Posted on 21 February 2012 by Tea Server
Posted on 02 February 2012 by Tea Server
The Chinese Ambassador to Canada, H.E. Zhang Junsai, spoke at a luncheon at the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations today. The Montreal Gazette has an article on his talk, emphasizing the fact that he twice affirmed that China is committed to peace in the Arctic.
A member of the audience that the newspaper reported to be a “specialist in Arctic and northern security issues” asked Zhang about the region, and he responded, “We hope that this will be solved by peaceful means. I don’t know much about this but we would like to participate and be (an) observer. We hope that the countries (on the council) would support China’s request.”
CBC quoted Zhang: “My understanding, not of my government, is we should have a joint scientific research in this area because a lot of things are unknown.” Scientific research has been one area in which China has been able to contribute a lot, whether with its research expeditions on its icebreaker or its station on Ny-Alesund.
China seeks to gain permanent observer status on the Arctic Council, which Canada will begin chairing next year. There are a number of other countries on the Arctic Council, but all of them are European; none from the Far East have been admitted. Currently, Denmark supports China’s bid. This is not surprising given the recent increase in trade between the two countries and China’s high hopes for investing in Greenland’s minerals. Yet Norway dropped its support of Chinese observer status after Beijing cut off political and human rights dialogues with Oslo when the Nobel Committee awarded imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo with the Nobel Peace Prize in October 2010. Beijing also took other retaliatory measures such as enforcing stricter controls on Norwegian salmon imports, causing their sales to fall dramatically. Though the Nobel Committee is made up of five members appointed by the Storting, Norway’s parliament, they are not beholden to it, so it is somewhat misguided for Beijing to take out its displeasure on Oslo.
This excerpt, taken from the Nobel Committee’s website, describes Alfred Nobel’s vision in setting up the committee and the prize.
“Nobel may also have feared that the highly political nature of the Peace Prize would make it a tool in power politics and thereby reduce its significance as an instrument for peace. A prize-committee selected by a rather progressive parliament from a small nation on the periphery of Europe, without its own foreign policy and with only a very distant past as autonomous military power, may perhaps have been expected to be more innocent in matters of power politics than would a committee from the most powerful of the Scandinavian countries, Sweden.”
The awarding of a Nobel Peace Prize to a Chinese activist has altered not just Chinese-Norwegian relations, but also Arctic relations. This is a world a century away from that of Nobel, indeed.
In the Guardian, Karsten Klepsvik, the senior Arctic official at the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as saying, “I can neither confirm nor deny this story, but I can say bilateral contacts between Norway and China are at a low level.” Norway’s decision to counteract China’s snubs by blocking it in the Arctic Council shows that it is upping the stakes in the dispute by moving the chess pieces north. The Arctic, and membership in the region’s most important multilateral body, are now important enough to be used as bargaining chips. If China doesn’t back down, it will need to shore up support with other countries, like Canada, instead. Prime Minister Stephen Harper will be visiting China next week, so the government will have another opportunity to convince the leader of the upcoming Arctic Council chair of its merit.
China has already invested millions in the Athabaska oil sands. It is also planning to invest in Quebec’s Plan Nord, the province’s strategy for developing its northern half. Last August, Quebec Premiere Jean Charest traveled to China and Japan to promote Asian investment in his province. On January 12, Wuhan Iron and Steel Co., China’s third-largest steelmaker, successfully closed the deal to create a joint venture with Adriana Resources, a Canadian iron ore producer, to develop deposits in Lac Otelnuk, in Nunavik, Quebec. Jilin Jien Nickel also recently announced a CAN $400 million investment in a nickel mine near Kangiqsujuaq, Nunavik, and it has signed agreements with three Inuit communities to pay royalties. An in-depth article that examines “la grande séduction Québec-Asie,” or Quebec’s attempts to attract Chinese and Indian investment, is a great read from Cyberpresse (in French).
China needs resources, and it will get them from the Arctic. But it might not receive a helping hand from Norway anytime soon unless it changes tack.
