Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Zimbabwe and the regime's savagery

In the afternoon I was on the phone with a Zimbabwean friend based in Harare. We discussed the recent human rights violations and the police brutality. All that is unacceptable and shows that President Mnangagwa is not able to respond to the deep crisis the country is in. Old habits die hard. And the President is going back to what he has known all his life, under the leadership of Old Robert: violent repression of popular discontent. That can only bring more suffering and misery to the country. It is very sad. I add my voice to the condemnation of such acts of tyranny and to the lack of respect for the people of Zimbabwe.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Hong Kong people send strong messages

A huge crowd rallied today in Hong Kong. Its size has sent a strong message to Mainland China. The pro-democracy movement is deeply rooted in the Hong Kong society. It can’t be addressed with militarised police coming from the other side of the border line. And there is a second message, as pressing as the first one: Carrie Lam, the Chief Minister, and her governing team must be replaced. They have no capacity to respond to the complex challenges the territory is facing, from democracy to housing, and beyond. Also, they have lost the confidence of large segments of the population.

Saturday, 17 August 2019

A deteriorating situation around Kashmir

One of the most militarised borders in the world is the one between India and Pakistan. Men and the most sophisticated means of control stand of both sides of the line. The tension level is always very high, close to open conflict. Unfortunately, these days it is even closer. We are witnessing an extreme delicate crisis between the two countries. The reason is once again the dispute and the unresolved situation around Kashmir. I do not think we, in Europe, should take sides. But we should advise both countries to lower the pressure. We should express our deep concern with the current escalation of the conflict. And appeal to China to remain out of the problem. By taking sides with Pakistan, the Chinese are not playing the constructive role they should be playing in the region. That is not the Chinese foreign policy President Xi Jinping has pledged he would follow.

Friday, 16 August 2019

President Trump moves to Greenland

Hong Kong on the streets, North Korea firing new missiles, Amazonia being threatened, migrants at sea, Ebola in Congo, and so many other issues. But this is August, it’s summertime in the Northern Hemisphere, and people want something light. President Trump got it. He is indeed a genius. He is fast and very much attuned to the people’s wishes and priorities. Therefore, today he suggested the US could think of purchasing Greenland, a massive piece of land that belongs to a European State, Denmark. That is indeed a fresh idea, cool, very appropriate for a hot mid-August weekend.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Crossing the line in Hong Kong

The key messages the Chinese government wants to put across are very clear: the demonstrators are violent; they have disrupted the operations of a key international airport for two days in a row; and brought chaos to the territory. In the opinion of the leadership in Beijing, such messages are essential to justify an armed intervention of Mainland forces in Hong Kong. Their content is further reinforced by the image of a powerless Hong Kong Administration. It is true that Carrie Lam, the HK Chief Executive, seems to have lost the sense of direction. She now cuts a very sorry figure. But in the case of the HK Police, I see a deliberate Beijing move behind the erratic tactics the Police is following. The aim is to show that the territory’s Police are out of their depth. And that would be another strong justification for Mainland to cross the border line.

The odds of an intervention are now very high. Any further escalation of the crisis, and the Mainland boots will walk around the Victoria Harbour.

Monday, 12 August 2019

Hong Kong and Xi's response

Today, the Hong Kong crisis led to the cancellation of all flights to and from its international airport. That is a major development. It shows clearly that Hong Kong is now a critical challenge for President Xi Jinping in Beijing.

Knowing the all-out importance the Chinese leadership give to law and order, as well as to obeisance to the rulings of the Communist Party, one can only expect a crushing reaction to the mass demonstrations and, in particular, to the young leaders that have been at the core of the movement. Xi and his circle cannot be perceived by the citizens of other Chinese cities as being confused, unable to respond and condoning mass protests. Their power is based as much on keeping the grip on people as it is on economic well-being.

In view of this political culture of power, the response they are preparing must be extraordinarily worrisome.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

President Trump and the EU

A few of my readers have expressed some degree of surprise after reading what I wrote in my last blog about President Trump’s policy towards the EU. I basically said the President is not in favour of a strong EU. And that is a radical change of approach, because for decades his predecessors have encouraged the European countries to cooperate and strengthen the EU. Even in the case of the UK, the message coming from Washington has always been in the sense of advising London to be closer to Continental Europe.

