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Claudiu Sonda

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It is November 1990 and the river Nistru has a double value. For those situated on its right bank, the river is a boundary, a fronter meant to separate The Republic of Moldova from Transnistria. For those who reside on the left bank, the river is just a cross-point towards the most Eastern part of Moldova. The contention point is the existence or not of such a thing as an autonomous and sovereign Tranistrian state (PMR). At this point a war breaks down between the two sides,a pro-Moldavian force and the separatist one which had some military support from Russia. The open conflict ends with a cease-fire that has not been replaced by a more stable resolution since 1992.

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Flag of Transnistria Source: Dieter Zirnig

Back to present times, the Moldavian-Transnistrian relation is what we would call a ‘frozen conflict’. On the international level, the region between the Nistru river and Ukraine is recognized as being part of Moldova. In practice however, a filo-Russian centre of power exercises actual control over the disputed territory from its Tiraspol headquarters. I will argue that in a sense, this region is another chess board where NATO and Kremlin show off their skills.

220px-Kaliningrad_map

Kaliningrad on the map

There is an ongoing presence of Russian troops on the ground with the double moral purpose to protect Russian nationals from potential threats coming from the Moldavian majority and to help stabilize the situation in the form of peace-keeping. There is furthermore the strategic goal of maintaining an open door into Eastern Europe, following Kalinigrad’s example. If we imagined a dark scenario where the Old Continent would once more fall into violent conflict, the Kaliningrad exclave would play the part of a strategic military outpost for Russians, which could be further supplied with weapons and soldiers through the Baltic Sea.

Map_of_the_Crimea

Map of Crimea

The same logic could have been applied to PMR until the current Ukrainian turn of events. As I see it, Ukraine stands between this potential outpost and the Russian Federation. Events in Ukraine bring to light at the least the possibility of a future NATO membership. That translates into the blockage of access to Transnistria for Kremlin’s hard power capabilities. Metaphorically it resembles the clogging of an artery which eventually leads to the death of an organ. The strategic benefit of Transnistria will be lost if Kiev-Moscow relations get interrupted. As a consequence, Russian leaders point now their energy on another outpost in the Black Sea, which is Crimea.

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An example that proves all the above is the recent diplomatic scuffle between Romania and Moldova on one side and the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Rogozin. The latter one was intending to fly to Tiraspol for the Victory Day celebration. Since Ukraine and Romania blocked their airspace to the plane on which he was travelling, Rogozin was stuck in Moldova. He managed eventually to return to Moscow, from where he made serious threats to Romanian authorities: ”Next time I’ll fly on board TU-160”. That is Russia’s largest bomber.

It is being said that Rogozin carried with him back home the signed petitions of Transnistrian residents which claim the recognition of their half-a-million-people Republic as independent and autonomous from Moldova. The relation between the two is now at a very low point both because of Russia’s support for PMR independence and also because of EU’s decision to sign the association agreements with the authorities in Chisinau and Tbilisi. The existing pattern shows that most Eastern and Southeastern European countries were admitted into the EU only after being granted NATO membership. If the habitual way of handling EU enlargement does not change, then there is a high probability that Moldova, Ukraine and Georgia will in the foreseeable future have NATO troops on their territories. Under such circumstances, Article 5 will enforce itself directly against Russia in the case of any type of aggression towards the mentioned countries. The West will have the responsibility to act militarily.

Finally, this big power politics explains the recognition movement undergoing in Transnistria. Its parliament is on the path of recognizing Russian legislation as applicable to its citizens who will officially have the Russian language as their national language. These are preparatory steps for being part of the Russian Federation, a desire expressed openly by Transnistrian officials. Nevertheless, prior to Moldova moving a step closer to the EU, Russian politicians appeared a bit reserved in accepting Tiraspol’s offers. Some even went as far as to say that Chisinau is behaving properly in observing the cease-fire and the truce and that only a reunification with Romania would automatically call for a solution as dramatic as annexation. This fear was as a matter of fact probably the main cause for the secessionist move in the first place. Aside from this, most probably it will very much depend on the results of the election for new leaders in Kiev and the situation on the ground in Eastern Ukraine. More than this, it will be conditioned by the love and hate relationship between the EU and the US which materializes in NATO’s strategy.

