Highlights from the 2012 Kazakhstan-China-Russia Table Tennis Friendship Tournament


The Washington Diplomat, a magazine focusing on diplomats in Washington, brings us exciting sporting news:

On Feb. 25, Asia’s time-honored tradition of “ping-pong diplomacy” took on a whole new meaning when [Chinese ambassador to the U.S.] Zhang Yesui and fellow diplomats representing the neighboring countries of Kazakhstan and Russia converged on the Kazakh Embassy to anoint a local ping-pong champion.

The formal-sounding “Kazakhstan-China-Russia Table Tennis Friendship Tournament” was anything but. The host team donned bright yellow “Kazakhstan” T-shirts that quickly became soaked in sweat; the Chinese wore red. In between action-packed games, these weekend warriors quenched their thirst with ice-cold Stella Artois beer and snacked on Costa Rican bananas and gala apples from Washington state.

All that sweat, beer and fresh fruit erased the diplomats’ daily cares:

On this particular Saturday afternoon, the diplomats’ attention was focused not on the war in Afghanistan, or Iran’s nuclear buildup, or the recent U.N. Security Council resolution imposing economic sanctions against Syria that was vetoed by both China and Russia — but on the fierce ping-pong battle being played out among three teams representing the world’s largest, fourth-largest and ninth-largest countries by size.

China won by a big margin.  But the Washington Diplomat would like to reassure readers that the Kazakh ambassador Kazakh Ambassador Erlan Idrissov was not downhearted:

Even if his country doesn’t produce the world’s best ping-pong players, it’s an undisputed champion when it comes to vodka.

After the lavish Kazakh-style buffet dinner following the tournament, Idrissov handed each of his guests a goodie bag containing, among other things, a 750-ml decorative bottle of potent Snow Queen. This rare spirit, named “Top Vodka” at the 2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition, sells for $70 a bottle and is the international winner of 10 gold, seven silver and eight bronze medals for excellence — a spirited end to a long day of hands-on diplomacy.

I for one would have needed a few shots of Snow Queen after all that.

Is the US focus on Asia a first step away from being a global power?

This is my first post for a while as I’ve been off ‘fighting ‘ cancer though for a lot of the time ‘enduring ‘ would have been a more appropriate way of putting it .

Anyway,  I’ve written a piece for Yale Global asking whether the combination of US concern over the rise of China and the US debt crisis mean the country is now set on path to de facto becoming a regional as opposed to global power.

Media coverage of President Barack Obama’s high-profile visit to Australia and plan to boost US presence in Asia may mask America’s shrinking global footprint. The combination of concern over China and the US debt crisis could set Washington on a course to becoming a mere regional power in the Asia Pacific. Read More

Is Corruption Always Bad?

Corrupt Money

Corruption is generally vilified as an unmitigated evil. It disenfranchises the poor, weakens public services, reduces investment, and holds back whole societies. And yet, in some instances, corruption can actually be very useful, lubricating business in a way that promotes growth, creates jobs, helps smooth the introduction of needed reforms, and reduces poverty.

What explains this paradox? Continue reading

The “fifth BRIC” motors along

Indonesia, sometimes known as the “fifth BRIC” (after Brazil Russia India China) because of its population size and growth potential, now has debt rated at investment grade for the first time since the Asian financial crisis:

While a credit-rating cut hangs over some nations, the Southeast Asian giant’s sovereign debt has been bumped back up to investment grade by Fitch Ratings, in December, and Moody’s Investors Service this week. Standard & Poor’s will surely follow suit.

Investors have already rewarded the country for solid fundamentals—foreign direct investment grew 20.2% last year to a record $19.3 billion, the government said Thursday, and, earlier this month, Indonesia sold 30-year bonds at a record-low yield of 5.375%. Meanwhile, gross domestic product growth is trotting along at a healthy 6%-plus, public debt is under control, and inflation is relatively benign at under 6%. Still, there are reasons to be cautious.

Corruption and weak infrastructure are perennial problems. Crumbling roads and inadequate ports especially stifle trade, costing as much as 1% of GDP, according to analysts. A recently enacted land acquisition bill should help. But there is much work to be done.

While India and China gain many more headlines, Indonesia may be both a more attractive bet for investors and a better case study for development professionals trying to find lessons applicable to less developed countries.

What can Southeast Asia teach Africa about development?

Southeast Asia has consistently outperformed Sub-Saharan Africa in income growth. As the below chart indicates, its inhabitants were much poorer than Africans in 1960; today they are two and one-half times richer. In fact, over the past half-century, the region has been the most consistently successful in the developing world, growing almost continuously (apart from a brief hiatus after the 1997 Asian financial crisis).

Source: Tracking Development

Southeast Asia’s growth has also been much more inclusive than Africa’s. Whereas the latter’s two growth spurts since independence—in the 1960s and 2000s—have yielded little poverty reduction, Southeast Asia has produced spectacular reductions. Indonesia, for instance, reduced poverty from 60 percent in 1970 to 22 percent in 1984. Vietnam reduced it from 58 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2008.

Yet, the region does not meet the standard model for economic success, at least as defined by the World Bank and the rest of the Western development community. Governments have historically not been held in check by elections. Corruption is widespread. Governance has rated low on most indicators.

What then explains this success? Continue reading

Syria: the Security Council paralyzed

It turns out that my last post on the Security Council and Syria was wrong.

Exceptionally wrong, in fact.

Rather than acquiesce to a resolution condemning the Syrian government for repressing its people, China and Russia used their vetoes.  And rather than support the EU-drafted resolution (as had seemed increasingly likely) Brazil, India and South Africa abstained.

This is a big set-back for the EU and the Americans, who were firmly behind the European initiative.  It’s a big win for Russia, which would have been embarrassed if China had even abstained.  And it’s a grim moment for Brasilia, Delhi and Pretoria, who have missed the chance to carve out a distinctive position in the Council on Syria, and opted to avoid a confrontation.  This was a moment the “IBSA” countries  could have seized to show why they deserved more respect at the UN.  They missed it.

More analysis tomorrow.  For now, congratulations to Gabon and Nigeria for voting for the resolution, refuting the claim that all developing countries are anti-interventionist.