World

The US election 2016 explained with comments by Dr. Charles Sullivan

Without doubt, most of us have a clue about the ongoing US election. But how many people understand the electoral process beyond media headlines? Here is a handy video guide by The Telegraph to make things easier. Additionally, you can find comments by Dr. Charles Sullivan, an Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at Nazarbayev University, on the prospects of US Foreign Policy after President Obama leaves office. 

On the candidates: 

It will be interesting to see whom the Republicans and Democrats ultimately choose to be their respective nominees for President of the United States. We have a two-party system on account of how our voting system is structured. In a general sense, Republicans and Democrats differ with respect to domestic policy on most issues. As an expat and a political scientist, I am mainly interested in foreign policy. Americans like to speak of “doctrines” when it comes to our foreign policy. I would venture to guess that if Clinton were to become the next President of the United States, we would not see much of a difference from Obama’s foreign policy. If Sanders or Trump wins, then our foreign policy is less clear to me.

On assessing the US foreign policy towards Central Asia and Afghanistan: 

The United States used to be interested in Central Asia during the 1990s due to the region’s energy reserves. Ever since 9/11, however, the primary concern has been Afghanistan. In my opinion, Washington does not really want to partake in a Great Game redux. America does not need the region’s oil and gas, and several of the “Stans” are failing as states. What worries me most about Central Asia is that one of the “Stans” could implode from within and thereby undermine the region’s chances to realize its potential. 

On Afghanistan, the reason why America remains militarily involved in this country to this day is because Washington fears that a repeat of what happened in Iraq in 2014 could also occur in Afghanistan. The hard truth is that the United States really does not know how to effectively rebuild failed states into functioning governing entities. So, in a sense, we are stuck in Afghanistan. This is why Obama does not want to withdraw all of the troops. The next U.S. President will face the same dilemma. If America leaves Afghanistan, then the country may fracture and destabilize the wider region. But in staying, there’s also no light at the end of the tunnel.

On the next US’s regional focus:

Overall, the United States is not really all that interested in Central Asia. Never has been, and most likely never will be. Washington is highly concerned with the greater Middle East at present, but the countries that garner the most attention (Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Iran, etc.) fall outside of the region. The United States is the sole superpower of the international system, but it lacks hegemony in this part of the world any way you look at it. Plus, with the exception of Kazakhstan, I don’t think that the Central Asian republics are interested in reforming their systems. In our lifetime, I envision the focus of geopolitics shifting to East Asia. What everyone should watch is how China’s relations with its neighbors evolve over time. 

Taiwan’s first female President: a vote for independence?

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AFP Photo/Sam Yeh

In early January of this year, Tsai Ing-wen, 59, was elected to be Taiwan’s first female President. A member of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), she received 56.1% of votes and surpassed her main opponent, Eric Chu, from Kuomintang. It is only for the second time in Taiwan’s history that the leader is not affiliated with the Kuomintang party: in 2000 and 2004 another member of DPP, Chen Shui-bian, was elected as President of the island nation, challenging more than 50 years of long authority of Kuomintang party. In 2016, DPP also won legislative elections, becoming the largest party in the Taiwanese Parliament with 68 seats, 44% of entire Legislative Yuan. 

The results of Taiwanese elections attracted massive attention from around the world due to various reasons. Some of the reasons include: 1) The fact that this is only the third time in history when transition of power had occurred peacefully; 2) It is only the 6thelection held since the end of the authoritarian regime; 3) And the first ever female head of the state to have been elected in the whole Eastern Asian region. What is also widely discussed, are the political attitudes of the newly elected President regarding sovereignty of Taiwan. The DPP, in general, advocates for independence of Taiwan, preservation of its own national identity, and political system, which goes in controversy with China-led course on political unification of both countries. Consequently, in her first speech as the President, Tsai Ing-wen argued for respectfulness towards Taiwanese “democratic system, national identity and international space”, but also – for preservation of “status-quo” in relationships with China. Election of Tsai Ing-wen was already referred in the “Diplomat” as “Beijing’s Worst Nightmare.” Other newspapers and journals also raised concerns regarding the future of the Chinese-Taiwanese relations, as well as about possibility of Taiwan to become a new “flashpoint” of confrontation in Eastern Asia. Nevertheless, it seems that the relationship between China and Taiwan are to remain stable and mostly peaceful.