Posted on 18 January 2012 by Tea Server
The Israeli-Palestinian peace process (negotiations between Israel and Fatah) has reached a stalemate that could prove quite detrimental to the two-state solution. It has allowed Hamas to make a resurgence in Palestinian public opinion. Since the Gilad Schalit deal, which saw over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners released, Hamas has gained popularity in Gaza and the West Bank. The Hamas political victory also discredited and undercut the influence and image of Fatah and its leaders. In the eyes of the Palestinians, Hamas was able to make real gains through the use of threats of violence, while Fatah has nothing to show for their non-violent methods and stalled negotiation attempts with Israel. In reality, this is of course not true. The West Bank economy has more than flourished in comparison to that of the Gaza Strip, largely a result of Fatah’s negotiations with Israel. But come election time, what will Palestinians weigh in on more?
While neither party may be part of the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian solution, a Hamas victory in the West Bank would put an end to the peace formula altogether. Fatah is the only reasonable political party that Israel can negotiate a peace treaty with. As a result, Israel must do all it can to restore the reputation of Fatah and help it win back the hearts and minds of its constituency. Dennis Ross, a known supporter of Israel and the former special assistant to President Obama, provides some valuable and constructive insight on how Israel can do this in his most recent piece for the Washington Post:
The following was written on January 6, 2012 by Dennis Ross, the former special assistant to President Barak Obama, for the Washington Post:
Dan Meridor, one of Israel’s four deputy prime ministers, said to me years ago that “the peace process is like riding a bicycle: When you stop pedaling, you fall off.” And currently, the Israelis and Palestinians have stopped pedaling.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is convinced that this Israeli government cannot make a peace deal — or at least one he can live with — so he imposes conditions on negotiations. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sees these conditions as harsh and unprecedented, and doesn’t want to pay a steep political price just to enter talks.
The Obama administration and the other members of the Quartet — the Middle East mediating group that also includes envoys from the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — want to resume direct talks and this past week held a preparatory meeting with Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Amman, Jordan. There may be more such meetings, and that is good, because ultimately there will be no peace without negotiations.
But there should also be no illusions about the prospects of a breakthrough any time soon. The psychological gaps between the parties make it hard to resolve their differences and have bedeviled all the work for peace talks over the past few years.
I have been intimately involved in peacemaking efforts over the past 20 years under Presidents George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Obama, and I know that Abbas and Netanyahu carry the weight of their peoples’ history and mythology, and face enormous political constraints. But those difficulties cannot be a reason to despair and accept a stalemate, particularly when those who reject peace will exploit any impasse to challenge the very idea of a two-state outcome.
While there may be no early breakthrough on holding negotiations, it is possible to overcome the stalemate. One way to do so — and to validate those Palestinian leaders, such as Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who believe in nonviolence and coexistence — is for the Israelis to change the realities on the ground. After all, these Palestinian leaders need to be able to show that their approach is producing a process that will, in time, end the occupation.
What could demonstrate to the Palestinians that the occupation is receding? Examples are not hard to come by. Since the interim agreement of the Oslo process was finalized in 1995, the West Bank has been divided into non-contiguous areas known as A, B and C — with the Palestinians having putative control in Area A and Israel retaining overall responsibility in the two other areas. From the fall of 1995 to the spring of 2002, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) largely stayed out of Area A, which constitutes about 18 percent of the territory and includes all the major cities in the West Bank. According to the Oslo agreements, the Palestinians are to have civil and security responsibility in this area.
But in 2002, at the height of the second intifada and the horrendous suicide bombings that Palestinians were executing in Israel, the IDF began operating in Area A again to try to stop the attacks. Though the intifada ended in 2005 and Palestinian security forces have been generally effective in preventing terror attacks, the IDF still carries out periodic incursions into Palestinian cities to reinforce local security efforts. This grates on Palestinians, reminding them who remains in control.
