Friday, August 31, 2007

China Wants Allies to Consider Biodiesel

China has quietly asked Cuba and Venezuela to consider tempering their harsh criticism of biofuels to allow for certain kinds of biodiesel production.

Energy industry sources say China wants its two allies to be open to production of biodiesel if it is conducted without harming the environment, encouraging monoculture, or raising food prices. In the Chinese view, this translates into support for making biodiesel--an alternative to petroleum-based diesel--out of recycled cooking oil and vegetable oils that are ideally both sustainable and inedible.

China has based its biodiesel production strategy on use of recycled cooking oil (also known as waste vegetable oil) and oil pressed from jatropha plants, a hardy, inedible perennial that can be grown on marginal lands with the potential for preventing and perhaps even reversing desertification.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez have been trying to rally international opposition to the growing biofuels industry by feeding the fuel vs. food debate.

In a series of articles in in the Cuban Communist Party daily, Gramma, Castro condemned "the sinister idea of converting food into fuel" as "international genocide" and a "massive euthanasia on the poor."

Given its restive rural population, which has been left behind by the country's meteoric economic ascent, China is sensitive to suggestions that its embrace of biofuels could make life worse for impoverished peasants.

Is Biobanking the Next Big Thing?

Carbon traders, make way for biobankers.

Goldman Sachs and other large financial firms are exploring the feasibility of establishing elaborate biodiversity offset and banking schemes. The basic idea is to develop a market-based approach to addressing the impacts of expanding economic development on biodiversity.

Landowners would be able to earn credits for creating sites that maintain or improve biodiversity. Developers would then purchase those credits from a central register and use the credits to offset the negative impact of development on biodiversity.

Biobanking is of great interest in Brazil and Peru, the world's two most biodiverse countries. Slowing deforestation in the Amazon is an enormous challenge for both countries. Obtaining credits for avoiding deforestation and the corresponding reduction of greenhouse gas emissions could help them to preserve biodiversity and slow climate change.

China is also showing interest in the concept, given its rich biodiversity, extreme environmental degredation, and plans for yet more massive urbanization--the creation of new cities at a rate and on a scale never before seen.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

UK Editor: I Will Dance if Iran Attacks Israel

The editor of an Arabic daily newspaper in London said he would "dance with delight" if Iranian missiles hit Israel.

"If the Iranian missiles strike Israel, by Allah, I will go to Trafalgar Square and dance with delight," said Abd Al-Bari Atwan in an interview with the Lebanese television station ANB in June, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Abd Al-Bari Atwan, 57, is the editor of the Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, a pan-Arab daily he founded in 1989. He is also a commentator on Sky News and BBC News 24, an occasional guest on CNN, and a favorite source for foreign reporters sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

US Opposing Carbon Market Scheme; Goldman Sachs Disappointed by Ex-CEO's Failure to Deliver

China Confidential has learned that the Bush administration and investment banking giant Goldman Sachs are at odds over creation of a global carbon market.

The Wall Street firm was counting on its former chairman and CEO, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, to successfully spearhead support for the scheme, which is backed by the United Nations, the European Union and China. But the US, under Bush, is pushing technology-based solutions in tandem with voluntary carbon markets.

The US delegate to a UN climate change conference cast doubt Wednesday about the creation of a global carbon market to help cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"It's unclear when and if there's going to be a global carbon market," Harlan Watson, the head of the US delegation, told a press conference in Vienna.

US Attack on Iran Increasingly Likely

Massive military strikes by the United States to destroy Iran's nuclear and missile installations--and the elite Revolutionary Guard--are increasingly likely.

President Bush's stark warning Tuesday night that Iran's pursuit of the atomic bomb could lead to a nuclear holocaust--and dramatic pledge to confront Tehran “before it is too late"--reflect a growing sense in Washington that time is working for Iran and against the US and its ally, Israel.

Bush's remarks came (a) just hours after Iranian President Ahmadinejad provocatively said that a power vacuum was imminent in Iraq and that Tehran was ready to fill it, and (b) a day after President Sarkozy of France raised the prospect of airstrikes on Iran if the crisis over its nuclear ambitions could not be solved through diplomacy.

Monday, August 27, 2007

How Sweet it Is! Chinese Sorghum-Based Ethanol

China has chosen sweet sorghum--a somewhat neglected alternative to corn, sugar cane and sugarbeets--as the primary feedstock for the nation's emerging ethanol industry.

Chinese officials say sweet sorghum stalks (imagine corn without the ears) will initially be used to produce more than a billion gallons a year of ethanol. The output is likely to increase as more land is allocated to cultivation of the sugar-rich, cane-like plant that thrives under dry, warm conditions, and can even be grown on marginal lands. It has been called "a camel among crops" because of its marked resistance to drought.

Sweet sorghum is currently being used in India, South America, the United States (in eight plants and a few experimental facilities), and the Philippines to produce ethanol.

Experience indicates that production of ethanol from sugar cane and sweet sorghums are basically similar. But sweet sorghum seems to have several comparative advantages, including: a shorter growing period; low fertilization and water requirements; and the fact that it can be harvested mechanically.

In a typical sweet sorghum system, the crop is harvested, after which the stems are crushed and the juice is extracted at a mill, similar to sugar cane. Some harvesters are available to extract the juice in the field and leave the residue, called bagasse, in the field to be gathered at a later time.

Once the juice is extracted, it is fermented and ethanol is produced. This ethanol is then distilled and dehydrated using the same equipment that is being used in ethanol production from grain sources.

In the US, sweet sorghum has been widely cultivated since the 1850s for use in sweeteners, primarily in the form of sorghum syrup. By the early 1900s, the US produced 20 million gallons of sweet sorghum syrup annually. Currently, less than one million gallons are produced annually in the US. Most sorghum grown for syrup production is grown in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Sorghum syrup and hot biscuits are a traditional breakfast in parts of the South.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Chinese Energy Experts: US and Israel Planning Attacks on Iran and Syria to Protect 'Oil Interests'

Some of China's most influential energy experts, including analysts advising Sun Bigan, Beijing's special envoy to the Middle East, are promoting the line that the United States and Israel are planning massive military strikes against Chinese allies Iran and Syria, and that oil interests, not national security, are the main motivating factors behind the march to war.

