Why Not Diplomacy

2nd Republican debate cnn.com

So it would appear that the Obama Administration has crossed the finish line on the US-Iran nuclear deal or as it called, the  Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). The period of Congressional approval/disapproval – the 60-day period of congressional review  – ends today. With the vote of disapproval eliminated, the US-Iran deal is secured. Of course ‘US approval’ says nothing about implementation, verification and surveillance. That will come next.

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At The G20 St. Petersburg Summit

For the last several days I have been in St. Petersburg Russia to attend the G20 Leaders Summit.  A number of colleagues have joined me here at the media center at the Summit.  I thought before the release of the Communique and related documents that I would hold a series of interviews with colleagues to get their take on the Summit.

First a conversation with Yves Tiberghien a Senior Fellow at the Global Summitry Project at the Munk School of Global Affairs and the Director of the Institute of Asian Research at the University of British Columbia.

Yves …



An Encounter in South Africa









I had the privilege these last few days to join a conversation between US and South African experts, here in Pretoria.  Hosted by Pretoria University and the US Stanley Foundation, the discussion focused on how, and in what ways, the United States and South Africa might better collaborate on the challenges facing states – in the global economy and in international politics.  With South Africa a member of the G20 there was a particular interest in understanding how South Africa might play a role in the new informal club of established powers and newly rising states.

This two-day dialogue was however off-the record so I will not comment on specific conversations.  You can have a look at Stewart Patrick’s blog at CFR, The Internationalist (South Africa: Just Another BRIC in the Wall?)  for his examination of the South African foreign policy trajectory.  Stewart was one of about 6 of us from North America that found ourselves exploring with our South African colleagues from the University of Pretoria, a variety of think tanks and NGOs this most interesting bilateral relationship.

One aspect that emerged early in the conversation and remained a theme throughout was the limited understanding for the views and policies of the other side.  Clearly more dialogue and discussion is necessary and should be encouraged – and for the record I will happy to volunteer for the task.

I must say at the outset that I gained little insight in how South Africa sees the G20.  In fact there was rather limited discussion of this new global summitry institution.  On the other hand there was much discussion of the importance of South Africa being admitted to the BRICS – though it was never expressed forthrightly what the BRICS were likely to achieve – and why therefore South Africa regarded joining as so important to it. It was evident, however, that the BRICS, according to the South African’s – was a caucus where the members were proponents for non-intervention – and that was likely to prove troublesome to the United States.

There were evident divergences in the foreign policy perspectives and priorities of the two countries. And there was also – and I would say more troubling – evident suspicions over the behaviors of each.  Thus South Africans were quick to see US heavy-handedness and an eagerness to resort to force in most crises situations. There was great back and forth over whether the US and other allied actions in Libya had exceeded the UN resolution 1973 – and US quick dismissal of African Union efforts to mediate between the Libyan factions.  Many of the South Africans thought so.  South Africans expressed strong disapproval for the humanitarian intervention in Libya – some even suggesting that South Africans and other African states would be unlikely to resort again to the policy of humanitarian intervention – given the way that the Libyan mandate had been abused according to a number of South African participants.

There was a measure of dismay from the US experts at the reliance on non-intervention by South Africans in a variety of crises settings including Myanmar and more recently in Syria.  US experts additionally expressed discontent over the South African approach to the crisis in Zimbabwe and the efforts to tamp down the crisis without stronger efforts to remove the authoritarian leader Mugabe.

So what lessons did I come away with in this encounter?  Experts from both countries emphasized the heterogeneity of their societies, their pride in their democracies and their commitment to a rules-based international order.  But there was a significant divergence in the way in which they approached achieving that order and a hesitancy in the character and actions of the other country.

South Africa continues to regard UN Security Council (UNSC) reform as vital; they continue to press for a permanent seat there. There was a growing sense from the South Africans that they could no longer count solidly on African support.  And both group of experts remained pessimistic that any reform in the near term was at all likely – though South Africans urged greater efforts by the United States to secure reform.  Both groups also acknowledged that continuing deadlock would erode the legitimacy and salience of the Council.

The South Africans underscored their country’s concern and actions in promoting peace in security on the African continent – in Libya, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, etc.  They expressed annoyance at the failure of the US to acknowledge and support the efforts, especially of the African Union (AU), on the continent.

The conversation was a helpful effort in filling in some of the blanks in the relationship.  But there is much to do to reduce the gap in understanding and modify the suspicions that each has for the efforts of the other in global governance.