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Source: Medien [email protected]

To conclude our discussion, we can sum up and observe the main antagonists and their interests. First, we have the opposition between Moldova and Tiraspol on PMR’s right of self-determination . Going on a higher level, we have Romania who sees itself as a gateway to Europe and therefore must act as a responsible, strong actor in the face of any potential threat coming from its East. On the big power playing field, we have Russia who is feeling pressured from NATO and US expanding their grip towards its borders. Finally we have the EU and its member states who have a very strong interest in creating a free market that would incorporate the countries around the Black Sea and also an existential need of finding alternative energy supplies, mainly from Azerbaijan, supplies which would cross Georgia and even Ukraine. These are the conditions that will shape Transnitria’s fate and with it most certainly everyone’s future. The heat is increasing around this frozen conflict and its meltdown will unfortunately bring a big flood with it.

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Passionate student of IR and European politics with an interest in developing a high-level expertise in International Security and geopolitics.

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Changing The Rules of the Game: What to Expect When Social Media Dictates the News

Manak Suri

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Fake news social media

Till about five years ago when I was still in high school and without a smartphone, a single faint thud against the front door every morning at roughly 7 AM would signal the arrival of the daily news digest for everyone in my house including myself. Even though I rarely read beyond the sports section and was more or less updated on every development with my favourite leagues, devouring those few pages was a daily ritual. Today, the newspaper arrives every morning in the same fashion and while the ritual has remained unchanged for most of my family, the need, as well as the want for it, does not exist for me.

My story is a phenomenon that resonates with millions of families across the world. The sources from where we get our news and the way we read it has been rapidly changing, in more ways for some than the others. When Pew Research Center conducted a study on ‘The Modern News Consumer‘ across the United States, it was found that 50% of adults from the ages of 18-29 get their news online, followed by television, radio and lastly with only 5% from print newspapers. Television was still reported to be the most dominant source of news among all age groups taken together. However, since it was mostly the choice of the older population, further changes over the next few years should be substantial and rapid. In another survey conducted by Pew this year, it was noted that about 67% of adults in the United States were getting at least some of their news from social media. While the numbers projected above are for the United States, there is no denying that an increasing population of young adults worldwide is getting more and more of its news from social media, and the same is intuitive given the average time a teen spends on social media is up to roughly two hours per day. The important questions however are:

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1) whether social media is capable enough to take the baton as the foremost source of news and also
2) whether we as consumers of news are equipped enough to differentiate between what is news and what’s not.

Facebook, fake news, furore!

“Social media already provides more diverse viewpoints than traditional media ever has”, wrote Mark Zuckerberg in his 6,000-word manifesto in February this year on how Facebook plans to make the world better. There is little reason to doubt what he says. However, there are two sides to this coin as well since “the two most discussed concerns this past year were about diversity of viewpoints we see (filter bubbles) and accuracy of information (fake news)”, he also mentioned in the same address citing that alternate perspectives do not necessarily contribute to news and there is a need for a complete picture. Still, the greater evil here perhaps is the inaccuracy in information or what Zuckerberg calls it – ‘fake news’.

Zuckerberg’s address came soon after Facebook received heavy backlash for its role in the spread of fake news meant to divide the Americans ahead of the presidential elections. If that wasn’t enough to deal with, the pressure was sure to mount on the most popular social media site when it was caught in the midst of another incident relating to the spread of misinformation. Facebook’s safety check feature kicked in for citizens in Bangkok in December 2016 when an erroneous article about a bombing in a nearby shrine went viral. For users in the region, such a mistake can cause a pandemonium. With Facebook falling victim to the fake news again, the world was left evaluating their sources of consumption of news.

Trump’s tussles over Twitter

Let’s take a turn back to the United States yet again but away from Facebook. According to the same study conducted by Pew, about 74% of Twitter users have said that they receive their news from the social media site itself. Twitter allows you to keep a close tab on people you follow, and the problems associated with Facebook are largely avoidable. However, what happens when you are barred from following the president of your country on Twitter? Midway through the year, Donald Trump was sued by a free-speech group when he blocked a number of accounts on the grounds of criticism and dissent. With the White House spokesperson stating that tweets from Trump’s personal account were to be considered “official statements by the president of the United States”, the move was called unconstitutional and in violation of the First Amendment. The question then arises, will Donald Trump’s twitter account be treated as an official one, or despite the remarks from the White House will it be considered a personal one, in which case he may be allowed to block anyone from his account, just like any other person.

