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Marco Polo and the #Blockchain

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For many of us the world of crypto currencies, sometimes known as digital assets, is a mystery and those involved are performing some form of magic using a mysterious spell known as the blockchain. But those with experience of crypto currencies have realised that great rewards are available to those brave or clever enough to invest in this new world of digital finance, writes Colin Stevens.

But those with experience of crypto currencies have realised that great rewards are available to those brave or clever enough to invest in this new world of digital finance.

Best known of the crypto currencies is the Bitcoin, a crypto coin invented in 2008 by an unknown person or group of people using the name Satoshi Nakamoto and started in 2009 when its implementation was released as open-source software.

Over the course of bitcoin's history, it has undergone rapid growth to become a significant currency both on and offline. From the middle of 2010 some businesses began accepting bitcoin in addition to traditional currencies.

Bitcoin was followed by Ethereum in 2015 and a host of other crypto currencies, so that today there are over 2000 crypto currencies.

The legal status of bitcoin and related crypto instruments varied substantially country to country at first, but many countries quickly realised that crypto currencies are the first apolitical form of money in history, which makes it borderless, impossible to control and regulate. Everyone can use crypto currencies for P2P transactions, which makes it the most inclusive form of money there is.

However, since nothing as decentralized as crypto currencies existed before, it is a true headache both to regulators and tyrannical regimes.

Enlightened governments began to realise the potential benefit of these digital assets, and accepted and even encouraged new crypto currencies tied to their national currencies – such as the USA with Tether (USDT), a crypto currency with a value meant to mirror the value of the U.S. dollar. The idea was to create a stable crypto currency that can be used like digital dollars. Once this happened crypto currencies came of age and became acceptable and mainstream.

Coins that serve this purpose of being a stable dollar substitute are called “stable coins” Tether converts cash into digital currency, to anchor or “tether” the value of the coin to the price of national currencies like the US dollar, the euro, and the yen.

Banks quickly realised the potential of crypto currencies, both for investment opportunities and for their business customers who wish to use it for instant cross border money transfer and exchange services. Major banks are now launching their own crypto coins or “tokens”.

J.P. Morgan in the USA this month became the first US bank to create and successfully test a digital coin representing a fiat currency, that is a government-issued currency that isn't backed by a commodity such as gold.

The JPM Coin is based on blockchain-based technology enabling the instantaneous transfer of payments between their institutional clients. Wall Street has been quick to welcome both the advantages this brings to businesses in competitive markets and the investment opportunities coupled with potentially seismic return on investment for early investors.

Across the Atlantic, after negotiations with the Chinese government, LGR Global is creating a new crypto utility token called “Silk Road Coin” which is destined to facilitate trade and commerce along the Belt and Road Initiative, formerly known as One Belt One Road or OBOR for short. This is a global infrastructure development strategy by the Chinese government mirroring the old Marco Polo trade route between China and Europe. Started in 2013, its purpose is to benefit and invest in nearly 70 countries and international organizations along the route.

The Belt and Road project will construct a unified large market and make full use of both international and domestic markets. The Belt and Road Initiative addresses an "infrastructure gap" and thus has potential to accelerate economic growth across the Asia Pacific area, Africa and Central and Eastern Europe, estimated to be worth at least US$900 billion per year over the next decade, 50% above current infrastructure spending rates. The gaping need for long term capital and an instant and easy means of cross border money transfer and exchange services along the 70 country Belt and Road project almost guarantees the success of the new Silk Road Coin crypto currency, with substantial gains possible for early investors.

Many investors wise enough to invest in bitcoin in its initial years made millions, even billions of dollars, pounds or euros return on their initial investments. Just as the Venetian merchant and adventurer Marco Polo did between 1271–95, new merchant adventurers stand to make their fortunes via the new digital currencies of the Silk Road.

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US and China positions at a standstill in entrenched Tianjin talks

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With no indication of a US-China leaders' summit in the works, nor any outcomes announced from high-level diplomatic talks on Monday (26 July), relations between Beijing and Washington appear to be at a standstill as both sides insist the other must make concessions for ties to improve, write Michael Martina and David Brunnstrom.

US officials had stressed that Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman's trip to the northern Chinese port city of Tianjin to meet Foreign Minister Wang Yi and other officials was a chance to ensure that stiffening competition between the two geopolitical rivals does not veer into conflict.

