Government, energy & environment

Will China collapse?

The next few decades are immensely important for China as the country moves from totalitarian rule towards a more lenient and flexible system. The ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) no longer controls every aspect of daily life, although so far there appears to be no sign of it giving up total control in strategically important areas. So, looking ahead, what could go wrong?One of the biggest problems, according to John Lee, author of Will China Fail? is social unrest. Between 2001 and 2005
(a period of obvious economic growth) both the scale and volume of incidents of social unrest grew. Figures are hard to come by but official reports suggest that instances of social unrest (defined as incidents involving 15 or more people) grew from 8,700 in 1993 to 87,000 in 2005 (the latest data available). Currently most of these incidents are relatively unplanned and uncoordinated and thus pose little or no threat to the CCP. However, this won’t necessarily be the case in the future for several key reasons.First, it can be argued that economic growth is weakening the legitimacy of the CCP. Access to foreign markets was meant to be economically therapeutic rather than culturally transformative but perhaps not. Moreover, the fact that many senior party officials have become wealthy members of the new 100-150 million strong industrial elite has not endeared them to the other 900 million poverty stricken rural inhabitants of China.Even more worryingly, the CCP has delegated and decentralised many of its powers (particularly its tax raising and spending powers) to local politicians, which is fuelling local corruption, lawlessness and unrest. And unrest there is. According to official records, in 2003 there were 10 million public grievances registered but only two in every 1,000 were resolved. Moreover, corrupt local officials, land grabs and repressive taxation mean that the intensity of these grievances is growing. The political danger here is that once power has been devolved it will be almost impossible to get it back. Coordinated mutiny is still a remote possibility but the seeds of mass-rebellion have perhaps already been sown.
Ref: The Australian (Aus), 20-12 October 2007, ‘China’s syndrome of lawless growth’,
J. Lee. www.
See also Will China Fail by John Lee (Centre for Independent Studies).
Search words: China, wild cards, scenarios
Trend tags: China
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Political Pessimism

Optimism has always been a particularly abundant resource in America. The feeling was that tomorrow would always be better than today underpinned the American Dream.It arguably made personal reinvention and class fluidity not only possible, but also mandatory. The dream remains, but in many respects anxiety has taken over from hope as the dominant cultural force. For example, according to Rasmussen polls, only 21% of Americans currently think that the country is moving in the right direction. Before 2004 it was double that. Equally, 43% of American’s that think the best days have been and gone compared to around 30% who think they still lie ahead. Whatever the statistics, pessimism seems to be taking over from optimism and the country is fearful about its future and the outside world. Why the pessimism? The economy, stagnant wages, falling house prices, a falling dollar, the never ending war in Iraq and a rising budget deficit. According to a Pew survey, 76% of Americans now believe that the economy will be the same or worse in twelve months time. Similarly, in a poll of 46 countries asking about attitudes to foreign trade the US had the most negative view compared with China that had the most positive. One suspects that similar attitudes exist in other countries, especially in Europe. Indeed, outside of Asia the general feeling seems to increasingly be that the next generation will be worse off than the last. Is there a solution in sight? Ironically, a level of faith does remain in the US but what seems to have been lost is a faith in politicians.In other words, the challenge for American politicians is to respond to the new pessimistic mood (some argue) without highlighting either fundamental historical causes or possible future consequences.
Ref: The Guardian Weekly (UK), 19 October 2007, ‘The land of optimism loses faith in its future’, G. Younge.
See also The Economist (UK), 11 August 2007, ‘Is America turning left?’
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Trend tags: Pessimism, nostalia, future
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Cyber-warfare and virtual espionage

According to a report published by McAfee, a software security firm, virtual espionage will be one of the chief online threats in 2008. The report – the Virtual Criminology Report 2007 – claims that around 120 countries already engage in virtual espionage and the Chinese government is one of the main perpetrators. How true these claims are is unclear but one can assume that cyber-terrorism is something we’ll be seeing more of. Potential cyber targets include financial markets, telecommunications infrastructure, government computer networks, electricity services and air traffic control systems. Of course, cyber-attacks have already happened. In April 2007 Estonian banks, government computers and media were attacked by (as yet) unidentified cyber-soldiers. Another area of concern is corporate espionage and cyber-attacks from organised gangs of cyber-criminals. One of the fascinating questions reports such as this throw up is whether warfare itself will change. At the moment most intelligence agencies and military planners are talking about ‘fourth generation warfare’. First generation warfare was the era of line and column, second generation was machine guns and artillery, third generation was tanks and aircraft and fourth generation is loose networks enabled by information technology. In other words, we have moved from physical power used to destroy physical targets to indirect attacks (often virtual) that are used to destroy the hearts of minds of soldiers, politicians and the public. These ‘small wars’ are difficult to win because what is very often required is extreme patience and restraint. Moreover, the Internet has given the ‘enemy’ an almost impregnable sanctuary in which to hide and make mischief.
Ref: Sydney Morning Herald (Aus), 24-30 December 2007, ‘Cyber cold war a threat to all’, C. Walters. See also The Economist (UK), 27 October 2007, ‘After smart weapons, smart soldiers’,
Search words: War, China, terrorism, cyberspace
Trend tags: Risk, digitalisation
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Instinct versus reason

A study conducted by an American psychologist says that when people are given a tenth-of-a-second look at two competing political candidates they can predict quite accurately which candidate would win a real life election. The research, by Alexander Todorov at Princeton University, found that predictions were 70% accurate and seems to indicate that decisions – at least about politicians – are based more on superficial, reactive, instinct than considered, rational, thought about preferred policies. Similar studies have shown that people tend to gravitate towards ‘good looking’ people and that good-looking individuals tend to be more successful than less attractive people. So perhaps looks really are everything. Implications? Given that US studies have consistently shown that voters prefer tall, attractive politicians (with hair) to short (balding) politicians perhaps Arnold Schwarzenegger isn’t such an aberration after all and we’ll see more actors, models and good-looking celebrities running for political office in the future.
Ref: The Times (UK), 27 October 2007. ‘Mindless voters’, J. Naish.
Search words: Politics, trust, politicians
Trend tags: Trust
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Low-carbon cities

By the year 2050, 80% of the world’s population will live in cities; currently it’s 50%.This trend presents a number of challenges to policy makers around the world, not least because cities consume roughly 75% of world energy. Hence cities are in a fairly unique position when it comes to global warning because they are both a central problem and a central solution. For example, transport is a key user of energy in the urban environment and city governments are in a strong position to influence how transport is delivered. Equally, planning regulations mean that city governments can influence how buildings are constructed and how low-carbon technologies are incorporated into large infrastructure projects. A few of the things we’ll therefore start to see in the future include low-carbon building materials, increased investment in energy efficient public transport, locally-farmed energy and a plethora of regulation and taxation aimed at making local citizens and organisations environment friendly.
Ref: The Australian Financial Review (Aus), 14 December 2007, ‘Cool cities – literally and metaphorically’, M. Lockwood.
Search words: Cities, resources, climate change, global warming
Trend tags: Urbanisation, the environment
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