Global Perspective


  • Viktor Orban brings his wartime politics to the European stage

    March 19, 2016 07:40 RECENT news that the oldest daughter of Viktor Orban, the self-proclaimed “illiberal” prime minister of Hungary, was pregnant, prompted a question among many that is characteristic of the mood in Budapest at the moment: might Mr. Orban, soon to be a grandpa, soften his radical political edge? The overwhelming reply was “fat chance!” writes World Review Guest Contributor Professor Robert Braun. This is hardly surprising. Mr. Orban, who during Hungary’s quarter century of transformation has already made a remarkable journey – from radical liberal to devout nationalist and from up-and-coming, young pro-European local player to hypercritical, love-to-be-hated anti-European Union demagogue – has no reason to let up. His star keeps rising. And he is enjoying the ride tremendously. How long will it last, though? The politics that have propelled Mr. Orban thus far contains a flaw that has not hurt him in Hungary, but may prove fatal on the larger European scene. At home, he demonstrates superior skills of maintaining power by skating on the outer edges of democratic rules – often crossing the lines acceptable to Western bystanders and Hungarian Europhiles. He firmly rules over a country that is accustomed to leaders with a big appetite for power and he is said to feel the “vibes” of his nation; there is slim chance that he will soon find a challenger at home. He controls his center-right party, Fidesz, his quasi-coalition with the Christian Democrats and even his challengers from the far right, Jobbik. And he controls his oligarchs who depend on the flow of wealth from state resources. The opposition is fragmented and out of touch with the electorate; it delivers harangues about political structures to a frustrated elite instead of discussing the down-to-earth problems of ordinary people. Viktor Orban’s primary strength is in his ability to rally his supporters against imaginary enemies, both inside and outside the country. A born wartime leader, he needs a permanent state of war to keep up his momentum. This also explains his propensity for flip-flops: in war, it is standard practice to frequently change allies and foes. He has perfected this modus operandi during his six years as prime minister; he knows that wartime leaders are of no use during peacetime. In private, he may become a wise and mature grandfather. But in public, he must keep his radical image to arouse the spirit of Armageddon and maintain his edge. Relentlessly raising the stakes in his wars, he outgrew Hungary and inserted himself into the European arena. His wars – against Brussels, against refugees, against liberals – have become conflicts on a bigger, European, scale. Hence the problem. Today, Mr. Orban’s ambition is to lead a group of EU countries with electorates disenchanted with liberal democracy and skeptical of their prospects of ever catching up to Western Europe. The challenge for him is to transfer his ability to impose his political agenda on a much bigger and far more complex political platform than his Hungary is, and against far more cunning opponents. Also, the fight is fought by means that are unfamiliar to him. He thrives on face-to-face combat, while in the new Europe real battles take place in the quiet backrooms of power, not in the media or the European Parliament. This is clearly to his disadvantage. As the stakes are not about Hungary but Europe, other EU leaders may simply opt to ease pressure on Mr. Orban and Hungary – which would instantly deflate him – while attempting to lure his current allies back into the fold. Poland is probably a good first target for this strategy, as it has a strong tradition of opposing totalitarian regimes and of distrusting Russia. In this war of his, Mr. Orban is much more likely to lose than to win in the end – even if he appears to be doing just fine right now. For a more in-depth look at this subject with scenarios looking to future outcomes, go to our sister site: Geopolitical Information Service. Sign in for 3 Free Reports or Subscribe.
    Author: 
    World Review Contributor
    Publication Date: 
    Sat, 2016-03-19 06:00

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  • Young Hong Kongers oppose unification with China