Last summer's Lebanese war, the Chinese contend, was a warmup for the main event. Although Israel's failure to destroy Iranian proxy Hezbollah in more than a month of fighting was a bitter disappointment for the Bush administration, the Chinese say, Washington's "war faction" has won the day; and the countdown to conflict has begun.

The Chinese assert that the Iranian nuclear threat is vastly exaggerated, and that Israel is now part of an "Anglo-American axis" that aims to divert Central Asian oil and gas to the Eastern Mediterranean for re-export back to Asia via the BTC oil pipeline that links the Caspian sea to the Eastern Mediterranean. The pipeline transports crude petroleum from the Azeri-Chirag-Guneshli oil field in the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean Sea, passing through Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan; Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia; and Ceyhan, a port on the south-eastern Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

Bypassing Russia, the pipeline is seen as part of a broader US effort to counter Russian and Iranian economic and military dominance--and growing Chinese influence--in the energy-rich region.

The Chinese view is that the pipeline and US-Israeli war plans presage an era of protracted global struggle over oil (and other vital natural resources). Chinese analysts point out that the US with a population of just 300 million--less than three percent of the world total--is already using one-quarter of the world's oil pumped daily. Assuming that daily world oil output will plateau in the next decade--which is now the prevailing view among large overseas oil company executives--the Chinese worry that there will not be enough oil to fuel China's rise, regardless of the country's drive to adopt alternative fuels, including biodiesel (a substitute for petroleum-based diesel) and wind power.

The doom-and-gloom forecast is in tune with the thinking of leading Chinese military strategists who stress the importance of planning for future fights over energy resources in addition to a probable conflict with Taiwan and the need to deter the US from intervening to save the "renegade province."

Growing Sentiment for a 'Silent Coup'

Sentiment is growing within certain Republican circles for a Nixon-Ford silent coup-style solution to "the Bush problem"--namely, the perceived destruction by President George W. Bush of the Republican Party.

In this regard, Sunday's statement by respected Republican party elder John Warner, the US Senator from Virginia, is a sign of the gathering threat to the Bush administration in the form of a movement to pressure Bush and Vice President Cheney to resign to make way for a new duumvirate with a reasonable chance of winning the 2008 Presidential race. The scenario calls for Cheney to step down for "health reasons" and for a spate of leaked information leading to bipartisan calls for the President's impeachment--and Bush's departure to spare the nation the pain of going through another costly and prolonged political-legal ordeal.

Warner, who wants American troops to start coming home from Iraq by Christmas, said he may support Democratic legislation ordering withdrawals if Bush refuses to set a return timetable soon.

"I'm going to have to evaluate it," Warner said on the NBC-TV network's Meet the Press program. "I don't say that as a threat. I say that as an option we'll all have to consider."

The former Navy Secretary and one-time chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee could easily influence the debate among Senators who have grown increasingly nervous about the deeply unpopular (and unnecessary) war.

Warner said it would be best for the President, not Congress, to make a decision on withdrawals and that overriding a Presidential veto would be difficult. But the Virginia Republican stressed that people are losing patience with the Bush administration's strategy in Iraq, that a significant change is needed--in September--and that troop withdrawals made the most sense.

In a related development, the Iranian agent and useful idiot masquerading as Iraq's Prime Minister, Nuri al-Maliki, lashed out Sunday at US Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who had called for him to be replaced.

The mendacious Maliki also criticized the US military for killing civilians.

"There are American officials who consider Iraq as if it were one of their villages, for example Hillary Clinton and Carl Levin," Maliki told a news conference in besieged Baghdad. "This is severe interference in our domestic affairs. Carl Levin and Hillary Clinton are from the Democratic Party and they must demonstrate democracy," he said. "I ask them to come to their senses and to talk in a respectful way about Iraq."

The Shiite militia and death squad stooge criticized the US military for killing civilians during raids in Shiite areas of Baghdad that have provoked demonstrations by mourners and condemnation from Shiite organizations.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

China Offers Honduras Big Bucks to Dump Taiwan

China Confidential has learned that China has offered Honduras virtually unlimited financial assistance--a blank check, basically--in exchange for cutting diplomatic ties with Taiwan.

Honduras enjoys close business ties with China.

Honduras, which is located in Central America, is one of a dozen Latin American-Caribbean region nations that formally recognize Taiwan's sovereignty. The others are Belize; the Dominican Republic; El Salvador; Guatemala; Haiti, Nicaragua; Panama; Paraguay, St. Christopher and Nevis (also known as St. Kitts and Nevis); St. Vincent and the Grenadines; and St. Lucia.

All told, Taiwan--a self-governing island democracy that China regards as a renegade province--has only 24 allies.

Japan and ASEAN Agree on Free-Trade Pact

VOA reports that economic ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and Japan have put the final touches on a free-trade deal, one of the largest in Asia. The officials also have agreed on a blueprint that would create a seamless regional economy by 2015.

Under the deal reached Saturday, Japan will lift import tariffs on 90 percent of goods from the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). That percentage will rise over the next decade to 93 percent.

In return, ASEAN's wealthier six nations will cut tariffs on 90 percent of Japanese goods. The four smaller, impoverished members--Burma, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam--will make cuts later and more slowly.

Trade ministers gathered in Manila for a three-day meeting say the deal will sharply increase trade between ASEAN and Japan, which already tops 160 billion dollars.

While ASEAN is making progress on trade deals with Japan, China and other countries, it is also making progress in expanding internal trade. On Friday, the ASEAN ministers approved a blueprint for creating a free-trade zone by 2015.

The ASEAN Economic Community, or AEC, hopes to form an integrated group like the European Union, which can stand up to trade giants such as China and India.

But some experts say the blueprint may not be enough to lure investors to the region. Key components such as infrastructure and product standards will have to be addressed more rigorously.

