Friday, February 24, 2023

Anniversary Gifts for the Russo-Ukraine War; But For Whom?: Decoding 关于政治解决乌克兰危机的中国立场 ["China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis]"


Pix Source Al Jazeera

 Anniversaries are usually celebrated with rituals of gift giving; along with moments of performances of sentimental musings, and the performances of those family members and friends notorious for self-destructive behaviors are projected out. This 1st anniversary of the second offensive in the Russo-Ukrainian War (actually close to the 9th anniversary of the Russo-Ukrainian war which commenced with the 1st purported Partition of Ukraine in 2014) is no different.  

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The United States and its allies gifted Ukraine much by way of moral support, assurances, and lots of military and humanitarian goods and services.  That family of course included those eager to participate in the anniversary (the US and the EU's Eastern flank) and those who still have many many many issues to resolve but who can't help sharing them in sometimes clumsy and self destructive ways (the EU's Western flank and elements of the political left and right who either see Russia through backwards looking time tunnel or think themselves able to convert their own empire into some sort of self sustaining self-referencing bunker). But the bigger gift--the United States is returning Ukraine to Europe--whether the ancient European elites who still insert themselves in and through the vast spaces of a once mightier construct like it or not.

The Russians, in an act of self love, gifted themselves an even greater loosening of formal communal restraints (eg self-restraining nuclear treaties) and performed a commitment ceremony of sorts rededicating the nation (or at least its leaders) to the task of the total consumption of Ukraine. They have also gifted themselves greater solidarity with like minded states on the same level of global dominance--Iran, for example--and cultvated smaller states in key areas, or at least influential personalities there--Nicaragua and the ALBA region, Berlusconi and his crowd, and the gentleman who holds high office in Hungary. Self-gifting, then, can be as pleasurable for the core of Russian state leadership as pleasuring others. And yet there was a gift to Ukraine as well--the gift of nationality, now forged in blood. More than anything else the events since 2014 has done more than anything to forge a modern Ukrainian nation-state.

Criminality is a gift that is paid back many fold. That was the gift that Ukraine gave to Russia to mark this anniversary--the gift of knowing that Russians who perpetrated criminal acts will be punished in this world or in the next.

Almost everyone has at least one contact in their phone who will never pick up the phone again. . . We will not erase their names from the phone or from our own memory. We will never forget them. We will never forgive that. We will never rest until the Russian murderers face deserved punishment. The punishment of the International Tribunal. The judgment of God. Of our warriors. Or all of them together. (Zelenskyy Speech 24 February 2023); and here)

And in the process Ukraine has gifted the world a clearer structure not just for identfying but for preparing cases for trials--joining together state elements, civilians, and a broad spectrum of civil society. 

Now the Chinese have delivered their gift as well.  In the form of the 关于政治解决乌克兰危机的中国立场 ["China’s Position on the Political Settlement of the Ukraine Crisis" uploaded to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs foreign language website  and available in the original Chinese. This ast is especially interesting. It serves as a concrete application of Chinese efforts to reboot a new operating system as the means for running international law and relations "software." (discussed here:Attacking From the Flanks--One Can Attain Victory By Rebooting the Operating Systems of the International Order!: China's "The Global Security Initiative Concept Paper" [全球安全倡议概念文件]). More than anything else, this new OS would hard wire the structures of post-global empire onto the operational style of international institutions, re-framing their objectives and their relations to states--formally equal, but functionally differentiated in accordance with their power-rank. It represents a critical application of the theoretical foundations of Chinese internationalism applied to a difficult problem of managing national dependencies within a post-global order but in ways that do not threaten an oppositional equal with a set of their own first and second tier dependencies to manage and protect. Gone is the operational language of the 19th-20th centuries and the ugliness of territorial partition and criminality; in its place a security driven international order in which  security binaries are embedded in more complicated systems of vertically tiered dependencies. Within this framework sovereignty is re-invented, and fractured, and inter-governmentality is centered within the structures of the international order--the place where equals and their dependents may meet to facilitate workable relations. None of this is inherently bad, but it does work to enhance  the Chinese position in the world, at least as to its form and the timing of its release. 

Mr. Zelenskyy remains sensitive to Chinese overtures. There are a number of possible reasons.  Two he has made clear.  The first is to attempt to align any Chinese peace plan structure with those of his own 10 Point Peace Plan announced November 2022. There are a number of places where the two plans overlap. 

"The plan calls for: (1) Radiation and nuclear safety, focusing on restoring safety around Europe’s largest nuclear power plant, Zaporizhzhia in Ukraine, which is now-Russian occupied; (2) Food security, including protecting and ensuring Ukraine’s grain exports to the world’s poorest nations; (3) 3. Energy security, with focus on price restrictions on Russian energy resources, as well as aiding Ukraine with restoring its power infrastructure, half of which has been damaged by Russian attacks; (4) Release of all prisoners and deportees, including war prisoners and children deported to Russia; (5) 5. Restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Russia reaffirming it according to the UN Charter, which Zelenskyy said is “not up to negotiations”; (6) Withdrawal of Russian troops and cessation of hostilities, restoration of Ukraine’s state borders with Russia; (7) Justice, including the establishment of a special tribunal to prosecute Russian war crimes; (8) Prevention of ecocide, need for protection of environment, with focus on de-mining and restoring water treatment facilities; (9) Prevention of escalation of conflict, and building security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic space, including guarantees for Ukraine.; and (10) Confirmation of the war’s end, including a document signed by the involved parties." (Explainer: What is Zelenskyy’s 10-point peace plan?)

