Linda Connors brings you the 10 Things You Should Know About Brexit.Read More
Staff writer Anezka Ferreira discusses China's growing influence
Chinese President Xi Jinping just returned from a visit to Europe to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), China’s unprecedented plan to expand its geopolitical reach. As Rome and Beijing signed a significant deal on the BRI, several European leaders were miffed with the controversial development and also warned Italy about the agreement’s ability to divide Europe.
During President Xi’s first stop, in Rome, the Chinese and Italian leaders signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) indicating Italy’s participation in the BRI, a state-led investment effort that seeks to deepen Chinese infrastructural links across Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America. In total, Chinese investors signed twenty-nine separate deals amounting to $2.8 billion worth of projects. Notably, they agreed to invest in port infrastructure in Genoa and Palermo which could give Chinese goods faster access to Europe. For Beijing, Italian ports offer favourable trade terms and faster access to EU markets and for Rome; the BRI offers an opportunity to help a lagging economy by expanding trade and inviting Chinese investment.
Italy is the eighth largest economy in the world. Regrettably, it has faced three recessions in the last ten years and the GDP projections for 2019 is expected to be at around 0.2 %. Thus, Italians endure a weak economy and endless political turmoil. As recent as May 2018, the country faced a political crisis which resulted in Giuseppe Conte, a virtually unknown law professor as the new Prime Minister. Even though he promised a revival of the economy, like his predecessors, he has failed to come through and blames external factors such as the trade war between the US and China or the EU's strict budget as obstacles to Italian progress. Thus, his MoU with China is a desperate attempt to reboot the Italian economy.
However, there is no such thing as a free lunch with the Chinese. At least eight countries who signed on the BRI are indebted to China and were compelled to hand over their strategic assets to the country in order to offset their debt. Therefore, downplaying the geopolitical risks, Italian proponents ignore China’s history of retaliating against partners that do not support its geopolitical interests. The BRI is not a charitable initiative developed for the betterment of humankind. It is a foreign-policy program explicitly designed to expand China’s economic and geopolitical influence globally that will give China access to strategically important locations, thereby strengthening its geopolitical influence and power.
Europe without a clear EU-level strategy remains vulnerable to the global giants’ divide-and-conquer tactics. Like Russia, which has used its advantage to turn states against each other with the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, China will engage bilaterally with as many European countries as it can.
Historically, the EU and China share deep economic ties. Despite this, the EU has grown apprehensive about how to address China’s growing economic and political influence in continental Europe, unfair trade practices, assertive stance on the South China Sea, and worsening human rights record. In a strongly worded policy paper, the European Union called on its member countries to take a united stand against China, acknowledging that China is no longer a developing country but a global power, an economic and strategic rival. If Italy becomes indebted to China, it will have significant implications in the EU’s policies toward China. Therefore, the EU needs a better strategy than a policy paper.
A suggested solution has been to give the European Commission a veto over any Chinese investments in the EU. Unilateral decisions by individual EU states have far-reaching security and economic implications for the rest of Europe and the possibility of national governments going their way frustrates the EU’s own efforts to forge a closer relationship with China. However, such power would undermine the very principles of sovereignty which the EU is built upon and hopes to exert against China. Conversely, a strong EU-China relationship could have profound benefits. Thus, it is in Europe’s interest to strengthen the rules-based international order, by working with China to open up its economy, improve its human-rights record, and eliminate unfair trade practices. Hence, one thing EU leaders can agree on: cooperation with China must prevail over confrontation.
Presently, Italy stands alone, and it remains unknown whether other European countries will follow suit and accept BRI funds, or whether the EU will push for stronger oversight of Chinese investment. The Italian government's decision to endorse China's "Belt and Road Initiative" is antithetical to European and Italian interests alike, and plays directly into Chinese President Xi Jinping's hands. The EU has been too slow to wake up to the challenges posed by an increasingly ambitious China.
In conclusion, with such developments is there a possibility for a Sino-European partnership in the future?