In the Can(nes)

A different hijacking possibly – but a hijacking nevertheless.  So that’s how it has gone so far in Cannes. The Greek debt and then the political crisis created by the Greek Prime Minister’s decision to hold a referendum yesterday but maybe not today.  In any case President Sarkozy couldn’t avoid the train wreck that Greece brought yesterday.  All the attention here in the media center was on the Greek crisis and the problems of debt in the Eurozone.

It is not that other matters weren’t being addressed.  As I’ve suggested elsewhere and here in past blog posts, I subscribe to the “Iceberg Theory” of global governance.  When the summits are on everyone naturally focus on leaders.  But in the period between summits and during the Summits many officials from a variety of ministries, departments and other institutions are either completing or expanding on reports and communiques that are vital elements in acting on global governance collaboration.

So look for the Action Plan and other reports accompanying the final communique.



Sorting Out the G20 Role

The Airport is always a good place to collect one’s thoughts.  And I was struck by an op-ed by Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper placed in Canada’s Globe and Mail prior to soon to occur meetings of G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bankers in Paris.

What Harper does right in my opinion is to sort out the actions that should be taken by different major actors in the global economy.  The key crisis point in the global economy right now  is the European sovereign debt crisis and the failure of European governments – particularly the French and the Germans – to take decisive action to deal with the sovereign debt crisis and the contagion that the continuation of the crisis threatens.

Again, rightly in my opinion Harper urges the Europeans to:

  • take decisive action;
  • increase the flexibility of the European Financial Stability Facility ; and
  • implement plans for debt and deficit reduction that are clear and credible to the market.

Then Harper urges action – indeed coordinated action – by the G20.  And here Harper urges the G20 to ‘stick to its knitting’ – that is to focus the collective efforts not  on the immediate sovereign debt crisis but on the medium term agenda that is the remit of the Leaders Summit.Get it done.

Thus, Harper encourages the G20 Leaders Summit to:

  • further develop the SSBG (Strong Sustainable and Balanced Growth Framework) Framework;
  • meet clear and concrete medium term debt and deficit reduction plans –  set, as he points out, at the Toronto Summit;
  • provide meaningful action to increase exchange-rate flexibility;
  • commit to implementation of the financial sector reform agenda agreed to at previous summits; and
  • to resist – the old G20 saw but still important – trade protectionism.

As Harper suggests

While the efforts made so far by the G20 are significant, more action by some is needed.  Only with a clear plan will the citizens of countries in crisis accept in crisis accept the painful compromises they are being asked to make for their nations’ future well-being.

Harper points out a needed leadership lesson. Focus on what you are called on to do; avoid the distractions that can undermine your legitimacy and effectiveness.


Is China Faking it?

When news about the fake Apple store in Kunming China broke out, it further reinforced the image of China as the Mecca of knock-offs. From 50 renminbi (RMB) for a pair of Ray Bans to 10 RMB for a DVD, fake goods are ubiquitous in China. Virtually every city has a fake goods market with merchants lined up in stalls, shouting ‘hello’ to the nearest foreigner and lighting bags on fire to prove the authenticity of their leather. The case of the fake Apple store reflects a copying culture that is very common and part of popular culture. The global attention the country receives elicits more laughs than shame from ordinary Chinese.

Even native brands – that target the Chinese market – struggle to find their own voice and borrow heavily from the west. Li Ning, a maker in sports apparel and active footwear, is one of the most successful domestic brands in China and competes with the likes of Nike and Adidas. It is however a mirror image of Nike. I mean literally, flip Nike’s logo and you got Li Ning Ltd. Its slogan also captures the same drive and ambition in Nike’s Just do it, with its mantra, Anything is Possible. Although in July, the company did introduce a slightly altered logo and a new slogan, Make the Change – as you can see it’s a real game changer!

China’s current development strategy relies on a number of joint ventures with foreign companies, with its main objective being to secure knowledge and technology transfers. For instance, the development of China’s high-speed railway network led to a competitive bidding war among foreign companies, among them included Canada’s Bombardier. A major criticism in the aftermath of the train crash in Wenzhou is that quality, oversight and safety were compromised as the Government sought to accelerate the expansion of high speed railways and adopt foreign technology to in turn allow Chinese companies to innovate and export the technology. The Chinese, it seems, have been successful in appropriating the technology. Chinese companies have already helped with the development of high-speed rails in India and Brazil.