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Just like Mark Zuckerberg had to shoulder responsibility for the unprecedented burden that social media all of a sudden now carries in disseminating the news, so did Twitter co-founder Evan Williams, although his role was different and just limited to admission of self-perceived guilt. Recognising that Twitter may have played an important role in having Trump elected as president, Williams publicly apologised when he said, “It’s a very bad thing, Twitter’s role in that. If it’s true that he wouldn’t be President if it weren’t for Twitter, then yeah, I’m sorry.”

Sharing the burden is your choice to make

Zuckerberg and Williams, among others, have been at the centre of a phenomenon where social media has taken over reporting and while Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites keep working on filters, resolutions, and artificial intelligence to help overcome the set of issues that this wave has brought with it. This does not mean there is no role for us to play. We are not all fed the same information as we were until a few years ago in the form of newspapers. Today we have fountains of news, information and opinions at the distance of a click, a tap or a scroll. Unfortunately, that also means that not everything that comes across our way is genuine, or to our liking, or even what we may be looking for. To that end, developing habits of open-mindedness, fact-checking and impartiality is imperative on our part.

When we are biased in favour of or against a particular idea or entity, we are often willing to skip checking of facts from sources we may feel are dubious or biased themselves if the news suits our allegiance on the matter. That is where impartiality jumps in. For example, as a young Indian adult when seeking an update on the situation in Kashmir I am aware that the dailies of the two different countries (India and Pakistan) may be under the political influence to portray the news as per the wishes of their respective countries’ governments. Keeping that in mind I may opt to read news from sources from both the countries individually, or maybe just not get carried away with the political undertones in the report from either of them to paint the opposition in a bad light and focus just on the facts. Similarly, while reading an article on the border dispute between India and China on the Chinese daily Global Times, I have to keep in mind the controversial journalism and the pro-government stance that the daily is often known to take, or perhaps get my news from some other source.

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Social media has opened the doors to information and connectivity like never before for people all over the world. In the strife to make different platforms for dissemination of news better equipped to make us even better informed, we would do well to strive to also keep ourselves toe to toe with it.

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China

A Lovers’ Quarrel: What Now for India and China?

Manak Suri

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india china border love

India China Border

When China’s Consul General to India Zheng Xiyuan addressed a gathering in the city of Mumbai earlier in the week he made an interesting comparison on the relationship between the two Asian giants. “Relation between China and India is just like the monsoon season,” he said. “There are different levels of rainfall in different years. And sometimes you have clouds as well.” It is not surprising how apt the statement is especially with regard to the past three years which have seen the tiger and the dragon compete for geopolitical influence in Asia and beyond and tussle over longstanding territorial issues. The latter of the two culminated in the 70-day long military standoff in Doklam/Donglang, which has since then deescalated. However, the monsoon sometimes surprises with a few delayed showers, and so has Beijing with a sudden change in its rhetoric towards New Delhi, from one of visible aggression to one which is seemingly cooperative.

Clashes between the two kept analysts across the globe busy, with the possibility of a full-scale military conflict a favourite topic of discussion for the political enthusiasts among the uninitiated. The Doklam episode was the final among a series of recurring conflicts. The most prominent among them included India snubbing China’s One Belt One Road (OBOR) summit in May flagging sovereignty issues due to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC); a key portion of the OBOR which runs through a region of Kashmir controlled by Pakistan and claimed by India, and China’s repeated blocking of India’s move to get the chief of Pakistan based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed listed as a global terrorist with the UN. The relations had already taken a downturn with India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group being blocked by China on a consistent basis. Added to that, tensions reached a high with India’s decision to allow the Dalai Lama, seen as a separatist by China to visit the Tawang region which is claimed by China as Southern Tibet and by India as a part of its state Arunachal Pradesh. This happened despite repeated warnings from the Chinese that the visit would cause serious damage to diplomatic ties between the two countries. Did it?