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The second reason is that such an effort at inserting itself in the peace process provides Ukraine an opportunity to speak directly to the Chinese (and  thus indirectly to the Russians). This desire was expressed on the eve of the unveiling of the Chinese Plan ("Answering journalists' questions, Volodymyr Zelenskyy noted that he would like to have a meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping.  "At the level of diplomats, we have conveyed this signal to China. We would like to meet. It is in the interests of Ukraine today," the Head of State summarized." here: The more countries are involved in the implementation of the Peace Formula, the sooner the war in Ukraine will end - Volodymyr Zelenskyy). By 25 February it was reported that Mr Zelenskyy was speaking more directly about the possibility of a meeting with Mr. Xi ("Mr Zelensky did not say when such a meeting might take place but said he believed the talks would be crucial for global security. 'I plan to meet Xi Jinping and believe this will be beneficial for our countries and for security in the world,' he told a news conference in Kyiv on the first anniversary of Russia's invasion of Ukraine." here).

Both the official English translation and the original Chinese versions of the 12 point plan follow below, along with a brief effort to decode it embedded (in red) after each of the twelve points of the peace plan. The issue is not whether the plan is good or bad, but rather the extent to which it may advance Chinese interests and their vision for the recasting of the international order and their place within it.


Thursday, February 23, 2023

Text of "Remarks by President Biden Ahead of the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s Brutal and Unprovoked Invasion of Ukraine"


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After about 20 minutes, Biden closed by saying the world was at "an inflection point" and that "the decisions we make over the next five years or so will determine and shape our lives for decades to come."

"And while decisions are ours to make now, the principles and the stakes are eternal. The choice between chaos and stability, between building and destroying between hope and fear, between democracy lifting up the human spirit -- and the brutal hand of the dictator who crushes it," he said.

National security adviser Jake Sullivan, traveling with the president, said to expect "vintage Joe Biden" in the speech. (Biden speaks in Poland after surprise trip to Ukraine: 'Kyiv stands strong')

This nicely summarizes the assessment of the Republic's administrators of Mr. Biden's speech delivered for the consumption of the masses in Warsaw on the eve of the 1st anniversary of the 2nd Offensive in the Russo-Ukrainian War.  That is a pity--for his own leading subordinates to so mock their leader in the way one expects of children mocking grandparents detracts from both the power and objectives of the remarks. But that seems to be the way of the seraglio of the administrative apparatus of the American Republic that now oozes its nomenklatura politics. 

Still, beyond the jocular ooze is the text of the remarks; remarks that are themselves worth a read, even if Mr. Biden's administrative subordinates view them as little more than a performance for the management of press organs and the masses with little to do with them. The speech was a performance; it was meant to reassure the masses; it represents the distance Mr. Biden has moved from the hesitation of 22 February 2022 to the exuberance of this year. The real question is whether he can carry an American population (and those of the Republic's allies), and its influencer elites along . That may be a greater challenge than the task facing the Ukrainian military.

The test of Mr Biden's remarks, Remarks by President Biden Ahead of the One-Year Anniversary of Russia’s Brutal and Unprovoked Invasion of Ukraine , follow.


Remarks by President Biden and President Andrzej Duda of Poland After Bilateral Meeting


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President Biden met with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw on Tuesday, following Biden’s surprise visit to Kyiv, Ukraine, the day prior.

Biden and Duda met at the Presidential Palace, where a band played the U.S. national anthem upon Biden’s arrival. The band then played the Polish national anthem and the two presidents walked through a line of Polish military members before walking into the palace. (Biden meets with Polish president in Warsaw)

The text of the remarks of both leaders after that meeting follow below. They may be accessed HERE.


Wednesday, February 22, 2023

The Problem of the State Owned Enterprise as the Owner of Press Organs in European Liberal Democracy: The Norway Pension Fund Global Places Polski Koncern Naftowy Orlen SA Under Observation


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On 22 February 2023, Norges Bank announced its decision to place the company Polski Koncern Naftowy Orlen SA, a Polish state owned enterprise,  be under observation. The basis for this determination was uneasiness about indirect Polish state ownership of a majority of press organs in Poland, through the acquisition, by Orlen, of Polska Press. The uneasiness was due to what was an unacceptable risk that the company is contributing to human rights violations in the form of indirect state interference with civil and political rights, as well as cultivating a relationship that might undermine the democratic character of the state. These worries were elaborated in the Ethics Council’s recommendation here, in which they concluded:

The Council notes that several actors have expressed grave concerns about the political independence of Polska Press’s publications in the runup to the 2023 elections. Critics fear the publications will be used as mouthpieces for those currently in power. The extent to which this risk may materialise is nevertheless uncertain. Due to the uncertainty attaching to developments forward in time, the Council recommends that the company be placed under observation. (Council Recommendation, p. 13).

The effects were augmented because the acquisition in this case capped something like a mini buying spree of press organs by Orlen in Poland.

In 2019, before acquiring Polska Press, Orlen purchased 66 per cent of the shares in Sigma BIS, another media and advertising company. In 2020, Orlen also acquired Ruch group, a nationwide news outlet that also has distribution in the wholesale and retail sectors. Ruch’s network comprises around 2,400 newsagents (kiosks), making it the largest newspaper distributor in Poland. (Council Recommendation, p. 5).

The conclusion was buttressed by a number of factors: (1) substantial turnover of personnel; (2) criticisms by university  groups ; (3) concerns expressed by Polish and European journalists and civil society organisations; (4) the issues raised during the course of a failed effort by the Polish Commissioner for Human Rights to have the competition authorities reconsider the approval of the acquisition because "the authorities did not assess whether the acquisition would pose a potential threat to the media’s independence and diversity" (Council Recommendation, p. 7); (5) "numerous allegations have been made concerning the exercise of political influence over the editorial content of Polska Press’s newspapers." (Ibid., p. 9). 

In its defense, Orlen sought refuge in the traditional safe harbor for state activity in private markets--that it was engaged in such activity for purely and traditional commercial reasons--that is to make money.  

Orlen has further explained that the acquisition was a purely commercial transaction that fits well with the company’s strategic plans to strengthen retail sales and is in line with global trends. The company also sees the acquisition in connection with its purchase of Sigma Bis and Ruch. Furthermore, the company describes plans to develop big data tools to as it can now collect information on 60 per cent of internet users in Poland. This will enable it to create new business models and provide better geographical coverage and personalised offerings to selected customers. (Council Recommendation, p. 11).