In response to the widely acknowledged copying culture, the Chinese education system is often blamed for failing to breed creativity and innovation. The test-based education system (应试) creates a generation of young people who are superior test takers. Beginning with primary school, the educational experience focuses on preparing students for a series of entrance exams, the most important one being the annual National Entrance Exam (高考). The education system tends to overemphasize the use of tests to evaluate performance and rewards rote memory over critical thinking.

So, when it comes to the China threat question, the lack of innovation and the human capital and technology gap are major hurdles to the country’s rise. However on the other hand, while Lining is not likely to compete with Nike in the global market in the near future; and neither will brands like Haier or Tsingdao replace GE or Budweiser, they can potentially edge out foreign brands in the domestic market and in other non-Western markets.

Many Chinese brands are making a name for themselves in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Years of having American cars like Jeep sell to the Chinese market has led to the growth of Chinese companies, like Chery who are seeing significant growth in the Middle East and North Africa. While I was travelling in Anji, home to a vast bamboo forest, I visited a clothing wholesaler whose wide collection of active wear, sleep wear and even business wear are made out of bamboo. I assumed they were a supplier for Chinese retailers, but a sales rep proudly explained they were well-established in Southeast Asia and had buyers in France. It was certainly ironic that the country with the largest C02 emissions is able to produce a green eco-friendly company that has the capacity to tap into the European market.

There is no doubt that fake Guccis and Burberrys are aplenty in China. But the rise of domestic Chinese brands signals an important and major step in the country’s development. And although these brands tend to be an import of western ideas rather than a distinctive approach to attract the Chinese middle class, one does have to credit them for being sophisticated replicas. And in the area of technology, the import of foreign goods may eventually lead to their demise. The Chinese are acutely aware of their global image as a factory of cheap goods and their desire to change it is just as apparent.

While both Chinese and Westerners scoff at the fake Apple store, it is easy to be dismissive and overlook that counterfeiting and copying is perhaps more of a phase in the economic growth of native Chinese firms.  It may also represent the conduit to the country’s future innovation and success.


Image Credit: Palmo Tenzin

Is Yao Ming a sign of future possibilities for Rising State Celebrities?

This blog post introduces two very different themes about celebrity activism.

The first theme concerns the role (or arguably the non-role) of sports celebrities as pivotal activists. Although some sports celebrities do involve themselves in causes there is no sports equivalent to a Bono, Angelina or George Clooney.  Why don’t sports entertainers not rise to the top in celebrity activitism?  Is it because of the team dimension? Or is it because of some socialization process that puts the emphasis solely on commercial endorsements? The exceptions to this rule (quite a few from non-US backgrounds) we need to examine but the reasons for this material difference needs to be explored.

The second theme concerns the role of celebrity activity generally in the ‘Global South’ and specifically in the BRICSAM countries. Up to now we have looked exclusively at celebrity activism in the ‘Anglo-sphere’. However, as the BRICSAM countries ascend it is likely that celebrity activism will arise from/in those countries as well.

China is at the top of the list of BRICSAM countries in terms of the impact of its rise, a condition that will be showcased this week with the state visit of President Hu Jintao to the US.

Yet, when we look at Chinese celebrity activism few individuals have appeared to gain a global/universal reach. Readers may differ but I would suggest that action film superstar Jackie Chan (a UNICEF/UNAIDS goodwill ambassador) is the best known of the established celebrity activists – though he is from Hong Kong as opposed to the Mainland.

Although China has its unique political/cultural character, some of the constraints on sports figures are familiar to the western world. A search of the biography of Liu Xiang, the talented hurdler (whose injury in the Beijing Olympics was a major disappointment) gives an indication of the obstacles: a combination of major commercial endorsements and the massive time obligations for training.

Such constraints however may loosen up in the future. The profile of Yao Ming, the iconic Shanghai Sharks/NBA basketball star, signals some of the possibilities of a Chinese sports celebrity gaining a global/universal reach. While Yao has an impressive set of commercial endorsements, he has also become a leading sports figure in terms of charity activities. He donated a big component of time and resources ($2 million of his own money and major initiatives through the Yao Ming Foundation for rebuilding efforts) in the aftermath of the calamitous 2008 Sichuan earthquake. He has worked with a number of other engaged sportsmen (Dikembe Mutombo and Steve Nash) on events, including back-to-back charity basketball games in Beijing and Taipei on July 24/28 2010.