    March 16, 2016 07:18 NEARLY a year and a half after Hong Kong’s “umbrella revolution” (Sept.-Dec. 2014), the legacy of the seemingly unsuccessful protest continues to dominate Hong Kong’s political debate. This adds a new twist to already complicated relations with Beijing, writes World Review Guest Expert Joseph Dobbs. Hong Kong’s economic leaders are concerned that the growing question mark over the city’s political future imperils its economic prospects. With the young generation turning increasingly rebellious, with legislative elections set for later this year and with the controversial election of the city’s chief executive set for 2017, political debate in Hong Kong is virtually certain to remain tense. Any strong response from Beijing could darken the former British colony’s future still further. During the last two months of 2015, five Hong Kong booksellers were reported missing. They surfaced in China facing what are widely believed to be spurious criminal charges (two of the five have since returned to Hong Kong, but they refuse to comment on the situation). Activists and human rights groups in Hong Kong are convinced that it was a set of gossipy books on the personal lives of Chinese Communist Party officials that prompted Beijing to abduct the five. The case of the missing booksellers is a glaring example of Beijing’s undermining of the autonomy it guaranteed Hong Kong at the handover in 1997. And this is just the latest iteration of what many Hong Kongers see as an erosion of Hong Kong’s rule of law, and the principle of “one country, two systems” itself. Small wonder that the international financial community is beginning to have concerns about Hong Kong’s independence. The recent decision by HSBC not to return its global headquarters to the city, while largely an endorsement of London, was reported by Reuters to be partly based on the banking group’s concerns about Hong Kong. The Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Index of Economic Freedom ranks Hong Kong the highest in the world, but it noted that “ongoing efforts to erode the power of Hong Kong’s judiciary and Legislative Council and to intervene in the economy could undermine the rule of law.” China’s leaders can’t fail to notice that only 31.1 percent of Hong Kong residents identify as primarily Chinese, with 67.6 percent identifying first and foremost as Hong Kongers. The biggest concern to Beijing is the increasing disassociation with China among Hong Kong’s youth. As much as 82.6 percent of 18-29 year olds identify as Hong Kongers, with only 13.3 percent identifying primarily as Chinese. In Hong Kong’s postcolonial life, this age group has always been “less Chinese” than its elders, but Chinese identity among the young has been at a record low for the last several years, and the identity gap between the young and the old is wider than it has ever been. The increasingly politically active youth seeks to harness Hong Kong’s latent localism now, long demonstrated in anti-mainlander sentiments, and form a political movement to carry on the legacy of the umbrella revolution. The divide between Hong Kong and the mainland looks therefore set only to widen in the coming decades. The tendency may seem crucial in the context of the city-state being obligated to reunify completely with the rest of China in 2047. Today, most Hong Kongers either do not want independence from China or realize that it is next to impossible. But if the young “umbrella soldiers’s” line of thinking makes its way into the mainstream political debate in Hong Kong, it is certain to elicit a strong response from Beijing. Hong Kong’s status after 2047 may seem like a distant issue, but the city’s near-term financial stability will rely on the issue being settled well in advance, so it can avoid a flight of capital in the 2030s. For a more in-depth look at this subject with scenarios looking to future outcomes, go to our sister site: Geopolitical Information Service. Sign in for 3 Free Reports or Subscribe.
    Author: 
    World Review Guest Expert
    Publication Date: 
    Wed, 2016-03-16 06:00

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  • Uganda’s future clouded by uncertainty in politics and oil