Discussion over trade in the agriculture sector has been sidelined due to a stalemate over farm subsidies and trade barriers.

ASEAN is made up of 10 countries--Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam--with a combined gross domestic product of over a trillion dollars.

The group has been hammering out trade deals with six countries, including Japan and China, which are supposed to be finalized this year.

The guidelines for the ASEAN Economic Community are expected to be signed during the group's summit in Singapore this November.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

China Blames US Retailers for Unsafe Chinese Toys

Talk about spin....

A global recall of millions of Chinese-made toys was the result of new industry standards, not poor quality products.

So says Chinese Vice Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng.

Speaking at a news conference in Beijing Thursday, Gao said that the recall was a responsible move, given that products could affect the health and safety of children.

He added that a recall of more than 18 million toys with magnets was the result of new standards that were put in place in May.

Addressing the issue of lead found in toys, Gao blamed loopholes in the manufacturing process in China, but also noted that retailers were to blame as well for their failure to inspect products.

On Wednesday, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, in cooperation with the two US importers, announced the voluntary recall of about 300,000 products.

The toy recall campaign follows similar warnings around the world about the toxic contamination of toothpaste, seafood and pet food produced in China.

Last week, the Mattel toy company recalled more than 18 million Chinese-made toys because they had been coated in lead paint or contained small magnets that would be hazardous if swallowed by young children.

China's Commerce Ministry said it is investigating companies that made the recalled Mattel toys.

In response to these concerns, China has blacklisted more than 400 companies for violating trade rules.

On Thursday, China announced the launch of a new nationwide safety campaign that focuses on food and drugs, as well as increased monitoring of exports.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Japanese PM Proposes 'Arc of Freedom'

Like it or not, lines are being drawn.

China's economic and military rise is pushing India and Japan together, as shown by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's address on Wednesday to a special session of India's parliament.

In a tacit criticism of China, Abe proposed a new four-way "arc of freedom and prosperity" that would bring together Australia, India, Japan and the United States. He called for a "broader Asia" partnership of democracies that would include India, the US and Australia--but leave out China.

Abe's speech kicked off a high-profile, three-day visit that aims to boost trade between Asia's largest and third largest economies. About 200 businessmen are accompanying him on the trip.

"This partnership is an association in which we share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and respect for basic human rights as well as strategic interests," Abe told lawmakers and diplomats.

"By Japan and India coming together in this way, this 'broader Asia' will evolve into an immense network spanning the entirety of the Pacific Ocean, incorporating the United States of America and Australia."

The Japanese navy is due to take part for the first time in joint US-India exercises to be held in the Bay of Bengal next month.

Signaling that New Delhi did not want to upset China--which is about to be its biggest trade partner--Indian Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon warned on Monday against a "zero sum game" with Beijing.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Opinion: China, Taiwan and UN Hypocrisy

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following essay was contributed by Ian Williams, an author, lecturer, TV commentator, and veteran UN correspondent for the Nation and other publications. He regularly contributes to the China Economic Review, Investor Relations Magazine, FTSE Global Markers, Emerging Markets Review, Salon, Open Democracy, Asia Times, AlterNet, MaximsNews. His most recent book is Rum: A Social and Sociable History of the Real Spirit of 1776.

On July 19, the UN ambassadors of Swaziland and the Solomon Islands took a letter from President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan asking for admission to the United Nations--under the name of Taiwan, not the traditional designation that the deceased president, Chiang Kai-shek, had lumbered the island with, the Republic of China. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon refused to accept the letter.

George Orwell would love the excuses. The spokeswoman for the secretary general of the UN said, "It's really up to the Member States of this Organization to decide on the future course of how it deals with new membership". This did not really explain why he would not put the letter before the members of the General Assembly.

The UN claims that resolution 2758 which seated the People's Republic of China in 1971, precludes Taiwan's membership. This is highly arguable.

It quite rightly said that the PRC delegates were the "only lawful representatives" of China to the UN, and decided to "expel forthwith the representatives of Chiang Kai-shek".

But how much has changed since 1971! Firstly, the "representatives of Chiang Kai-shek" lost in democratic elections, and the elected government of Taipei has no pretence whatsoever to represent the Chinese mainland. Ironically Chiang's delegation only used their veto in the security council once--against the admission of Mongolia, which they considered as integral a part of the "one China" as the PRC now considers Taiwan!

With equal irony, the first veto from the PRC's delegation was against the membership of Bangladesh. What was then Peking saw no reason why the genocidal behaviour by Pakistan's generals against the citizenry of what was then East Pakistan in any way affected the "one Pakistan policy". Both Taiwan and the PRC have seen the light since. Taiwan no longer claims the mainland, let alone Mongolia, and Beijing and Bangladesh are quite prepared to maintain what have now become "traditional," friendly relations.

The UN bureaucracy's hypocritical response is an assault upon the principles of the UN charter. Resolution 2758 does not say what the Chinese say it does, and even if it did, it is like any other resolution, always open to question, amendment and rescission. It was the laws of the Medes and Persians that could not be rescinded, not UN resolutions.

None of the Security Council members such as the US have protested at this arbitrary withdrawal of the prerogative of members to put items on the agenda or to discuss previous resolutions.

As always there is a certain lack of consistency. No one said, for example, that the Zionism is racism resolution of 1975 could not be rescinded, certainly not the US, which successfully moved to do just that in possibly the shortest ever resolutions.

But, then, neither has any state complained that the UN's department of public information bans reporters from Taiwan on the totally spurious grounds that only reporters with a UN member state passport can attend, as the CPJ has so eloquently complained. Once again, the UN inappropriately cites that Swiss army knife of a resolution, 2758, which seems have a tool to extricate bureaucrats and diplomats from dragons' claws. So Taiwanese passport-holders and journalists can go to China--but not to the UN! One only hopes that the last few microstates, like Niue or the Cook Islands, can rustle up a correspondent to test the integrity of the UN's rules.

