China

Tensions rise in the South China Sea
China and the US clashed over the South China Sea at a defence forum last weekend, amid island-building by Beijing and increased naval and air patrols by the US. Gideon Rachman discusses the escalating tensions with Geoff Dyer, the FT’s Washington correspondent and former Beijing bureau chief, and James Crabtree, contributing editor.

By Gideon Rachman

Politics in the west are so dramatic at the moment that China can look relatively staid and stable by comparison. But that impression is deceptive. Xi Jinping is taking his country in radical and risky new directions.

By Gideon Rachman
When judging forecasts about 2016, beware of the “continuity bias”. This is the temptation to assume that this year will be a bit like last year — only more so. In fact, recent political history suggests that the events that define a year tend to be the big surprises and sudden discontinuities (call them “black swans” or “unknown unknowns”, if you must).

By Gideon Rachman
In 2015, a sense of unease and foreboding seemed to settle on all the world’s major power centres. From Beijing to Washington, Berlin to Brasília, Moscow to Tokyo — governments, media and citizens were jumpy and embattled.

By Gideon Rachman
Nothing can separate us. We are one family”. So said Xi Jinping after becoming the first president of China to shake hands with a president of Taiwan. The meeting between Mr Xi and Ma Ying-jeou was undoubtedly historic.

By Gideon Rachman
American and Chinese presidents do not really know how to talk to each other. They are like computers running on different operating systems.” That was the verdict once offered to me by a US official, who has watched many US-China summits from close quarters.

Australian politics is so cut-throat and brutal that it is easy to treat it simply as a spectator sport – without much wider international significance. But that would be a mistake. The fall of Tony Abbott and his replacement as prime minister by Malcolm Turnbull may well herald a shift in Australian foreign policy that will be noticed in Beijing, Tokyo and Washington.

Put simply, Turnbull is likely to take a softer line on China. Abbott was a firm supporter of America’s pivot to Asia and the effort to push back against Chinese territorial ambitions. But Turnbull seems to be more sceptical. The evidence for his scepticism is set out, in this informative post from the Lowy Interpreter. It is interesting, in particular, that Turnbull has sympathetically reviewed the work of Hugh White, an Australian academic who has argued that the US should do more to accommodate a rising China – and that the alternative might be a catastrophic war. Read more

By Gideon Rachman
The gigantic military parade that will pass through Beijing on Thursday is meant to be all about the past. But, inevitably, many in the Asia-Pacific region will see it as a disturbing message about the future.

By Richard McGregor in Washington

In the confrontational atmosphere pitting Beijing against Washington and its allies in Asia, it is often forgotten that China and much of the west were allies in the region’s defining wartime struggle, fighting their then mutual foe, Japan.

In September, Beijing is planning a massive military parade to remind the west and the rest of the world of that moment, the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender in the Pacific War. As commemorations go, it promises to be an awkward occasion. Read more

There are drawbacks to being a satirist from a deeply authoritarian state. Exile is a frequent consequence. But it has its advantages.

“I’m really blessed as an Iranian comedian,” Kambiz Hosseini told the audience of democrats, dissidents and defectors who gathered this week in Norway for the annual Oslo Freedom Forum (or “Davos for dissidents”). “There’s no shortage of material for me.” Read more

Over the weekend, my colleague Richard McGregor, reported on the growing clamour in Washington to push back against China’s “island factory” in the South China sea. He pointed to the possibility of a “limited but risky challenge to Chinese actions by the US military”. That challenge now appears to be underway. Read more

By Gideon Rachman

China’s education minister has just issued an edict to the country’s universities that sounds like something from the heyday of Maoism. “Never let textbooks promoting western values enter our classes,” thundered Yuan Guiren. “Any views that attack or defame the leadership of the party or socialism must never be allowed.”

I’ll say one thing about Chinese chief executives: they have a more colourful back-story than most of the developed world executives at Davos.

Ren Zhengfei, elusive founder of Huawei, the Chinese telecommunications group, made a rare public appearance at the World Economic Form on Thursday, in a one-on-one interview. Read more

The recent Sri Lankan presidential election was remarkable for several reasons.

First, Mahinda Rajapaksa, the over-confident incumbent, lost the vote, despite a booming economy. Second, Mr Rajapaksa – who was often accused of authoritarian and dynastic tendencies – seems to have accepted the voters’ verdict without a fight. His best riposte to those who accused him of not being a democrat may turn out to be the way in which he accepted unfavourable election results, and allowed his rival, Maithripala Sinisena, to assume power. The change of government in Sri Lanka also has a wider geopolitical significance. Read more

Most people have something they do to mark the end of the year: make a resolution, go to a party, tidy the attic. My annual ritual is to make a list of the five most significant events of the past year in global politics. This year is an odd one, in that it seems to me that there are only two events that stand head-and-shoulders above the others. The first is the breakdown in relations between Russia and the west, caused by the Ukraine crisis. The second is America’s return to war in the Middle East. So let’s deal with those two first and then move on to the other contenders.

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• An oil smuggling network created to evade UN sanctions on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq is being exploited by the Islamist group Isis.

• In Libya hardline Islamists are pushing their agenda amid the chaos they created.

• Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs lifts the veil on its relationship with the Gaddafi-era Libyan sovereign wealth fund.

• The New York Review of Books rounds up the latest books on Iraq: The outlaw state.

• China is risking a ‘balance sheet recession’ as the impact of its stimulus measures wane.

Linda Tirado on why globalisation and technology are to blame when the poor are accused of failing to make long term plans. Read more

  • Edward Luce examines EU-US drift: “Without US leadership, the transatlantic alliance will not spring back to life.”
  • Philip Stephens argues that London’s Heathrow airport has turned its “manifest failings into a potentially golden asset” by convincing travellers that “the only way to improve the dismal lot of passengers is guarantee Heathrow still higher profits”.
  • David Pilling asks: what is the real point of GDP and can it ever be accurately measured?
  • Smart view: the French government hopes that its package of business reforms will encourage investment – the FT’s Michael Stothard sees whether France’s business community is convinced.
  • The conflict between China and Vietnam in 1979 lasted less than a month, but the legacy of ferocious fighting permeates the sour relations between the two countries even now.

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  • Isis’s PR department is pushing its vision of an Islamic state.
  • Industrialisation has left China with soil pollution that is damaging health and livelihoods across the country. The government had declared soil pollution data a “state secret”, but officials have slowly started acknowledging the issue.
  • The US Navy’s most sophisticated warship is designed to be operated by video gamers – the young sailors who crew their ships have, after all, been raised on video games.
  • Neil McArthur, a philosopher, asks if humans will ever be liberated from basic biological needs when it comes to sex.
  • Steve Negus in The Arabist details how Iraq has been mismanaged by the Maliki goverment.

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By Gideon Rachman

The headlines are dominated by regional crises – in Ukraine, in Iraq and in the South China Sea. But is there a common thread that ties together these apparently unconnected events?