Tag Archives: China

Google, China, and a stand on human rights

Quietly in the background of other news this morning (1/13/2010), there has been a statement from Google: that they will end the censoring of searches in China (it has been pointed out to me that there was a segment on 1/13 on Newshour.  At the time of my publishing this, it had yet to hit the front page of mainstream news, such as the NYT, local newspapers, or other such media.  I am also unable to find at what time Newshour released its article, but believe it was in the evening).  According to Google, this could end with Google.cn closing for business.  Why would Google pull out of China?  Because they used Google to launch attacks against human rights workers in China and across the globe.

I am glad that Google is taking a strong stand against cyberattacks, and hope that they follow through with their threat.  China has long been suspected of being a haven for cybercriminals, and for government sponsorship of cybercrime.  However, businesses, seeing lucrative profits in the rapidly growing economy, have been willing to pander to Chinese interests so they could gain access.  Supporting economic growth is one thing; standing aside while human rights watchers’ accounts are violated, while the government cracks down on free speech, and essentially just turning your head is another.

Why is Google’s involvement and taking a stance so critical?  Because Google is the 1,000 lb gorilla in the room.  Yes, some search engines will fill in the void if google closes down google.cn, but google.com still operates (for those who can use english), and other companies might also finally find the leadership and courage that it takes to stand against oppression.  It has always seemed odd to me, that the same media that always cries for freedom in the US, is so willing to bow to demands for censorship in other countries.  After all, there is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Q&A on the Declaration), which was broadly adopted (although without any binding legal force), by the United Nations.  China has also ratified other humans rights documents.

As with most cases of international law, it is hard to enforce.  China may say that it will protect human rights, but until the consumers and corporations which provide the lifeblood to the economy demand that those rights be enforced, it will do as it wills.  Hopefully Google will be a step in the right direction.


US Hope for Copenhagen

As I have written in several previous articles (key one here), US leadership is key in the ongoing climate talks in Copenhagen.  Today, to my great surprise and astonishment, I was flipping through the headlines and noticed this on the NY Times: “U.S. Offer of Long-Term Aid Pushes Climate Talks Forward“.  At long, long, last, the US is starting to move back to the heady days of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and action on reducing CFCs released into the atmosphere (or more formally, the Montreal Protocol).

Yes, the funding is tied to countries such as China improving their emissions reporting.  Yes, the US is not raising the $100 billion / year by itself. 

However, if done right, this flow of aid could drastically reduce the impacts of increasing emissions from countries as their economies develop.  Emissions that will impact American citizens.  To even go out on a broad limb, it could help reduce potential terrorist attacks by decreasing motivation for people to become radicalized.

More importantly, it moves to counter the increasing influence of China across the G-77 (Group of 77), where Chinese wealth and influence has been spreading, often counter to the desires of the US and Europe in countries such as Sudan.

If this will be enough to break the deadlock, or more importantly have any long-term consequences for reducing the impacts of climate change, will be seen.  However, it is a step in the right direction.

Russia’s eastern expansion

It has been a big week for Russia.  It expanded agreements with China for energy supply deliveries, rebuked the US on Iran sanctions, and Josef Stalin’s grandson lost a libel case against the Novaya Gazeta.

To give an idea of the geographical layout of Russian pipelines, I highly recommend all readers check this link at the EIA.

In particular I am going to look at Russia turning eastward towards China.  This is not the first time Russia has tried to connect with more eastern markets than its more traditional European focus.  A pipeline has long been planned to extend to the Pacific Ocean (near Vladivostok) which would then allow tankers to reach Japan, China, and potentially North American markets.  Simultaneously, pipelines are being extended farther west, bypassing the former Soviet Bloc countries, and into Germany, primarily via the Nord Stream pipeline (I will write a future entry on the Nord Stream pipeline, as I am intimately familiar with the topic, and its an interesting study). 

Distance difficulties aside, China makes a natural energy market for Russian gas exports.  Many attempts have been made to build a pipeline from the Caspian Sea fields and pipelines eastward, and to date none have proven feasible.  The political difficulties in western China (the recent flare-up in the conflict with the Uighurs is a key example) also make me believe this option is unfeasible for the Chinese government in any case.  A spur south from Russia bypasses this difficulty.  Increasing need for energy supplies also makes China a logical partner for Russia, rather than shipping gas west through congested pipelines.  As climate commitments and the need for cleaner air will eventually reduce Chinese use of coal-fired plants in exchange for natural gas-fired plants, they will need Russian natural gas.  It also provides a level of finanical security for Russia, which is highly dependent on natural gas revenues for its operations.

Purchaser diversity is important for Russia, for Russian security, and for international security.  At the same time, these pipeline expansions, which pass entirely through Russian or international territory/waters until they reach the receiving country, help strengthen Russia’s grasp on the former Soviet Bloc countries in the west.  Spats between the Ukraine and Russia have led to stopping deliveries which have impacted Europe.  By bypassing these countries (and expanding its base) the impacts on Russia are lessened.  However, I feel that Russian image concerns might be lessened by becoming a global energy power.  Rather than turning towards armaments, this might assuage the Russian psyche.  Imagine the US in the same place: we wouldn’t like going from a superpower to a power, and could gain prestige again in a variety of ways.  Energy production is one way to do this.

In sum, these are interesting developments that will need to be watched to see what actually happens.  I believe it will end up being a stabilizing influence, for the most part, but urge caution with regards to Russian actions in the west, as unlinking supplies from the pipeline networks in the west will weaken European influence over Russia.