But the combative statements that emerged from the meeting – albeit coupled with suggestions from officials that closed-door sessions were marginally more cordial – mirrored the tone set in Alaska in March, when the first senior-level diplomatic talks under President Joe Biden were overshadowed by rare public vitriol from both sides.

While Tianjin did not expose the same degree of outward hostility that was on display in Alaska, the two sides appeared to stop short of actually negotiating anything, sticking instead to lists of established demands.

Sherman pressed China on actions Washington says run counter to the rules-based international order, including Beijing's crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong, what the U.S. government has deemed is an ongoing genocide in Xinjiang, abuses in Tibet and the curtailing of press freedoms.

"I think it'd be wrong to characterize the United States as somehow seeking or soliciting China's cooperation," a senior U.S. administration official told reporters after the talks, referring to global concerns such as climate change, Iran, Afghanistan and North Korea.

"It is going to be up to the Chinese side to determine how ready they are as well to… take the next step," a second U.S. administration official said of bridging disagreements.

But Wang insisted in a statement that the ball was in the United States' court.

"When it comes to respecting international rules, it is the United States that must think again," he said, demanding that Washington remove all unilateral sanctions and tariffs on China.

China's Foreign Ministry has recently signaled there could be preconditions for the United States on which any kind of co-operation would be contingent, a stance some analysts say is a recipe for diplomatic ossification and that leaves dim prospects for improved ties.

Bonnie Glaser, an Asia expert at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, said it was important for the two sides to maintain some form of engagement. At the same time, there appeared to be no agreement in Tianjin for follow-up meetings or mechanisms for ongoing dialogue.

"That will probably leave US allies and partners uneasy. They are hoping for greater stability and predictability in the US-China relationship," Glaser said.

Both sides are likely to be disappointed if they expect the other to give in first, she added.

There has been some expectation in foreign policy circles that Biden could meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping for the first time since becoming president on the sidelines of a G20 summit in Italy in October.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the prospect of a Biden-Xi meeting did not come up in Tianjin, though she added that she expects there will be some opportunity to engage at some point.

Indications are, meanwhile, that the Biden administration may scale up both enforcement actions impacting Beijing – such as cracking down on Iranian oil sales to China – and coordination with allies in the context of countering China, including another summit later this year that Biden is keen to host with the leaders of Japan, Australia, and India.

Biden's White House also has given few signals that it intends to roll back tariffs on Chinese goods established under the Trump administration.

At the same time, cooperation on the COVID-19 pandemic seems almost entirely out of reach, with the United States calling Beijing's rejection of a World Health Organization plan for further study of the virus' origin "irresponsible" and "dangerous".

There has been little sign either of a willingness by China to cooperate with Washington on the climate issue, a priority for Biden, despite energetic entreaties by U.S. climate envoy John Kerry.

"What was on display in Tianjin is that both sides are still very far apart on how they view the value and role of diplomatic engagement," said Eric Sayers, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Scott Kennedy, a China specialist at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies,, said neither side saw much upside for now in being more cooperative.

"And there's no low-hanging fruit for cooperation for either side and any gesture toward co-operation actually comes with significant costs, both domestic and strategic," he said.

"I think we ought to have very low expectations about the two sides finding common ground and stabilizing the relationship in the near future."

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Chinese president Xi Jinping visits troubled region of Tibet

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President Xi Jinping (pictured) has visited the politically troubled region of Tibet, the first official visit by a Chinese leader in 30 years, writes BBC.

The president was in Tibet from Wednesday to Friday, but the visit only reported by state media on Friday due to the sensitivities of the trip.

China is accused of suppressing cultural and religious freedom in the remote and mainly Buddhist region.

The government denies the accusations.

In footage released by state broadcaster CCTV, Mr Xi was seen greeting a crowd wearing ethnic costumes and waving the Chinese flag as he left his plane.

He arrived in Nyingchi, in the south-east of the country and visited a number of locations to learn about urban development, before travelling to the capital Lhasa on the high-altitude railway.

While in Lhasa, Mr Xi visited the Potala Palace, the traditional home of exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

People in the city had "reported unusual activities and monitoring of their movement" ahead of his visit, advocacy group International Campaign for Tibet said on Thursday.

Mr Xi last visited the region 10 years ago as vice-president. The last sitting Chinese leader to officially visit Tibet was Jiang Zemin in 1990.