Staff writer Scarlett Neill on Labour's ever-changing stance on Brexit, and the political turmoil the UK currently finds itself in
Brexit. It’s coming and it is coming fast. Or so we thought. Labour have finally piped up on the topic, yet it is in a way that few expected. The Party is now backing a second referendum after spending the better part of the last year backing the result of the last referendum. Although even then, none of us really knew where they stood. At this point Labour could voice any opinion on Brexit and we will have doubts on its validity. Seven members of the party, along with a couple Tory’s, split to form the new Independent Group. This is important to note as the Labours U-turn could be the result of pressure from the recent split in the party.
Is Jeremy Corbyn finally caving to pressure from within the party? Is Labour going to try to reclaim the swing voters with a tantalising centrist policy? Attract new voters? A pressure tactic to get a softer Brexit? Or is it just another attempt to usurp the current Conservative government? These are all significant questions because all of them point to one thing; a Labour party that is unsure of its direction with significant internal division. It is nice to hope that any party is beginning to become at least slightly cohesive on one of the most significant political upheavals since the Second World War. However, that’s a far to idealistic assumption to make. This seems to me like another misguided attempt to gain political favour but without any risk due to the lack of ability to call for a vote of no confidence.
In addition, this just highlights the shear downfall of the Lib Dems and their second referendum ambitions. They’ve done nothing but campaign for another referendum since the initial vote, yet once Labour changed their tunes the entire game may have changed. Would the Lib Dems have been better off focusing on restoring the trust they lost? Or should have focused on more domestic issues rather than fading into obscurity by campaigning for an issue they were never going to be able to influence as a small party? The Lib Dems need to focus on restoring their party to a credible position, not continuing to whine about a single issue. If not, they face becoming no more than a protest group in the face of the two main parties.
This is definitely a move that may appeal to a significant portion of Labours voter base, but it is also a move that has the potential for many ramifications. If Labour goes through with this plan they may be accused of undermining democracy. If another referendum were to go ahead then the legitimacy of the result will be weak due to the fact a second referendum is controversial in the first place. This would cause huge political controversy, possibly worse than we have already seen. In addition, if this is just a tactic being employed by Labour to pressure Theresa May into a more favourable outcome before backing out of this policy then the electorate may feel betrayed. Neither seem to be particularly ideal outcomes for Labour or our political situation.
So, we come to ask ourselves. Is this a smart political manoeuvre that will help us break the cycle of confusion and incompetency we have seen so far in the Brexit dealings? Or is it’s a silly move that’s going to do nothing but create further divides? We will have to wait and see and hope that Labour know what they’re doing.
Staff writer Sophie Elizabeth Black writes on the abortion referendum in Ireland and feminist politics worldwide Standing as one of the strongest examples of a self-identified Catholic state in the world, Ireland has long struggled with tension between the demands of the liberal minority and the conservative doctrine promoted by the Church. However, in the past decade the Irish people have passed several progressive reforms in line with growing international norms, including becoming the first nation worldwide to legalise same-sex marriage via popular vote in 2015. In a historic referendum this May, it went one step further in overturning a centuries old law that restricted access to abortion only in cases where the pregnancy endangered the mother’s life.Yet, the pro-choice victory was no mean feat. In the lead up to the referendum, Christian far-right groups employed shock tactics in street campaigns; pedestrians were exposed to large billboards displaying an image of a foetus captioned “one of us”, encouraging the public to ‘love both’ the mother and the child by upholding the abortion ban. The debate reached international concern, with American anti-abortion groups such as ‘The Leadership Institute’ having travelled to leaflet in Dublin in the month lead up to the vote. Certainly, the right to abortion is a hot topic for many.Arguments often used by anti-abortion groups tweak at heartstrings, and it can be tempting for those easily persuaded to believe the legalisation of such a procedure will cause the murder of hundreds of innocent lives. Yet, such emotional rhetoric rests on the key assumption that a human’s life begins at conception; even if the ‘baby’ is only a few cells big. If we consider the statistic that the vast majority of abortions in the United Kingdom are in the first trimester, this poses the question of who the government values the welfare of more, the woman or her conception.A woman’s right to abortion is imperative to achieving