Reflections are only that, reflections, nothing more nothing less. Often these reflections are related to books I read, but occasionally also other things. These are often written very late, very fast,  using notes from my mobile phone, so the grammar and spelling is horrible.

2012 and the year of the Dragon with D for Dialogue

China Daily had a short article about 2012 and China's role in global diplomacy (direct link here). The context for my sentence is below. +++++++++++++

2012 will see an increased pressure from especially EU and US, but also Africa, parts of Asia, etc for China to take the lead in many areas. This is wrong in three ways:

  1. China have not been leading in creating these problems, from financial to environmental
  2. China is not an aggressive leader in the same way as US is today and EU was earlier so the idea of “leadership” does not apply in the same way.
  3. Often the call for leadership is a way for other countries to divert focus from their own responsibility.

Still China can and should play a more important role in global diplomacy. Not because some countries are pushing China, but because the world need much of what China can provide, this includes:

    1. A new set of principles Most of the principles that guide the international relations today date have deep roots in Europe’s history. These principles have good parts, but they have also created a world were nature is being destroyed and where inequity increase. Chinese concepts, like中庸 /Moderation and和谐社会 /Harmonious society, can play an important role and thought leaders should explore ways that these concepts can guide the development of new global institutions.
    2. A new generation of collaboration initiatives In the 21st century new collaboration initiatives are needed. Two areas are in urgent need of deeper collaboration. First, academics working to ensure that everyone have food, energy, etc, should be initiated. Instead of profit, human lives lifted out of poverty in a sustainable way should be the measure of success. Second the rich people in cities around the world living lives that destroys the planet and increase inequity. China could initiate an initiative to support sustainable urban lifestyles with new technologies and more focus on culture and collaboration instead of material consumption.
    3. New economic models Finally China has the opportunity to help the world move beyond a single minded focus on economic growth and instead focus on quality of life and culture. A global connected society would be helped by an economic system that allow for complexity and that is careful in creating economic instrument that is not directly helping those in most need of help.

      2012 is the year of the Dragon, and the “pearl” that the world needs from the dragon is wisdom and collaboration along the lines above. This could also help end the image of the dragon as a dangerous, destructive fire-breathing monster.


      Text of the full article below:

      Editor's Note: China Daily reporters stationed at home and abroad interview senior experts in economics, politics and international studies across the world, casting light on the top challenges the nation faces in its diplomacy and the solutions in 2012.

      BEIJING / BRUSSEL - The Year of the Rabbit in 2011 has not been an easy one in China's foreign affairs, with the country experiencing its largest evacuation of citizens from a foreign country as Libya was embattled in war. It also faced more regional intensity with a high-profile strategic re-engagement of the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, which is partly the reason behind Asian neighbors stepping up maritime disputes with China. Meanwhile, the West's bleak economic situation but robust military and diplomatic posture compels China to make a gesture in response.

      Yet with continuous unrest in the Middle East that could raise oil prices as well as pose strategic challenges, the emergence of new political faces after elections in several major countries, and a luckluster world economy that might lead to negative economic and political consequences, the diplomatic atmosphere might be even more demanding for China in the Year of the Dragon.

      More intensive ties

      Though the US has denied its widely perceived counterbalancing of China's rising regional clout by relaunching its Asia-Pacific policy, the world is now focusing on how the two largest economies coordinate their interests in the region, which sustains world economic growth and strategic balance.

      Donald Nuechterlein, a political scientist in the United States and specialist on US foreign policy, put the US Asia-Pacific strategy as follows in commentary posted on the Daily Progress website: China is probably the most important US national interest today, and the US president, as well as the secretary of state and defense secretary are "building a coalition of Asian states" to prevent China from "extending it's sphere of influence into Northeast and Southeast Asia". He said that the strategy includes US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's well-publicized visit to Myanmar and the recent agreement with Australia to base US troops at Darwin on its north coast.

      According to Peng Guang-qian, a strategist in Beijing, the biggest diplomatic test for China next year stems from the changing regional geopolitical landscape triggered by the US strategic re-engagement in the Asia-Pacific rim.

      "The new US Asia-Pacific strategy is the severest challenge to the current world order, and it will totally restructure the global strategic landscape and bring unprecedented pressure on China's national security," Peng said.