Why did Kuomintang lose in the 2016 elections?

The previous President of Taiwan, member of Kuomintang party, Ma Ying-jeou, took the office in 2008, with following successful reelection in 2012. Ma Ying-jeou, born in mainland China, is a major proponent of strengthening economic ties with China. One of his initiatives was to introduce the first direct charter flights between China and Taiwan. Furthermore, in 2010, he signed Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement with China, aimed to raise bilateral trade, investment, and tourism sectors in economic relations of both countries. Another bold move included meetings with governmental officials of mainland China, including the Secretary General, – first ever since separation of mainland China and Taiwan.

All the taken steps towards rapprochement with China from Ma Ying-jeou were met with huge criticism in Taiwan, sparkling numerous protests in the country. In 2008, 500 thousand people participated in the “1025 Protest” against Ma’s policy in favor of China as well as against the visit of the Chairman of Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits (mostly Beijing-based organization, promoting reunification of both Chinese states). Protests also sparkled during the signing of an economic agreement with China (the “517 protest”). The largest protests occurred in 2015, following a decision to sign the “Cross-Strait Service Trade Agreement” with China. The participants of the “Sunflower Student Movement”, mostly students from Taipei, occupied several governmental buildings, including the legislative chamber. As a result of protests, the review of the trade agreement was postponed.

DPP’s criticism against Ma’s presidency centered around giving China too many instruments of influence by significantly strengthening economic ties and holding meetings with China’s highest politicians. Despite the path of enhanced cooperation with mainland China, the previous government of Taiwan failed to prevent an economic downturn: for instance, in 2015, growth of GDP was only 1% – which is too low for an economy, which trespassed annual growth rate of 10% in 2010Therefore, the Ma government was unable neither to stabilize the slowing economy nor get any significant benefits from trade agreements with China. In turn, Tsai Ing-wen, a member of the significantly pro-Taiwanese party that agitates for its independence and unique political system, has not noticed to express any radical ideas regarding Taiwan’s independence. So the Taiwanese people who voted for her might expect to have a leader that will eventually strengthen national identity without critically destabilizing relations between Taiwan and mainland China. Another appealing factor of Tsai Ing-wen in the eyes of the Taiwanese people – are her Taiwanese roots. In contrast with Ma, accused of being an agent of PRC because of his Chinese roots, Tsai Ing-wen and her parents were born on the island.

What is next for Taiwan?

Despite the fact that the major attention was focused on Taiwanese-Chinese relations since the election of the new President, it is unlikely to expect that the relations with China will remain to be the main concern. Stagnating economy, lowering salaries, growing unemployment, and increasing housing prices are yet to be addressed by the new President of Taiwan. And since the left-wing DPP holds the majority in both Parliament and government, it is possible to expect a more socially oriented economic policy. Dealing with economic problems would be impossible without preserving economic ties with mainland China: trade between the two nations already accounts for 40% Taiwan’s exports.

Even though it seems that relations of China and Taiwan are not very warm at the moment, the new President did not perform any controversial moves such as visiting disputed islands or proclaiming the need for an independent Taiwan. Furthermore, her association with a pro-independent party as well as her Taiwanese roots may be useful for China to continue the rapprochement with Taiwan: for the Taiwanese people that would seem to be less controversial, as it was with Chinese-born previous President. As for the Taiwanese, it is hard to expect the process of enhancing economic ties to slow down, especially, when the economy of Taiwan is in such trouble. 

Written by Zhamilya Mukasheva

Continental Migration to Europe

Nowadays Europe is on the brink of a huge 21st century challenge: every single day thousands of migrants come to European countries by crossing the Balkans, Greece or Italian peninsula. First of all, it is fair to ask, why do people migrate? The majority of migrants take a decision in favor of dangerous and quite expensive journey for a combination of reasons. To a greater extent migration flows to European continent can be explained by “the rise of the rights-based liberalism” stimulus, attributing to migrants basic human rights (Hollifield, 2008). There is little likelihood that Syrian refugees will break a path to China (not free), for instance. The year of 2015 was spent on debating the migration issue that segued to the trend unlikely to lanquish in 2016.