Indeed it will be interesting to see what happens to Kosovan media when the US recognises Kosovo's independence, and the Russians veto its UN membership.

The reflexive deference to China is bad for the US, the UN and the world. Beijing always comes back for more. In contrast, when China has threatened to veto UN operations in Haiti because of the Haitian recognition of Taiwan, the Latin American and Caribbean states have called its bluff and made it plain that that China would lose friends.

It backed down.

Beijing is entitled to use its considerable influence on the floor of the General Assembly. For the foreseeable future it will probably succeed in keeping 23 million people and one of the world's most advanced economies in a state of multilateral limbo. But for the UN secretariat to connive at stifling the debate is a threat to the principles of the organization, just as its treatment of Taiwanese journalists makes a mockery of its annual celebration of World Press Freedom day. To be fair, Ban Ki-moon is only following in the footsteps that his predecessors should have shamefully concealed. One wishes he had the courage to blaze a new trail.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

US-Russia Relations Deteriorating

Relations between the United States and resurgent Russia are steadily deteriorating, as shown by Russia's resumption of permanent long-range strategic bomber flights.

The bungling of the critically important bilateral relationship by the Bush administration boggles the mind.

For some Russian officials, it is payback time for covert US support for jihadists in Afghanistan before and during the Soviet occupation--and associated, clandestine, Cold War-era, US-backed, jihadist raids into Soviet territory aimed at bleeding Moscow through its mainly Muslim underbelly.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Comment: A Matter of Signals

In branding Iran's Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization (see story below), the United States could be sending a signal to the regular Iranian armed forces: you will be spared savage military strikes if you stand down (or half-heartedly respond) in the event of an all-out US assault on the Islamist regime's nuclear and missile sites.

The terrorist designation sets the stage for the physical destruction of the Guard, which was formed shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution to consolidate paramilitary forces and counter the power of the army.

The Guard has its own ground, naval and aviation branches that operate parallel to the regular armed forces.

The Guard also controls a large people's militia, the Basij, consisting of several million volunteers.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Will Iran Retaliate Against the US?

Iran can be expected to retaliate against the United States if it designates the Islamist nation's 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization, as reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post.

It would be the first time the US has placed the armed forces of any sovereign government on its list of terrorist organizations.

The Iranian regime is likely to interpret the designation as an aggressive move signaling a pending US attack on suspected Iranian nuclear and missile installations.

Iranian countermeasures could include escalating proxy terrorist attacks against US forces and allies in Iraq, provoking an international incident of some sort, such as a new hostage-taking affair, and accelerating uranium enrichment for production of nuclear weapons.

US Company Expanding Wind Business into China

The AES Corporation is expanding its wind generation business into China through the creation of a joint venture with Guohua Energy Investment Co. Ltd., one of China's leading producers of renewable energy.

The joint venture will construct, own and operate a 49.5 MW wind farm, which is currently under design and expected to achieve commercial operation in 2009.

Through its investment in the joint venture, AES will become the first US-based power company with wind generation facilities in China.

The wind farm site is located in the Huanghua area of Hebei Province, approximately 200 kilometers southeast of Beijing, and has the potential to generate up to 225 MW. The Hebei Provincial Power Company will purchase all of the power generated by the facility, as required by the Chinese Renewable Energy Law. AES subsidiary AES Black Sea Holdings BV will own a 49 percent interest in the joint venture, known as Guohua AES (Huanghua) Wind Power Co. Ltd. The remainder of the joint venture will be owned by Guohua. Financial terms of the transaction have not been disclosed.

In 1994, AES became the first US-based power company to enter China. The company, which is listed on the New York Stock Exchange, now operates seven power plants in six provinces and municipalities with a total generation capacity of 2,842 MW.

AES entered the wind generation business in 2004. It currently has more than 1,000 MW of wind projects in operation in the US and another 3,000 MW of wind projects in various stages of development throughout the world.

Outside the US, the company's wind development projects are located primarily in Europe. AES has plans to expand its wind business to other countries where it does business, including countries in Asia and Latin America.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Asian Giants Vie for Brazilian Ethanol Land

China Confidential has learned that Asia's three economic giants--Japan, China, and India--are poised to compete aggressively for sugarcane acreage for ethanol production in Brazil.

Japanese and Chinese companies are already actively acquiring large properties; Indian firms are still researching possible opportunities.

Brazil's ethanol program is the world's largest and most advanced. The South American country gets more than 30 percent of its automobile fuels from sugarcane-based ethanol.

A Deadly, Confusing Game

Chinese diplomats are said to be genuinely confused by the bizarre game of nerves, or psychological warfare, being played out in public by Israel and China's Arab ally, Syria.

The two foes are apparently deliberately leaking information regarding the other's supposed war-like intentions.

Given the terribly high stakes--Israeli analysts assume Syria to be capable of launching devastating missile attacks against Israeli cities and military bases--the United States should make every effort possible to clarify matters, without comproming Israeli security, while there is still time to avoid a new conflict.

British Betrayal Recalls 1930s Appeasement

It was a truly perfidious time, when cynicism and moral confusion ruled the day, a time of lawless revisionism and opportunism, and collaboration with evil in the name of peace....

In the years leading up to World War II, when pro-fascist or pro-pacifist leanings led many British aristocrats and intellectuals to pursue a policy of appeasement towards Hitler Germany, Winston Churchill said that accomodating the Nazi leader was "a bit like feeding a crocodile, hoping it would eat you last."

Today's news from Britain recalls those memorable words from the 1930s.

Is the new British Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, the next Neville Chamberlain?

A parliamentary committee--the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee--said Monday that the refusal by Britain and the international community to deal directly with the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas is doing more harm than good.

"The government should urgently consider ways of engaging politically with moderate elements within Hamas," the all-party group of lawmakers said.

Unfortunately, the British case for "engaging" oxymoronic moderate Islamists transcends the Atlantic divide. After nearly six years of the "war on terror," adopting a policy of appeasement, or accommodation, toward supposed moderates within Hamas, Hezbollah, the Iranian mullahocracy, and the Muslim Brotherhood appeals to the weak-minded diplomats at the US State Department and much, if not most, of the US foreign policy establishment--Republicans and Democrats alike.

