Patent Waivers For COVID Vaccines? Yes/No.

As for COVID-19 vaccines, rich countries have gotten the lion’s share of the vaccine and poor countries have got far less.

How to address this problem of inequality? Last year, a proposal was floated by India and South Africa that WTO restrictions (TRIPS Agreement) on intellectual property be lifted and poorer countries by allowed to manufacture the vaccine locally to counter the disparity and to fight the pandemic. The United States, under President Joe Biden has gotten behind this remedy, as have China and Russia and the World Health Organization.

But not everyone was on board: Japan, Korea, UK and the EU and Germany were against the idea. In early June the European Parliament voted to waive IP restrictions for the COVID 19 vaccines. Still, the EU stands firm.

The question really boils down to this: Will waiving IP rights on the vaccine create and equitable distribution of vaccines and help stop the pandemic? Supporters say yes it will, critics say no it won’t. 

Arguments against the IP waiver say that IP is not the problem, that technology and production are. Even if IP protections are waived say the critics, poorer countries do not have the skill or infrastructure to produce the vaccines correctly in the short term. Another reason given is a shortage of raw materials that are desperately needed by the current manufacturers to produce vaccine at speed and in volume.

Other arguments against the lifting of IP protection include:

  • Waiving IP production my reduce quality of products
  • There is a danger of fake products becoming common
  • The lack of IP protection is a dis-incentive to investment

One proposal now being put forward as an alternative to suspending IP protection is for countries and organizations that are already producing vaccines to ramp-up production. The EU also proposes waiving export restrictions on vaccines and components.

The need for more vaccines is real and global. Is waiving IP protection the answer to this shortage. Let us know your thoughts on this vital issue.


Glasgow Climate Change Conference COP26 – A Tale of Three Cities?

“The COP26 summit will bring partners together to accelerate action toward the goals of the Paris Agreement and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change”(COP26 Website)

The city names Kyoto and Paris are now almost universal shorthand for anything to due with climate change and solutions to climate change. It is also possible that Glasgow will be added to that list after this year’s COP26 meeting in that city from November 1-12 of this year. COP26 is the biggest climate meeting since Paris 2015 and the biggest event that Great Britain has ever hosted.

This meeting will be the 16th meeting of the parties to the Kyoto Protocol and the 3rd meeting of the parties to the Paris Accord. It was originally scheduled according to the 5-year cycle agreed upon, but had to be postponed in 2020 due the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

The US, UK, EU and 97 other countries have pledged to be carbon-zero by mid-century, and this meeting is a way to check progress and keep momentum moving forward. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is solidly behind the event and has enlisted world-renowned climate leader Sir David Attenborough to lend a hand with the event and to lend his prestige to this most important cause. The meeting is co-sponsored by Italy which is tasked with many pre-event happenings. The UK prime minister is doing everything possible to make sure that this remains an “in person” event and not a virtual, online meeting.

The United States is now back in the Paris Accord after being withdrawn by former US President Donald Trump. President Biden took office on January 20, 2021 and on that very day the US rejoined Paris.

Is this just another meeting of minds and exchange of words, or will some dramatic things come out of COP26?  And in the future will people remember the trio: Kyoto, Paris, and Glasgow?

Let us know what you think.


What Does The US Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan Mean For China?

                          by David Parmer / Tokyo

September 11,2021 will see the last American soldiers leave Afghan soil. Well, that is the plan anyway. The US’s “forever war” had to come to a close sooner or later. September 2021 is sooner than many think prudent, but a lot later for those who think that an anti-terrorist action morphed into a long-term, unsuccessful and costly exercise in nation building.

Opinions are mixed on what will happen in Afghanistan once the US and NATO leave. Now not many experts see a collapse of the Afghan government similar to that when the US pulled out of Viet Nam in 1975. There seem to be too many stakeholders in the region including Pakistan and Russia and Tajikistan and China that have no interest in seeing a failed state on their borders or in their region.

A civil war might be one outcome if the government collapses, or loses any claim to a mandate to govern. Some sort of compromise might be worked out with the Taliban in power sharing, but an Isis (Daesh) controlled “caliphate” would be in no one’s interest.

China has real concerns about a spillover of any chaos taking place in Afghanistan. Even though it takes robust measures to patrol its border with Afghanistan, it still must be vigilant to prevent an increase in cross-border crime, smuggling, or terrorism.

East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorists dedicated to removing China from Xingjiang have found shelter with the Taliban, and there are reports of Uyghur fighters participating in the war in Syria.

China has supported the Afghan government military in terms of supplying both training and equipment. Beijing has vehemently denied that there have ever been any PLA boots on the ground despite press reports to the contrary. Perhaps China’s “plausible deniability” is that if anyone were in Afghanistan, it would be police and not PLA.