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The action-packed episodes are in the past now and recent developments on the world stage are worth a second look. With no new conflicts brewing for the time being and a precarious lid on the existing ones, it has been nothing short of intriguing to see the evident tone of cooperation between the two frenemies since the Doklam issue has been resolved. China seems to have made good, even if ever so slightly, on blocking the move to designate the JeM chief as a globally designated terrorist by condemning the Pakistan based terror group along with the Haqqani Network and Lashkar-e-Taiba at the recent BRICS summit held in Xiamen. While the move has likely and arguably been made to protect its own investments in the country and doesn’t have any visible bearing on India’s repeated efforts as yet, the step is significant in projecting Beijing’s new viewpoint on the fight against terror based outfits on a global level which previously was limited to vague statements sighting requirement of solid evidence and further communication and coordination between the involved countries. Beijing has also snubbed Pakistan in its effort to internationalise the issue of Kashmir, maintaining its position that the matter is for them and India to resolve on their own. While there has been no change of position on the issue from before and there is no strain of ties between the two ‘all-weather allies’, the tone of the statement is a change to be welcomed by New Delhi in its prominent stand against terrorism on both the national and international level.

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Speaking of change, India along with Japan remained relatively quiet in the South China Sea conflict, making no explicit mention of it in their joint statement when the Prime Ministers of both the countries met earlier this September. Improvements in ties aside, another likely reason could be that the issue has taken a backseat with the focus of China, Japan as well as that of the United States on the heightening tension in the Korean Peninsula.

However, with Trump’s undiverted attention on Kim, the South East Asian countries involved in the conflict may find it difficult to stand up to the Chinese on their own, should Beijing choose to push even further with its activities in the contested waters. Therein lies an important lesson for India. “The Chinese have demonstrated a pattern of creeping encroachment”, India’s former Ambassador to Beijing Ashok K. Kantha has said, and India would do well to remember that. Indians may see the disengagement from both the sides in Doklam as a diplomatic victory over the Chinese but the conflict is not yet resolved. China’s perceived soft behaviour may merely be an understanding on their part that perhaps the time to act is not now, more so that cooperation is the way ahead; something which has continuously and explicitly been implied by both the sides over and over considering what else is at stake.

As two large and quickly growing economies, India and China’s relationship with each other has been heavy enough invested in by both the countries for them to know different. This is not just evident from the business end, but also from the mixing of the two cultures as well. Bollywood movies are enjoying huge popularity among the Chinese audience. At the same time across the border, Mandarin as a language has acquired more importance over the years, with schools offering the same as an optional language growing in number. Opinions of the people on each other may change every now and then from favourable to not as much in polls, yet there is no denying their mingling.

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In this lovers’ quarrel, as is with any other, while the occasional bickering is unlikely to give way (at least in the foreseeable future), reconciliation is perhaps always the key and a quick one for that matter. This is known by both, even if they may forget from time to time.

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Can ‘Made In China 2025’ Turn The Innovation Wheel Towards China?

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Shanghai China

With the ‘Made in China 2025’ proposal, China is hoping to generate an innovative boost in its manufacturing industry with the aim to promote quality home-built products to the world. Originally introduced in 2015, Made in China 2025 is giving China 10 years to redress its IT and technology industry and implement innovative programs to develop its knowledge and industry accordingly. The goals are to increase the domestic and international content of core materials in high-tech to 40% by 2020 and then a whopping 70% by 2025. Opinions are still divided as to the feasibility of Made in China 2025, especially as foreign content represents more than half of all high-tech goods. At the moment, it doesn’t seem that China will be able to meet its goals. But the Chinese government is creating innovation centers to support its industrial development and approach the production of high-end equipment. Smart manufacturing, cloud computing, smart equipment that works almost without human interactions and the pursuit of innovative technologies are being encouraged throughout the country as a way to tackle the domestic deficit in high-tech production. Could China become a leader in the innovative and skilled industries?

China, formerly known as the kingdom of cheap unskilled labor

It’s difficult not to associate China with cheap products, and consequently inexpensive and unskilled labor. In the fashion industry, made in China may not always be synonymous with quality, but it certainly means that you get a damn cheap frock and sometimes that’s just what you want. The only way that bigger brands have found to tackle the competitive challenge of cheap labor is to promote quality, fair wages and innovative fashion technology to justify the price of their products. However, customers who research a bargain still turn to Chinese products. With its reputation for being the largest cheap labor factory in the world, China’s cheap products from unskilled labor are hard to beat if you’re price-conscious. With low wages and high productivity, China holds the place of an advanced capitalist – if not despotic – economy in the world market.

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In other words, China has a major labor reorganization to address to become a competitive and innovative economy. Domestic skills don’t come for free.