Interestingly, though the Ethics Council was quick to dismiss this line of defense, the did so without any consideration of the OECD Guidelines on Corporate Governance of State-Owned Enterprises (2015). Useful in that respect might have been Principle III.A. ("There should be a clear separation between the state’s ownership function and other state functions that may influence the conditions for state-owned enterprises, particularly with regard to market regulation."). More importantly, it is not clear that the acquisition might have been consistent with the general requirements of Principle I, the official Annotation to which note:

The state exercises the ownership of SOEs in the interest of the general public. It should carefully evaluate and disclose the objectives that justify state ownership and subject these to a recurrent review. The members of the public whose government exercises the ownership rights are the ultimate owners of SOEs. This implies that those who exercise ownership rights over SOEs owe duties toward the public that are not unlike the fiduciary duties of a board toward the shareholders, and should act as trustees of the public interest. High standards of transparency and accountability are needed to allow the public to assure itself that the state exercises its powers in accordance with the public’s best interest.
In OECD countries, the rationales for establishing or maintaining state enterprise ownership typically include one or more of the following: (1) the delivery of public goods or services where state ownership is deemed more efficient or reliable than contracting out to private operators; (2) the operation of natural monopolies where market regulation is deemed infeasible or inefficient; and (3) support for broader economic and strategic goals in the national interest, such as maintaining certain sectors under national ownership, or shoring up failing companies of systemic importance. (OECD-SOE, supra, p. 29)

A missed opportunity. Instead the Ethics Council appeared to express a preference for a sui generis rule applicable to the ownership of speech management or producing organs when thy are owned or controlled by the state.

In light of the volume of publications that have been affected by the acquisition, combined with the crucial importance of press freedom for a number of other rights, the Council has, in this case, assessed whether the company can be said to contribute to systematic norm violations. As in previous recommendations, the Council has attached importance to the fact that these are not merely isolated incidents but that the norm violations may constitute a pattern of behaviour. The Council has also accorded weight to the fact that the company seems to deliberately be operating at the limits of accepted norms (Council Recommendation, p. 12).

It might have easier if the Ethics Council had adopted a rule of mandatory separation. Given the thrust of the subtext of their decision, it appears that the Ethics Council was lurching toward but was unable to muster the courage to declare a bright line rule of the incompatibility of liberal democracy with state ownership of press organs.  The result would have been to limit that state to transparent propaganda and information services, but to forbid it form controlling press or news organs which would remain as an institutional vessel for the elaboration of civil and political rights.  

That leaves only the matter of observation. In this case it is not clear what observation means; nor is it clear how observation is tied to the role of the Pension Fund Global as a governmental shareholder of a state owned enterprise, the interference of which touches on the legitimacy of the sovereign constitution of another state. That is a difficulty here.  Ordinarily such matters would be taken up at the EU level or as a matter of inter-governmental dialogue. Yet because both the Norwegian Kingdom and the Polish Republic are operating through entities in private markets, the traditional performance of inter-state relations within international normative constraints must be manifested some other way.  What that way is in this case remains murky.  Another missed opportunity.

Attacking From the Flanks--One Can Attain Victory By Rebooting the Operating Systems of the International Order!: China's "The Global Security Initiative Concept Paper" [全球安全倡议概念文件]

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In the language of computing, rebooting refers to a process of restarting a computer "by causing an operating system to load in the memory."  The emphasis is on the activation of a "fixed sequence of instructions to load the operating system of a computer" (1953) (here). Rebooting is everywhere--not just in computer systems, but n systems generally, and increasingly in the construction of the core premises on which society is operated, that is on the core set of instructions that constitute not just the loading of operating instructions but also the elaboration of the form and content of the instructions themselves. 

Film making and literature has been in the vanguard in developing the social structures within which rebooting is both undertaken and increasingly accepted as an important means of "reform" or reformulation." In this context it is critically important to have in mind the difference between remaking and rebooting. "A reboot is defined by those in the industry as a complete rebranding of a specific title or IP. A remake is defined as a complete retelling of the same story and characters that a studio buys the rights to."The difference is important.  In one case one accepts the basic premises and forms  as the operating system within which actions (or stories) may be retold without foundational change.  In the other, the basic premises are the object of reform. Underlying this shift in reboot tolerance is the realization of the notion that control is not attained by managing "software" but by developing and managing the operating system itself.

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It is in this sense that while all are focused on the physical elements of warfare in Ukraine (for our purposes here a necessary or useful distraction), others see in that "software" battle, the opportunity to reboot the system with new operating instructions within which it is possible to control, discern, and curate, the "software fronts" themselves. Or put differently, and in context, while the United States and Russia battle to remake Europe on the bodies and within the territories now known as Ukraine, the Chinese appear to be using that remake as the system critical failure that make permit them to reboot the system of international relations (and with it its law-policy structures ad sensibilities). To the extent they are successful--the Americans and Ukrainians may win the battle of Ukraine, but the Chinese will win the war for the control of the international operating system. Thus while the US and its allies wring their hands about increasing flows of military aid to Russia (the idea that this is only now important is implausible but useful in the current propaganda environment, eg here) the Chinese are hunting much larger game.

To that end, and as promised in statements made at the 2023 Munich Security Conference, the Chinese side has now distributed (notably in English and thus for foreign consumption) its Global Security Initiative Concept Paper; original Chinese version (全球安全倡议概念文件) here. As reported in Chinese press organs: 

China on Tuesday released The Global Security Initiative Concept Paper, which expounds core concepts and principles of the Global Security Initiative (GSI), lays out 20 priorities of cooperation and five platforms and mechanisms of cooperation. It plays an action-oriented guiding role. The release of the concept paper marks an important step for China in putting its previously proposed GSI into practice, demonstrating China's responsibility for maintaining world peace and its firm determination to safeguard global security. At a historical crossroads, as new cold war clouds are hanging over the world, the concept paper is another major public good offered by China to the world, a Chinese solution to solve the systemic security dilemma, and a new exploration for human society, with crucial historical significance.

