No SDGs for you, North Korea! (updated)

Gird your loins: the zero draft of the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals is out! While most post-2015ers will have raced ahead to see what Goals are included, they’ll have overlooked a small but significant detail in the preamble. As you’d expect in a document of this nature, the usual genuflections to countries in special circumstances are naturally observed:

We recognize that each country faces specific challenges to achieve sustainable development, and we underscore the special challenges facing the most vulnerable countries and, in particular, African countries, least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing States …

But there are also a couple of additions to the usual list, lest anyone feel left out:

…as well as the specific challenges facing the middle-income countries. Countries in situations of conflict also need special attention.

Now, you might think that this diverse array of country categories must cover just about every developing country on Earth. But you’d be wrong. For as the proper development nerds among you will immediately have realised, there is a small number of developing countries that are neither least developed (according to the UNCTAD definition), nor middle income (according to the World Bank list) – Kenya, DPRK, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, to be specific.

In practice, Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe are covered elsewhere on the list, given that African countries warrant a special mention of their own. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan? Both landlocked – so they’re included too. Which means that, uniquely among the diverse array of the world’s developing countries, only North Korea fails to warrant inclusion in a category for special attention under the SDGs. Oops. Someone call Dennis Rodman!

Update: Peter Chowla writes in to point out that all is not lost for DPRK’s SDG coverage, as it is “most definitely a country in a conflict situation”: for one thing it never signed a formal peace treaty with the US after the Korean War, and for another thing it declared war on South Korea last year. So there we are: panic over!

China’s transition from object of Western power to rival to it

In our latest #progressivedilemmas article we look at how the left should respond to China’s rise.

During Labour’s last period in government we failed to make responding to illiberal powers one of the organising concepts of British foreign policy and paid the price in Copenhagen, Geneva, and New York. If we want to avoid repeating that mistake, we need to face up to the scale and nature of China’s power. Labour’s future China policy must combine the humility to recognise the UK’s diminished leverage and the confidence to believe the west’s collective capacity to shape the environment in which Beijing makes its choices has not been lost.

Have you heard who will replace Annan? It’s Mr. Inaudible!

There’s mounting confusion at the UN about who will replace Kofi Annan as the envoy to Syria.  Everyone knows that it’s meant to be veteran UN mediator Lakhdar Brahimi.  But it’s widely rumored that Brahimi is holding up the announcement because he wants a clear vote of support from the Security Council, which is not so easy these days.

That’s all a bit sensitive.  Ban Ki-moon gave a press conference in Timor-Leste today, and some impertinent journalist brought the issue up (as well as raising concerns about Timor’s future).  Check out the subtle way that the UN transcript deals with the complex Brahimi issue:

Q: Are you confident the country will remain peaceful once the peacekeeepers [sic] leave? And the second question: Mr. [inaudible] …. is a strong candidate to replace Kofi Annan, are you going to announce officially here in East Timor?

SG: I didn’t clearly understand your first question, but for the second question: I am not in a position to inform on anything about the successor issue of Kofi Annan as Joint Special Envoy for Syria. I am in the process of actively searching for a successor and when I am ready I will certainly announce this as soon as possible.

Now we don’t know if the questioner said “Brahimi”.  But it’s not a bad guess, and it wouldn’t be too hard to check.  But maybe there’s another mediator in the frame: Mr. Inaudible, a master of quiet diplomacy?

The world’s economic centre of gravity

From the Economist:

It is not exactly news that the world’s economic centre of gravity is shifting east. But it is striking how fast this seems to be happening. In a new study on the economic impact of urbanisation the McKinsey Global Institute, the research arm of the eponymous consultancy, has attempted to calculate how this centre of gravity has moved since AD 1 and how it is likely to move until 2025. Although the underlying maths (which involves weighting the approximate centre of landmass of a country by its GDP) has to be taken with a pinch of salt, the calculations show that the centre is rapidly shifting east—at a speed of 140 kilometres a year and thus faster than ever before in human history, according to Richard Dobbs, one of the authors of the study. The main reason for this is rapid urbanisation in developing countries, in particular China.

Majority of Chinese people rank environment higher than economy – Gallup

From Gallup’s website:

Fifty-seven percent of Chinese adults surveyed in 2011 — before the country’s economic slowdown grabbed headlines — prioritized protecting the environment, even at the risk of curbing economic growth. About one in five believed economic growth is more important. Chinese attitudes are typical of those in other emerging-market economies, where residents sided with the environment over the economy in earlier surveys.

Similarly, Americans historically prioritized environment protection over economic growth from 1985 to 2008. However, economic growth has taken priority since the economic recession deepened in 2009. If China’s economic troubles worsen, residents’ attitudes could change too.

The most heavily aided place in the world

Ever wondered where gets most Official Development Assistance per capita in the world? Have a guess. Somewhere in sub-Saharan Africa? Nope. The Occupied Palestinian Territories? Uh-uh. Somewhere that’s recently had a huge humanitarian disaster? You’re still way off.

In fact, it’s the place in the photo above – that’s the French dependency of Mayotte, in case you’re wondering, which in 2009 received the princely sum of US $2,751 per person in ODA.

Now, you’re probably assuming that this is just some strange anomaly to do with France’s generosity towards her overseas colonies. But in fact, numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 in the top five most heavily aided places on the planet are also small island states – and by no means are they all French possessions. Tuvalu gets $1,785 per capita; Palau, $1,737; the Marshall Islands, $1,101; and the Federated States of Micronesia, $1,093.

In fact, no-one else managed to get over the $1,000 per capita mark in 2009. The next nearest was the West Bank and Gaza, at $748 a head. If you’re wondering when an African country that’s not a small island state gets a look in, then you’re looking at Djibouti – all the way down at $186 a head.

Oh, and newsflash – none of the above are low income countries. In fact, you have to get to number 24 on the list of countries that get most ODA per capita – that’s Afghanistan – before you find a low income country. But who ever said life was rational?

(PS – if you’re interested in the general insanity of global aid allocations, check out this recent paper from Jonathan Glennie and Annalisa Prizzon at ODI for a more thorough analysis than the one above. Me, I’m off in search of some consultancy work in the south Pacific. They can afford it.)

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.