MIGRANT ROUTES TO EUhttp://en.protothema.gr/

According to the majority of the western media, the initial destination point of the refugees is Germany. What makes this European country so attractive? Mostly refugees and asylum seekers look for the safety and freedom legally ensured within the EU that they lost in the countries of their citizenship or in places of habitual residence, where the military actions broke out. If the number of asylum seekers to Germany in 2010 was 48 475, in the previous year this number estimated 202 645.According to the Residence Act of the Federative Republic of Germany, “a foreigner may not be deported to a state in which his or her life or liberty is under threat on account of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a certain social group or political convictions”. Once a person receives the refugee status, he/she is granted the same status as Germans (social welfare, child benefits, child-raising benefits, integration allowances and language courses). 

Last August, the German government published the ten-point refugee policy that includes “a fair distribution of refugees in Europe.” Considering the ever-growing number of refugees, especially from Syria, once refused, Germany is now willing to return to the Dublin regulation, which emphasizes that refugees must apply for status acquisition in the first EU state they entered. However, the exception is stipulated to Greece, which is struggling with its debt crisis and possesses a weak asylum system. The Dublin regulation is fair enough from the burden-share perspective, however, several problems still arise such as the negatively patterned opinions about the idea of accepting refugees in certain countries, for instance in Hungary and Poland. In theory all 28 asylum systems work under the Common European Asylum System (CEAS), however the reality illustrates an unpromising situation, when particular countries impose unilateral restrictions like Austria.

As there is still a debate over the Dublin regulations’ application, another option for the refugee crisis solution is the cooperation with the third countries. The EU has already done it before, when it delegated the migration problem to Libya using the latter as a bouncer. Since many refugees are coming through the border of Turkey, the treaty conclusion with Ankara might contribute to the migrants’ flow limitation and stemming to European continent. In other words, the the third-party possibility might turn the existing chaos into control. Furthermore, the Malta summit took place on the 11-12th of November 2015, where more than 60 European and African countries agreed on the 16 concrete steps that include “the reinforcement of a State capacity to ensure security and fight terrorist threats” to be implemented “by the end of 2016 at the latest” – the idea of shared responsibility to the migrants’ issue was accepted. Apart from this, the country leaders decided to launch the Emergency Trust Fund for Africa with the purpose “to foster stability and to contribute to better migration management” (Action Plan). “We can put security measures in place, but the flow will remain difficult to stop as long as we don’t take measures to reduce poverty,” said the President of Nigeria. The Fund money, providing additional financial support, is exactly aimed at assurance of the proper economic conditions for returning the migrants back to Africa.

Do liberal democracies have enough capabilities to accept and control immigrants? Not only within the Federative Republic of Germany, but all over Europe the proponents of the Smithian liberalism (“market-oriented societies are capable of absorbing large numbers of immigrants”) and the Malthusian view (“every society has limited resources”) clash every time the tensions come, and it illustrates how the refugee issue can be proficiently used by the Merkel’s opponents to remove her from the European political Olympia (Hollifield, 2000). There is an arduous debate within Germany: the Christian Social Union’s (CSU) leader Horst Seehofer declared that “we will submit a written demand to the federal government to reestablish legally regulated conditions at the borders… If it does not do so, the Bavarian government will have no choice but to submit a complaint to the Federal Constitutional Court.” The intensification of the refugee crisis issue in Germany seems to be a response to the little progress of Merkel’s plan.

According to the Eurobarometer opinion poll at the beginning of 2015, half of surveyed Germans welcomed immigration from other EU member states. However, only more than a quarter of Germans have a positive opinion of immigration from outside the EU. Does it indicate that Germans are afraid of losing their national identity? Fair enough to assume that hospitability or hostility within the society towards foreigners triggers a reaction of integration or segregation strategy, respectively: when natives feel secure in their identity, they will strike a pose to accept the ones who differ from them. On the contrary, in case of insecurity they will show the negative attitude. In this context the word security includes the realization of social, economic and political rights alongside with recognition and respect of another group’s identity and sense of belonging that include language, cultural values and beliefs, customs etc. Security assurance leads to “others” acceptance. Addressing the changing cultural identity of many European countries, the question of tolerance in society arises. Specifically, the current refugee crisis in Europe once again provoked the latest activity of anti-immigrants’ movements such as PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident) and HOGESA (Hooligans against Salafists) in Germany. The similar wave of the right-wing parties’ public appearance can be observed: Alternative für Deutschland (Germany), the National Front (France),the Party of Freedom (Netherlands) and the Danish People’s Party (Denmark) where populists categorize the migration itself into the securitization realm to be perceived as an existential threat, when the media spread the news utilizing metaphors like the uncontrolled spread of “terrorism web” etc. In this context societal insecurities take precedence over the military concerns, placing in the forefront migration within identity concerns.

