Americans have difficulty comprehending how and why China works the way it does, giving rise to increasing friction between the two countries. This lack of understanding extends to China’s banking system, which is a microcosm of China’s political economy. Contrary to much media reporting, China’s banks have been transformed over the past 15 years into modern financial institutions. At the same time, shaped by centuries of Chinese institutions and values, and deeply embedded in the Chinese market socialist political economy, Chinese banks fundamentally differ from Western banks. Chinese banks play a dual role– provide shareholders with return on investment (the market role) and support the party-state’s national development agenda (the socialist role).
The reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba after more than fifty years is expected to reverberate throughout the Western Hemisphere and impact relationships within the Organization of American States. How far will this new development take us and how open will Cuba be to development, private investment, greater freedoms and fundamental changes to its long held ideologies and political system?
It’s been 25 years since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the reemergence of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as independent countries recognized as such by their neighbors including the Russian Federation. In 2004 the three Baltic republics joined the European Union and NATO for economic and security reasons. There have never been permanently based NATO forces on Baltic soil although NATO troops have been holding military exercises there as a result of Russia’s invasion of Crimea, its continuing military activities in Eastern Ukraine and particularly its threats against the countries that rim Russia’s northwest border. What are the Kremlin’s intentions?
For more than a year, the Russian Federation has been flying combat and surveillance aircraft – with transponders off – over the Baltic Sea approaching and occasionally entering Finnish and Swedish airspace. Such dangerous and provocative actions have come with no prior warning. In response, these two Nordic countries signed an agreement with NATO to increase cooperation and interoperability – meant to send a warning to the Russians. Finland has an 833 mile border with Russia, the Finns have fought innumerable wars with its much larger neighbor but have also managed to convince the Russians that a Russian military invasion of Finland is simply too costly. The post-World War II policy of Finlandization ended quietly with the demise of the Soviet Union as Finland joined the Council of Europe, the European Union and NATO’s Partners for Peace thereafter.
Conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has been almost continuous in our lifetimes – or so it seems. 2014 saw its renewed eruption with the Hamas kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank resulting in the summer’s horrific Gaza War. This was followed by numerous small but chilling incidents in the West Bank and Jerusalem last fall. Simultaneously the Palestinian Authority unsuccessfully pursued the recognition of statehood by the UN Security Council, signed a number of UN agreements and will officially become a member of the International Criminal Court in April.
Although Colombia has been pushed off the front pages by Iraq, Afghanistan and Ukraine, Colombia remains one of the largest recipients of US foreign assistance. Colombia is also a US foreign policy priority in terms of the “wars” on drugs and terror as well as our commitment to strengthening democracies. Not only is Colombia America’s staunchest ally in the hemisphere, it offers an underappreciated model of successful cooperation with the U.S. Santa Rosa del Sur, a small town in Colombia’s Southern Bolivar Department, was once in the heart of northern Colombia drug production with a heavy involvement of leftist guerilla groups. The farmers had no choice but to grow coca for peanuts, so to speak. Ten years later they thrive by growing cocoa and other legally marketable crops. USAID helped to make that happen. Our speaker was part of this durable transformation, and this program will tell us how it came about.