gender equality in any nation. As seen in Least Developed Countries (LEDCs) such as Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Mozambique, a lack of access to contraception and family planning hinders education and employment prospects of women, and thus exacerbates their non-inclusion in political and economic society. The need for legal abortion does not lessen with the wealth of a country; as seen before the Roe vs. Wade ruling in 1973, thousands of American women either travelled to states where the procedure was legal or sought dangerous to procure an abortion. Half a century might have passed since then, but like in the United States, Irish women are still in dire need of safe and affordable access to reproductive healthcare.The recent Irish ruling represents hope for feminists worldwide that reproductive care will soon become widely available. Perhaps in a reactionary liberalism to the Kavanaugh controversy seen by the US Supreme Court, it seems a greater emphasis is being put on women’s issues in both the politics and popular media; Netflix releases such as Feminists: What Were They Thinking? and Reversing Roe have reignited revolutionary fervour which transcends nationality to fight for female-focused constitutional rights, such as legalised abortion and equal pay.Indeed, the turning of popular sentiment to support such feminist measures was exhibited last month in Northern Ireland, when British MP’s voted to overturn a notoriously strict law dating back to the Victorian Era forbidding all abortions; even in the case of rape, incest, or fatal foetal abnormality. Although no bill concerning the issue has been passed yet, it is hoped that the symbolic gesture will pass through parliament and into law. As well as advancing the human rights regime and gender equality, by passing this legislation Northern Ireland will act to stop the flow of desperate women travelling to the mainland United Kingdom at their own expense to obtain abortions from the UK’s National Health Service.Yet, this issue lies in the hands of the ever-complex relationship between a devolved Northern Ireland and Westminster. Although Theresa May announced she will not intervene in the matter, the Northern Ireland Assembly has been adjourned since entering a deadlock in January last year, leaving the country without an executive to address the vote. While the Conservatives have the pressing matter of Brexit negotiations to deal with, with her party’s loose coalition with the strongly anti-abortionist Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), it is unlikely that the Northern Irish debate will go unnoticed by Ms. May.To summarise, feminist politics has come a long way since the suffragette movement of the 1920s. Men and women worldwide are banding together to demand the constitutional right of reproductive freedom as the latest step towards achieving gender equality. Although the Irish referendum was hailed as a success for the global pro-choice movement, much is left to be achieved, as only a minority of countries (mostly Western, industrialised nations) have legislated abortion as a woman’s right. Yet, modern media’s influence on popular sentiment shows the tide is turning; the fight for women’s rights has become legitimised.
The electoral victory of Donald J. Trump was, to most, an outcry of profound malaise from the American working class. Riding a wave of discontent actively stoked by the most egregiously dishonest campaign in modern history, Trump opportunistically positioned himself as a repudiation of politics-as-usual to working class voters in desperate need of help. Since descending upon office, however, he has become a veritable case study in top-down class politics.The story, in short, was a matter of convincing disgruntled voters that assuming High Office was a matter of rehashing the culture wars by trouncing “social justice warriors” and “globalists”, and defending America from pernicious migrants, then slashing their medical coverage and appointing officials with dreams of an atmosphere on fire and a privatized education system once he got there.But despite all this, some, particularly conservatives have managed to persist in the delusion that Trump represents some sort of welcome development— a true outsider with the capacity to enact change rather than an incurable narcissist and a pathological liar with no real convictions. This delusion is questionable at best, particularly because it provides no real explanation for the desperation of working Americans, the vast majority of whom have not seen a real income gain since the 1970’s and many who have even seen their real income decline, who opted for the pseudo-radical choice despite his unprecedented unpopularity rather than because of some innate virtue in his part.In truth, there is very little interesting about Trump himself; the real story lies in the problems which brought him to power. This problem is not explainable through recourse to hopelessly subjective debates about free speech, “political correctness” (as common decency is often labeled by its opponents), out of touch metropolitan elites, or the like. Nor, really, is an honest explanation capable of blaming solely Republicans or Democrats.The truth is more complicated than that.Let’s begin at the end of the Second World War. Organized labour was strong, the American middle class was