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It is not like the Chinese have been hiding their intention. Chinese internationalism has been high on the national agenda for more than a decade.  Its effects have already been felt in the UN system. And its focus on development, a hierarchically based system of security bounded by ideals of territorial buffers between leading states (though still imperfect given facts on the ground), and vertically arranged systems of dependence-reward (the win-win strategy) promises to remake the international order in quite interesting ways.  More immediately, it offers a set of internationalist justifications for the partitioning of Ukraine, and its reconstitution not necessary as a sovereign state but as a space for neutrality between the outer bands of the Chinese imperial space (through its Russian misbehaving dependency) and that of the United States (through its more rambunctious European frontiers).

Pix Credit 90s Classic Films that are Getting a Reboot
And there is the warning for those who have been invited to reboot the current system:  it may be foolish to give in to an involuntary reflex to dismiss the Chinese effort out of hand. Chinese contributions to international discussion is now amplified not merely by its more active presence in international organs, but also by its efforts to cultivate a developing state front through its Belt and Road Initiatives, including its Shanghai Cooperation Organization organs. These suggest "evidence" (along with Russia's adventurism in Ukraine) of the sort of system failure that requires not a remake but a reboot--and one the programmer of which is now China and its camp. In this context it may be necessary to identify and avoid the reflex to hubris by those who, without much effort, inherited a system (and the responsibility for its maintenance) from a generation that paid for that authority in blood, expressed as an impulse to dismiss as impossible any effort to seriously undermine the structures and use of its own now aging operating system. 

And yet neither is the threat impossible, nor implausible. And, at least for those still loyal to its structures and the principles, the effort to reboot ought to be taken quite seriously. Taking something seriously, though, does not necessarily produce a "rejectionist front"--that is simple minded and self-defeating. But it ought to cause those with responsibility for the protection of the Republic's core systems to have a close look and to seriously consider the effort and to respond in ways that serve the greater interests of the US and its allies in maintaining the current version of the system their ancestors put together after 1945. That response is not necessarily meant to be theatrical--though appropriate feeding of propaganda streams is likely useful. It is meant to seriously consider and appropriately profit from both the information harvested (the operating system needs adjustment if it is to survive into the next decade) and to maintain control of the programming process. At the moment, the initiative appears to have shifted to the Chinese side.

The  English language version of the Global Security Initiative Concept Paper follows along with the full text of the original Chinese version (全球安全倡议概念文件(全文)).

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Charging Backwards into the Future: Text of Vladimir Putin's 21 February 2023 Address to the Federal Assembly (Послание Президента Федеральному Собранию)


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 "Let me remind you that in the 30s of the last century, the West actually opened the way for the Nazis to power in Germany. And in our time, they began to make “anti-Russia” out of Ukraine. The project is actually not new. People who are at least a little immersed in history know perfectly well: this project goes back to the 19th century, it was cultivated in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and in Poland, and other countries with one goal - to tear off these historical territories, which today are called Ukraine , from our country. That's what this goal is. There is nothing new, no novelty, everything is repeated."

[Напомню, в 30-е годы прошлого века Запад фактически открыл нацистам путь к власти в Германии. А в наше время из Украины они стали делать «анти-Россию». Проект на самом деле неновый. Люди, которые хоть немножко погружаются в историю, знают прекрасно: этот проект уходит корнями ещё в XIX век, его взращивали и в Австро-Венгерской империи, и в Польше, и других странах с одной целью – оторвать эти исторические территории, которые сегодня называются Украиной, от нашей страны. Вот в чём эта цель. Ничего нового нет, никакой новизны, всё повторяют.] (V. Putin, Address to Federal Assembly)


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Perhaps one of the most self-injuring things a political society does to itself is to import the politesse of social relations into the political sphere. Worse, perhaps, is the tendency to construct a narrative that is then believed and used to color the world that becomes all the stronger the more distance there is between the facts on the ground and the story line of narrative.  In the West, and at this time, those norms of politesse requires the ghosting of those people, books, events, and other things that either offend or that threaten.  While these may be as effective a set of disciplinary techniques as any others in the context of the control of internal social relations, their application also carries with it the potential to hobble the ability of the state to clearly and accurately assess the situation it may face in its relations with others.  The stories a society is trained to tell itself, stories and that serve not just as a referential lens but also as an embedded articulation of  the principles used to rationalize the world, can at the same time motivate and define also weaken and detach a society from the world around it.

The two reactive impulses--to ghost a threatening 'other' and to shroud oneself within one's own self constructed 'safe space'-- has marked the core dysfunction of the society of states and people in this new era of collective interaction. For those with an inclination to overcome this delusional (and protective to be sure) cycle, it might then follow that greater dispassionate attention ought to be paid both to the discursive projectiles originating  in oppositional forces, and to test (as against that) the robustness and relevance of one's own discursive lens against realities that may be indifferent to the ideological meaning systems imposed on them. In this respect it may be more important for those who direct the state apparatus, including its security and propaganda offices (in the case of the West its deeply interlinked press and social media organs), to carefully consider whatever is produced  by those states and others with which it has relations--good, bad, or ugly. And in a markets driven, democratic, political economic model like those of the liberal democratic West, to ensure that the largest number of people participate in its analysis and discussion of consequences. This is not to suggest that, like everywhere else, mass opinion need not be carefully curated.  Yet that has never been a problem in the West--at least to the extent that the range of discussion, and the techniques of ghosting and punishment for deviant views, has not already been refined to a remarkable extent through the operational modalities of public-private structural coupling. It is in the folly of believing what one's propaganda organs produce for mass management that poses a risk as potentially severe as that of ignoring the production of belief (and action based on it) by opposing or even friendly others. 

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It is with that in mind that, and especially among those states and other collectives (and their members) which have allied themselves with the cause of aiding Ukraine in its response to Russian territorial adventurism (an adventurism that began not in 2022 but in 2014 with the invasion of Crimea), that the projection of discourse and the narrative shifting adventurism (as part of is irregular warfare and more old fashioned propaganda efforts) ought to be carefully considered.