While most of his work highlights the value of constructive engagement, it is also worthwhile mentioning that Yao Ming is on some issues prepared to be associated with causes that contain some societal sensitivity. One that jumps out is Yao’s willingness to support Wild Aid’s campaign on endangered species (notably his public campaign to deter the consumption of shark fin soup). Although not as much on the radar as the efforts by western celebrities to cultivate a more healthy life-style (see for instance an interesting article by David Ritter in Global Policy on the efforts by celebrity chefs to highlight the crisis in the world’s fisheries http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/13/01/2011/bismarck-jamie-oliver-celebrity-chefs-and-resource-diplomacy> this alternative form of engagement showcases some future unanticipated possibilities of celebrity activism/diplomacy.

George Clooney – the Out-in-Front Networked Celebrity

[This is another in a series of Celebrity Blogger posts on celebrities and global affairs. Clooney has been very involved South Sudan and you can find information on the Referendum at the Munk School Portal – The Blog Master]

Celebrity activists are commonly criticized for being enthusiastic amateurs. Indeed in some cases personalities from the entertainment world do embrace issues that they know very little about. There is a tendency among these individuals to use their star power as free-lancers with little regard to either advisory or networked support.

In the top category of celebrity activist however the opposite tendency occurs. As addressed in my previous blogs (see previous guest blogger posts) the premier cluster of celebrity activists are rigorous about seeking advice from professionals. This is true of Bono and many others who have been influenced by Bono. It is also true of Angelina Jolie.

Arguably George Clooney is the most diversified celebrity activist in terms of his layers of connection. In a similar fashion to a number of other celebrity activists Clooney has a UN affiliation, albeit not as an ambassador for a UN special agency but as a Messenger of Peace.  I [Celebrity Blogger] was in India in January 2008, when Clooney showed how serious he was about this role. Although he was up for a number of Oscar nominations for ‘Michael Clayton’ Clooney was preoccupied with the issue of peacekeeping, coming to India with the UN Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping Operations to discuss India’s contribution to this UN activity.

Akin to the most savvy of the celebrity activists Clooney uses his star power and official designation to lever access with key state officials. Foreshadowing his later success in the US (including face time with both President Obama and Vice-President Biden in October 2010), Clooney gained personal meetings with key officials on his trip to India – the Defence Secretary, officials at the foreign ministry (who even hosted a party for Clooney at the Taj Mahal hotel) and a regional Army Command Headquarters at Jaipur.

If Clooney expressed a willingness to listen the targeted focus of this and other trips has been on ending the conflict in Sudan/Darfur. He has combined with Don Cheadle in campaigning via the advocacy group Not on Our Watch. He has traveled to the crisis on frequent occasions – with among others his father (an experienced newsman) and Nicholas Kristof (the New York Times columnist who has reported experienced on Darfur/Sudan). Behind Clooney’s work stands again John Prendergast, the co-founder of the Enough Project and a former director of African affairs at the National Security Council during the Clinton administration.

Under Prendergast’s guidance Clooney has constantly ratcheted up the level of his networking. His latest move – well worth tracking as a form of innovative cyber – diplomacy is the launch of the Satellite Sentinel Project, an initiative that with the support of Not On Our Watch, Prendergast’s Enough Project, the UN Operational Satellite Applications Program (UNOSAT), the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, Google, and Internet firm Trellon, will monitor the border between North and South Sudan in the context of this week’s pivotal referendum about self-determination for the South.

We will have to wait to see whether this initiative, combining the collection of satellite imagery, the design of a Web platform that will publicly share the images and data, the contribution of on-the-ground reports to provide context to the satellite imagery, and field reports and policy analysis to ensure that continued attention is paid, works in practice.

But one thing is already clear. Far from displaying the character of enthusiastic amateurism, this form of network power with Clooney as the star front man reveals the will and skill of a sophisticated enterprise.

We’re Back! – And Just in Time

A h0st of apologies to all of you that have wandered by, or targeted, this blog.  As you are aware it has been silent over the last few weeks. I want to thank my colleagues at CIGI for allowing me to blog Rising BRICSAM at their website.  But I have regained my independence and Rising BRICSAM is now back in the blogosphere.

If you’d like to search the archives – the earliest blog posts, and of course going forward, all those blog posts will be here.  If you are looking for posts from 2008 to October 2010 then you can find them at CIGI.

As for the just in time, it’s because, of course, we are just a day away from the Seoul G20 summit.  Fortunately I am here in the G20 media center in Seoul with colleagues from the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.  Also in attendance are colleagues from the The Stanley Foundation (TSF) and colleagues from CIGI.  And then there are the other 4,000 media that will be here at the media center starting tomorrow.

So hang on to your hats – this should be quite the ride for the next few days.  And I’ll try and report this to you.