growing, and, in the decades that followed, the Post-war consensus which centered around full employment, capital controls (to cap speculation and other inefficiencies of unfettered market systems), and productive investment blossomed into an era of extraordinary growth and stability. The unique post-war environment and extensive political engagement produced what commentators have since taken to calling the “Golden Age of Capitalism”.Despite the popular conservative image of government as at best a necessary evil, all this occurred under the aegis of extensive state involvement in the economy, particularly in costly R&D and core industries, while organized labour ensured that wage growth followed roughly in tandem with productivity growth. The story was roughly the same across the Western world.This period marked the birth of the American middle class.All this also provided the framework for important displays of solidarity which came to a head in the 1960’s. The Civil Rights Movement was in no small part bolstered by the uptick in democratic participation which the post-war environment encouraged both in government and in the streets. Feminist causes, long since repressed, were also able to militate for equal rights between the sexes (a cause the right has unoriginally caricatured today in the image of the overly-sensitive or self-righteous Social Justice Warrior, a depiction utterly baseless and unoriginal in the history of Feminist struggles).Ultimately, however, the demands of the labour movement and the achievements of the welfare State— unprecedented triumphs of compassion and solidarity to most people— proved too costly to the powers that be. This isn’t “The Establishment” in the fuzzy sense as is often employed in populist circles. It is the same centre of gravity that has always existed in governmental circles: the business community.The problem with all of the above is that even if it ultimately raises the living standards of the vast majority of the population, and in the normal sense of the word is accomplishing everything that an economic system is supposed to do, it doesn’t change the fact that elite opinion is always going to be opposed to providing for the very kinds of services we have come to expect in the developed world, since they, economic elites and the business community, are disproportionately the ones paying for it.For most, the fact that the most affluent should pay for a higher proportion of goods and services seems just. In the practical sense of the term, higher taxes cost them less. But to those confronted with this intuitive argument, their social position presses them to argue that their position entails no corresponding obligation, that their privilege is somehow innate or natural, or that, at their most hysterical, all forms of taxation are simply outright theft.This was the logic of the Neoliberal Revolution Reagan and Thatcher brought to the West, and which ultimately brought Trump to power. It was a mantra of privatization of public services, deregulation of powerful financial institutions, and unregulated free trade. Its aim was to dissolve the sense of solidarity within the post-war political and economic coalition by seeing a conspiracy against the public interest in all publically accountable institutions, particularly government and trade unions, and, more cruelly still, to preach the free-market gospel to the very people who were most victimized by its logic. In the 1990’s under Clinton, with its relentlessly anti-poor and anti-black “war on drugs”, passing of relentlessly anti-worker Free Trade Agreements (by no means a necessary component of a “globalized” economy), and the “end of welfare as we know it” for good measure, this process continued largely unabated.The driving logic was ruthlessly individualistic and shamelessly selfish. It preached “all for ourselves and nothing for other people”, incidentally the very doctrine lambasted by the godfather of modern economics, Adam Smith, as the “vile maxim of the masters of mankind”. Predictably, this creed has been anathema to the vast majority of working people: an acid burning into the foundations of solidarity within American society.In teaching that anything but the vile maxim is utopian or unjust, such a worldview is cancerous to any political community. It makes a virtue of tearing political communities apart rather than bringing them together. But it has also euthanized the labour movement, lowered marginal tax rates upon the wealthiest, greatly increased both income and wealth inequality, empowered neonazis and a politics of anti-empathy, and taught people that the very institutions meant to represent and protect them are actually out to get them.By that measure, such politics of rage have produced exactly what was expected of it— a shameless, ineffectual, scapegoating figurehead of a politician, ready to sign nearly anything put in front of it by the forces that be. Under such an administration, where fear and rage divide public opinion, there is nothing to stand in the way of private power. And by that measure, self-interest for the few can be maximized at the expense of the many, all under the banner of a faux-radicalism that proposes nothing but the unfettered rein of the forces that be.Such is the politics of the “Vile Maxim”. Adam StrommeEditor-in-Chief, St Andrews EconomistCommittee Member, Socialist Society