Neoliberal institutionalist perspective suggests that migrants pursue destinations in democratic states, where the standards of living are higher, economy is growing and human rights are guaranteed to everyone. However, depending on the regime type, a state adopts either restrictionist or expansionist policies. Nowadays countries, especially developed ones, construct the narratives of the strongest control of their borders to fence off undesirable public. Eventually the immigration policy from the “low politics” evolve into the “high politics” nowadays as the official migration discourse goes into the new phase of development, when almost all states take actions towards the pragmatic decision in favor of the “controlled” migration primarily because of political and social reasons. The questions are still pending: What should the EU do next? Is there a need for the global approach?

Asylum seekers in Europe (From January to August 2015,(unless indicated otherwise*)
**Latest data available for Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Ireland, Greece, France, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Austria, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Finland, UK, and Iceland is for July. Latest data available for Spain, Cyprus and Liechtenstein is for the month of June. Eurostat data as of Oct. 2

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http://graphics.thomsonreuters.com/15/migrants/index.html#section-asylum

Reference: Hollifield, J. F. 2008. “The Politics of International Migration: How Can We ‘Bring the State Back In’.” In Migration Theory: Talking Across Disciplines, ed., C. B. Brettell and J. F. Hollifield. New York/London, Routledge.

Written by Madina Bizhanova

Political Recap of 2015 in the United States

The year of 2015 went down as one of the most chaotic years in the United States’ politics – the usual rules of politics did not seem to apply, especially in the presidential primaries. This year, despite all the controversy, has been the year of Donald Trump, an American business magnate. Today, Mr. Trump is one of the candidates for Presidency of the United States representing the Republican party. His critics wrote him off soon after his weak entrance into the race. However, that was just the beginning and after fiery remarks that were perceived as racist and sexist, Trump is still surging as a highly prospective Republican candidate. One of his counterparts in the Republican party for the presidency of the United States, Jeb Bush, is struggling in the billionaire’s shadow and is seen as this election’s outsider. Candidates like Ben Carson who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for presidency and a representative and candidate of Democratic party Bernie Sanders, both self-described socialists, are attracting voters who are fed up with Washington. The question now, can they actually turn that passion on the trial into actual votes?

Donald Trump has campaigned in few states promising his working-class voters and voters with no college education certain goals. Those promises include tax reform, U.S.- China trade reform, veterans administration reforms, second amendment rights, and immigration reform. For example, he wants to take back the oil hubs that ISIS controls in Iraq and Syria, to call for stronger border security to stop illegal immigration, to build up the military, to take care of veterans, and to repeal and replace the Obamacare. He is still a front-runner by far. And, yes, Republican candidate Ted Cruz and other candidates are coming up on the inside, but they are going into 2016 with Donald Trump still having to prove that he can get votes in other states and do the traditional caucus. For now Mr. Trump is leading the pack amongst the candidates for the 2016 Republican Party nomination with average 35 percent support among Republicans leaving behind Mr. Cruz with average 19.5 percent.

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Photo credit: CNN

Meanwhile, the democratic front-runner, Hillary Clinton, is entering the new year solidly on top. According to RealClearPolitics, she is leading in the Presidential Democratic nomination with an average 53.8 percent of support, while her competitors – Sanders and O’Malley have 31.2 percent and 4.6 percent respectively. So far, she has been mostly dealing with the controversies over her e-mails. In other words, she has used her personal email address rather than a government email during her secretary of President Barack Obama. This fact was used against her by Republicans to blow up the scandal around her. However, she is getting a big boost from the current Vice President, Joe Biden, who decided to stay out from the race. In an interview with Stephen Colbert’s show Mr. Biden noted that he is going to close his window for the White House due to the limited time-frame for mounting a campaign highlighting his family’s grief over the loss of his son, Beau Biden. His decision removes the competition directly with Hillary Clinton for support of voters. And while a number of candidates in both parties have already dropped out, for the ones who remain, the race for the white house is just about to have higher stakes. It is worth noting that the front-runners will face some challenges in the new year. For example, Ted Cruz has beaten Trump in Iowa. Also Bernie Sanders was giving Hillary Clinton a race in New Hampshire. Now it is time for the voters to have their say.