So, one meaningful step would be either to stop all such incursions in Area A or, if there are continuing security concerns, to phase them out based on the security situation. Gabi Ashkenazi, former chief of staff of the IDF, has consistently said that “as the Palestinians do more on security, we will do less.” A gradual ending of incursions in Area A would certainly be consistent with that axiom.
In Area B, about 22 percent of the West Bank, Palestinian police maintain law and order but are not permitted to deal with terrorist threats. Israel could allow their presence to grow. From my discussions with Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, I know that he is open to increasing the number of Palestinian police stations and broadening the areas where Palestinian security personnel operate. Now would be a good time to take these steps, as any such expansion would certainly be noticed, and welcomed, by the Palestinian public.
Finally, in Area C, which is about 60 percent of the West Bank, Palestinians’ security and police forces have no access, their economic activity is extremely limited, and Israel retains civil and security responsibilities. There is no practical reason that the Palestinians cannot be permitted dramatically more economic access and activity in this area.
To give one example, there are Palestinian stone masonry factories in Area A, but Palestinians have limited access to the rock quarries in the West Bank, which are in Area C. In a case brought against Israeli ownership of the rock quarries, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled late last month that no additional quarries should be Israeli-owned. That ruling creates an opening for private Palestinian ownership, should any new quarries be established — and there clearly is room for more.
Expanding the Palestinians’ economic opportunities in Area C would do wonders for job creation and the overall Palestinian economy. (In the West Bank, unemployment has come down in recent years but remains at about 16 percent.)
These steps should be feasible from an Israeli standpoint. First, these or similar changes could be implemented without altering the territory’ s political status and could be done in a way that would not put Israeli security at risk, particularly if coordinated closely with the IDF.
Second, Netanyahu has said repeatedly that he does not want to rule over Palestinians and that the stronger their economic base, the better the prospects for peace. These steps would certainly demonstrate that the prime minister means what he says. At the same time, they would signal to Palestinians that independence is possible and that the approach from Abbas and Fayyad — not Hamas resistance or violence — can produce it.
I’m not suggesting to forgo negotiations and their focus on a two-state solution. Talks need to be pursued, and the Obama administration is rightly doing so. The administration is also continuing to assist with institution-building by providing material support for the security, judicial and other sectors of Palestinian society — steps that fit neatly with the kind of actions I am proposing to validate leaders such as Fayyad. At this point, validation of nonviolence will come less from words and more from demonstrations that the occupation is shrinking and will, eventually, end.
The rest of the Middle East is churning, with dictators being toppled and protesters still in the streets a year into the Arab Awakening. Since the demand for free and fair elections has become a symbol of credibility in the uprisings, the pressure on both Fatah and Hamas to hold elections this year is likely to become irresistible. For the past few years, Abbas has said that he would not be a candidate in new elections, but now he is saying he would like those elections to take place in May and plans to depart the political scene afterward. Even if it will not be simple to reach an agreement with Hamas on the terms of elections, Abbas will feel the need to hold them sometime in 2012.
These elections are likely to shape the Palestinians’ identity and whether they continue to accept nonviolence, peaceful coexistence with Israelis and a two-state solution. If there are clear signs that the occupation is diminishing, the positions of Palestinians such as Abbas, Fayyad and their followers who believe in nonviolence will be validated before the elections. This is essential because the alternative is Hamas, which rejects nonviolence and peace with Israel.
In the recent deal with the Israeli government to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, which gained the release of more than 1,000 prisoners, Hamas was seen as delivering political gain through an act of violence. By comparison, Abbas and Fayyad are not seen as delivering on the issues that matter to the Palestinian public, such as prisoner releases, Israeli withdrawal or a reduction of Israeli control.
For Palestinians, at least, this validation would also shrink the psychological gap between them and the Israelis, inspiring hope that negotiations could actually lead somewhere. It might, thus, also offer the best way to unstick the negotiating track. Even more important, with the changes sweeping the region and a political transition looming for the Palestinians, such a validation may be the only way to preserve support among the Palestinian and Arab publics for a two-state solution.
