Wednesday, 9 October 2019

Supporting the Kurdish people in Syria

Turkey’s military invasion of North-Eastern Syria is illegal, from the international law perspective. It is also a tremendous political mistake, with many possible consequences. I have not seen a single country, among those who matter in international affairs and in the region, that has supported President Erdogan’s decision.

In this kind of dangerous military interventions experience has taught us that we know when the operation starts but nobody can predict when it will end. Erdogan’s people can find themselves caught in a never-ending drama.

Moreover, the Kurds of Syria have been brave allies of the anti-terrorist forces that have fought the Islamic State criminals. They have generated a very important capital of sympathy in Europe and the US. It is not only that we are indebted to their courage and fighting spirit. It is also that we all recognise that they have created a space of tranquillity and some type of normalcy in a country that has been in chaos. It is that order that President Erdogan is now destroying with his heavy artillery and fighter planes.

It is unacceptable.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

Fighting corruption

Widespread corruption remains a major issue in some developing countries. It cannot be absent from the policy dialogue with our partner countries. It must be a very central topic and our common responsibility is not to run away from the issue. Diplomacy is no justification to ignore the fate of the populations that see their economy being capture by a few members of the political leadership.

Today, I had a long discussion about the matter and how it affects equitable growth and the fight against poverty. The starting point was the current situation in Zambia. And I was sad to note that I have seen better governance in that country. And unfortunately, it is just an example.

Monday, 7 October 2019

The situation in Northeastern Syria

At the end of the day, there is a lot of confusion regarding what could be next in Northern Syria, at the border with Turkey.

Over the weekend, the US President seems to have told his Turkish counterpart he would not oppose any military action Turkey might take against the Kurds that live on the Syrian side of the border. It was like giving a green light to President Erdogan to move in and attack the Syrian Democratic Forces, the Kurdish-dominated group that was a major ally of the Western powers in the battle against ISIS.

Now, and in view of the outcry his decision has arisen, including within the leadership of his own Republican Party, President Trump appears to be backpedalling. He even tweeted that the Turkish economy would be brought to its knees if something very wrong – what that means is unclear – would happen in Northern Syria.

Well, if there is an invasion of the Syrian territory, many wrong things will happen. One of them is about the message the West will be sending across the globe that they do not protect those who fought along side them. The other one concerns the fate of the ISIS prisoners. Thousands of them are being kept by the Syrian Democratic Forces/YPG. They would run away if the Kurds are under attack. That would bring back a number of terrorist cells to the region. In addition, any new war front in the region would certainly generate more displacements and human suffering. The civilian populations in Northern Syria would pay a high price for the Turkish invasion.

Besides the confusion, EU leaders must be clear and state without hesitation that any Turkish offensive in Northern Syria would be unacceptable. It is time to be firm with Erdogan. And unequivocal as well.  

Sunday, 6 October 2019

If you fail, try blackmail

When political bullying fails, the fellows try blackmail. The French call it “chantage”. That’s what some Brexit hardliners have been suggesting this weekend. They recommend that the Boris Johnson government sabotages the work of the EU institutions, if his deal proposal is not accepted and he is forced to ask for an extension. In their lunacy, they have even advised Boris Johnson to appoint Nigel “Crackpot” Farage as the British Commissioner in Ursula von der Leyen’s Commission. They see Farage as the Chief Disruptor.

All this is childish. And it is also amazing to see some sectors of the British Conservative Party falling so low. Their anti-European fanaticism makes them politically blind. It blocks their minds and impedes them from understanding that cooperation and mutual benefit are the only winning cards. Radical Conservatives just keep moving away from the traditional British common sense.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

A brief commentary on Hong Kong

Fourteen weeks after the beginning of the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong and notwithstanding the growing chaos, and violence, Beijing still looks at the situation as a local problem. The Communist leaders do not see any risk of contagion, either in Macau or in any Mainland big city. That explains why they have decided to let the Hong Kong authorities – and above all, the Police – deal with the crisis. It is true that the city authorities have not been very artful or politically astute. But for the time being, Beijing is convinced that the Chief Executive and her people should be the crisis managers. That’s a way of sending the message that this is not a wider problem.

Beijing has also been actively promoting its narrative of what is taking place in Hong Kong. They tell the Mainlanders that these are just some youngsters who are encouraged by outside powers to break the law and rebel against the established system of government. They show on the Chinese TV the scenes of violence and destruction, as a way of discrediting the protesters.