    March 15, 2016 07:54 AFTER three decades in power, President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda won a fifth consecutive term in February 2016. The irregularities that accompanied this reelection and the delayed takeoff of the country’s budding oil industry have cast a shadow on Uganda’s mid-term prospects, writes World Review Expert Professor Dr Jaime Pinto. Mr. Museveni took 61 percent of the vote on February 18, while his closest opponent, Kizza Besigye, garnered 35 percent. But the incumbent’s campaign was marred by a crackdown on opponents, particularly against the main opposition party – the Forum for Democratic Change – and its leader, Mr. Besigye, who was detained four times in the space of a single week. The atmosphere is particularly tense in the country’s capital and largest city, Kampala, which is an opposition stronghold. Student and youth movements there were targeted by security forces. As was the case five years ago, access to social media was blocked. The opposition complained that vote rigging had taken place. According to a poll by Research World International, President Museveni is less popular than Mr. Besigye among Uganda’s middle class. In Ugandan elections, money can play a crucial role, from access to vehicles and propaganda material to cash handouts to voters. During the last campaign, the ruling party was responsible for 88 percent of all campaign-related expenditure. However, its official program brings no new answers to Uganda’s problems. Both inside and outside the country, the impression persists that the elections were unfair. During his campaign, President Museveni frequently waved the flag of “steady progress.” He has a point. Despite endemic poverty (19.5 percent of the population lives below the poverty line), big regional disparities in living standards, high unemployment rates (especially among the young) and widespread corruption, Uganda has made significant progresses since Mr. Museveni first came to power in 1986. Economic growth may not be the most reliable indicator of progress, especially in countries recovering from widespread conflict. Still, from 1987 to 2010, Uganda’s gross domestic product grew at a rapid pace of about 7 percent per year, according to the World Bank. For the past five years, annual GDP growth has been around 5 percent. Under Mr. Museveni, the country has implemented important reforms and opened the economy to private investment. The country has seen a sharp reduction in HIV infection rates. In agriculture, the country recently increased grain productivity, surpassing the threshold of two metric tons per hectare, an important milestone. After the discovery of oil in 2006, Uganda passed important legislation regarding management of the resource. This included creating a petroleum fund for oil revenues and a sovereign wealth fund to manage oil money investments. It also established safeguards for managing the income, including a revenue sharing program for the 25 districts where oil has been discovered. Uganda needs a pipeline to get its oil to one of the ports on the Indian Ocean. There are, at the moment, three options on the table (see map), and the government will likely base its decision mainly – though not exclusively – on cost-effectiveness. Although it will not become a petroleum-based economy, oil may have a significant impact on the Uganda’s future. The country was one of the first to become part of the new petroleum frontier in East Africa when, in 2006, Tullow Oil (a UK company) discovered oil in the Lake Albert region. Ugandan reserves are now estimated in 6.5 billion barrels, 2 billion barrels of which are expected to be commercially viable. Producing legislation, negotiations between key players and infrastructural needs have delayed production, which is not expected to start until 2020. If current projections play out, Uganda will become a mid-level African producer, similar to Chad, Gabon or Congo. For a more in-depth look at this subject with scenarios looking to future outcomes, go to our sister site: Geopolitical Information Service. Sign in for 3 Free Reports or Subscribe.
    Author: 
    Professor Dr Jaime Pinto
    Publication Date: 
    Tue, 2016-03-15 06:00

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  • Argentina’s new government: fresh hopes, old problems

    March 11, 2016 07:25 PRESIDENT Mauricio Macri of Argentina, who was elected last October, has quickly set out to show how much his administration differs from that of his predecessor, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner. Much of the attention has focused on its determination to end the country’s complex set of price controls, subsidies and exchange rate restrictions. But politically, the new government is walking on a minefield, writes World Review Expert, Dr. Joseph S. Tulchin. Mr. Macri’s first moves have been executive actions that do not require congressional approval. He ended the currency exchange rate controls, allowing the peso to float freely. The currency depreciated rapidly: a dollar could buy just nine Argentine pesos in December; by March it was worth more than 16. The domestic impact on prices is muted for the moment due to the summer vacation, but in March there will be a round of price increases on consumer products and public services that will cause more than a ripple of public discontent. To counter the inflationary pressure, Mr. Macri announced that his government would take a gradualist approach, bringing down the fiscal deficit in stages and seeking to curb inflation over a period of three years. In this, he specifically rejected the abrupt measures proposed by conservative economists in his government, who warn that his strategy will only prolong the social and political pain. The Macri administration also removed the tax on agricultural exports, leading to a huge jump in grain sales abroad. Most importantly, Economy Minister Alfonso Prat-Gay managed to work out an agreement with the hedge funds that hold defaulted Argentine bonds and had refused to participate in the country’s two debt restructurings. These so-called “holdouts” had essentially managed to exclude Argentina from the international capital markets. Argentina recognized 100 percent of the face value of the bonds and promised to pay about half of the total interest claimed by the holdouts. Though the deal means the principal holdouts – four U.S.-based hedge funds – earned huge profits on their original investment, it was considered a success for the government. Argentina can now raise the money it needs to pay for new economic measures. Still, the Argentine Congress will have to accept the settlement. Accomplishing that will not be easy. Over the previous 12 years of Peronist government, there was rampant depredation of public finances. From the president down, the state was used to extract millions of dollars for personal enrichment. In Transparency International’s most recent Corruption Perceptions Index, Argentina ranked 107 out of the 168 countries surveyed (Mexico, by comparison, ranked 97). Mr. Macri, who was mayor of Buenos Aires from 2007 to 2015, has not been tainted by scandal. The officials who moved with him from the city administration to the federal government are considered clean. More will be revealed about Mr. Macri’s attitude toward accountability, as well as his political smarts, when he puts together a coalition in Congress next month to appoint two judges to the Supreme Court. The new government also has to deal with the famously bloated Argentine bureaucracy. It needs to be streamlined. However, no policy can be implemented without cooperation from the middle and lower ranks of the bureaucracy. Pushing them too far, too fast would only destroy the government. There are already frequent press reports of government layoffs. Moreover, the social safety net constructed over the past two decades cannot be dismantled without fatal political consequences. Mr. Macri has said repeatedly that he understands this and will work to reduce poverty. However, as one of his chief senior appointments noted, the government is “more broken” than the new team had anticipated. For a more in-depth look at this subject with scenarios looking to future outcomes, go to our sister site: Geopolitical Information Service. Sign in for 3 Free Reports or Subscribe.
    Author: 
    Dr Joseph S. Tulchin
    Publication Date: 
    Fri, 2016-03-11 06:00

