Chinese-French navy drills

Chinese-French navy drills increase Taiwan's isolation: China and France will hold rare joint naval exercises off the
mainland's eastern coast just four days before Beijing's rival, Taiwan, holds presidential elections. China's official Xinhua news agency made no link between the exercises off Qingdao - about 1'250 kilometers from Taiwan's northernmost point - and the election. But the show of military strength and solidarity signaled China's desire to isolate the self-governing island before the vote and its first-ever referendum, which Beijing views as a provocative step towards independence. "It's the biggest in scale and the most substantial in content of an exercise between the
Chinese navy and a foreign navy," Xinhua said on Monday, quoting Ju Xinchun, the captain of the destroyer "Harbin". The drills would be China's first to be conducted on the high seas with a major Western power, Xinhua said. China held its first-ever joint naval exercises with Pakistan last October. French President Jacques Chirac, keen to strengthen business ties with China, sided with China in January in opposing Taiwan President Chen Shui-bian's plan to hold a referendum on missile defense alongside presidential elections on 20 March. Taiwan then suspended high-level government exchanges with France. China, which has since 1949 considered Taiwan to be a
wayward province that must be returned to the fold, says the Taiwan government has no authority to hold a referendum, and some officials have warned of war. China, whose 2.5 million soldiers form the world's largest standing army, menaced Taiwan with missile tests and war games ahead of the island's first direct presidential
elections in 1996 to try to dissuade voters from re-electing President Lee Teng-hui. The move backfired, and Lee won by a landslide. Chinese officials have adopted a more subtle approach ahead of Saturday's elections and have held their tongue to avoid driving Taiwan voters into the camp of the pro-independence Chen. Beijing and Taipei have been rivals since their split at the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949. In Tuesday's exercises, a French
anti-submarine destroyer and a corvette would take part beside a Chinese destroyer, a supply vessel, and a ship with a helicopter-landing pad, Xinhua said. (Reuters, 3/16/04). RH: It is easy to imagine what Washington thinks of the joint Chinese-French maneuvers.

Agriculture of the future

Raúl Estrada Oyuela of Argentina calls our attention to an article in Nature on "Agriculture of the future". See
The food needs in China are really complex and may have consequences.

The Globalist (3/12/04) gives a gloomy account of China's foodproblems. For the full text, click on
China's Shrinking Grain Harvest

China continues to make headlines as a global export powerhouse. But little attention is focused on an area where it will soon become the world's largest importer: grain. Lester Brown predicts that the rest of the world may soon feel the impact as Chinese demand drives up global food prices.

Speaking of famine in China, David Westbrook says: "I tend to agree with Cameron Sawyer, but he is assuming that distribution mechanisms can work. Distribution usually requires peace. Much African starvation has been caused not by food shortages alone, but by the inability to deliver food from elsewhere in combat zones. Until China has solved a number of fairly obvious problems, I think there is some cause for concern. Certainly in a good sized war, China's increasingly urbanized population might find itself cut off from food supplies. But perhaps I worry too much".

Cameron Sawyer says: "The idea of food riots in China is ridiculous. China has successfully introduced market mechanisms into almost all aspects of its economy. China has a big trade surplus and healthy current account balance. Whether or not China winds up as a net food importer or exporter depends on many factors, but is not ultimately significant. World food production capacity exceeds demand because it is subsidized in much of the western world. And after the end of Communism, food production has increased sharply in the former Communist world, particularly in Russia, which was once the breadbasket of Europe and which once again is producing great surpluses of food.

As the result of all these factors, China can easily buy all the food it does not prefer to produce itself, just like Japan and Britain do, as Martin Lewis aptly comments. The problem in world food markets is gluts and low prices, not shortages or high prices. If China were to become a big importer of food, this would on the contrary be very beneficial to the world economy, relieving some pressure on those countries which subsidize agriculture (the U.S., Canada, Australia, Western Europe), and providing markets for countries like Russia which find themselves with excess production capacity".