Dem 2016 Clinton Ad

Photo source: Gaston De Cardenas AP

As we end 2015 and begin 2016, it is important to highlight the power couple of the year: the president of the U.S. Barack Obama and the current speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Paul Ryan. The fact that Paul Ryan and Barack Obama could talk, negotiate, and work out some compromises this year is the evidence for that. Mr. Obama has reached the following main accomplishments in 2015:

  • Businesses have added 13.7 million new jobs over 69-months;
  • more American citizens have got health insurance coverage through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare legislation);
  • Global leadership of the U.S. on climate change agenda, organizing the meeting at the Paris COP21 climate talks in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • The reopening of the American embassy in Cuba, normalizing relationship between the two countries;
  • A nuclear deal between Iran and the six powers;
  • A legacy-defining trade deal was sealed in order to cut barriers, protect environmental and labor interests, and ensure intellectual property rights

Obama-Cuba

Photo source: egaliteetreconciliation.fr

If they can work together in 2016, perhaps they will find answers to unresolved issues such as gun control, funding of Planned Parenthood, Obama’s climate change regulations, criminal justice reform, and the Affordable Care Act.

Written by Arman Mussin

Middle East: 2015 in recap

Saudi Arabia: Operation Decisive Storm

The year commenced with the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, 90, and the succession of his half brother King Salman bin Abdulaziz, 80. King Salman inherited a country that was struggling with plummeting oil prices, an increasing threat of the Islamic State’s expansion, and Iran’s pursuit of regional hegemony. Moreover, since March, Riyadh has been actively involved in Yemen (historical division of 1962). The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia created and led a military coalition of nine Arab states to counter Shiite Houthis supporters of former president Saleh backed by Iran and responsible for overthrowing and forcing current president Abd Rabbu Mansur Hadi to flee the country. By the end of the year, Hadi has re-emerged on Yemen’s political arena, however, “the Houthis’ ranks have failed to collapse and, despite continued pressure by resistance fighters,they have maintained a hold in key central provinces. While President Hadi and other officials have trickled back into Aden — and pro-Hadi military forces and scores of allied Gulf soldiers have re-entered Marib, the capital and its surroundings remain in the hands of the Houthis and their allies.” Overall, Saudi Arabia spent around $5.3 billion on the war in 2015.

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Photo: Al Arabiya News

So far, this military confrontation fostered an unparalleled humanitarian crisis: “20 million people in Yemen are in dire need of humanitarian aid, which makes up at least 80 percent of the population. Thirteen million people are facing food shortages and 9.4 million are having difficulties accessing drinking water.” More than 2 700 civilians were killed in less than 10 months.

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On a different note, King Salman has proceeded with King Abdullah’s decision to allow women the right to participate in municipal elections for the first time in history. However, by the end of November, Saudi Arabia had executed at least 150 prisoners, the highest number since 1995.

Iran: Mission Accomplished

On 14th of July, Iran and the six powers – Germany, France, China, Russia, Britain and the United States, have brought to the world a major and finalized nuclear deal. Iran promised to allow inspectors to check its research and developments/testing of the nuclear program, slow down the pace and the amplitude of the program in return for lifting international sanctions that served as key barriers for Iran’s economy.

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Such rapprochement not only made Iran to leave the ranks of the isolated countries, but also served as a signal for Saudi Arabia and Israel, that their loyal ally – the United States, might be changing its foreign policy’s focus and have a new stake in allowing Iran to strive for region’s dominance.

Throughout the year, Iran sent its soldiers to help a weakening Iraq regain its major cities – Ramadi and Mosul, from ISIS. Iran’s Shiite fighters successfully prevented the loss of Baghdad from the sunni jihadists.