Whether China’s efforts in Xinjiang to inoculate the populace against radical Islam are working will only be able to be grasped in the long run. China’s angry pushback has neither explained its actions in Xinjiang nor done anything to change perceptions in most of the rest of the world.

After September 11, 2021 China will continue to have its Xinjiang Uyghur problem and the political fallout worldwide, and it will also have the threat of anything from a civil war to an era of Afghan warlordism to the possibility of an ISIS caliphate on its border.

With this kind of situation, it is pretty hard to find any kind of “silver lining.” What do you think about this? Please let us know.

Photo: US Army via flickr

Photo: Matthew Lee via flickr

Taiwan And The Outcome Nobody Really Wants.

The good news: nobody wants a war over Taiwan. Yet the Taiwan question sits at the head of a list of international situations that threaten the world order in the first quarter of the 21st century. These situations include the Iran nuclear question, Russian intentions in Ukraine, the ongoing war in Syria, and the widespread insurgency in the part of the world that is the vast African Sahel region.

There was not much hope of a radically different approach to US-China relations when the stormy transition from the Trump to the Biden administration was complete. And except for tone there has not been much change. Certainly the tone has changed, the insults, racial prejudice, and right-wing rhetoric are gone, but what the US sees as its fundamental interests in the East China Sea and South China Sea and in the Indo-Pacific has not changed.

President Biden’s approach is to get all of the US allies on the same page and working toward common goals, especially towards China. The recent summit meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Suga and President Biden underline this policy. Social media posts from Biden and Secretary of State Blinken remind followers that the US is “back.” 

If you examine US policy now and in the recent past, not much has changed regarding Taiwan. The US sells arms to Taiwan and intends to continue to do so. The US states that it has an “interest” in a free Taiwan, but has no mutual defense treaties, and has not committed to coming to Taiwan’s defense should an invasion from the mainland take place.

For the foreseeable future the US will do what it has done in looking after its interests in the Pacific for half a century: keep its military presence strong and ready and its alliances intact.

As for China, it will continue to move forward following Xi Jinping’s China Dream. Socialism with Chinese characteristics will continue to be the economic system, China’s military power will continue to expand and become even more sophisticated, and the Belt and Road initiative will continue to expand China’s economic and soft power around the world.

This brings us back to the initial assertion: nobody wants a war over Taiwan. But could one “happen”? One answer might be to look back at the US-Soviet cold war that lasted for several decades without a major incident. Yet for China, border wars have occurred with other large states and have not led to wider wars.

In 1962, China and India had a short border war which saw India be soundly defeated by China which after a short time withdrew its troops. China and Russia had a “shooting” war in 1969 along the Ussuri River that lasted some seven months and resulted in the loss of life on both sides before it was resolved. Ten years later, in 1979, the PRC invaded neighboring Viet Nam for a short but bloody conflict before retreating. Here we see three instances where China was not averse to using military force along its borders to achieve its long-range aims. 

China has had short, violent conflicts where it thought it could “win” by taking decisive, aggressive action. The question remains: Is such reliance on short violent conflict “baked in” to Chinese military thinking and strategy? And could China “assume” that it was getting into a short, violent conflict (say the invasion of Taiwan) when in fact the United States was prepared for a long, protracted multi-front confrontation?

In conclusion, there seem to be only two courses of action available right now:

1) The status quo. A new “cold war” where China and the US face off for decades but do not engage in a shooting war.

2) An incident that convinces China that its national interests are being violated (say by Taiwan Independence) that it is forced to take military action and invade.

For the present and the immediate future there seem to be no real solutions to the Taiwan question. Nobody wants a war, but is war inevitable?

Let us know what you think about this important issue.









Photo: ROC (Taipei) Government via flickr

US Election Interference 2020 – It was Russia.

A declassified report by the US National Intelligence Council released on 10 March 2021 clearly points the finger at Russia for election meddling in 2020. The report concludes that Russia with the knowledge and probably direction by President Vladimir Putin sought to again influence the US 2020 election and undermine faith in the US election process.

The report also states that there was no evidence at all to support any claims that China was trying to interfere in the US 2020 election despite repeated assertions by Donald Trump himself, Attorney General William Barr and National Security advisor O’Brien.

Russian efforts in the 2020 US presidential election included efforts to:

  • Denigrate Biden’s candidacy
  • Denigrate the Democratic Party
  • Support Trump
  • Undermine the electoral process
  • Heighten sociopolitical division in the US

According to the report, Russia deployed its intelligence services, state media and troll farms to influence and damage the US election, and to influence its outcome. The Russian narrative was embraced by the Trump campaign during and after the election, and by Donald Trump himself with his repeated and baseless claims of election fraud by the Democrats.