 With President Trump, we have a new situation. First, he sees the EU as economic competition and a market that is huge but has too many barriers when it comes to some critical American exports, such as cars and farm products. But there is more to it, beyond the economic and trade issues. He thinks that the key EU leaders have an international agenda that contradicts his own and weakens it. That is the case on climate, on Iran, on Russia, on Cuba and Venezuela, on multilateralism, even on China. Not to mention the new idea of a European common defence, an idea that Emmanuel Macron personalises. On defence, President Trump follows a line that has been present in Washington for long now: the Europeans must spend more on their armies but keep them under the overall control and command of the US military. He senses that in this area the European response is becoming more independent and he does not like it at all.

August is not a good time to discuss these matters. People on both sides of the Atlantic are above all concerned with the weather and their holidays. It is however a debate that must be reopened after the rentrée in September.

Friday, 9 August 2019

Salvini will become Trump's man in Europe

The Italian people will decide what next, when called to vote for a new government. That’s how our democracies work. It is however quite clear that one of their potential choices, Matteo Salvini, is an anti-European Union, for reasons he knows better than anybody else. He is also an extremist, fully supported by the most reactionary sectors of the Italian society. Many voters might think that he represents the kind of leadership the country needs. But there are also large sectors of the public opinion that see him as the wrong type of choice, someone that can bring disaster to the country. And that disaster could happen quite soon, it is not just a question of long term.

From a European perspective, if Matteo Salvini becomes Prime Minister that is bad news. He will carry division, xenophobia and ultra-nationalism to the European debate. Consensus building will become even more difficult than it is today. He is the enemy from inside. There is no bigger enemy than the one that lives among us.

He is also the strongest ally of the EU’s outside enemies. Some analysts mention his subordination to Vladimir Putin’s money and interests. That is dangerous enough. Putin’s agenda is to destroy the European unity. But I see an additional peril. He will become President Donald Trump’s agent within the EU, in the Council meetings and every time a key decision that might contradict the American policy is on the table. President Trump is no friend of the EU. If I were asked to prioritise the outside leaders that are hostile to the common project, I would start by referring to his name as number one. And I would add that such antagonism is particularly risky, as it comes from the leader of a country that has very close ties with Europe and a strong presence in some of the EU countries, not to mention that it is the most powerful nation on earth. President Trump and his circle will be making good use of Salvini’s duplicity and radicalism.

These are indeed new challenges. They certainly require a different understanding of the old established practises.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Italy and its political clowns

It would be an exaggeration to say that Italy has become a fragile democracy. The governing coalition might be collapsing tonight or tomorrow, but the State institutions are functioning. The President has the necessary prestige and authority. The judiciary system works. And, in general terms, I think we should recognise that public service is experienced and can be competent, if left alone.

It is the political class that is in deep crisis. It has been like that since Berlusconi´s time, in the 90s. His Forza Italia was a joke, inspired by his own example and megalomania. And it created a lot of additional party clones, as time went on, including the populist 5 Star Movement. It has also opened space to the ultra nationalist movements to flourish. 

In this context, the real challenge is to see the emergence of different type of political leaders. Unfortunately, that seems to be a very remote light, at this stage. 

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

The dangerous game between the US and China

The ongoing conflict between the US and China is reaching new levels of danger. It would be a mistake to see it as just a trade dispute. This is about rivalry on all fronts. The US President and his circle have a clear objective: make sure China does not become a menacing strategic challenger. Their strategy is based on two premises. First, if they manage to slow down the economic power of China that will have an impact on the country’s internal stability, making it more difficult for the Chinese to be a major world power. Second, they are convinced that the Beijing leaders will blink first and yield to the American interests. In the famous game of chicken President Trump seems to be playing, the one who gives up first loses.

In my opinion, both American premises have shaky foundations. China is on course to be a be a global power and they will keep that ambition on a steady road. The economic growth is strong enough – over 6% per annum – to ensure it will happen. They will be able to fully challenge any other country, including the US, by 2030, at the latest. Secondly, the game of chicken is always a disaster. It will certainly be a disaster if the other player is China. Its leaders cannot yield to the Americans. They will play with prudence, but the end game, on their side, is to respond to confrontation with their own type of confrontations. That is disaster in the making. That is the reason we should not take the current crisis lightly. And that is why I think we need a third-party mediation as soon as possible. The only problem is that I can’t see any actor or institution being able to play such role.