In Syria, Iran also sent troops to provide military assistance to the forces of Bashar Assad. “Since the early 2000s, Syria had become a proxy of the Iranian government, providing a valuable transit point between the Shiite powerhouse and Lebanon on the Mediterranean coast. However, since the Arab Spring of 2011 looked to topple Assad’s government, Iran covertly sent military advisers to help the Syrian Army. Later in 2012-2013, Iran activated its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah to join the fight. Finally in 2015, the gloves came off and Iranian troops were seen fighting inside Syria. “

It is important to note that Iran and Russia are both supporting pro-Assad forces in its fight against militants, opposition, and ISIS. Although, Russia have its own motives – such as to win back its image of a global player. Since the beginning of Russia’s air strikes in September, a large number of reports claimed that the attacks were targeting the opposition rather than ISIS.

ISIS: Lost 30 percent of its territory in the region

 The year began with Jordan and Egypt starting separate fights against ISIS, Egypt and Libyan airstrikes targeted the extremist group’s training camps and its stockpiles of weapons. Later on, the United States, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and Germany all announced the launch of airstrikes on ISIS’s positions.

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Under such pressure the ISIS militants lost Tikrit, Baiji and Ramadi to the Iraqi and Kurdish armed forces. “Taking together Iraq and Syria, they [ISIS] lost 30 percent of the territory they once held,” coalition spokesman US Army Col. Steve Warren told a press briefing in Baghdad.

To all of this, ISIS (Daesh) responded with terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut, the militants killed and abducted civilians both Muslim and Christians across the region. The extremist group announced Libya’s city of Sirte as its back up capital (after Raqqa).

Additionally:

  • Former Egypt’s president Mohamed Morsi was sentenced to the death penalty and received a life sentence verdict for “killing protesters” during the 2012 protests
  • A Daesh follower killed over 38 tourists on a beach in Tunisia
  • Tunisia’s national dialogue quartet won a Nobel peace prize for the efforts to create a pluralistic democracy
  • 13.5 million people in Syria need humanitarian assistance
  • 4.3 million Syrians are refugees, and 6.6 million are displaced within Syria;half are children

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Photo: businessinsider.com

Written by Jamilya Nurkanova

East Asia: 2015 in recap

Three main stories of the year in the Eastern Asia

Slowdown of the Chinese economy

According to the World Bank, since 2007 the Chinese economy was the fastest growing among G-20 countries, with an impressive average annual increase in GDP of about 8,2 percent. Since 2013, the Chinese economy started to gradually slow down as a consequence of government-led reforms towards developing service sector instead of export-oriented economy. As a result, in 2015 the GDP growth reached minimum since the crisis years of 2009 (6,9 points in the third quarter), threatening not to fulfill aimed by the government annual growth rate of 7,0 percent. The manufacturing output of Chinese economy also started to decline, whereas purchasing managers’ index (PMI) in summer months was the lowest for three years. The Chinese slowdown became an important trend not only for Eastern Asia, but also for the world economy, being a major factor in crash of commodity prices and decline in Chinese export.

On the one hand, the Chinese slowdown can be characterized as rather cyclic, whereas after a decade of impressive huge annual growth rates (sometimes, more than 12 percent in a year) the potential for growth is rather limited. The Chinese GDP has risen fivefold in a decade from 2000 until 2010, and for bigger economies it is always harder to grow up in the same amount as for the smaller ones. The GDP growth rate of 6-7 percent, which is expected in China until the end of 2015, is still much higher than by the most developed countries, as well as such fast-growing G-20 countries as India and Russia. After a decade of unbelievable high GDP growth rates, the Chinese economy shows unsurprisingly ‘normal’ growth rates for a country with the second in the world GDP.

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On the other hand, there also systemic factors contributing to the Chinese slowdown, and the latter are more alarming for the Chinese government. Firstly, China, which has practiced the “One child policy” aiming to decrease the population growth since 1978, now expectedly faces shrinking of the workforce. For a long time, the Chinese relatively cheap and massive workforce was a major factor contributing to Chinese economic and manufacturing output growth. With the shrinking working age population (e.g. in 2014 the working age population shrunk by 3,9 million people), China faces two other problems: growing number of retired employees yet to be paid pensions by the state as well as incapability to restore the workforce in the near future. The “One Child Policy” resulted in an unnatural gender disparity for generations born after introduction of the policy, so now China has less mature women than it would be needed to restore the population in the near future. At the same time, which has a bigger impact on Chinese slowdown, the average salaries in China are gradually growing up, causing Chinese workforce to be less ‘cheap’. Now it is hardly to expect the Chinese economy to be driven by ‘cheap’ and massive workforce.

