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Even though everyone recognizes nuclear weapons to be the most dangerous and dreadful weapons ever created, even though a lot of political leaders have acknowledged and continue to remind us that nuclear weapons are not to be used again, they still exist and therefore countries keep contemplating whether to pursue a nuclear policy. Despite the growing role of international law and diplomatic negotiations, international peace has not been reached, and the possibility of an armed conflict remains. Thus, military power continues to be relied upon as it defines a country’s status on the world stage. Having nuclear weapons strengthens this status. It plays the role of deterrence and provides a significant superiority of the country over its opponents.

The current Russian nuclear policy is driven by several reasons. Firstly, nuclear weapons guarantee country’s protection from the foreign broad scale aggression and ensure its security and sovereignty.  Secondly, they are the key element in strategic deterrence. Thirdly, they preserve the high status of the Russian Federation at the world arena. Moreover, nuclear strength gives the country an ability to equalize itself with the main opponent, the US.

In the light of recent events in Ukraine, nuclear rhetoric has returned to the language of the politicians. In August 2014, president of Russia, Vladimir Putin stated in the interviews, “Our partners, notwithstanding the situation in the countries or their foreign policies, should always remember that it is better not to mess with Russia. I’ll remind you that Russia is one of the largest nuclear powers. These are not just words, this is reality and, moreover, we are strengthening our powers of nuclear restraint” [1]. He continued by saying that Russia was transforming its armed services, making them more efficient and modern. Subsequently, later in November at the Forum of the National Peoples’ Front (rus. Obsherossiyskyi Narodnyi Front) he stated that the US wanted to subdue Russia. He also mentioned Nikita Khrushchev, highlighting his quick temper, “[He] hammered the desk with his shoe at the United Nations. And the whole world, primarily the United States, and NATO thought: this Nikita is best left alone, he might just go and fire a missile” [2]. Even more media hype was caused by the documentary “Crimea. The Way Home” (rus. Krym. Put na Rodinu). In one of the interviews Putin was asked whether the nuclear weapons were alerted during the annexation of Crimea, his answer was that thought had crossed their mind [3]. In November 2015 there was a state TV “leak” that demonstrated giant nuclear torpedo. Many commentators, both Russian and foreign, claimed that it was deliberate action and qualified it as a warning to the United States not to seek nuclear advantage [4]. The Ukrainian crisis has indeed ignited the political and military tension.

Such “nuclear” statements have been understood rather ambiguously by the West. The officials of NATO and the US repeatedly stated that they did not consider military intervention in Ukraine. It is, however, unclear whether such reaction was caused by the Russian nuclear warnings. Obviously, intervention was not an option, considering possible nuclear escalation.

In comparison to 1970-1980, there were many declarations from both sides (the US and USSR) about the impossibility of a nuclear war. Current Russian position cannot be different, yet officially Moscow remains silent. Technically, Russian nuclear rhetoric does not contradict the aims to prevent nuclear war in terms of deterrence strategy and armed-control treaties. However, it is obvious that Russia acts rather provocative.

Interestingly, following these renewed nuclear references, this nuclear rush was supported by many domestic officials. The political parties who have a long history of opposite views have united after the incident with Crimea. Some extreme supporters suggested adding into the official military doctrine the direct use of nuclear weapons in case of local war.  In their opinion, it would be “preventive measures”, “demonstration of determination”, and “preventing the escalation of the situation” [5]. Nevertheless, their claims have remained idle.

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The new edited version of the military doctrine was issued in December 2014. It does not reflect these radical views and reiterates the same moderate and clear political views as in the previous versions of 2000 and 2010, “The Russian Federation will reserve the right to use nuclear weapons in a situation when nuclear weapons and other kinds of weapons of mass-destruction are being used against it and (or) its allies and also against a large scale aggression with conventional weapons in a crisis situation where the national security of the Russian Federation is at stake” [6]. It is obvious that it was driven by the fact that nuclear weapons are to be used under extreme circumstances. In the case of a conflict with another nuclear country, the decision to use nuclear weapon would cause a quick nuclear reaction and escalation of the conflict. In the first days such nuclear strikes would kill millions of people from the both sides, and then it would turn into the global catastrophe. Such a concept of limited nuclear war has always been rejected by Russia.

Certainly, one of the main changes in the military doctrine admits the fact that ideological and interreligious clashes are rising. In the new version it is stated rather carefully “the competition of values and development models”. In the core of any ideological or religious structure lies a system of beliefs, values. Ideological models are based on these values. So such a statement recognizes current ideological competitions in the world. Consequently, the conflict between Russia and the West has a prominent ideological element that reflects the difference of values between the countries.