In fact, the war on terror term was apparently chosen with this in mind--maintaining an option to divide and rule, rather than utterly defeat, Islamism.

The term tragically plays into the hands of critics (a) who want to limit the enemy to Al Qaeada and associated jihadist groups--avoiding a need to confront nuclear-arming Islamist Iran and its cat's paw, Hezbollah--and (b) who want to de-escalate the war to a kind of international police and intelligence operation with the occasional military strike.

Step by step, Islamism--a clerical fascist ideology--is being made respectable, just as the secular fascist creed of the '30s was made respectable. A key difference is that the present-day variety is being made respectable after six years of fighting a war that was supposed to wipe it out.

N. Korean Uranium Enrichment? US Wants Answers

Does North Korea have a secret program to enrich uranium, in addition to the plutonium-based arms program it has acknowledged and agreed to dismantle in six-nation talks?

The United States is pressing Pyongyang for an answer.

If a North Korean uranium enrichment program does exist, it was developed with the aid of Pakistan. Full disclosure of all the details (which nobody seriously expects, given the North's hatred and fear of Washington) would add substantially to US understanding of Pakistan's nuclear proliferation history.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Spirit of Lima

If this isn't true, it should be.

China Confidential has learned that two Chinese diplomats in Lima, Peru were recently escorted from one of the city's top hotels after over-indulging in the national cocktail, the deceptively potent pisco sour.

Pisco, which is distilled from certain kinds of grapes, was wildly popular in the United States for several decades, starting with the 1849 California Gold Rush. Propectors, miners and Chinese immigrants in San Francisco were attracted to the drink, a clear, white spirit, which was brought to the US by sailors.

Chinese Tree Yields Oil for Biodiesel

Booming, energy-starved China is basing its domestic biodiesel industry on inedible feedstocks: jatropha, used vegetable oil, and also, possibly, the hardy Chinese tallow tree (Sapium sebiferum), an ancient, oil seed-producing tree with a long history of large-scale commercial production in China and other parts of Asia.

The Chinese tallow tree yields about 500 gallons of oil per acre per year. The output far exceeds other traditional oil seed crops, except for palm, which produces over 600 gallons per acre per year.

Chinese tallow tree oil was used as an emergency source of fuel for diesel equipment operated by Chinese and Allied forces during World War II.

The tree was first introduced into the United States in South Carolina during the 1700s for ornamental purposes and for seed oil production. Considered an invasive weed in the US , the tree has since spread throughout the south and to Texas.

Like jatropha, another remarkably hardy, oil-seed perennial, the Chinese tallow tree could probably be grown on President Bush's phony (five-cow) West Texas ranch, where photo-op brush-cutting seems to be the main activity.

But whereas China is seeking to exploit the tree to reduce the country's reliance on imported oil, the US is still focused on the tree's eradication. The University of Houston, for example, has mobilized significant resources to wipe out this potential source of biodiesel feedstock.

All of which should come as no surprise, for traditionally violent and backward--but oil-rich--Texas has never been known for its sophistication or intelligence.

Opinion: A Month Before 9/11 Anniversary ...

Exactly a month before the sixth anniversary of 9/11, New Yorkers had to worry about the threat of another Al Qaeda mega-terror attack, this time, by Islamists allegedly armed with radioactive dirty bombs.

Al Qaeda is apparently alive and well thanks to US deference to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, a bungled US counterattack after 9/11 that allowed senior Al Qaeda and Taliban leaders, including Osama Binladen and Mullah Omar, respectively, to escape, and an unnecessary invasion of Iraq that has produced an incomprehensibly costly and complex quagmire.

At the same time, nuclear-armed, Stalinist/Kimist North Korea and nuclear-arming, Islamist Iran--which, in contrast with secular Iraq, had and may still have meaningful Qaeda connections--continue to buy precious time that could make it possible for the missile-mad allies to one day launch coordinated, sea-based aerial attacks on US coastal cities on both the Pacific and Atlantic coasts. There are no known defenses against a sea-launched missile strike, as China Confidential has reported and observed over the past two years.

In addition, US borders remain wide open; airliners and airports are insufficiently protected; ports are still porous; and bridges, tunnels and industrial infrastructure, including nuclear energy facilities, are surprisingly vulnerable.

Nearly six years after 9/11, Islamist militants and sympathizers are brazenly asserting their right to use America's democratic laws, institutions, and values to destroy America; relations with resurgent Russia are needlessly bad; and the White House seems hopelessly enthralled and intimidated by China's economic and military rise.

But President Bush has held the line against gay marriage and stem cell research.

Good thing he does not believe in history: it is not going to be kind to his Presidency.

Comment: North Korea's Hard-Soft Strategy

North Korea seems to be planning a series of attention-getting, hard and soft moves against the United States if it proceeds with military exercises with South Korea that are scheduled to take place on August 20-31, during the historic, Inter-Korean summit talks.

Hard measures could include indefinitely delaying implementation of the six-nation de-nuclearization deal, and additional test-firing of ballistic missiles.

Soft measures could include a dramatic offer of reunification with the South, under seemingly reasonable terms and conditions, if the US commits to withdrawing its troops from the Korean Peninsula by a date certain.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Israeli Experts Eye Syrian Missile Threat

Amid reports of Syrian army clashes with Islamist fighters based in neighboring Iraq, there is increasing concern among Israeli analysts that Damascus could be planning to start or provoke a war with the Jewish state.

Those Israelis who suspect the Syrians of cynically staging the firefights in order to deceive and influence opinion in the West have arrived at a sobering conclusion: contrary to previous estimates, the Baathist regime is capable of launching devastating missile attacks against Israeli targets--including Tel Aviv--at will. Israel's largest city could be pulverized; should secular Syria's Shiite Islamist, non-Arab ally, Iran, unleash its missiles, the damage could make last year's war with Iran's Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, look like a walk in the park by comparison.

