Stretching My Gambes

Posts Tagged ‘China

China in their hands

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Published in the New Statesman as an accompaniment to a piece by Anthony Giddens (08/02/2010) and the newstatesman.com (04/02/2010)

Shortly after entering office in 2009, Barack Obama tried to show his commitment to tackling climate change by appointing Dr Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning Chinese-American scientist, as energy secretary.

Clearly any agreement on a global framework hinged on Sino-US relations. In this regard, the year started well, with Hillary Clinton’s visit to China in February. She sought to incorporate climate change into talks about trade relations. This effort was reinforced by Todd Stern, the leading US climate-change negotiator, who travelled to Beijing in June to push for China’s participation in a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

However, climate change was pushed down the agenda at the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue in July, as each party sought reassurances regarding the other’s economic policies. With momentum gathering for the Copenhagen talks, both countries used September’s G20 summit and UN General Assembly to stress their commitment to combating climate change.

Expectations of a deal were raised further after Obama’s visit to China in November, despite a lack of firm pledges from either side. But in the blame game that followed Copenhagen, Washington and Beijing questioned each other’s dedication to finding an answer to climate change.

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Written by Henry Smith

04/02/2010 at 16:37

Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme: the most important story of the past year?

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I recently had to answer the following question for a job application: apart from the global financial crisis and American elections, what was the most important news story of the last twelve months and why? The issue of what qualifies as ‘most important’ is immediately contentious; by what or whose barometer is importance measured? However, the coward in me avoided the philosophical response.

My immediate thought was the relegation of Newcastle United, but I felt the context of the question rendered this choice somewhat inappropriate. A friend suggested either Michael Jackson’s or Jade Goody’s death, however the examples given in the question suggested events and stories conventionally identified as ‘political’.

After some deliberation and the acceptance that Newcastle United are not as important to most people as they are to me I opted for the ongoing international diplomatic negotiations over Iran’s nuclear enrichment programme.

The narrative has developed over a number of years but it has escalated over the last twelve months. The following events all occurred within this period: reports that Bush refused American support for an Israeli attack on Iran, Obama’s claim that he desired reconciliation with Iran, the Iranian response, several missile tests and the disclosure of the nuclear plant at Qom. Finally, all of these developments were followed by the recent UN 5+1 talks.

The importance of this story for international political dynamics is multifaceted.

Firstly, whether Iran has nuclear weapons is linked to Obama’s electoral pledge of a world free from nuclear weapons. Thus, being seen to contain Iran’s alleged aspirations is crucial if Obama is to be seen as fulfilling his promises; especially at a time when his domestic and international popularity is dwindling.

Secondly, the behaviour of China and Russia in regard to Iran is of crucial importance for the future of their relationships with America. The importance of these relationships for international economic and political stability is well-documented. The outcomes may act as an indicator for future interactions, however today’s developments suggest that American-Russian relations are still somewhat ambiguous.

Thirdly, Iran’s alleged desire for nuclear weapons is inextricably linked to peace in the Middle East generally. Iran is inseparable from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict due to its antagonistic policies towards Israeli interests and its relationships with Hamas, Hizbullah and Syria. A nuclear-armed Iran would redefine the balance of power in the region and question Israeli hegemony.

Finally, I suggest a point which was not included in my initial response to this question. The pressure on Iran to cease an unsubstantiated pursuit of nuclear weapons indicates the ability of the international community, and particularly Western countries and institutions, to dictate the truth conditions of global political discourse.

Think of the media coverage of Iran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons and then consider that these claims are unsubstantiated. Most coverage does not mention the fact that head of the IAEA, El-Baradei, re-emphasised on last Monday that there is no proof that Iran has been or is pursuing nuclear weapons.

However, speaking at last week’s Conservative party conference William Hague, the shadow Foreign Secretary, appeared to act on the premise that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons. He stated his party’s desire ‘…to deter and dissuade Iran from the final development of nuclear weapons’, before going on to threaten that ‘unless Iran changes course, the time is approaching for serious and far-reaching sanctions by European nations on Iran’s financial transactions and oil and gas development.’

The belligerent attitude to unsubstantiated claims of Iranian nuclear aspirations detectable in the output of the media and politicians’ speeches is somewhat reminiscent of the claims made against Iraq before the 2003 invasion. Let’s hope that Iran is engaged and not subject to the sanctions regime and warfare its neighbour was. Ultimately those that suffer are ordinary citizens and not those in positions of power. The similarities with period before the invasion of Iraq have been documented elsewhere.

In my opinion it is the combination and possible ramifications of these reasons that indicates the importance of this story. However, I would be interested to hear what you thought were alternative possibilities: the Georgian and Russian clash over South Ossetia, the termination of the Star Wars program, or the ongoing Af-Pak mess? Answers on a postcode please or just put them below.

Written by Henry Smith

13/10/2009 at 16:14