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CFR Backgrounder: The Chinese Communist Party (updated)

November 20, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: The Chinese Communist Party
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is the founding and ruling political party of modern China, boasting more than eighty-six million members. In 2012, the CCP underwent a pivotal once-in-a-decade power transition that saw its fifth generation of leaders set the future agenda for the second-largest economy in the world. While the party has maintained a political monopoly since its founding, the effects of China’s rapid economic growth have triggered increasing social unrest and political destabilization that challenge the country’s rise as a global power. A spate of political scandals has also exposed deep power struggles inside the infamously opaque organization. The changeover has done little to affect immediate party policy and direction, however the implications of new leadership sheds some light on how China plans to position itself on the world stage.

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Backgrounder: The Russian Military

November 17, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: The Russian Military
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Russian military suffered years of neglect after the Soviet collapse and no longer casts the shadow of a global superpower. However, the Russian armed forces are in the midst of a historic overhaul with significant consequences for Eurasian politics and security. Russian officials say the reforms are necessary to bring a Cold War-era military into the twenty-first century, but many Western analysts fear they will enable Moscow to pursue a more aggressive foreign policy, often relying on force to coerce its weaker neighbors. Some say Russian interventions in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014—both former Soviet republics seeking closer ties to the West—demonstrate that President Vladimir Putin is prepared to use military force to reestablish Russian hegemony in its near abroad.

CFR Backgrounder: The Arab League

November 11, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: The Arab League
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Founded in March 1945, the League of Arab States (or Arab League) is a loose confederation of twenty-two Arab nations, including Palestine, whose broad mission is to improve coordination among its members on matters of common interest. The League was chartered in response to concerns about postwar colonial divisions of territory as well as strong opposition to the emergence of a Jewish state in Palestine, but it has long been criticized for disunity and poor governance. Critics also say it has traditionally been more representative of its various autocratic regimes than of Arab citizens.

The organization had the opportunity to advance social interests with the push for Palestinian statehood at the UN and the unrest in many Arab countries in 2011. Some critics see positive developments in the League’s actions in Libya, where it supported a no-fly zone and the ouster of Muammar al-Qaddafi, and in Syria, where it orchestrated a fact-finding mission to observe the conflict and called on President Bashar al-Assad to step down after months of deadly clashes with protesters.

CFR Backgrounder: Transportation Infrastructure: Moving America

November 10, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: Transportation Infrastructure: Moving America
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Infrastructure is critical to economic growth, but the aging U.S. transportation system suffers from insufficient investment. As this CFR Progress Report and Scorecard, Road to Nowhere, explains, other nations are building new highways as the United States’ crumble. U.S. transportation fell from fifth in the World Economic Forum’s rankings in 2002 to twenty-fourth in 2011, passed by nations such as Spain, South Korea, and Oman. Making a U-turn will take some time since major infrastructure projects require several years to plan and execute.

The decline can be attributed to a general trend of under-investment in infrastructure; the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) has only awarded overall grades of D or D+ to U.S. infrastructure in all five report cards issued from 1998 to 2013. Current infrastructure requires more investment—for instance, one in nine U.S. bridges are structurally deficient—while new projects are needed to address issues such as road congestion, which costs American drivers $101 billion annually in wasted time and fuel, and airport delays that are a $22 billion drag on the economy.

While experts have been warning about crumbling infrastructure for more than a decade, the federal government has not addressed underinvestment.

Backgrounder: Media Censorship in China

October 30, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder: Media Censorship in China
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

The Chinese government has long kept tight reins on both traditional and new media to avoid potential subversion of its authority. Its tactics often entail strict media controls using monitoring systems and firewalls, shuttering publications or websites, and jailing dissident journalists, bloggers, and activists. The severity of media censorship grabbed headlines in early January 2013 when Southern Weekly, a liberal-leaning paper based in Guangzhou, staged a week-long confrontation with the government after local propaganda authorities rewrote a front-page pro-reform editorial. Google’s battle with the Chinese government over Internet censorship in China, and the Norwegian Nobel Committee’s awarding of the 2010 Peace Prize to jailed Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo, have also increased international attention to media censorship in the country. At the same time, the country’s burgeoning economy has allowed for greater diversity in China’s media coverage, and experts say the growing Chinese demand for information is testing the regime’s control.

Issue Guide: What’s at Stake in Hong Kong?

October 17, 2014 Comments off

Issue Guide: What’s at Stake in Hong Kong?
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

Twenty-five years after the brutal Tiananmen crackdown, continuing protests in Hong Kong calling for greater democracy in the territory have once again focused the world’s attention on China’s rise and challenges to its authoritarian rule. The following guide provides background and analysis of the issues at stake for Hong Kong and the wider region.

Backgrounder — The China-North Korea Relationship

August 25, 2014 Comments off

Backgrounder — The China-North Korea Relationship
Source: Council on Foreign Relations

China is North Korea’s most important ally, biggest trading partner, and main source of food, arms, and energy. The country has helped sustain what is now Kim Jong-un’s regime, and has historically opposed harsh international sanctions on North Korea in the hope of avoiding regime collapse and a refugee influx across their border. But after Pyongyang’s third nuclear test in February 2013, analysts say that China’s patience with its ally may be wearing thin. This latest nuclear test, following previous ones in 2006 and 2009, has complicated North Korea’s relationship with Beijing, which has played a central role in the Six Party Talks, the multilateral framework aimed at denuclearizing North Korea. The December 2013 execution of Jang Song-taek, Kim Jong-un’s uncle and adviser with close ties to Beijing, spurred renewed concern from China about the stability and direction of the North Korean leadership. Furthermore, experts say that thawing relations between China and South Korea could shift the geopolitical dynamic in East Asia and undermine the China-North Korea alliance.

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