's lukewarm attitude to the grouping. In a commentary titled "Building BRICS" last week, it left out India while making the following reference:
China, Russia and Brazil assumed an important role when the international community sought to resolve the Iran nuclear issue and tensions in the Middle East and on the Korean Peninsula. Their greater say in international affairs and inevitable assumption of more responsibilities are a significant contribution to multilateralism and have lifted the status of the developing world as a whole in the international arena.
The logical thing would have been to simply merge BRIC and IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa). But India seems to have turned down the idea. "IBSA has a personality of its own. It is three separate continents, three democracies. BRIC is a conception devised by Goldman Sachs. We are trying to put life into it", Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh suggestively explained a few months ago while underlining the high importance that Delhi ascribed to IBSA (which excludes China).

India sees its interests intersecting with China's in Africa. Delhi has decided that Africa will be one of its three "major foreign policy targets" in 2011. During his visit to Delhi in November, US President Barack Obama pointedly singled out Africa as a region where the two countries should closely cooperate. Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna was explicit that India saw itself locked in a rivalry with China. "China is taking more than normal interest in the Indian Ocean and we are monitoring it carefully."

Beijing's decision to bring South Africa, which is the heavyweight in Africa, into BRIC pre-empts the proposed US-Indian collaboration. Without doubt, both Washington and Delhi would estimate to their discomfort that the grouping's anchor of economic logic has been unmoored. Neither expected Beijing to move so fast.

Beijing estimated that the time has come for expanding the geographic spread of the BRIC so that it can aspire to play a more significant role on the world stage. In 2011-2012, all the BRICS countries will serve as members of the 14-member UN Security Council. Five out of 14 makes a hefty share - almost one-third, which also is around BRIC's share of the world economy.

During the first decade of the century, BRIC contributed 27.8% of the world GDP growth in US dollar terms and made up about a quarter of the world economy in purchasing power parity (PPP). According to Goldman Sachs, BRIC is set to contribute to about 49% of the global GDP growth by 2020 and account for a third of the world economy in PPP.

Arguably, South Korea, Mexico and Turkey, popularly known as the "growth economies" (each accounting for about 1% of global GDP) have a better claim than South Africa to join BRIC. The South African economy of $285 billion compares poorly with South Korea's ($830 billion), Turkey's ($615 billion) and Mexico's ($875 billion). But South Africa has one distinctive asset: it is the "gateway" to an entire continent for trade and investment - and for making geopolitical forays.

To quote the People's Daily, "The role of South Africa's traditional trading partners - Western countries - has been lessened significantly ... China is South Africa's largest trading partner, and South Africa is the largest destination in Africa for China's direct investment ... By joining the BRIC countries, South Africa also hopes to become the gateway for the BRIC countries' entry into Africa ... South Africa has the ability to promote agendas related to Africa on the international arena ... This is an important factor that makes South Africa valuable as a BRIC country."

By getting South Africa on board, China challenges the US to rework its Africa strategy. How do you patrol the "global commons" in the Indian Ocean without a grip on the Cape of Good Hope? Interestingly, the challenge is of diplomatic suppleness with no trace of hard power. Beijing closely coordinates its foreign policy moves with Moscow and the initiative to legitimize South Africa as a future global power can be seen as a joint decision to challenge the US strategies in Africa and the Indian Ocean.....

Arab Revolutions touching upon China too.....

Anti-Chinese Communist Party dissidents based abroad have unleashed a web campaign against the dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

2.In hundreds of messages directed to the Chinese people, they have been disseminating details of the people's uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt and asking the Chinese to rise in revolt to secure democracy and human rights and end to their economic hardships. Tibetans and Uyghur's based abroad have also joined in this web-based bombardment.

3.Coinciding with this campaign, Western intelligence agencies are re-shaping their Psywar directed against China. Instead of spending money on TV and radio programmes beamed to China, they have started focusing on the use of the Internet as a platform for their Psywar....

4. Mrs.Hillary Clinton, US Secretary of State, has in a speech on February 15 called for end to Net censorship.She urged governments around the world to end Internet censorship, or risk the kind of social and political unrest sweeping through the Middle East. She also pledged strong U.S. support for cyber-dissidents worldwide who wish to circumvent government censorship and protect themselves from reprisals.

5. Enraged by her remarks, Ma Zhaoxu, spokesperson of the Chinese Foreign Office, said on February 17: "We are opposed to any country using Internet freedom as a pretext for interference in Chinese affairs.Internet freedom in China is guaranteed by law, and China wishes to step up and strengthen dialogue and communication with other countries about relevant matters concerning the Internet."

