Russian influence on social media and global democracy today

The hearing on Russian influence brought executives from Facebook, Twitter and Google to Capitol Hill for questions they struggled to answer. One of the minds behind the Occupy Wall Street movement to reform capitalism may have pointed the way to a solution. (All opinions my own and not my employers). Link to story I reference:…ck-lives-matter

The problem with the “power-sharing” expectation in China-US relations

The respected Australian security studies analyst Hugh White has argued for some time that the US should “accommodate” a rising China in a power-sharing agreement in the Western Pacific. The view is broadly shared by former prime ministers Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd.

White argues that China and the US are strategic rivals and while China is plainly rising, it should not be denied its zone of influence in Asian security affairs. The US should instead acknowledge the inevitable rise of China will cede responsibility and power to it to ensure security in the region. The US should not try to hold on to its grip of security in the region which has been in place since the end of WWII.

White’s view sounds good on paper. But the reality is not nearly so clear-cut. His view seems to assume some kind of civilized handover of power between the US and a China that mirrors the sort of diplomatic protocol common in the US, Australia and other Western nations. One only has to look to China’s strategy of raising the pressure on neighbors in the East China Sea to understand that White’s view represents a kind of well-meaning fantasy.

But it’s one of many fantasies that have underpinned China’s rise. The Western fantasy always was that China would open to Western companies, to Western ideas, to Western-designed international bodies of governance, and finally, to Western influence as it marched toward modernism.

No doubt China is modernising. But often its strides come at the expense of Western countries as well as the notion of fair play. And what’s becoming of that rules-based order that has dominated world affairs since the end of WWII? Well, it’s eroding. As Google CEO Eric Schmidt and Google Ideas chief Jared Cohen writes, China is a signatory to international agreements on copyright laws.

At the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation CEO Summit in 2011, then Chinese president Hu Jintao privately told a small group of business leaders that China would ‘fully implement all of the intellectual property laws as required by the WTO and modern Western practices.’ We attended this meeting, and as we filed out of the room after President Hu’s comments, the American business contingent clearly expressed scepticism toward his claim….

The treaties of which China is a signatory are either unenforced or ignored by China. Increasingly, China and Western businesses make a cynical trade-off. Basically, companies can hand over their technology for access to China’s markets. The Germans do it. The US does. All modern economies hand over technology in exchange for access to China. It’s all done in the hope that the value of access to China will lead to justifiable profits from China. Basically, a blue skies projection.

But the reality is a lot less beneficial to Western business, economies and standards of living.

Likewise, in the realm of security, Hugh White and others believe that China can be “accommodated” and it will prevent an inevitable clash. But that belief assumes that inside China there is a rational decision-making apparatus that wants to avoid risk. The reality on the ground is that it’s never clear who is making decisions in China, and obviously, avoiding risk is pretty low on their priority.

Basically, it reminds me of a phrase I have heard from a US policymaker, which is that the US must deal with the China that is, not the one it hopes for. Security analysts may be well-served to do the same.

The new frontier of China-US competition

This story about an online leaker in Zimbabwe’s president’s campaign contains an interesting line that relates directly to an emerging online cold war, discussed on this blog.

Someone in President Robert Mugabe’s office is posting inside information on a Facebook page, causing much embarrassment for the 89-year-old leader.

From the Daily Telegraph:

Determined attempts by senior Zanu-PF party officials to persuade Facebook to close the page failed and the president has now reportedly appealed to friends in the Chinese government for technical support to censor the site and identify its user.

When it comes to propping up an African strongman who has been in power for decades, it will certainly help if the internet infrastructure provider shares the same authoritarian values. Likewise, the freedom of the flow of political information, embraced by many Western countries, will increasingly become an irritant.

The companies linked to democracies will handle requests to block free speech online differently to countries that are authoritarian in nature themselves. This is an area to watch closely, as there are likely many more stories to surface.

And where there is struggle for influence, there may well be a battle of ideas.

Ideology in the China-US struggle

There is a longish piece on Foreign Policy by Harvard law professor Noah Feldman makes a couple interesting points that I would agree with about the US-China struggle. His basic point that the US and China are enemies, while also being mutually dependent on each other for economic growth, is not new. You can’t help but wonder if the struggle will be a catalyst for economic change on either side. I can imagine US inventors wanting to grow the US economy in a way far less dependent on China for imports. The author, being a law professor, seems to hold out hope for international legal norms helping shape the US-China competition. Unfortunately, I think only one side will support legal norms and it’s not going to be China, which views much of a Western law, as just that: Western law.

But the most interesting part of Feldman’s piece was his observation that the US diplomatic push in Asia wont be enough and instead ideology will become important.

The United States will also have to broaden its base of allies using the tools of ideology. The strongest argument that can be made to countries that trade freely with China is that Chinese hegemony would threaten their democratic freedoms. Sen. John McCain’s proposed league of democracies — a kind of free-form alliance of ideologically similar states designed to leave out China and Russia — is therefore likely to be revived eventually, though probably under another name.

The economics will underpin the ideological battle, which becomes all clearer as Chinese compete with each other to define the ‘Chinese Dream’, as noted by The Economist, while in the US, the broad theme is restoring the ‘American Dream’ bringing with it a heady mix of idealism and activism.

It makes me think of a line by writer Jon Savage discussing the generation gap between youth of the 1920s and 1930s: “contrasting utopias became national ideologies.” And no, people don’t think in the utopias today as they would have nearly 100 years ago. But people can’t help but think in transcendent, poetic terms – that’s humanity.

Feldman denies that we will have a rerun of the Cold War, which is worth acknowledging.

Whatever the new struggle looks like, it won’t look like the US-Soviet relationship in the 1950s, say. But the broader competition will be there.

…both sides need to cultivate allies as a component of their struggle. The Cold War’s major strategic developments, from Soviet expansion to containment, from détente to Richard Nixon’s opening to China, all clustered around the question of who would be aligned with whom.

China and the US will “struggle to gain and keep allies” but trade will be part-weapon, part-bond that forces countries being courted by the US and China to choose sides. Here, I imagine the ideology will mean a lot. And key countries, like Australia, for example, “may try to have it both ways.”

This is why many countries attempt to negotiate free trade with one or both sides, while keeping security ties with the other.

This would be a world interlinked by trade, but balkanized by ideology. And where does that leave corporations?

Global corporations will have to develop new national allegiances as part of a Cool War world [what Feldman calls the new order], but they can also provide incentives to discourage violence and associated economic losses.

Seeing as Western companies led the charge in globalization, it will be interesting to see how they begin to identify with particular nations again. Just over a decade ago, it was in vogue to malign any critic of globalization a sort of nationalist, xenophobe. I think that’s no longer the case.