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  • Kim presses his luck with China in the Year of the Monkey

    March 08, 2016 07:40 THE CHINESE government must have expected trouble from its ally, North Korea’s strongman Kim Jong-un, on the occasion of the Chinese and Korean New Year, which started on this February 8. Perhaps that was why Wu Dawei, the Chinese foreign ministry special representative for Korean Peninsula affairs, was sent to Pyongyang on February 2, just before the end of the Year of the Sheep, writes World Review Expert Kati Kang. He carried three requests to North Korea’s supreme leader: establish a political dialogue with South Korea, go back to six-party international negotiations on your nuclear program and do not launch any missiles or atomic devices. According to a source in Beijing, Mr. Wu also conveyed a direct message from Chinese President Xi Jinping to Kim Jong-un: China cannot continue to deflect the international anger over North Korea’s antics any longer. The host listened, but obviously did not give a damn. As if in mockery of the Chinese, Kim Jong-un ordered a test of what looked like a long-range ballistic missile. It went off on February 7, 2016 – the eve of the Year of the Monkey. A firm believer that China is the biggest threat to his country (and hence his need for weapons of mass destruction), the pudgy dictator also canceled the New Year holiday celebrated by the two nations for a millennium – a joyful fiesta of family reunions over food and firecrackers to scare away evil spirits, and a time for men to gamble. Now in North Korea, the birthday anniversaries of Mr. Kim’s grandfather, regime founder Kim Il-sung, are supposed to supplant it as an official public holiday. The missile launch heightened tensions across northeast Asia. It was a defiant signal to the world, especially to the United States, that Kim Jong-un was his own man, neither controlled by China nor afraid of it. And if Washington wanted anything from North Korea, it should talk business directly with him. Beijing opposes Mr. Kim’s nuclear ambitions. It joined the international condemnation of North Korea in December 2015 after it allegedly detonated a hydrogen bomb – the blast occurred at an atomic weapons test site not far from the Chinese border. China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs immediately reiterated its government’s long-standing policy that the Korean Peninsula must be a nuclear-free zone. Kim Jong-un replied to this – in his fashion. In January, North Korea’s leading daily Rodong Sinmun (Workers’ Newspaper) published a philosophical commentary full of cryptic allusions to the Chinese: while it is nice to receive aid from outside, North Korea is also fine without it; domestic products are the best and self-reliance is most important, it said. Another article observed that no one will help North Korea in the event of a nuclear war. And while “certain countries” suggest that North Korea remain calm and show restraint toward its enemies, they take a neutral position themselves in the struggle with capitalists and imperialists. The articles did not name any country, but the signal was clear: Kim Jong-un was not going to budge. North Korea’s economy is utterly dependent on China: roughly 70 percent of its total trade is with that country. If Beijing stopped this trade, the Kim regime would be doomed instantly. Yet the fact of the matter is that China has little influence on its client regime in Pyongyang. The Global Times, a Chinese government newspaper, observed with melancholy that the two nations are no longer friendly and that China finds itself under undue pressure from North Korea. It is not difficult to imagine the bitterness toward Kim Jong-un that Chinese officials mask behind such minced words. For a more in-depth look at this subject with scenarios looking to future outcomes, go to our sister site: Geopolitical Information Service. Sign in for 3 Free Reports or Subscribe.
    Author: 
    Kati Kang
    Publication Date: 
    Tue, 2016-03-08 06:00

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