To that end, Mr. Putin's  panegyric to a state of existence that defines a view of Russia and the world around it, delivered in the form of an Address to the Russian Federal Assembly 21 February 2023 [Послание Президента Федеральному Собранию] exposes (again--see here) the discursive life world within which the current Russian leadership has constructed its hologram of the world they think they inhabit in physical form.  

 It is a world that is fueled by paranoia, and by an "end of history" hypercyclidity in which the patterns of the the end of European (and Soviet) hegemony appear to be doomed to eternal repetition in that space where Europe and Asia hurl themselves (discursively) against each other. Time has stopped, in a sense, for the Russian leadership. The effort to undo decades of what in retrospect might have been poor choices--from 1939 through 1991--requires the construction of the hologram nicely on display in the speech. And yet, this is a dangerous hologram in the sense that its projection out from its abstracted space onto the territory of Ukraine has now produced not abstracted destruction to life and property but destruction than is blasted onto the bodies of those who find themselves  forced to serve physical manifestation of these abstracted terrains.  

But there is more of course, especially beyond the end of remarks theatrics of suspending participation in arms treaty.  The first is the further commitment to the integration of the Sino-Eurasian region (and thus the determination, rejecting the choice made by Peter the Great, to turn east rather than west). The second is the continued dialogue with Russian boyars, especially those who have escaped westward. This is not about the increasing spate of accidental falls down stairs and out of windows that have plagued some of them; it is a suggestion for return. Third is a sort of return to Soviet era self sufficiency language, somewhat at variance with the necessity of integration with another imperial center. Fourth is the recognition that population matters--especially when bodies are consumed in warfare on the ground. Passportization is not enough. Fifth is the continued power, at least among the elite, of cultivating a vision of the Soviet Empire at the apex of Stalinism as the golden era of Russian glory, the return to which is the measure of contemporary success.  Sixth is the effective se of the tropes of the West--especially the Nazi trope--as an effective means of 'othering' opponents and silencing opposition or even discussion; very much in the style of oppositional discursive tropes among the leading social forces n the West. Seventh, the importance to the Russification project of cultivating a form of Russian culture that is distinct in some fashion, and detached from the West--taking, in effect, the impulses that produces national cultures within soon-to-be-dismembered European empires and attaching to them significance that was at once more political than cultural. One now understands the danger here--it is not in national aspirations, but rather in the pursuit of the idea that Russia is still capable of exercising imperium; for them the UK and France and Germany suggest an alternative reality from the one that their a-historical 20th century stasis produces. Russia is certainly a big country in virtually every respect--but after 2022 it may be harder to suggest that it sits among the first tier of states--which remains occupied by two, rather than three states, neither of which is Russia. That is not a bad lace to wind up--Europe  understands. 
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But it may be a generation before the perceptional clarity of the West seeps  past the West Slavic plains eastward. Territorial empires died in the great conflagration of the war that consumed Europe between 1914 and 1991. It is inefficient, relies on cultural and structural principles that have universally rejected--ethno-supremacy and  political unity, racism, religious xenophobia and hierarchy,  and the like. Russia seeks to move into the 21st century by insisting that this can be done by forthrightly driving in reverse. And in that another lens of the tragedy that is the current situation on the borderlands of empire.

The text of the Address and a crude English translation follow. The video may be accessed HERE. And more interesting still to come: the extent to which the messaging in this address will find its way into the proposal, expected soon, from the Chinese side, for peace in our time.


Monday, February 20, 2023

A Grand Anniversary Gesture: Mr. Biden Travels to Ukraine 20 February 2023 With (Some) Gifts


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It seems everyone involved n the Russo-Ukraine war is eager to mark the first anniversary of the start of the send offensive (the first, of course was the less well remembered invasion of Crimea in 2014)  in Russia's  territorial adventurism. 

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The Chinese side announced at the Munich Security Conference the elaboration of a roadmap to peace--one very much a refinement of what has already been cobbled together from statements from officials almost from the start of this second offensive in 2022 (see here, here, here, and here).

 "Wang Yi announced that the Chinese side will put forth "China's position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis" and continue to stay firm on the side of peace and dialogue. Wang Yi said China will be launching a Global Security Initiative Concept Paper to lay out more practical measures to address current security challenges." (Wang Yi Attends the 59th Munich Security Conference and Delivers a Keynote Speech)

That Chinese plan is likely to offer something like a Mongolian solution--formal operatic declarations of the sovereign dignity of Ukraine beneath which a structure for the essential stripping of its national authority to act without the concession of its imperial monitors will be created. In the blander language likely to be used--the construction of a system in which Ukraine will become a neutral zone, Russia can keep its cool water ports in Crimea, and Ukraine will be forbidden from joining Europe. It will be designed as a transition state, though one which makes no sense geographically (considering the way that, to use a more ancient trope, the Baltic states already  constitute a knife pointed at the heart of the Russian  state). But the Europeans will get what they most desperately want--a pretended return to something like the status quo ante. In realty, the concessions will prove the unmaking of such a dream--though not its temporary forms. In the meantime, China will aid its security panicked Russian dependency while the Americans support the Ukrainians ("Mr. Biden's visit to the region, which was to see him meet later in the day with other European leaders in Poland, comes as the world prepares to mark a full year since Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his full-scale invasion of Ukraine — and amid concerns first publicized over the weekend by America's top diplomat that China may be on the brink of providing Russia with weapons to bolster its assault." CBS News)

The Russians, for their part, will mark the anniversary with renewed military offensives and more likely the strategically enhanced campaign of terror. They are still convinced that  their tactics in Syria and Chechnya will also bear some fruit in Ukraine.  There is not much new here other than perhaps a sense of greater urgency given the unavoidable condition of human existence--people are born, they live and then, at the appointed time, they die. In the meantime they adjust to their new role in the global order--dependent on China and regionally strong with their friendships in the Shia Islamic world and among old Soviet loving potential post-global third tier satellites in Latin America. 