Some Israeli intelligence experts privately accuse Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of deliberately downplaying the Syrian missile threat--and intentionally ignoring certain danger signs--in the hope that the problem will somehow go away.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Guyana Getting Japanese Biofuels Grant

Guyana will receive an $850,000 grant from Japan through the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) to screen bioenergy proposals.

Making the announcement at the High Level Seminar on Expanding Bioenergy Opportunities in the Caribbean at the Guyana International Convention Centre yesterday, IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno told the gathering that included President Bharrat Jagdeo that the grant would help to jump start investment for biofuel production and cogeneration using biomass.

Also present at the seminar were Caricom Secretary General Edwin Carrington, Organisation of American States (OAS) Assistant Secretary General Albert Ramdin, and the Director General of the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation (IICA) on Agriculture, Dr Chelston Braithwaite.

A number of companies from Brazil, the United States and India have indicated through proposals their interest in
investing in biofuel/agro-energy production in Guyana.

Moreno disclosed, too, that in the coming months, as part of a green energy initiative, the IDB would begin to disburse grants and loans to the tune of $300M on sustainable energy programmes and climate change initiatives.

The funds would be used to finance projects in energy efficiency and renewable bioenergy.

The $300M would cover technical assistance for energy and energy efficient programmes throughout the regions with an emphasis on small-scale investment in the region's smaller countries.

Moreno said the IDB was willing to finance from preliminary studies right up to large-scale production facilities.

At the end of the formal opening ceremony Moreno signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the
Government of Guyana, Caricom, the OAS and IICA to establish and support the Caribbean renewable energy, energy efficiency and bioenergy action programme, which he had spoken about.

He said that the signing of the MOU was a "substantive step to work together to make renewable energy an engine for development in the Caribbean."

Moreno noted that as a first step, the IDB was financing technical and feasibility studies that would enable its members to harvest reliable information regarding biofuels and other renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power. The studies would enable policy makers to make informed decisions and set realistic goals regarding renewable energy, he said.

Noting programs and projects already underway in Guyana and the Caribbean regarding biofuel production and the potential that exists, Moreno said that with visionary leadership Guyana could, by investing in new cogeneration facilities in the sugar industry, become the first country in the world to meet half its electricity needs by cogeneration, production of ethanol and at the same time produce sugar for export. He said that all this could be done without planting another hectare of sugar cane.

Also using Guyana as a case in point, Moreno said that in terms of meeting transportation fuel needs the country could become the first in the world to use ethanol and biodiesel from home grown produce.

He based his assumptions on a study conducted by the UN Economic Commission on Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) on 'Biofuel potential in Guyana.'

With these scenarios, which may seem highly optimistic, he said that given the growing demand in Europe and the US for ethanol and biofuel, there is reason to believe that Guyana could become a net fuel exporter.

Guyana has the potential to develop a new sugar cane industry that simultaneously produces sugar, ethanol and electricity for both domestic and foreign markets, Moreno said, adding that this could attract unprecedented foreign investment, generate scores of jobs and tens of millions of dollars that could be spent on social services and other priorities.

Moreno cautioned that none of these scenarios he mentioned was guaranteed as they require risks and some would prefer to keep the status quo.

Already, he noted that Guyana was producing bio-fuel from palm and coconut oil while discussing with several potential investors about ethanol production; Jamaica is in partnership with Brazil in ethanol dehydration; Trinidad and Tobago has also entered the dehydration market; the Dominican Republic is actively seeking to convert some facilities for ethanol production; and Haiti, too, was exploring investments in biofuel projects.

Expressing a belief in the Caribbean becoming a pioneer in renewable energy, he said that the IDB last September co-hosted an energy conference in T&T and was currently in close consultation with Caribbean governments in terms of crafting long-term renewable energy strategies.

Expressing appreciation in the keynote address, President Jagdeo noted the importance that the IDB was placing on energy security in the region.

In developing a bioenergy policy for the Caribbean, he said that a number of issues would have to be considered taking into account biofuel and renewable energy in the present scenario with the rising cost of fossil fuel.

The impact of rising oil prices, he said has also moved the issue of energy security from a sectoral point of view to macro economic considerations.

Five years ago, he said that heads of government or finance ministers would not have been attending energy security meetings but because of the impact it has created on balance of payments and inflation in economies that are especially fuel intensive that has changed.

Stressing the need to be strategic and not tactical in dealing with energy security and renewable energy, Jagdeo said that planning cannot be short term and on assumptions that the current price of fuel would fall and the problem would dissipate.

Relating the Brazilian experience in ethanol production through strategic planning and initial subsidies and incentives, he said that as the Caribbean crafts its bienergy fuel policy he hopes that developed countries and multilateral financial institutions that are averse to subsidies would understand that for the sector to take off there has to be some form of subsidy.

Noting that the region was a net importer of food, though Guyana was a net exporter, Jagdeo said that as the region develops the bioenergy sector land and water resources become critical issues competing with food production and food security.

As the debate ensues in relation to whether forests should be cleared to facilitate agro-energy production, he reiterated that Guyana would not be felling any forests and noted that some 50,000 hectares of land was already set aside for agro-energy production.

In his remarks, the OAS Assistant Secretary General said that the OAS was pleased to be part of the longer-term commitment promised through the MOU they signed following the opening ceremony.

That commitment reflected the reality that it was important to pool resources, to develop synergies and to work together to support the needs of the Caribbean in the emerging bioenergy sector. He expressed the hope that what the Caribbean achieved by the hosting of the seminar could also be replicated in Central America.

Ramdin said that while multilateral efforts were important and needed, he believed that it was equally important that member states of the OAS and CARICOM strengthen the collaborative efforts among themselves at a bilateral level through sincere and dedicated commitment at the highest political levels.

This inter-agency arrangement also relates to the proposal of the Private Sector Forum of the Americas during the recently held General Assembly of the OAS in Panama City, to establish a Bioenergy Initiative of the Americas, to serve as a "one-stop-shop" for bioenergy research, exchange of best practices, technical assistance and capacity building.