      China's biggest diplomatic task in 2012 is to work out how to use its economic and political strength to deal with the US containment, he said.

      The United States' new Asia-Pacific policy is also partly the reason behind recent aggressive moves by some countries in the region to pressure China about maritime disputes. The claims made to parts of the South China Sea, which was not a regional issue until it was discovered to be rich in oil in 1970s, grew in the past two years, turning the region into a diplomatic hotspot.

      The Lianhe Zaobao newspaper of Singapore published a commentary in October that said the "US is putting together an alliance in the region and playing ideological diplomacy to isolate China ... sowing discord between China and other regional countries to drag it into endless disputes with its neighbors".

      The commentary advised China to keep in mind the nature of strategic containment by the US while trying to avoid direct confrontation.

      It also urged China to make the most of its robust economic strength and enhance ties with other world players to counterbalance the US, disentangle itself from the current disputes.

      Wang Yizhou, associate dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, said China should creatively harness and maximize its resources and become more actively engaged.

      Wang added that such initiative can be applied in dealing with the South China Sea issue, US re-engagement in the Asia-Pacific and the Middle East leadership reshuffle.

      Economic recovery

      Of the world's three largest economies, the United States struggles to boost a lagging economy and Europe has fallen into a serious sovereign debt crisis since the financial crisis that swept major economies in 2008. The White House Office of Budget and Management issued a report in October stating that next year's economic growth would be between 2.6 and 3.3 percent and unemployment at 8.3 to 9 percent, which means the US would continue to maintain a high deficit, high unemployment and low growth.

      Duncan Freeman, a senior researcher at the Brussels Center for Contemporary China Studies, said that economic diplomacy will present major challenges to China in 2012.

      "The continuing crisis in the EU and US will have important repercussions globally. There will be demands for China to save Europe, and also to act on frictions with the US. As the crisis in the US and EU gets more intense, these demands are likely to increase," he said.

      "Economics and the fallout of the crisis will continue to be at the center of global politics, and China will be challenged to play a strong role in coming up with solutions," he said.

      According to Wang Yizhou, the bleak EU and US economies will affect their domestic policies and make their diplomacies more conservative and protectionist toward China, which is not only the world's second-largest economy but also holds abundant foreign reserves.

      Li Daokui, an adviser to the monetary policy committee of the People's Bank of China, the central bank, warned that the economic weakness of the European Union and US is the underlying reason behind ongoing complex changes in the global scenario.

      "The weakening economic control of the developed countries means a decline in their control of the global system." Li said at a forum hosted by the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University on global politics in Beijing on Dec 4.

      "Snakes don't often bite, but they will when they feel threatened," Li said.

      Global hotspot issue

      The highly vulnerable world political and economic situation in 2012, coupled with elections in some major countries, will keep regional and global hotspot issues active next year. The regional hotspots might affect Chinese strategic interests, for the country now has a wide presence and political and economic interests across the world.

      The year 2012 might see the continuation of violent uprisings and armed conflicts in the Middle East and Northern Africa, where political turmoil provoked an international war and domestic violence, as in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Syria in 2011. Meanwhile, the longstanding conflicts involving the Korean Peninsula and the Persian Gulf might also explode if negotiations get derailed.

      China has to be fully prepared for possible "spill-out" effects, for example if continued Middle East unrest pushes up oil prices and poses strategic challenges, said Wang Yizhou.

      Mark Frazier, who led nationwide China Town Hall meetings at the University of Oklahoma, said two of the major diplomatic challenges China faces in 2012 will be the ratcheting up of Western pressure on Iran and the likely escalation of violence and potential for armed conflict in Syria.

      Finally, as observed by Dennis Pamlin, director of the United Nations Low-Carbon Inniative, 2012 will bring increased pressure on China to take the lead in many areas.

      Pamlin said, "The call for leadership is a way for other countries to divert focus from their own responsibility".

      Yet Men Jing, a professor of EU-China relations at the College of Europe in Belgium, said a problem for China will be balancing domestic development with its external responsibilities.

      "As a rising power, China faces growing pressure from other countries to take increasing international responsibility. How much responsibility China should take and in which field China should take more responsibility are matters that Beijing must give great attention to," Men said.