State media said Mr Xi took time to learn about the work being done on ethnic and religious affairs and the work done to protect Tibetan culture.

Many exiled Tibetans accuse Beijing of religious repression and eroding their culture.

Tibet has had a tumultuous history, during which it has spent some periods functioning as an independent entity and others ruled by powerful Chinese and Mongolian dynasties.

China sent in thousands of troops to enforce its claim on the region in 1950. Some areas became the Tibetan Autonomous Region and others were incorporated into neighbouring Chinese provinces.

China says Tibet has developed considerably under its rule, but campaign groups say China continues to violate human rights, accusing it of political and religious repression.

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More Tibetan Buddhists behind bars in July

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On 6 July 2021, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibetans, the Dalai Lama, turned 86. For Tibetans around the world, the Dalai Lama remains their guardian; a symbol of compassion and hope to restore peace in Tibet, and ensure genuine autonomy through peaceful means. For Beijing, the Nobel Peace Prize winner is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” who seeks to undermine China’s integrity by pursuing an independent Tibet, write Dr Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy and Willy Fautré.

As a consequence, Beijing considers any country engaging with the spiritual leader or raising the situation in Tibet as interference in its internal affairs. Similarly, Beijing does not allow Tibetans to celebrate the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Moreover, the communist government in Beijing applies harsh punishment for any such attempt, just as it continues its campaign to undermine the Tibetan language, culture and religion, as well as the rich history through brutal repression.

For year Beijing has continued to discredit and subvert the Dalai Lama. Displays by Tibetans of the Dalai Lama’s photo, public celebrations and sharing of his teaching via mobile phones or social media are often harshly punished. This month, as they celebrated the Dalai Lama’s birthday many Tibetans were arrested according to Golog Jigme, a former Tibetan political prisoner now living in Switzerland.

As such, Chinese officials in Sichuan province arrested two Tibetans. Kunchok Tashi and Dzapo, in their 40s, were taken into custody in Kardze in the Tibetan Autonomous Region (TAR). They were arrested on suspicion of being part of a group of social media that encouraged the reciting of Tibetan prayers to commemorate their spiritual leader’s birthday.

Over the past years, the Chinese authorities have continued to intensify pressure on Tibetans, punishing cases of ‘political subversion’. In 2020, the Chinese authorities in Tibet sentenced four Tibetan monks to long prison terms following a violent raid by the police on their monastery in Tingri county.

The cause of the raid was the discovery of a cell phone, owned by Choegyal Wangpo, a 46-year-old monk at Tingri’s Tengdro monastery, with messages sent to monks living outside Tibet and records of financial contributions made to a monastery in Nepal damaged in a 2015 earthquake, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Choegyal was arrested, interrogated and severely beaten. Following this development, police and other security forces visited his home village of Dranak, raided the place and beat more Tengdro monks and villagers, detaining about 20 of them on suspicion of having exchanged messages with other Tibetans abroad or of having possessed photographs or literature related to the Dalai Lama.

Three days after the raid, in September 2020, a Tengdro monk named Lobsang Zoepa took his own life in apparent protest against the crackdown by the authorities. Soon after his suicide internet connections to the village were cut off. Most of the monks detained were held without trial for months, some are believed to have been released on the condition of committing to not carrying out any political acts.

Three monks were not released. Lobsang Jinpa, 43, deputy head of the monastery, Ngawang Yeshe, 36 and Norbu Dondrub, 64. They were subsequently tried in secret on unknown charges, found guilty and given harsh sentences: Choegyal Wangpo was sentenced to 20 years in prison, Lobsang Jinpa to 19, Norbu Dondrub to 17 and Ngawang Yeshe to five years. These harsh sentences are unprecedented and indicative of the increase in restrictions on Tibetans to communicate freely, and practice their fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression.

Under President Xi, China has become more oppressive at home and aggressive abroad. In response, democratic governments across the world have amplified their condemnation of China’s human rights violations, with some taking concrete action, such as imposing sanctions. For the future, as China’s regional and global clout continue to increase, like-minded democratic allies across the world must hold Beijing to account concerning the situation in Tibet.

Willy Fautré is the director of the Brussels-based NGO Human Rights Without Frontiers. Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy is a research fellow at Academia Sinica and an affiliated scholar at Vrije Universiteit Brussel’s political science department. 

Guest posts are the opinions of the author, and are not endorsed by EU Reporter.

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