Dennis Ross, counselor at the Washington Institute, served as a special assistant to President Obama and a senior director on the National Security Council staff from July 2009 to December 2011.
Posted on 01 January 2012 by Tea Server
Many things could be said about the past year, but at the very least it could not be considered boring. Within two weeks of the new year, protests over government corruption in Tunisia ousted its long standing dictator, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali. That event, which took many observers by surprise, triggered a wave of protests throughout the region. As the year went on, protests in Egypt overthrew Hosni Mubarak and brought on a NATO intervention in Libya while the Yemeni, Syrian and Bahraini governments responded to discontent in their countries with increasing violence and Morocco introduced a new constitution. Of course such protests were not limited to North Africa and the Middle East; as early as January similar protests against corruption and authoritarianism were seen in Gabon before spreading to Mauritania, Djibouti, Uganda, Malawi, Swaziland and Senegal. Further north, protest movements emerged in Spain and Greece against government austerity measures and high unemployment, while Israelis took to the streets over the summer in record numbers in the name of social justice and protests grew in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. By the end of the year, the Occupy movement broke out in the US and Canada against the large involvement of money in politics and the lack of economic opportunity for the average citizen while large student protests over educational reform broke out in Colombia and Chile. And finally, in December protests against government corruption reached all the way to the doors of the Kremlin in Russia. So numerous and active has the protest calendar been over the past 12 months, it is quite possible to narrate the entire year only in major protest movements and events.
Of course, other events happened in the field of human rights. The drama of last year’s contested presidential elections in Cote d’Ivoire continued into 2011 with open fighting between parties loyal to each of the candidates. Just two weeks after the UN Security Council approved a no-fly zone over Libya, it also adopted Resolution 1975 which allowed the French-supported peacekeeping mission there to use all necessary measures to protect civilian life. Two weeks later, incumbent president and 2010 election loser Laurent Gbagbo was arrested by UN forces in his home, ending the standoff. In late November, Gbagbo was transferred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague following an arrest warrant for crimes against humanity. His transfer means that it is likely he will be the first former head of state to stand trial at the ICC.
Both the UN intervention in Cote d’Ivoire and the NATO intervention in Libya gave the Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine a boost. While some debate whether NATO overstepped its UN authorization in its campaign, possibly hurting the effectiveness of the doctrine, these two events illustrated that even the international community can learn from its past mistakes when facing imminent civilian carnage, even if the application of the policy is uneven.
Elsewhere in Africa, the Republic of South Sudan officially became independent in July after a referendum in January that saw over 98% of the population vote for independence. Yet as South Sudan celebrated a new chapter of their own history and the end of a six-year long peace process, the UN declared a famine in parts of Somalia following an ongoing drought throughout the entire region and new violence broke out along the just created border between Sudan and South Sudan.
Of course, disasters – both manmade and natural – were not limited to the Global South. In July, Anders Behring Breivik set off a car bomb in Oslo and attacked a summer camp on the Norwegian island of Utøya, killing 87 people and shocking the normally calm Nordic country. In August, a small protest against police brutality spun out of control and set off four days of rioting across the United Kingdom.
Looking at this brief summary of the past year, it is easy to understand why the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, Navi Pillay, declared 2011 as the year where “human rights went viral.” However not all of year’s events treated human rights kindly. The execution of Muamar Gaddafi at the hands of rebel forces in Libya, and the cheers that came from some corners at the online footage of his abuse at the hands of his captors, reminded us that even monsters deserve compassion and we all have it in us to deny others basic dignity. In the US, the execution of Troy Davis brought the death penalty back into the spotlight, but even a sustained media campaign on the apparent shortcomings of the case against him could not save his life. The year was also not a good one for journalists, as the Committee to Protect Journalist announced that 45 journalists were killed in 2011, with Pakistan being the most dangerous country for journalists this year. And while some claimed 2011 to be the year of social media, that also came with tragic consequences as citizen journalists and online activists found themselves in the crosshairs of various groups, from drug cartels in Mexico to government forces in North Africa and the Middle East.