      According to Yan Xuetong, dean of the Institute of Modern International Relations at Tsinghua University, China, as a world power, should not adopt neutrality or fail to set a policy.

      "China will not oppose some countries taking the leadership in sectors they are strong in, but at the same time, China should also shoulder more global responsibility in sectors that it is advanced in", Yan said.

      Chen Weihua in New York and Zhang Yunbi in Beijing contributed to this story.

      China Daily

      (China Daily 12/15/2011 page7)

      Steve Jobs (not really helping people or the planet) by Walter Isaacson

      The book is well written and provide insights to some of the thinking of Jobs and the processes resulting in the products that we all know of, but for me the most interesting is what's NOT in this book and what was never part of the brilliant presentations Steve gave… I’m talking about the most important challenges of our time. He was a brilliant mind and he had people around him that looked into ways to make a real difference when it came to the important issues, so he must have chosen to ignore these issues. Would be interesting to think about what kind of impact he could have made if he cared for more than music, videos, books and stuff that looks nice. This is how many times some key words are mentioned in the book Climate change: 0 Environment (in the meaning natural environment): 0 Aging: 0 Transparency: 0 Equity (as fairness not finance): 0 Poverty: 1 (and nothing that Steve does, but in the context when telling about a person who asked for money and support to a foundation that Steve decided not to support)

      The only mentioning of something “bigger” is a paragraph when we are told that Steve during his freshman years read “Diet for a small planet” and Steve became vegetarian. However the reason for this seems to have been for his personal health, not for care about the planet.

      I don’t think Walter Isaacson would have left discussions, thoughts and ideas about the important issues of our time out unless Steve did not really mention them. So until we know more we have to assume that Steve did not want to share his thought about these things with the world. And maybe even assume that he did not care, at least not enough to do something significant about it.

      The absence of the words above can be compared with some other words: Design: 432 Passion: 82 Profit: 39 Innovation: 30

      To me it is very difficult to see how you can use the words Steve did and not link them to the greatest challenges and most important questions of our time. That one person, in this case Steve Jobs, did not make the connection is not bothering me very much even if I think it is a waste of creativity, but that so few discusses this gap makes me worried.

      Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman

      Some people are above any specific time, Neil Postman was one of these. Next year the world leaders will meet for Rio+20. This event will take place  40 years after the Stockholm conference (the first global environmental conference) and obviously 20 years since the Earth Summit in Rio where much of the thinking/architecture for the current environmental work was shaped. It is fascinating to see how few new ideas (almost nothing) or new groups that have emerged to set a new agenda in the last 20 years. It is as if nothing has happened, as if what we need is more what we already have.

      I have tried to introduce the idea of Rio2.0 to highlight a few things that either where not possible 20 years ago or was not on the agenda, e.g. technology development (with a particular focus on Nanotechnology and ICT), a solution approach that focus on transformative solutions and where systems/statistics are built around what we want, not the problems, and the role of “mental pollution” (when too much of certain information becomes a problem in the same way as environmental pollution is too high concentration of a substance). The connected society brings these areas together and contribute to a change in society that is so fundamental that no one seems to want to address it.

      It is easy to forget that 20 years ago the word wide web was born and the first page saw the light []. Today we live in a world where a global connectivity is taken for granted in a way that is historically unique and we are soon going to see the a totally new connectivity when we get new interfaces, almost everything manmade is connected and sensors will provide us with real-time data regarding the state of the planet. But it has happened without much discussion about the fundamental implications and choices we are making.

      Just realizing that I have not said anything about Postman’s book, but instead of staring over I think it is actually telling. The book makes you think and get inspired.

      I hope that Technopoly will be read by those who will shape tomorrows agenda. I have to admit that I don’t have much hope for those that are seen as leading the agenda today, as the level of simplicity in arguments and approach must be at a historic low, but a new generation of thought leaders should read this book carefully.

      Postman formulated many of the challenges today in very simple terms, e.g.

      “Technological change is neither additive nor subtractive. It is ecological” A new technology changes everything. It creates a new situation. This is true for major changes such as the connectivity.

      “New technologies alter the structure of our interest”

      Today his most important contribution might be to remind us that information in itself does not solve very much, and much of what we do today is inventing technology to deal with increased amount of information while the major challenges are ignored.