The seminar, which is coinciding with the finalisation of the CARICOM Regional Energy Policy, he said was timely from the standpoint of the disturbing dynamics of the global energy market and projections that point to a continuing tightening of supply and an increasing demand for energy products especially from Asia.

In his opening remarks, Agriculture Minister Robert Persaud outlined the objectives of the seminar noting that it was especially significant for agricultural-based economies such as Guyana's.

He said that agro-energy and the production of biofuels was a technologically proven alternative that would enable countries like Guyana to expand and modernise agriculture, offering producers new options with guaranteed market prices without jeopardizing food security.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Some Chinese Cities Have World's Worst Air

Chinese officials are still seething over a July report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that said air pollution in some of China's cities had reached the world's worst levels.

In June, the Beijing clean air index met city health criteria on just 15 days, nine days fewer than the same month the previous year, as well as the lowest number in seven years.

Joint research by Chinese and Japanese academicians reveals that Beijing's annual average density of soot particles from car exhaust is about six times higher than Tokyo.

Air pollution in the Chinese capital is similar to early-1970s Japan, when environmental contamination became a serious social problem.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Human Rights Watch: No Progress in China

A dire human rights record and a renewed crackdown on media freedom may spoil China's hopes of a successful “coming out party” at the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympic Games, Human Rights Watch said Tuesday.

A year ahead of the August 8, 2008 opening ceremonies, the China shows no substantive progress in addressing long-standing human rights concerns. Instead, apparently more worried about political stability, Beijing is tightening its grip on domestic human rights defenders, grassroots activists and media to choke off any possible expressions of dissent ahead of the Games.

“Instead of a pre-Olympic ‘Beijing spring’ of greater freedom and tolerance of dissent, we are seeing the gagging of dissidents, a crackdown on activists, and attempts to block independent media coverage,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The government seems afraid that its own citizens will embarrass it by speaking out about political and social problems, but China’s leaders apparently don’t realize authoritarian crackdowns are even more embarrassing.”

China has a well-documented history of serious human rights abuses, including widespread torture, censorship of the media and internet, controls on religious freedom, and repression of ethnic minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang.

In addition, China continues to lead the world in executions. The government classifies the number of people executed as a state secret, but it is believed that China executes many more people than the rest of the world combined each year. Most trials are deeply flawed, as the accused often do not have access to adequate defense counsel, trials are usually closed to the public, evidence is often obtained through torture, and the appellate process lacks needed safeguards. China’s courts lack independence, as they remain controlled by the government and ruling Chinese Communist Party.

But the staging of the Olympics is exacerbating problems of forced evictions, migrant labor rights abuses, and the use of house arrests to silence political opponents. The government is continuing its crackdown on lawyers, human rights defenders and activists who dedicate themselves to rule of law and the exposure of rights abuses. Fear of citizen activism has led to government obstruction of local activists and grassroots organizations working to stem China’s HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Fears of harm to China’s national image have even led Chinese officials to stop prominent activists from leaving the country. Among them, Hu Jia and Zeng Jinyan, a husband-and-wife team of human rights activists, have been clamped under house arrest and travel restrictions since May on unsubstantiated suspicions of “harming state security.”

The victims of government retribution against perceived “troublemakers” often include those who devote themselves to defending some of China’s most marginalized and vulnerable citizens.

Chen Guangcheng, a blind, self-educated lawyer who documented abuses of China’s family planning law, was convicted in August 2006 of instigating an attack on government offices in a sham trial in which his lawyers were physically attacked and then detained by police to prevent them from attending.

Gao Zhisheng, an outspoken advocate of the rights of human rights abusers said in April 2007 that he agreed to write a confession to charges of sedition leveled at him in December 2006 only after he had been tortured and security officials had threatened his wife and children.

“Political repression is not in keeping with the behavior of a responsible power and Olympic host,” said Adams. “The Chinese government shouldn’t waste this unique opportunity to use the 2008 Games to demonstrate to the world it is serious about improving the rights situation in China.”

Human Rights Watch said that China’s close relationship with dictatorships and rights- abusing governments in places like Sudan, Burma, Cambodia and Zimbabwe will also come under close scrutiny in the coming year.

With one year to go before the Olympics launch, “The starting gun has been fired on the assessment of China’s commitment to rights at home and abroad,” said Adams. “Just as Chinese citizens will be rooting for their athletes to win medals, we are rooting for the Chinese government to move up in the league tables on rights protection.”

More background on major areas for human rights reform in the Olympic run-up:

1. Forced evictions and school closures. The construction of facilities for the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing has involved forced evictions of thousands of citizens in and around Beijing, often without adequate compensation or access to new housing. The pre-Olympic “clean-up” of Beijing has resulted in the closure of dozens of officially unregistered schools for the children of migrant workers.

2. Labor rights. Thousands of migrant workers employed on Olympic and other construction sites across Beijing do not receive legally mandated pay and benefits including labor insurance and days off, and are often compelled to do dangerous work without adequate safeguards.

3. Repression of ethnic minorities. China continues to use the “war on terrorism” to justify policies to eradicate the “three evil forces” – terrorism, separatism, and religious extremism – allegedly prevalent among Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim population in China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. Uighurs who express “separatist” tendencies are routinely sentenced to quick, secret and summary trials, sometimes accompanied by mass sentencing rallies. The death penalty is common. In Tibet, Chinese authorities still view the Dalai Lama, in exile in India since 1959, as central to the effort to separate Tibet from China and view Tibetan Buddhist belief as supportive of these efforts. Suspected “separatists,” many of whom come from monasteries and nunneries, are routinely imprisoned.

4. Religious freedom. China does not recognize freedom of religion outside the state-controlled system in which all congregations, mosques, temples, churches and monasteries must register. The government also curtails religious freedom by designating and repressing some groups as “cults,” such as the Falungong.

5. Death penalty and executions. The government does not publicize figures for the death penalty, but it is mandated for no fewer than 68 crimes. Though the exact number is a state secret, it is estimated that as many as 10,000 executions are carried out each year.