Finally, while there were many positive developments over the past 12 months, the year ended on a sour note with news that President Obama signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, including the troublesome provision that allows the government to indefinitely detain US citizens in the United States if they are suspected of terrorism. There are many problematic aspects to this provision, not just for human rights but also for the basic principles of democracy and due process in the US. If nothing else, this quiet act at the end of 2011 will give activists a new cause to start 2012 with.
As no Year in Review would be incomplete without a list, here are some of my top picks for 2011:
Most Unexpected event
As I noted at the start, this year has been an incredibly active one for protests, the type of year that probably hasn’t been seen since 1968. Even still, 2011 has been more remarkable in many ways because of the diverse locations where these movements have sprung up and in how they built upon each other throughout the year, aided by relationships forged through social media and increased global communications. While analysts may have suggested that major uprisings or protests were due in some of these countries for a while, I doubt that any of them would have – or even could have – predicted the way these protests merged and multiplied, both online and in the streets. There is no single name for this trend or phenomenon, but that is my choice for most unexpected event of the year.
Most important person or group
Closely related to my choice for most unexpected event, my pick for the most important person or group is actually a generation. Whatever you choose to call them – Generation Y, Millennials, Generation Next, or some other iteration – their presence has been undeniable in shaping major events of the past year. In 1966, Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech at University Cape Town where he memorably stated, “Few will have the greatness to bend history, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. And in the total of all those acts will be written the history of a generation.” After years of being mostly defined by their consumer habits and entertainment choices, this past year saw this generation find its voice against injustice, as well as the courage to work towards a different world.
Book of the year
My choice for book of the year highlights the aborted Persian Spring rather than this year’s Arab Spring. “Then They Came For Me” by Maziar Bahari tells of his months in Iran’s infamous Evin Prison for his journalistic coverage of the 2009 Iranian Election Protests. While his period in prison was Kafkaesque at times, the story also highlights the humanity of the protestors and ordinary Iranians in their search for dignity in a country that they love.
What to look for in 2012…
While 2011 was a major game-changer in some ways, on the other hand I find that my outlook for 2012 is not much different from what I predicted last year. I’m comfortable with that since much of what I predicted for 2010 came true this past year (and being only a year off is fine with me).
Digital rights and what freedom of expression means in the 21st century will continue to be a major human rights issue, especially after the EU quietly passed the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Act earlier this month and the possibility that the US House of Representatives will pass the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the new year.
Likewise protests are also likely to continue in 2012. The four countries that managed to overthrow their dictators this year – Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen – still face significant battles in stabilizing their governments and bringing about a full democratic transition. Protests and subsequent crackdowns by the government continue in both Bahrain and Syria, with no end in sight for either. The only country in North Africa to largely escape the protests that swept the region is Algeria, but already some are predicting that may change soon. Similarly, the Occupy movement is determined to not fade away in the new year as they come up with new methods of protest even as many of their camps are disbanded. As this past year demonstrated, protests movements in one corner of the globe can bring about new movements elsewhere, so what is in store for 2012 remains a mystery to even the most astute analysts.
Corporate involvement and influence in politics is also likely to be an ongoing issue. This is the central focus of the Occupy movement, but there have been other indications that more people are focusing on corporate accountability as well. In particular, the increasing evidence of Western technology firms selling surveillance equipment to repressive regimes have raised new questions about what responsibility for-profit organization have in the consequences of their products. Elsewhere, there is growing attention on the long term impact that increased involvement of Chinese firms in Africa may have for both political and economic democracy in the region and the growth of human rights. No matter where you look, corporations are facing more scrutiny which in unlikely to go away anytime soon.
In the end, what I am left with in the final hours of 2011 is how much more optimistic I am about this coming year than I was last year. So much has happened in the past 12 months that it can boggle the mind. But while some events were heartbreaking, most of the past year has been uplifting and at times, even inspiring. If 2011 was the year when “human rights went viral” then it is now on us to make 2012 the year when the world finally consolidated those rights and made them count.