Beijing hopes the protest movement will die out, after a few more weeks or so. They are also betting on the impact that mass arrests might have in terms of discouraging the crowds.

I am not sure Beijing is getting the full understanding of what is taking place in Hong Kong. The protests are deeper than what the leaders think. One of the reasons for Police ineffectiveness in dealing with the demonstrations resides in the widespread support the demonstrators get from the general population of Hong Kong. The young people are on the streets but most of the older people are not against the street actions. This makes it a very distinctive case, when I compare it to other riots I have studied.

Friday, 4 October 2019

To talk to a political bully?

In politics, we tend to forget that to be principled is different from being dogmatic.

A principled leader knows the goal posts, keeps in mind the values that must be respected, and, because of that, he or she can engage in a negotiation. The dogmatic one is just a bully, a political ruffian. He can only operate from what he sees as a position of force, even when such position is no more than an illusion. The bully lives in a fantasy world and sees himself at the centre of it. To engage in a dialogue with such a person is a lost of time, unless it is just a tactical move to regain the initiative.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Boris Johnson's weird proposal

The plan the British Prime Minister sent to Brussels today, regarding a withdrawal agreement with the EU, is a construction in the air. It’s not grounded on realistic operational premises, meaning, it is unclear in terms of its day-to-day implementation. And it plays with words and images, basically to show to the British voters this plan is different from the one Theresa May had agreed upon. It is not about substance and cooperation, it is about personal ambition and party politics in the UK. 

The EU leaders are not convinced. However, they played smart in their reactions to Boris Johnson’s proposal. They said they would look at it with the required attention. That’s a diplomatic way of saying we are not convinced but do not want to kill hope right away. Brussels does not want to give the British PM any chance that would allow him to blame the EU for a No Deal situation. It is true he will blame in any case, but without any definitive proof. 

Besides the confusing lines, the plan was presented almost like an ultimatum from the British side to the European one. That is not very smart. Key leaders in Europe will take such approach as an affront. Politically, Boris Johnson's tone calls for a response that might further complicate the Brexit issue. This is no time for “take it or leave it”, as the PM is saying. That is unwise, but not surprising as Boris Johnson is more interested in impressing the British nationalists than in finding a solution to his country’s future relationship with Europe. He is already campaigning. The bizarre Brexit plan he submitted today is part and parcel of his electoral strategy. Not much more than that.

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

China's Day

The new China is much younger than Communist China. The one celebrating today, with an extraordinary show of military power and a strong emphasis on patriotism and loyalty to everything Chinese, and above all, to the authorities, was the older one. 70 years is a long time in the life of a regime. At that age, the big question is about the future: what kind of country will be there ten or twenty years down the line?

Sunday, 29 September 2019

Japan and the EU, on the same side

I am not sure that Friday afternoon is a good time for great political moves. At least, from the perspective of public information and support. The weekend is around the corner and the media tend to go slow. If they mention the action, it will be in a lazy line that gets lost fast. On Monday, it is already an old story. And it would have been overtaken by events happening during the weekly break.

The deal signed on Friday between the President of the European Commission and the Prime Minister of Japan seems to have fallen into this trap. Jean-Claude Juncker and Shinzo Abe put their signature of approval on an ambitious agreement that will see both sides cooperating in different parts of the developing world, including in the Balkans and other countries of Europe outside the EU, to build infrastructure and promoting digital industries. A lot of emphasis will be placed on thorough development projects, sustainability, transparency, national ownership and partnerships with the recipient countries and the appropriate multilateral organisations.

They called it a connectivity partnership between the EU and Japan. It can work, if we consider these are two of the largest economies. Together, they represent over 23 trillion US dollars of GDP, which is larger than the US ($21 trillion). And much bigger than China (USD 9.2 trillion).

The point is about politics. Both sides must make this cooperation a priority when dealing with developing nations. And they will be competing with China’s offer, the fast-moving Belt and Road Initiative. That will not be an easy competition. The Chinese leadership are deeply invested in the Initiative. To compete, the Europeans and the Japanese have no choice but to insist on projects that have the support of the populations – not just of the political leaders in the concerned countries – and are financially sound and proper. These are no technical or money matters. They are about strategic political engagements.