Also mentioned in the report are attempts at election influence in 2020 by Iran, Cuba, and Hizballah (In favor of Biden). There is a link to the report below. It is a short 5-10 minute read and provides a summary of the key points in the report. Please let us know your thoughts on this matter.

US DNI Declassifed reprot on 2020 election meddling

Photo: Stuart Rankin via flickr.


In The African Sahel Of 2021 There is Sand and Heat – But No Easy Solutions.

Since 2014 France has had a military presence in Africa’s Sahel named operation Barkhane. Africa’s Sahel region lies between the sands of the Sahara and the jungle of the savannah and is made up of several countries includes Mauritania, Mali, Niger Burkina Faso, and Chad.

The purpose of operation Barkhane is counter-insurgency, or the suppression of a whole range of Islamic fundamentalists of different stripes. Forces arrayed against the insurgents include:

  • French military forces
  • United Nations Forces (MINUSMA)
  • Forces of the G5 Sahel
  • Task Force Takuba (European Special Forces)

Anti-government and Islamist forces include a wide spectrum of organizations including:

  • Al Qaeda In Islamic Maghreb’s (AQUIM)
  • Jama’at Nursat al Islam (JNIM)
  • Islamic State in West Africa Province (ISWAP)
  • Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS)

Fighting has taken its toll on French forces and particularly on the UN’s MINUSA which suffered a reported 200 casualties already. Some high profile Islamist figures have been targeted and eliminated, but the insurgents are by no means finished.

President Macron of France has an unpopular war on his hands with only about 50% support or less at home. In addition, the French are portrayed as neo-colonialists by their many in the region. It seems Macron is trying to energize the G5 Sahel countries to take responsibility for their own security with mixed results.

Recent history has shown clearly what happens when the Islamic State takes power and the misery and suffering it inflicts up its unwilling “citizens.” So were France and the other coalition partners to withdraw, lawlessness would unfold followed by the establishment of the most repressive of regimes if what we have seen when IS held power in the recent past.

Another factor is that Metropolitan France is not that far away, and political chaos and widespread repression by IS would trigger not only mass migration but also the possibility of attacks both on France and other EU states as well by emboldened militants from the Sahel.

History shows us very few examples of where insurgent forces were eliminated or rendered harmless. The question then is what can be done? Would a giant United Nations presence be the answer, allowing France to withdraw? Could the G5 Sahel become efficient enough themselves to handle the situation?

It could be said that France is riding on the back of a tiger with only two choices, to continue to ride, or to get off and face the consequences. There are no easy solutions in the Sahel in 2021, only difficult and complex problems and questions.

Let us know your thoughts on this.

Photo: Minestere des Armees via facebook.

China To Go Carbon Neutral By 2060.

China has surprised the world and laid down a challenge: it will go carbon neutral by 2060. The surprise announcement was made by China’s President Xi Jinping at a virtual UN meeting on September 20, 2020. Xi said that China will reach its emissions peak by 2030 and go carbon neutral by 2060. Following China’s lead, both Japan and Korea vowed to become carbon neutral by mid-century as well.

Asia, with China at the forefront, has taken the lead and the West, particularly the US lags behind. The United States will have to catch up with the rest of the world on climate change countermeasures. The Biden administration quickly re-joining the Paris Climate Accord and fielding full representation at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow in September 2021 will be a good start.

While China may lead, it has its work cut out for it. In many ways to achieve President Xi’s goals, China will have to radically reshape itself. Areas impacted by changes in energy supply and management will include:

  • Transportation
  • Industry
  • Building
  • Agriculture

The energy sector itself will have to change and end its reliance on coal, oil, and gas. Skeptics wonder if China can divorce itself from its reliance on coal, which is now the estimated source of 65% of its power production. New coal plants are in the works and the country will be faced with phasing them out and finding new work for an entire industry in its greener future.

On the positive side, China is the world’s largest producer of solar wafers. It has a mature and advanced solar industry and solar farms as well as wind farms are springing up at breakneck speed. China’s solar industry has reached a stage of effective development where government subsidies are no longer seen as necessary and are drying up. Challenges facing solar are the storage of excess energy and the transmission of energy generated by solar in China’s less-populated east to its dynamic industrial east.

To arrive at President Xi’s goals China must re-invent itself and in the process become not just Mr. Xi’s “moderately prosperous society” but also the leader in renewables and sustainability. Quite a challenge. What do you think about this? Please let us know.

Photo: Asian Development Bank via flickr

Person of Interest: General Llyod Austin, Biden’s Pick for Secretary of Defense.

On December 9, President-elect Joe Biden nominated retired General LLoyd Austin to be his Secretary of Defense. General Austin retired from the United States Army in 2016 after a distinguished military career that saw him, after his graduation from the United States Military Academy, fill assignments at some of the Army’s most elite units including the 82nd Airborne Division, the 10th Mountain Division and a stint as instructor at his alma mater, West Point.