The Europeans have been engaged in a more intense campaign of hand wringing more about tensions within the European sub-camp than about what if anything the Europeans may be required by reasons other than principle, to react to the continuing offensives in Ukraine. Leadership has appeared (remarkably at least on the political level to have shifted from Mittel Europa to its East. 

Poland has called for NATO to make postwar assurances of military backing to Ukraine. . . Former NATO secretary-general Anders Fogh Rasmussen has already co-authored a formal proposal for Ukraine to benefit from an arrangement similar to the one the United States already has with Israel. While Israel - like Ukraine - is not a member of NATO, the United States provides large-scale political support including extended loan guarantees and the technology to keep a 'qualitative military edge' over rivals. (Poland Calls on NATO to Offer 'Security Guarantees')

Buried in that request is the concession that the powers that be continue to reject the embedding of Ukraine in Europe. It also suggests a more decisive role for the Chinese position which seeks to strip Ukraine effectively of its sovereignty and, with appropriate territorial concessions to turn it into a vast neutral zone in and through which Empires and their dependencies may freely play at whatever it is they play at.  The Israeli card is interesting, though concessions to Russia, unspoken but anticipated but also strengthen the argument that what is good enough for the Russian dependency of China is also good enough for Israeli territorial concessions.

Not to be undone, the United States staged a quite remarkable--and perhaps successful--performance of power and support.  Mr. Biden personally delivered the response of the Americans to requests for more aid in a person to person meeting with Mr. Zelenskiy, to be followed by a visit to Poland.

Pix Credit here
As the world prepares to mark the one-year anniversary of Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine, I am in Kyiv today to meet with President Zelenskyy and reaffirm our unwavering and unflagging commitment to Ukraine’s democracy, sovereignty, and territorial integrity.

When Putin launched his invasion nearly one year ago, he thought Ukraine was weak and the West was divided. He thought he could outlast us. But he was dead wrong.

Today, in Kyiv, I am meeting with President Zelenskyy and his team for an extended discussion on our support for Ukraine. I will announce another delivery of critical equipment, including artillery ammunition, anti-armor systems, and air surveillance radars to help protect the Ukrainian people from aerial bombardments. And I will share that later this week, we will announce additional sanctions against elites and companies that are trying to evade or backfill Russia’s war machine. Over the last year, the United States has built a coalition of nations from the Atlantic to the Pacific to help defend Ukraine with unprecedented military, economic, and humanitarian support – and that support will endure.

I also look forward to traveling on to Poland to meet President Duda and the leaders of our Eastern Flank Allies, as well as deliver remarks on how the United States will continue to rally the world to support the people of Ukraine and the core values of human rights and dignity in the UN Charter that unite us worldwide. (Statement from President Joe Biden on Travel to Kyiv, Ukraine)


The trip to Ukraine and its message of support was a positive move, especially by those who continue to be troubled by (and opposed to) the form and pursuit of Russian adventurism in a sovereign state over which it has no claim. Given the timing--after the Munich Security Conference and before the anticipated Russian anniversary offensive--there was likely some strong value in the personal delivery of news of US support. Nonetheless, and sadly, there was a bit of bathos in the statement--no aircraft.  And that is perhaps the most telling part of the performance. The Americans--as the vanguard of the alliance supporting Ukraine, continue to adhere to a position more or less crafted in the initial months of the start of the second offensive.  They will trade Crimea for peace (the 2014 territorial conquest a mimicry of the 1939 agreements on Polish territorial adjustments between the German Reich and the Soviet apparatus); they will support defensive and limited territorial reconquest efforts in return for Russian and Ukrainian concessions (but see here for divisions in this view). They will play the Turkey EU admission card--dangling EU membership and NATO assurances in return for concessions and peace. But they have no intention of threatening the territorial integrity or the stability of what passes for the current political-administrative model in Russia. At the same time they will sideline the crisis in NATO with the proposed admission of new members in a continued effort to allow Turkey to leverage  their strategic position on the Bosporus. They will tolerate the construction of an imperial aggregation the hub of which is seated in Beijing.  They will do what they can to develop new modalities of engaging, for mutual profit, with whatever emerges from this adventure. And they will pray to whatever gods they still profess of belief in that this Prussian gambit (effectively managing the situation so that  momentary peace and stability can be purchased with Ukrainian territorial and sovereign concessions) will create consequences that will not make things worse.
Pix Credit here as perhaps planted in the west by Russian information operatives

"But the president has made American support for Ukraine the centerpiece of his argument for a revitalized alliance in Europe, and he had told advisers that he wanted to mark the first anniversary of the invasion as a way of reassuring allies that his administration remained committed." (Biden Visits Kyiv, Ukraine’s Embattled Capital, as Air-Raid Siren Sounds: President Biden took a nearly 10-hour train ride from the border of Poland to show his administration’s “unwavering support” a year into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine).


The Chinese Foreign Minister, then, might well then have exposed the elephant in the room of European security when, in the course of the Munich Security Conference he noted: "“We need to think calmly, especially our friends in Europe, about what efforts should be made to stop the warfare; what framework should there be to bring lasting peace to Europe; what role should Europe play to manifest its strategic autonomy,” said Wang, who will continue his Europe tour with a stop in Moscow." (China talks ‘peace,’ woos Europe and trashes Biden in Munich). A post 1945 domesticated Europe is unlikely to have much of a stomach for the construction of post-Global empire building on the sidelines of which they now appear to sit. The rest is stage management for the consumption of the masses--and the press organs through which mass opinion is curated (here). 

(How Ukraine Endured)


Links and talking points from recent Reuters reporting follow:

Sunday, February 19, 2023

童之伟:法学基本研究对象与核心范畴再思考——基于宪法视角的研究 [Tong Zhiwei: Rethinking the Basic Research Objects and Core Categories of Law——Research From a Constitutional perspective]


 Tong Zhiwei [童之伟] is today one of the most distinguished scholars of Chinese constitutional law. Based for many years at East China University of Political Science and Law, he has taught in a number of universities and has been prominent, as well as courageous, in his scholarship and engagement with his political community, and with colleagues worldwide.  Over the course of the years I have translated and shared many of his short essays posted online (see here).