Another interesting thing has been noted in the edited version of the military doctrine of the Russian Federation, “the activities of information influence towards the national population, especially towards the youth, that aim to erode historical, moral and patriotic values and traditions in the area of homeland defence” [6]. It has been designated as a military threat. Indeed, the topic of “rewriting” the World War II, which is known in Russia as the Great Patriotic War, has been extensively discussed in the Russian media. Moreover, the Polish statements concerning country’s liberation by the [only] Ukrainians caused strong and rather negative public reaction in Russia. It was followed by a strong official response. Subsequently, several classified testimonies of Red Army soldiers who liberated concentration camps were realized. Likewise, the fact that Vladimir Putin was not invited to the memorial festivities that marked the 70th Anniversary of the Great Victory caused public outrage.

Although public opinion might not be the main driving factor for Russian nuclear rise, it certainly might have played a role in consolidating the state’s decision to strengthen its nuclear policy. There is not enough evidence to confirm it, yet the government had a strong national support. In 2015 during the negotiations in Minsk the popularity of the president had reached 75%, the highest level for the last 15 years [7]. The political rhetoric of the Russian president along with the imposed sanctions and the U.S. responsive rhetoric seem to only boost government’s support. Meanwhile, anti-nuclear attitudes are of no consequence at the moment. The same is with the increased military spending; Russian public is being rather supportive.

Russia is spending a lot of money on modernization of its arsenals. Despite the fact that economy has been weakened by the fall in oil prices, the President of the Russian Federation still emphasizes nuclear weapons as a symbol of Russian influence. The reason for that remains the same: balancing the powers. Such conflicts on the borders with Russia, along with other local and regional wars breaking out, its security cannot be fully guaranteed. Under these circumstances, Russia cannot operate only by using diplomatic and economic means to resolve the conflict.

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In order to elaborate more on the symbolic meaning of nuclear weapons, it should be noted that after the collapse of the USSR Russia strived to achieve the same influential level and to come back to the global arena as an equal.  Default, internal disturbances, the loss of the military advantage, the lost Cold War and the weak leadership in the next years has severely damaged the country’s prestige.  It was vital to become a global power again. The nuclear policy has become insurance that it can be accomplished. The Putin’s and Medvedev’s politics fixed the economy and started restoring the country’s military potential. Nuclear weapons have played in significant role in rebuilding its international status.

After the events in Ukraine, for the first time since the Cold War an armed conflict between Russia and the United States has been viewed as highly possible, therefore, posing a threat to the rest of the world. Both countries started to increase their military strength and regularly demonstrate their military power, including strategic armament (started by the US when it deployed two B-2 Spirit stealth bombers to Europe in 2014[1]).  The Parade of the 70th anniversary of the Victory in the World War II was another opportunity for the Russian military to present some of its latest equipment. As Vladimir Putin stated in 2012, “We should not tempt anyone by allowing ourselves to be weak. We will, under no circumstances, surrender our strategic deterrent capability. Indeed, we will strengthen it” [8].

The inability to compete with the West on equal terms in conventional terms intensified its nuclear pursuit. Russia prioritized its strategic nuclear forces by introducing new missiles and submarines. Keir Giles, an expert on the Russian armed forces at the Conflict Studies Research Centre, notes that the current military reform was started in 2008, after Russian performance in the war with Georgia” [9].

One of the military experts has expressed similar views about Russia’s conventional forces. The colonel Mikhail Khodarenok (currently an editor of the rather conservative military and political periodicals “Voenno-Promishlennyi Kurier” (eng. Military and Industrial Courier) and “Vosdushno-kosmicheskaya Oborona” (eng. Aerospace Defense)) is a rather famous specialist in the military sphere. In 2015 he wondered whether Russia had any forces that could match NATO forces. He concluded that there was a lack of the newest weapons in Russia. That is why it was vital to avoid military entanglement in the South-East by the Russian Federation. The country, its navy and army, was not ready for the full-scale armed confrontation by using only conventional forces [10].

This opinion roughly corresponds to the statements of the Russian Ministry of Defense[2], for this reason nuclear rhetoric of Moscow makes sense. It is a warning to the US and NATO to stay away from the conflict in Crimea and in the South-East of Ukraine. The political aim is clear. Firstly, other countries should know the importance of the events in the region for the Russian national security interests. Secondly, Moscow is determined to take action while upholding its interests, regardless of whether the West considers its actions legitimate or not.