China is changing its stance about skilled labor and innovation

It’s because they understand the importance of moving from an economy that relies primarily on unskilled labor to an economy that is built on the innovation of educated labor, that the Chinese government is trying to improve vocational education. It comes as no surprise that China has been struggling with a shortage of skilled labor for several years as a  five-year plan for the increase of training and recruitment of highly skilled workers by improving the competitiveness of vocational schools. With the government’s support, this five-year plan is also trying to address the Chinese mindset that has been trained to reject education in favor of cheap labor, aka the guarantee of immediate wage as opposed to the prospect of studying first and earning later. With almost 98% of employment rate for skilled workers, it’s easy to see the value of educated vs. unskilled labor. However, vocational studies delay the entry to the professional world and make it more difficult for the Chinese population to cope with everyday costs.

Nevertheless, those who are educated, are already driving an innovative spike through the Chinese manufacture industries.

World’s largest solar power plant

China’s province Anhui holds the world’s largest floating solar power plants, built on top of a flooded coal mining area. In fact, the floating solar power plant combined with the Longyangxia Dam Solar Park, a 10-square-mile land-based plant that is said to be the largest on the planet, has generated an increase of 80% of China’s solar power output at the beginning of 2017. From January to March 2017, the overall solar power generation reached 21.4 billion kilowatt-hours more than the previous year. For comparison purposes, a town of 1 million inhabitants needs 10 million kWh a year, so the increase only is enough to supply a small country. More surprisingly, the whopping boost in solar power comes as several solar plants have been standing idle because of issues with congested transmission infrastructure. At a time where renewables are becoming hugely precious, it’s easy to measure the Chinese competitiveness on the energy market.

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Fast and effective 3D printing sector

One 3D printing manufacturer embraced the need for environmentally-friendly structures and policies and decided to perfect a new printing system that will change the Chinese take on poverty. WinSun Decoration Design Engineering Co built in a day a village of 10 houses using a customized 3D printed to print concrete parts out of recycled waste. The test village was built in Shanghai, using a hefty printer – 150 meter long, 10 meter wide and 6 meter deep – to print concrete constituents, and cement reinforced with glass fiber. Naturally, the houses didn’t pop out all assembled. The printer was set on creating separate parts that were then transported and assembled by people. This amazing experience could present a new possibility for the Chinese government to bring safe and hygienic houses in poverty-stricken regions of China. As this gigantic project progresses the need for high-quality 3D software and reliable 3D printer motors by domestic manufacturers – Moons is one of those high-end tech manufacturers that provide the relevant motorized parts for 3D printers – will increase. In a challenge at human scale, China has proven that innovation for the people is the best kind of innovation. Market competitiveness and economic power have been rejected for the sake of the less privileged part of the Chinese population.

The infamous transit elevated bus

It’s difficult to talk about Chinese innovation without mentioning the elevated bus that has kept the world in suspense. The bus that was designed to drive over the top of cars and that was planned to for testing over a 300 meters track along a roadway was unfortunately ruled out as a scam by the Chinese authorities. At first, it was financial difficulties followed by strange setbacks. But the Beijing police recently announced that they’re trying to recover the funds for each investor. While this sounds like an innovative failure, the transit elevated bus suggests a practical and creative solution to traffic problems. It’s likely that we’ll hear about it again in future, from a serious high-tech firm that wants to make a difference.

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Communication with space

The Quantum Experiments at Space Scape is a research project in quantum physic. Based in China, the project is of international importance and has recently proven the ability to communicate from space using quantum photons. In what can only be described as a big leap for science, China’s quantum satellite has successfully distributed entangled photons between different base stations on Earth – with as much as 1,200 kilometers between them on the ground. While in theory entangled photons can remain linked across the distance, this has never been possible across such vast distances, and even less between the Earth and space. Whether this will allow us, in longer terms, to communicate more effectively with the space around the Earth or to reach so far unknown extraterrestrial civilizations is unknown. But it makes no doubt that this small step for the entangled photons is a giant step for science!

Made in China 2025 is a big claim. But the constant innovation that is changing the Chinese industries offers the possibility that maybe in the near future the world could rely on China for our renewable energy, 3D print technology, transport solutions and spatial explorations. Think big, or 不撒大网不得大鱼, as they say in China (bu sa da wang bu de da yu): Without casting a big net, you can’t catch a big fish.

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