Professor Tong has recently produced a quite interesting and important essay,   法学基本研究对象与核心范畴再思考——基于宪法视角的研究 [Tong Zhiwei: Rethinking the Basic Research Objects and Core Categories of Law——Research From a Constitutional perspective], which appeared online in Aisiaxiang  on 26 September 2022. The abstract nicely frames its object--the application of principles of socialist modernization to the reinvigoration of the framework within which Chinese constitutional jurisprudence might be better aligned with the times and the realities of this "New Era" :

[内容摘要]现代汉语法学的核心话语形成于20世纪前期,一百多年来并无明显变化。基本研究对象、核心范畴设定与当代中国法律实践错位,是当今法学基础性研究要解决的首要课题。汉语法学应以权为基本研究对象,采用绝对方法形成以法权为核心的基本范畴体系。汉语法学基础理论应通过重置核心话语来获取现代性、本土性和对当代法律实践的适应性。[[Abstract] The core discourse of modern Chinese jurisprudence was formed in the early 20th century, and has not changed significantly for more than a hundred years. The dislocation between basic research objects, core category setting and contemporary Chinese legal practice is the primary topic to be solved in today's basic legal research. Chinese jurisprudence should take rights as the basic research object, and adopt absolute methods to form a basic category system with legal rights as the core. The basic theory of Chinese jurisprudence should acquire modernity, locality and adaptability to contemporary legal practice by resetting the core discourse.]

This rethinking about the way one rationalizes Chinese jurisprudence (in a sense a rationalization of the structures for rationalizing specific fields of knowledge) provides a refreshingly new way to approach the now sometimes ritualized discourse of rights, duties, power, and the like that has had academics and others running around in circles for a century or so. To be sure the performance of circle running has been quite useful for managing orthodoxy, and  preserving, perhaps even moving the field in some direction or other. Yet, as Tong suggests in the case of China it is one that has grown increasingly detached from the reality about which it ostensibly claims a relation.  At the same time, there is much here that suggests that the easy stance of current popular critical movements  (of the so-called left or right camps) in their own discursive circle running around the critique of liberal rights, might neither be as useful or relevant as it might appear. The missing link, though, is ideology, and it comes at no surprise that ideology is itself an instrument of orthodoxy and the demonization of heresy. The discussion of legal transplantation is particularly useful in two respects, The first touches on the effects of transplantation of transplants (in this case the already digested receipt of European jurisprudence filtered through its development in Japan). The second, in the more abstract transplantation of grounding ideology--especially in the discourse that marks the porous borderlands between Marxist-Leninist and liberal democratic  transplants onto Chinese jurisprudence. Lastly, the consideration of a three part basic jurisprudential typology--(1) traditional rights; (2) power and jurisdiction; and (3) residual rights (positive and negative)--provides a rich basis for considering the possibilities of jurisprudential development in China.   

It is my great pleasure, with Professor Tong's assent, to post both the original and a crude English translation. In that context I note that a critical term used through out the text  “权力” , and translated as power, might well be understood in a more subtle and complex sense as incorporating a cluster of related terms in English--including authority, jurisdiction, commission, as well as the extent or scope of each. 


Saturday, February 18, 2023

Marianne von Blomberg and Haixu Yu, "Shaming the Untrustworthy and Paths to Relief in China’s Social Credit System" (Modern China 17 Feb. 2023)


Pix Credit HERE

I am delighted to pass along the news about the publication of a fantastic article--Marianne von Blomberg and Haixu Yu, "Shaming the Untrustworthy and Paths to Relief in China’s Social Credit System" (Modern China 17 Feb. 2023). The authors (both at the University of Cologne) consider the connections between objectives of trust, the modalities of date driven regulatory management of mass behaviors, and the leveraging of social relations. That combination--perhaps aimed at better management, produces incompatibilities with the traditional normative parameters within which  a law based regulatory system is supposed to operate. 

Abstract: China’s social credit system (SCS) formalizes reputational regulation, thereby challenging traditional remedial paths. It adds trust assessments and their dissemination to the regulatory repertoire of Chinese state agencies across all realms. This use of adverse publicity, however, entails the loss of the agency’s control over the scope and intensity of the punishment as the punitive action is realized by information recipients, rather than the agency itself. Traditional legal controls are not fit for shaming. We map how the SCS innovates public regulation by implementing a strategy for regulatory shaming from the central level. In a second step, we discuss its consequences, specifically, how undue damages are remedied. Legal remedies for social credit shaming measures are regularly denied, as their position in the law is unclear. Other existing remedial channels likewise do not consider the particularities of shame sanctions such as irreversibility. Social credit reputational regulation might best be controlled by formulating an agency practice that retains control over the scope of punishment.

This is, of course, not a uniquely Chinese issue, or one especially confined to social credit regimes.  There is a long history of shaming techniques in Western law--from the stocks, to the publication of the names of the customers of prostitutes. Those techniques have tended to avoid the close inspection that a data driven system has generated (but see eg here)--and perhaps that is the reason. The scalability of shaming through the data rich techniques of social credit substantially intensify the effects. The authors' conclusion might well relate to both versions:

The SCS presents a case in which reputational regulation meets a legal system whose structures are not (yet) able to accommodate it. The ways in which these contradictions will be resolved will shed light on the future of the role of law in China. Further research is needed to explore whether the SCS’s reputation information mechanisms will help to realize “Chinese ‘new era’ pan-moralism” (Lin and Trevaskes, 2019: 44), or retract and develop into an extended open government information scheme in line with the current legal framework.

Yet it is also worth noting that misalignment does not necessarily suggest incompatibility.  It can as easily suggest the need for reform and alignment. 

