Why would China want to control oil when we'll just sell it?

The New York Times has a good article today looking at CNOOC's attempt to buy Unocal from the strategic perspective of China: "China's Costly Quest for Energy Control". Unlike most of the other stuff written on this, reporter Joseph Kahn takes seriously the idea that the Chinese might have their own desires and interests, and that we might want to think about those instead of just the threat China poses to our clearly entirely-deserved global hegemony.

While making a big point of the fact that China is paying a lot of extra money to secure control over oil reserves rather than just buying on the open market, Kahn balances this by explaining exactly how threatened China feels by the USA's tight and expanding grip on world energy supplies. And he doesn't just dismiss these fears as paranoia. A great quote from a Chinese energy consultant explains it all: "A popular saying abroad is that oil is just a commodity that anyone who has money can buy. But this saying is most popular in the countries that already control the supplies."


Uzbekistan teaches how the world works

Sometimes journalists don't cover something that seems obvious because it "has a low news value". Now, I don't agree with this policy but if they wanted to be consistent, an article titled "Uzbek Ministries in Crackdown Received U.S. Aid" would never have been printed in The New York Times.

Because anyone who knows anything about the USA's history of training other countries' militaries and the nature of Uzbekistan's government would simply assume that people who have studied under US direction would participate in atrocities. The very substance of that training, which generally runs under the euphemisms "counterinsurgency" or "counterterrorism", involves disproportionate use of violence and targetting of civilians.

Uzbekistan's "counterterrorism" unit Bars is the latest in a long line of US-trained special forces that have committed atrocities. From the brutal Atlacatl brigade in El Salvador, responsible for massacring whole villages, to Indonesia's elite Kopassus, which has abducted and murdered dissidents for 40 years, to countless others, American training has been put directly to use in committing terrible crimes. And this is in addition to the more general military, diplomatic, and economic aid the USA habitually provides to repressive governments.

The article is useful in documenting the deep ties America has forged with Uzbekistan over the past 15 years and the probable direct involvement of recipients of American training in the massacre of protesters in Andijon on 2005 May 13. But the journalists simply repeat the formulaic explanation for why the USA is working so closely with such a repressive government - Uzbekistan is a key ally in the war on terror. Yet as the article itself goes on to say, the USA-Uzbekistan relationship long predates 9/11 and the American attack on Afghanistan. And it remains unclear why the USA has established permanent military bases in the country even tho their original need - to base warplanes attacking neighboring Afghanistan - is long gone.

In fact, the American alliance with Uzbekistan has little to do with terrorism and much to do with the struggle for big-power control in the key region of Central Asia. By taking the Afghanistan war as an excuse to establish military positions thruout the region, the USA not only pushed back Russia's traditional sphere of influence and made a step toward preventing the possible expansion of China's, it also moved to gain control of the major energy resources of Central Asia. Uzbekistan, tho its energy resources are much smaller than those of its neighbors, has the largest economy, the largest population, and the greatest military potential of any of them. It is an important prize, and the post-9/11 outright alliance with Uzbekistan represents a huge step forward for the American strategy of surrounding both Russia and China with client states and military bases.

It's important to go beyond the easy partisan points to be had from criticizing Bush's hypocrisy in aiding Uzbek autocrat Islam Karimov while earnestly condemning human rights violations committed by less docile rulers. Only by understanding the structural roots of military aid to despots - something that every American president, Democrat and Republican alike, has provided since World War II - can we hope to eliminate it.

The issue is not communism or terrorism, it's not immorality or myopia. The source of these policies is the defense of an international system that places power and wealth in the hands of a few countries, generally the same ones that colonized the world 100 years ago. Those who might challenge this order, whether petty tyrants in تهران/Tehran or 평양/Pyoengyang, or major players in 北京/Beijing or Москва/Moscow, must be contained or destroyed. Any means to that end is justified, including teaching our friends how to kill their innocent enemies.


Getting paranoid

China has always tried to keep control of the internet and regulate the kinds of things Chinese people say online. The New York Times reports that this monitoring has reached a new height, with the government requiring bloggers and owners of websites to register with the Information Ministry. The article also reports that users at Internet bars have to provide identification and are given user numbers, but I've never run into that.

There's definitely a fair number of dissidents active online, and what they're doing is certainly admirable. Unfortunately, I don't think their activities are going to have any more effect than mine are in changing the unjust policies of our respective governments.

I wish my Chinese was good enough to read what they're writing and report on how class-bound it is. Since any internet dissident would be an intellectual or student, I suspect most of the internet writing is about elections, freedom of speech, attacking corruption, &c - it's probably not about liberating workers and peasants. But that's just an assumption, someday maybe I can say for sure.

In any case, I've started getting more worried about the government running across my own blogging and deporting me or denying me a visa or something. So I finally took my name off the site. Lame. Probably they don't care, since Blogger is always blocked (tho you can sometimes get around it with a proxy like anonymouse), and it's not in Chinese, but i guess better safe than sorry.