Perhaps, a particular history of Russia may explain such a current political behaviour. The concept of protecting its national interests and sovereignty as well as maintaining its influence has been formed and consolidated over the centuries through the complex history of conquest and occupation. Lee Blessing in the book “A Walk in the Woods” wrote, “The geography of Russia is … flat, broad plains —open invitations to anyone who wants to attack. Mongols, French, Germans, Poles, Turks, Swedes – anyone” (11).  The size of the country and its geography are crucial in the sense of security. Currently Russia borders with 18 countries, including partially recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Among them six countries are NATO members (The Baltic states, Poland, Norway, and USA). Georgia and Ukraine have repeatedly expressed their wish to join the alliance.  In general, NATO enlargement into Eastern Europe is often referred by Russia as treachery. The West back in the 90s promised the USSR that it would not expand to the East. Yet, it breached the agreements, undermining the credibility of further promises. No wonder that current NATO enlargement threatens Russian national interests. Meanwhile, given the memory of multiple offences that is stored in the mental cultural heritage does not improve the situation. Current conflicts do not provide necessary relieve, and Russia is forced to protect its borders and its security, especially at a time of deterioration of relations with the West, particularly with the US.

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In 2015 at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty conference in New York Mikhail Ulyanov, the Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms Control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, highlighted that the United States have been very provocative towards Russia. Among the provocative actions he named, “the U.S. missile defense program, the U.S. refusal to negotiate on the ban on weapons in outer space, the U.S. military’s Prompt Global Strike system, Washington’s de facto refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, and the serious imbalance in conventional weapons in Europe” [12]. Due to these reasons Russia may be forced to increase its nuclear arsenal. He also clarified that Russia wasn’t currently actively considering this option, but should the US action remain unchanged, it would have to be considered (Ibid.).  It proves the point that the US and Russia still use the concept of mutual deterrence.

To sum up, the main reasons for Russia boosting its nuclear power are national security and maintaining its status on the world arena. On the one hand, nuclear strength is the method of securing its national interests and ensuring its sovereignty. Russia uses its nuclear strategy as means to deter other opponents, mainly NATO and the United States, following the conflicts in Georgia and Ukraine. On the other hand, nuclear empowerment ensures the Russian status at the global stage and preserves its place among the superpowers.

References

  1. International Mass Media: Putin Threatens the West with Nuclear Weapons.” The Russian Times, August 29, 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://therussiantimes.com/news/12416.html>.
  2. Mangasarian, L., and Ummela, O. “Russian War Games Spill Secrets, Stiffen NATO Resolve.” BloombergBusiness, 20 November 2014. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-11-20/russia-s-war-games-spill-secrets-stiffen-nato-resolve>.
  3. Rossiya 24. “Crimea. The Way Home. Documentary by Andrey Kondrashev.”Online video. YouTube. March 15, 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t42-71RpRgI>.
  4. “Russia Reveals Giant Nuclear Torpedo in State TV ‘Leak’.” BBC news, November 12, 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34797252>.
  5. Sivkov, K. “A Slapdash in Response to Challenges.” Voenno-Promishlennyi Kurier, No. 4 (570), February 4, 2015. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://vpk-news.ru/articles/23673>.
  6. “The Military Doctrine of the Russian Federation.” Decree by the President of the Russian Federation of February 5, 2010, No. 146 (edited in 2014). Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.mid.ru/documents/10180/822714/41d527556bec8deb3530.pdf/d899528d-4f07-4145-b565-1f9ac290906c>.
  7. Anushevskaya, A. “Electoral Rating of Vladimir Putin over the Last 15 Years.” Argumenty Facty, March 23, 2015. Web. 20 Jan.2016.<http://www.aif.ru/dontknows/infographics/1475392>
  8. Putin, V. “Being Strong. Why Russia Needs to Rebuild its Military.” Foreign Policy, February 21, 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://foreignpolicy.com/2012/02/21/being-strong/>.
  9. Marcus, J. “Russia Boosts Military Might despite Sanctions.” BBC news, May 8, 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-32622653>.
  10. Khodarenok, M. “The Scenario of the World War III.”  Voenno-Promishlennyi Kurier , No. 10 (576), March 18, 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://vpk-news.ru/articles/24284>.
  11. Blessing, L. A. A Walk in the Woods. The UK: Oberon Books, 2011.
  12. Keck, Z. “Russia Threatens to Build More Nuclear Weapons.” The National Interest, 18 May, 2015. Web. 20 Jan. 2016. <http://nationalinterest.org/blog/the-buzz/russia-threatens-build-more-nuclear-weapons-12912>.

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Specialist in global security and nuclear disarmament. Excited about international relations, curious about cognitive, psycho- & neuro-linguistics. A complete traveller.

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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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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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