The online text of the paper may be accessed HERE

Friday, February 17, 2023

Video and PPT of Lecture, Keren Wang, "Social and Moral Engineering in the Age of Big Data: Personalized 'Pillars of Shame' and the Chinese Social Credit System" Now Available



 It was my great pleasure to have attended the lecture by my colleague, friend and former student, Keren Wang, now an ACLS Post-Doctoral Fellow at Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia USA).  The lecture, "Social and Moral Engineering in the Age of Big Data: Personalized 'Pillars of Shame' and the Chinese Social Credit System" examined one of the most sensitive areas of legal development--the transformation of the modalities and language of law from text to symbolic action, and its enforcement from an administrative task exogenous to the act, to the development of systems of governmentality (the governance of modes of thought in this case) grounded in quantification and nudging strategies that internalize compliance. The specific focus in this case is China and its  pioneering work in this context organized within regimes we have come to label generically Social Credit. 

The lecture video is now available online and may be accessed HERE.  Highly recommended. 

Keren has also permitted me to share the lecture PowerPoint. They follow below. 



Thursday, February 16, 2023

"Chinese State-Owned Companies: Congruence and Dissonance in Outbound Investment"; Presentation at Oxford University China Law Center 16 February 2023


 It was my great delight to find myself again at Oxford and with great thanks to Patricia (Tia) Thornton, to present some thoughts on the complicated topic of Chinese state owned enterprises (CSOEs) at the Oxford China Law Center.

These thoughts, organized as "Chinese State-Owned Companies: Congruence and Dissonance in Outbound Investment," explore CSOEs as an advanced instrument of Chinese Marxist markets theory in China's Leninist New Era, with a focus on outbound investment in the Americas and Europe.  Under ordinary circumstances this topic might  present a bauble of passing interest  to China specialists and to students of Marxist-Leninist and comparative systems. Nonetheless, the topic becomes far more interesting when the forms and narratives of Chinese economic theory, projected outward through its CSOEs, begin to have a substantial effect on the theory and practice of trade, of the application of principles of human rights and sustainability in economic activities, and ultimately on the current contest for control of the fundamental principles of inter-collective activity.  

The presentation starts with the "original sin:" the generation long effort to domesticate Chinese Marxist-Leninist economic collectives within the deep normative expectations of an international trade system founded on principles of markets driven activity and liberal democratic values. Not that any of this was wrong, just that it set up the inevitability of conflict when, after almost a generation China became a producer rather than an consumer of economic and political trade and economic activity norms.  It is necessary then to understand the CSOE within the current expression of Chinese Marxist-Leninism (in its current "New Era". It serves as the organization of state assets whicvh, along with markets, are meant to serve the advancement of the core political and normative objectives of the nation, guided by and under the leadership of the Communist Party of China. It has been the great project of liberal democratic narrative normativity to disabuse the Chinese of this starting notion for the organization of public life. Anf it has been resistance to those efforts that have brought us to the current situation. That situation, operationally, is marked by a deep web of guidance, policy and law, which for the central (leading) CSOEs is managed through organs of the Chinese State Council, but within which the CPC is embedded at every level.  The organization of assets with a purpose also mark the constitution of Chinese Leninist macro economics policy, especially as they touch on risk, human rights and sustainability. That is explored next, in the context f the great divergence between the two systems marked by their approach to risk and the application of prevent-mitigate-and remedy principles. From this emerges Socialist expressions of trader and human-rights/sustainability. With this in hand it is now possible to begin to consider the question: to what extent does that divergence produce operational dissonance when CSOEs operate abroad? The short answer is this: ion the context of operational decision making the differences are largely one of degree, with CSOEs more inclined to consider remedy as a viable strategy, and in managing their own risk will negotiate with local stakeholders. The differences are much larger in the context of initial decisions to invest in projects.  It is here that divergence will have the most profound effect. And in the process the liberal democratic impulse to sanction (ghost) offending investments may meet its greatest challenge within the operational parameters of the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative (eg here).

The PowerPoint of the presentation follow.  They may also be accessed here. For SOEs, global trade, and the calculus of risk, and rights (human and sustainability based) in economic activity the discussion is just beginning.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Full text of 2023 Joint Statement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Islamic Republic of Iran and Peoples Republic of China


 The Belt & Road Initiative is proving to be a flexible device fo4r the constitution of an all around  approach to bilateral relations within a rationalized multilateral structure. Much of the more granular expressions of BRI relations tend to find themselves in Memorandum of Understanding atta ched to or developed alongside the BITs or related public  instruments.

A small window on what might be in such MOUs (though in this case designed for public consumption) might be gleaned by the Full text of Joint Statement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between Islamic Republic of Iran and Peoples Republic of China posted (in English--and thus for  projection outward) on the website of the Iranian Presidency. It was produced at the end of of Xi Jinping's state visit to Iran.  It builds on the 2016 Joint Statement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership and a 2020 effort at a long term cooperation agreement. An American analysis may be considered here. The 2023 Joint Statement follows in full below.  

In his Regular Press Conference 13 February 2023, Wang Wenbin explained:

CCTV: China announced yesterday that Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will pay a state visit to China. Can you share more about the program of the visit? What’s your expectation for the visit? And how does China view the current China-Iran relations?

Wang Wenbin: This visit will be President Raisi’s first visit to China after taking office. During the visit, President Xi Jinping will hold talks with President Raisi to jointly provide planning and guidance for the development of bilateral relations, and have an in-depth exchange of views on regional and international issues of shared interest. Premier Li Keqiang and Chairman Li Zhanshu will also meet with President Raisi respectively.

China and Iran enjoy a traditional friendship. Consolidating and developing relations is the strategic choice made by both sides. In recent years, under the guidance of President Xi and President Raisi, China-Iran relations have maintained the momentum of sound growth, featuring stronger political mutual trust, steady progress in practical cooperation in various fields, and sound communication and coordination in international and regional affairs in defense of the principle of non-interference in internal affairs and the common interest of developing countries. China looks forward to working with Iran to take this visit as an opportunity to make greater progress in China-Iran comprehensive strategic partnership, and play a constructive role in enhancing solidarity and cooperation between countries in the Middle East and promoting regional security and stability.

The version circulated (in English) by the Chinese Foreign Ministry may be accessed HERE