Another reason of the Chinese slowdown is its dependency on Western markets, now having a slowdown of the consumer spending and conducting a policy towards restoring local manufacturing output in aims of competing the Chinese import. The Chinese economic slowdown is not only a foreseeable cyclic decline, but also to a large degree dependent on the systemic factors, not manageable by the Chinese government.

Why it is important for Kazakhstan?

The Chinese economic slowdown was a major factor for collapse of the commodity prices, now the main export products of Kazakhstan. For a decade, the Chinese manufacturers were among the main world consumers of oil and gas, importing more and more crude commodities every year and heightening the market demand of those products. Now, the declining growth rates of Chinese manufacturing output, as well as lowering foreign investment in China result in demanding less commodities. Alongside with US rising domestic oil production, and Iran yet to be allowed to sell oil to Western markets, the world supply of crude commodities exceeds the lowering demand. For Kazakhstan, such situation is a troublesome one: not only does the country’s budget shrink to a large extent, but also the investment into oil production will be at the minimum level, as a result, causing such major projects as “Kashagan” development to have insufficient investment.

What to expect in the future?

The International Monetary Fund forecasts Chinese economy to grow only by 6,3 percent in 2016, as a continuation of the general tendency towards the slow down. It is important to note that such factors as shrinking and more expensive workforce, lowering investment, and lowering consumers’ demand in Western markets cannot be simply solved by the means taken by the Chinese government, e.g. deflation of the Chinese yuan. Nevertheless, China is yet to remain among the biggest players in the world economy.

China-Taiwan thaw in relations

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Photo: Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou (on the left) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (on the right)

The main political news of 2015 for Eastern Asia must be the first official meeting of the Chinese and Taiwanese Presidents in 66 years. Chinese President Xi Jinping and Taiwanese Ma Ying-jeou met on November 4th in Singapore in order to “consolidate cross-strait peace and maintain the status quo” as it was said in the official statementof the Taiwan President before the meeting. A year ago, on February 14th 2015 a meeting between governmental officials of both countries was held – for the first time in 65 years. Both meetings became historic due to long unresolvable dispute regarding the status of Taiwan and China itself. Taiwanese officials claim the authority over mainland China, designating their state as “Republic of China”. The People Republic of China, i.e. the mainland China, refuses to see Taiwan as an independent state, regarding it as being part of its territory.

The meetings held among highest officials of two countries have hardly had any effect at transformation of established official governmental positions of both countries. However, what is more important is the fact that a mechanism for communication between politicians of both countries was finally set up, and the latter may result in a more sensible warming up in relations among countries in the future. Having face-to-face negotiations may bring more understanding among politicians, whereas the generally high level of mistrust will decline.

Why it is important for Kazakhstan?

Since China became the world’s second economy, it started to reconsider its own role in international relations pretending to be a major power or superpower. However, the warming up in relations with Taiwan as well as promoting an image of ‘peaceful rise’ conducted by the Chinese government lets other countries see China’s rise as less threatening and alarming. As long as China is nice to a naturally adversary country like Taiwan, there is less concern for Kazakhstan.

China, main events in 2015: briefly

4 May 2015 – meeting of the Chinese President Xi Jinping and the Chairman of the leading Taiwanese Party Kuomintang, Eric Chu

11 August 2015 – devaluation of the Chinese yuan over 3% of its value in relation to the US dollar

24-25 September 2015 – Xi Jinping visits US despite of having controversies regarding the recent Chinese yuan’s devaluation

28 December, 2015 – a new anti-terrorist law is approved in China; the law also increases opportunities for state-surveillance

Japan: A Controversy with the new security bill allowing troops to fight overseas

The figure of the Japanese PM, Shinzō Abe, was recently largely discussed in Japan. Under his rule, Japan for the first time in decades went out of recession in the last quarter of 2014 and the first quarter of 2015, however, its economy fell back to recession in the third quarter of 2015. Economic amelioration and then its downfall led to major dissatisfaction with the current government, and such sentiment was only enlarged after the new security bill has been passed in the Parliament of Japan. The bill allows the Japanese troops to participate in the collective self-defense measures, even when Japan is not directly threatened. The opponents of the law say that the new regulation is likely to lead to useless expenses for supporting American foreign military operations. The supporters of the law, however, emphasize its necessity in times when China and North Korea represent a new threat to Japan, the former because of growing economic potential and ambitions of a superpower, and the latter because of claiming to have nuclear weapon. However, even though the law was passed through Parliament, Japan is still unlikely to participate massively in overseas military operations, as long as the general sentiment towards such possibility remains negative in the Japanese society.