6. Radio Free Asia, funded by the US State Department, has broadcast the following: "Postings promoting Clinton's speech to the microblog account of the U.S. embassy in Beijing were blocked by China's system of Internet blocks and filters called the Great Firewall, or GFW. One post on Chinese microblogging site Tencent Weibo by U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman quoted Mrs. Clinton's remarks that "Liberty and security are often presented as equal and opposite," and asked: "What do you think is more important, liberty or security?" Another post questioned whether other users agreed with Mrs. Clinton that "freedoms to assemble and associate also apply in cyberspace."
The embassy has been using microblogs and other online services in China in an effort to connect with Chinese citizens.Online searches for the word "Hillary" in Chinese were also reportedly blocked on at least one site. "We are disappointed that some Chinese Internet sites have decided to remove discussion of Secretary Clinton's Internet Freedom speech from their websites," Huntsman said in a statement. "It is ironic that the Chinese are blocking an online discussion about Internet freedom." Clinton had also singled out the role of social networking sites Twitter and Facebook in organizing protests in the Middle East. Both sites are blocked in China, although there are homegrown, censored, equivalents."

7. The Radio has further reported: "Beijing routinely blocks the websites of foreign news organizations, including RFA, and filters keywords that it regards as "sensitive," including search terms for the uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. Under U.S.-backed proposals, circumvention tools will be made more widely available to countries lacking free Internet access, while bloggers and rights activists will receive training about how to secure their e-mail from surveillance or wipe incriminating data from cell phones if they are detained. Chinese activists and bloggers have expressed mixed feelings about events in the Middle East, according to prominent blogger Yang Hengjun. "The mood is partly happy ... that democracy can come so quickly, but also sad about when it is ever going to come to China," Yang said. "I think the two moods are entwined together ... among ordinary Chinese people."

8. The seriousness of the Chinese concerns over the dangers of a Net-spawn uprising in China against the CCP became evident on February 19 when Chinese President Hu Jintao called for stricter government management of the Internet . Hu told a meeting attended by top Communist Party leaders at a party school in Beijing that despite rising prosperity, China was facing deepening social conflicts that would test the party's ability to maintain firm control. Without mentioning developments in Tunisia and Egypt,Hu told Chinese officials they needed to come to grips with "virtual society" in their nation with some 450 million Internet users. "At present, our country has an important strategic window for development, but is also in a period of magnified social conflicts." Among the steps Beijing had to take to counter these risks, Hu said, one was "further strengthening and improving management of the Internet, improving the standard of management of virtual society, and establishing mechanisms to guide online public opinion."

9.His comments came as messages spread across foreign web sites of Han dissidents and Tibetan and Uighur freedom-fighters calling for gatherings across China on February 20 to demand sweeping democratic reforms inspired by the "Jasmine Revolution" in the Middle East.

CHINA and the Rubicon of History.....

The seriousness with which China has been viewing the dangers of a new revolution in China inspired by the people's uprising in Egypt would be evident from the number of high-level meetings---some of them attended by President Hu Jintao himself--- that have been held in Beijing under the auspices of the Chinese Communist Party and the Government to discuss how to preserve social harmony and stability. Repeated calls are being made for better social management.2. Unfortunately, in their view as expressed at these meetings, better social management does not mean a greater political liberalisation, but more effective controls over freedom of expression. However, the need to give the people an opportunity to let out steam is grudgingly recognised, but the leadership is confused as to how to do this. Appeals are being made through media outlets such as the party-controlled "Global Times" for greater political maturity. By greater political maturity, one means a greater willingness on the part of the people to recognise that there cannot be social harmony and stability without internal discipline and that the party and the Government have a legitimate obligation to maintain discipline.3. The role of the Internet in encouraging a new youth-led revolution different from the proletariat-led revolution of the USSR and the peasant-led revolution of China has made the Chinese leaders realise with concern the stealth power of the Internet. China has greater Internet penetration than any other country in the Asian-African region. It has a larger community of Netizens than even India. Chinese leaders and security agencies are well-versed in controlling old means of public expression such as the print media, the radio and the TV. They thought they could control with equal effectiveness the new stealth power of the Internet. They have started apprehending that they may not be able to do so and that a danger to their social stability could arise from the inexorablty growing community of Netizens.4. Stopping the growth of this community is no longer feasible. Before someone else seeks to mobilise this community for promoting a new revolution, the Government should mobilise it to ensure the maintenance of stability and harmony. How to do this? That is the question being discussed at these meetings. It is being pointed out that there cannot be better social management without better Internet management. The security agencies are being advised to pay greater attention to this.5. Mao Zedong believed that power grows out of the barrel of the gun. Deng Xiao-ping believed that power grows out of the money purse. The present Chinese leadership has realised that youth power grows out of the Internet. How to make the Internet an engine for gradual, controlled political change while maintaining stability instead of becoming an engine for a new Revolution?6. How will the Chinese community of Netizens respond to the suble attempts being made by the Party and the Government to maintain and further strengthen Internet management ostensiblty for preserving the vast economic gains made by the country since 1978? The answer to this question will determine how far and for how long internal peace, stability and harmony as defined by the party can be maintained.7. A new youth, Netizen led revolution may be in the offing in China. Will it suddenly burst out as did the revolution in Egypt or will it be creeping and inexorable? Let us wait and watch. 8. I am annexing an editorial of significance carried by the Party-controlled "Global Times" and an article of interest carried by the Government-controlled "China Daily" in this regard.