      “The fact is, there are very few political, social, and especially personal problems that arise because of insufficient information. Nonetheless, as incomprehensible problems mount, as the concept of progress fades, as meaning itself becomes suspect, the Technopolist stands firm in believing that what the world needs is yet more information.”

      “Into this void comes the Technopoly story, with its emphasis on progress without limits, rights without responsibilities, and technology without costs. The technopoly story is without a moral center. It puts in its place efficiency, interest, and economic advance. It promises heaven on earth through the conveniences of technological progress. It casts aside all traditional narratives and symbols that suggest stability and orderliness, and tells, instead, of a life of skills, technical expertise, and the ecstasy of consumption. It purpose is to produce functionaries for an ongoing Technopoly.”

      It is not about information, it is not about new ways of presenting things, it is a paradigm shift in how we approach the world and how we organize ourselves when we deal with important challenges.

      The world without Postman is a less reflective place, a place where a person like Steve Jobs can be compared with Albert Einstein and Leonardo da Vinci without people asking how this is possible. I think Steve Jobs was a skillful person, but if we use the worlds most important challenges (from poverty, climate change and pandemics to urbanisation, demographic change and depleting natural resources) his impact was limited and if anything most of the things he contributed to was probably a distraction from the important issues. Again I want to stress that he was very good at what he did, but celebrating him as one of the great persons of our time says more about our times than about Steve.

      Public procurement and transformative solutions: Workshop in Stockholm

      The workshop about the potential role for public procurement to support transformative solutions was very inspiring and constructive with concrete ideas for ways forward.

      Download PDF for agenda here and read below for the background.

      A number of trends are converging, e.g. rapid economic growth in many emerging economies, geopolitical shifts, demographic changes, ecosystem decline, unsustainable use of many natural resources – including oil - and increasing CO2 emissions. In order to move society in the direction of a sustainable low-carbon development path, there is a need for more than incremental improvements in existing production and consumption systems – not least in the case of investments, which are meant to last for many decades, if not centuries (such as buildings, energy-intensive manufacturing facilities and transport/communication infrastructure). Thus transformative solutions, that will allow services to be provided in fundamentally new ways, are urgently needed now. The following examples illustrate the nature of the changes that will be required:
      • To improve fuel efficiency when commuting represents an incremental improvement – to help change working habits, e.g. through teleworking, represents a transformative shift.
      • To make newspaper production more resource-efficient represents an incremental improvement – to massively expand e-paper subscriptions is a transformative solution.
      • To improve efficiency in fossil-based power production represents an incremental step – to develop buildings that are “net producers” of renewable energy is a transformative solution.
      • To enhance efficiency in the use of e-journals in hospitals represents an incremental improvement – to offer e-health solutions that promote more healthy lifestyles and provide remote connection to medical services is a transformative solution.
      • To improve recycling of materials represents an incremental step – to develop systems for closed loops of materials in the techno-sphere is a transformative solution.

      The changes needed are significant. A number of different measures are required to ensure an accelerated uptake of transformative solutions.

      International agreements and EU policy declarations have already identified Public Procurement as an important tool to help promote resource efficiency and low-carbon solutions. In so doing, the hope is that Public Procurement will both improve competitiveness and help meet the EU 2020 targets.

      A number of initiatives are underway within the EU Commission and some of the Member States to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of Public Procurement. There is, however, no established framework for the specific promotion of transformative solutions in the context of resource efficiency and low-carbon technology. Such a framework is urgently needed as several studies indicate that Public Procurement rules and practices of today often are seen as barriers to innovative solutions, instead of being at least neutral and hopefully also supportive.

      The Committee of Inquiry on Public Procurement is mandated by the Swedish Government to undertake a thorough review of the Public Procurement rules and practices. The review shall be completed before the end of June, 2012. The review is undertaken in the context of a parallel review of EU legislation. Green Public Procurement is one of several key areas in the review.

      The Committee is eager to explore new and innovative ways to use Public Procurement in the promotion of sustainable solutions, not least within the area of infrastructure development. To assist the Committee in these endeavours, Mr Dennis Pamlin has been asked to prepare a report on the role of Public Procurement in the promotion of transformative solutions for a low-carbon economy. The workshop on October 3rd is organised as an integral part of Mr Pamlin’s assignment.