RH: I would still like to hear what Lester Brown says about these criticisms.

In "China's Shrinking Grain Harvest", Lester Brown gave a gloomy account of China's food problems. Martin Lewis comments: "This is old news: Lester Brown has been writing about this since the late 1990s. Although China's environmental problems are severe, I fail to see how it could be said to have '"food problems." Do Japan and Britain have "food problems" because they are net importers? Why should China be regarded differently? The underlying concern is that China's demand will drive up the global price of grain, thereby undercutting the subsistence needs of the poor. While the possibility remain, there is little evidence that this could happen anytime soon. All one needs to do is to compare the price of basic grains now with what they fetched 50 years". RH: I suggest Martin contact Lester Brown and ask for an answer. My impression is that it would take little to trigger food riots in China.

Arma Embargo Against China

EU may end arms embargo against China: The EU told China it was working to end a 14-year-old arms embargo on Beijing in an "orderly fashion", although the US had urged Brussels not to drop the ban because of China's human rights practices. EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he and Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing had discussed the embargo, imposed after Beijing's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in
Tiananmen Square. He said the talks were aimed at resolving the embargo to "contribute to the better of the relationship between the EU and China", and said the EU hoped to introduce stability, rather than more weapons, into the region. Li dubbed the embargo "a relic of the Cold War". Lifting the embargo would have little direct
impact on military trade, as EU arms business remains tightly constrained by a 1998 code of conduct barring the sale of equipment that could be used in domestic repression or regional conflict (Reuters, 3/17/04).

RH; This is clearly tied in with the French-Chinese joint naval maneuvers off Taiwan mentioned in a previous posting. The French want to sell arms to China, something the US would like to block. China/Taiwan may well become a zone of rivalry between the EU and the US.


Bold minister demands Kazakh president's resignation: In a rare sign of criticism in authoritarian Central Asia, a
government minister in Kazakhstan has called on veteran leader Nursultan Nazarbaev to resign or face the fate of executed Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu. Zamanbek Nurkadilov, the head of the nation's emergencies agency and a former Nazarbaev ally, said in a letter to the president that he had been "a Nazarbaev marionette ... who involuntarily helped to nip democracy in the bud". In the letter, made available by the opposition Democratic
Choice of Kazakhstan party, Nurkadilov accused Nazarbaev of corruption, creating a family clan permeating all facets of business and social life, and clamping down on dissent. "What are you waiting for? Why don't you tender your resignation yourself? But it is probably up to your nation to decide your fate. ... Let the people finally make up their mind, who's who," Nurkadilov wrote. "Romania's head of state, (Nicolae) Ceausescu, was executed for the vast possessions of his family clan and abuse of power."

Although regarded as less dictatorial than neighboring Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan, public criticism of Nazarbaev is a taboo and several opponents have ended up in jail or exile. Nazarbaev and his family control interests ranging from upscale restaurants and mineral water to the mass media, political parties, soccer, and oil and gas. The country has no large grass-roots opposition movements and Nurkadilov's criticisms went largely unreported in domestic media on Friday. Nazarbaev, a 64-year-old former steelworker, has run the oil-rich nation without interruption since Soviet times. The former communist has pushed ahead fast economic reforms and built warm relations with investors tapping his nation's huge natural riches. But at the same time human rights bodies have criticized Kazakhstan for a lack of liberal freedoms and called on the leader to curtail his sweeping powers. In 1999, Nazarbaev, who had previously overseen a revision of the constitution, was re-elected by a landslide for an extended, seven-year term. A
presidential adviser said recently that Nazarbaev planned to stay in office until 2013. Nurkadilov, an outspoken 60-year-old former mayor of the financial capital Almaty, said he had written the open letter after failing to persuade the "incorrigible" Nazarbaev, his "good acquaintance for 25 years", to review his policies. (Reuters, 3/15/04))

Ronald Hilton -