Why it is important?

The law passed in the Japanese Parliament was negatively seen by the neighboring China, claiming that Japan restores its imperial ambitions. In general, the law only negatively affects the Chinese-Japanese political relations, which previously have not been ideal. The relations among these main Asian countries became more strained in 2015, which is alarming for the neighboring countries.

Written by Zhamilya Mukasheva

Europe: Recap of 2015

It is time to ponder the major events that took place in Europe in 2015, some of which included multiple terrorist attacks and a refugee crisis that is growing out of proportion. The year started with a January terrorist act in France perpetuated against the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo,” and ended with a widespread attack on November 13th, placing France at the epicenter of the confrontation between the West and the rising threat of extremism, deriving from ISIS (Daesh).

In February, in Copenhagen, Danish resident of Jordanian-Palestinian origin opened fire during an “Art, Blasphemy and Freedom of Expression” event, targeting to kill Lars Vilks, a Swedish artist known for his drawings of Prophet Muhammad. The second attack was perpetuated in the Great Synagogue, where one man was killed and two police officers were wounded. In the month of August, another act of terrorism took place in Thalys – on a train from Brussels to Paris. Altogether, the widespread acts of horror that took place across Europe clearly demonstrate a lack of information, and indicate a weak and poorly managed coordination among the Member States of the Union – a systemic error in the security domain. “Paris represents a serious escalation in the threat and reinforces the need for police around Europe to cooperate and maximize information sharing,” the director of Europol, Rob Wainwright, said.

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Valentina Cava, euobserver.com

Another grave challenge faced by the European continent has been the refugee crisis. Over one million people embarked on a path to walk and swim thousand of miles from Africa and the Middle East in hopes to find asylum on Europe’s premises. One of the reasons that gave impetus to that massive migration was the spread of ISIS’s extremism. Recently Iraq’s Prime Minister made a statement vowing to rid his country of the ISIS group in the next year. Does his bold statement inspire hope? Yes. However, it is quite naïve to believe that his promise will be held. While some government officials score gains in the Middle East, on the European continent politicians and policy-makers puzzle over the refugees’ issue. Whereas some European states such as France perceive refugees as the unwelcome guests, who should be deported; others like Germany – accept them as refugees and asylum seekers, who should be provided with basic needs and who are not seen as an economic burden. Throughout 2015, the Western leaders have met at several summits on migrants issue with the participation of Balkans, African countries and Turkey. It has been noted that populists in Europe are gaining special benefits over this gruesome crisis by connecting the aspect of mass migration with terrorism. Insofar, deterrence of migrants is seen as a mechanism that some of the European countries accept.

migration_crisis_2.jpg_402102917
Reuters

In the background of the two above-mentioned problems, events such as the Greek crisis, England’s future referendum, the idea of reunification of Romania and Moldova and others, are not seen as high-scale priorities, however, they should also be mentioned.

Additionally, it is important to note the EU-Kazakhstan relations: our bilateral relationships shifted gears and on December 21st, the European Union and the Republic of Kazakhstan signed Enhanced Partnership and Cooperation Agreement to elevate cooperation within the 29 domains, including economic, environment and energy policies, that replaced the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement since 1999. As a result, Kazakhstan became the first country of Central Asia to sign the so-called “new generation” agreement with the EU. See a detailed infograph here: eu-kazakhstan_agreement_infographic

Looking at 2015, there are no guarantees that the terrorist attacks will not resume in 2016. Whether 2016 will bring an end to the ongoin conflicts, resolve long-standing issues and reconcile enemy parties or not, every small and significant effort should be made for it to occur. The refugee crisis seems to remain a vexing problem for the European Union and this far-stretched issue might either “destroy” the Union or “rebuild” it. Federica Mogherini, EU’s top diplomat, shared that this crisis puts “a risk of disintegration.” Sans doute, Europe must simply find ways to fix and solve the migration and terrorism challenges in 2016.

Written by Madina Bizhanova

 

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