5. HIV/AIDS. Measures to address China’s HIV/AIDS crisis are hampered as local officials and security forces continue to obstruct efforts by activists and grassroots organizations to contribute to prevention and education efforts and to organize care-giving.

6. House arrests. Numerous human rights defenders and government critics have been harassed, detained and subject to house arrest. If today’s pattern holds, a pre-Olympic clampdown in the weeks and months before the Games is likely.

7. Foreign policy. China’s close relations with countries linked to severe, ongoing human rights violations are also a serious source of concern. China maintains relations with and provides aid to regimes including Sudan, the site of egregious human rights violations in Darfur, and Burma, whose military junta violently suppresses civilians. China has also not ratified the International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights, which it signed in 1998.

North and South Korea Exchange Gunfire

North and South Korea reportedly exchanged gunfire across their heavily-armed border Monday. It was the first such incident since July 31, 2006.

An official in the South Korean office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed a number of shots had been fired from the North and troops in the South had fired back. There were no reports of any casualties.

The incident comes a day before the two Koreas are due to participate in talks over dismantling North Korea's nuclear capability, amid a dispute between North Korea and Japan (see Sunday's story below) over Tokyo's crackdown on a pro-Pyongyang organization that has acted as a de facto North Korean embassy in Japan.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Japanese Crackdown on North Korean 'Embassy' Could Cause Pyongyang to Test-Fire More Missiles

Early Warning.

A dispute between North Korea and Japan regarding Tokyo's crackdown on the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan, commonly called Chongryon, could delay or derail the six-nation talks on North Korea's denuclearization, leading Pyongyang to stage provocative new missile tests.

The Stalinist/Kimist regime could test-fire short and longer-range missiles in Japan's direction to escalate tensions and extract additional economic concessions from the United States and South Korea.

The Chongryon has long functioned as a de facto North Korean embassy in Japan.

The organization has also been a source of capital for the North Korean regime.

Chinese Most Threatened by China's Unsafe Foods

China is making a major effort to convince the world that it is cracking down on contaminated food.

In the meantime, the Chinese people themselves are at the most risk, as the central government concedes that nearly 20 percent of products made for domestic consumption fail to meet quality and safety standards.

Fraud and corruption are rampant. There are hundreds of laws and regulations; but enforcement is weak because China's one-party political system can't police itself. Many regulators are on the take.

Infrastructure is another problem. It does not exist in any modern form with respect to temperature control and other aspects of handling, storage, and transportation. So safely getting food from the field to the supermarket is a formidable challenge.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

US Suffers String of Space-Spying Setbacks

The outer limits of incompetence?

While China and other countries make great strides in a broad spectrum of military and intelligence-related space technologies, the United States is apparently reeling from failure to failure in this costly but crucial field.

For example, the National Reconnaissance Office has deemed an experimental US spy satellite a total loss and will allow it to slowly drop from orbit and burn up in the atmosphere, according to Reuters.

The classified L-21, built by Lockheed Martin Corp at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars, was launched on December 14 but has been out of touch since reaching its low-earth orbit, put by satellite watchers at about 220 miles above the earth.

It will now gradually fall out of orbit over the coming decades. At some later date, it will burn up as it enters the earth's atmosphere, posing no danger to people below.

Separately, said Reuters, two US military satellites used to monitor ship movements failed to reach their correct orbit when they were launched several months ago aboard an Atlas V rocket.

Officials are reportedly now trying to "nudge" the satellites into the correct orbit by using small amounts of the fuel onboard.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

China's Real Rulers Celebrate Important Milestone

How fitting....

Only a day after Chinese government officials posed with one of their best friends in the United States--Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson--for a photo-op aimed at showing that China is serious about tackling environmental degradation caused by pollution and climate change (scroll for the story), the country's real rulers put on their own propaganda display.

The reference, of course, is to the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which celebrated its 80th anniversary Wednesday. China Confidential believes that the PLA, contrary to conventional wisdom, has eclipsed the Communist Party in terms of actual power while still pretending to be under its control.

The deception is important for many reasons, including international image. For all the blather about democracy promotion, the US and the international community are alright with a one-party China, but a military dictatorship is a horse of a different color. Besides, men like Paulson need the illusion of civilian control over China's modernizing and expanding armed forces to rationalize--to themselves and to their governments and the people they presumably serve--China's ascent at the expense of the US and other nations.

Back to the day's main event. As Paulson was wrapping up his--count 'em--fourth--fruitless visit to China as Treasury Secretary (he made some 70 trips to the Middle Kingdom while heading investment banking giant Goldman Sachs) for the purpose of trying to persuade Beijing to end or phase out the currency manipulation that has given China's currency, the yuan, an unfair trade advantage relative to the US, Chinese President Hu Jintao was making a speech, punctuated by thunderous applause, before hundreds of soldiers, sailors and airmen-and an unusually large number of former top leaders--including his ageing predecessor and bitter rival, Shanghai Clique leader Jiang Zemin, who, depending on whether or not one agrees with our analysis, either still serves or still enjoys the loyalty of a major military faction.

Hu promised more money for military modernization.

"We will .... ensure that our armed forces are capable of winning a war in the information age," he said. "Modernization of weapons and equipment should be accelerated and personnel training enhanced."

As reported by Reuters, "Hu paid little heed to his normal line of stressing harmony and China's peaceful development as he sought to show off his leadership of the armed forces in the run up to this autumn's 17th Party Congress."

Hu is also chairman of the Central Military Commission. According to the International Herald Tribune, "On no less than 15 occasions, he referred to the party's total command over the 2.3 million-member military--the world's largest standing army --a repudiation of what Chinese officials have called hostile calls for the army to shift its loyalties to the government instead."

Said Hu: "The PLA is forever at the Chinese Communist Party's command."

The People's Daily, the Party's official newspaper, said in an editorial the PLA was a force for peace ... and an "important force" to ensure the party's grip on power.

Yes, it is all about the grip--and the power.