General Austin saw combat duty in both Afghanistan and Iraq. In 2010 he was put in charge of all US forces in Iraq where he oversaw the draw-down of US forces. In 2011 he was appointed Army Vice Chief of Staff and in 2013 he took command of US Central Command, or CENTCOM. General Austin retired in 2016 and moved to the private sector where he was on the board of Raytheon Technologies, a major American military contractor. 

According to US law, to be appointed as Secretary of Defense a retired officer must have been out of uniform for a minimum of 7 years. General Austin has only been retired for 4 years, so it will be necessary for him to get a congressional waiver before he can take up the post. There is precedent for this, as recently as the current Trump administration where retired General James Mattis had the 7-year requirement waived.

The question is whether a hostile and divided congress reflecting the mood of a hostile and divided nation will give General Austin a “pass.” For Biden and the Democrats Austin checks off a lot of boxes in terms of experience. He would be the first black Secretary of Defense. General Austin has also teamed up with Joe Biden in the past, and they reportedly have a good working relationship.

Will General Austin face some grilling during his Senate confirmation? He probably will. Will he appear as a competent and knowledgeable interviewee? Surely he will. And finally will General Austin achieve another “first” in his long and distinguished career of government service? He probably will. 

What do you think? Let us know your opinion on this and any other topic that we cover here at RG-21.  

Photo: Wikipedia



China–Taiwan Question: Another Year Goes By Without A Solution.

                         by David Parmer / Tokyo

Well 2020 is rapidly winding down; just about a month or so to go, and the Year of the Rat will be gone. The truth be told, not many people will miss this year, or remember it fondly due to its association with the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to relations between Beijing and Taipei, there hasn’t been a lot of movement during the past 11 months. Probably the biggest happenings this year has been the visit of high-level US officials following the passage of the Taiwan Relations Act by the US congress, and continuing US arms sales to Taiwan.

The biggest “win” for President Tsai Ing-wen has been warming relations with the United States under the Trump administration. And while the US has never said that it will come to the aid of Taiwan if attacked by the PRC, it says that the matter is of grave interest.

Beijing has its red line, and that means anything to do with Taiwan independence is seen as crossing that line. President Tsai and her party have ventured close to the line but have not come close to crossing it. Beijing for its part has never denied that military action to rejoin Taiwan is one of its options.

So a stalemate persists. With the Democratic Progressive Party in power it looks like there will be no closer relations with Beijing. Should the Kuomintang again gain power, then a warming of relations could be expected to take place. 

What is troubling is that Beijing and Taipei see no creative way to solve their differences. Beijing’s only attempt at a nuanced solution was to suggest a One Country-Two Systems solution such as that under which Hong Kong is now governed. This has been soundly rejected by Taipei in light of what it considers Beijing’s lack of good faith as witnessed by the events in Hong Kong.

So stalemate. It appears that neither Hong Kong nor Taipei sees any advantage to a closer relationship with Beijing. Beijing has nothing to offer them that they don’t already have. In the distant past the high culture of China was indeed attractive to people in the neighborhood who copied Chinese culture and aspired to that which China could offer.

So what would create a “willing” closer affiliation with the mainland? At present, nothing. What then is the solution? Maybe in the current way of thinking there simply isn’t one. Beijing seems to have only one strategy: Join us or else. There could, perhaps, be a more nuanced way to approach the problem. Taiwan is part of China, but what does “China” mean?

Is there no possibility for a “federation” of China, or a “commonwealth” of China?A “commonwealth” or “federation” of China could relieve Beijing of three of its headaches and its negative perception by the rest of the world. A commonwealth of China could solve not only the Taiwan question, but also the question of Tibet and of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. A indefinite continuation of the One-Country Two Systems in Hong Kong could keep tensions low there as well.

There is an old saying to the effect that if the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. Right now, Beijing seems to have a hammer mentality with regard to Taiwan. Having only one solution is a sure way to a lack of progress and stalemate, which is what is taking place now. Classical Chinese culture shows us a mastery of nuance and subtlety in thought and expression. Perhaps it is time to draw on this ancient wisdom to create some workable answers to the Taiwan question.

Please let us know your thoughts on this.

Photo: Heikki Holstila via flickr



US Election 2020 : Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop.

                  by David Parmer / Tokyo

Seven days after November 2, Election Day 2020, the United States presidential election has been called: Vice President Joe Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris have won, Donald Trump has lost.

The drama of the counting of the votes took 5 days. The dynamic was not very difficult to understand: Trump voters voted in person and were counted early. Biden voters mostly mailed in their ballots.

These were two different approaches to the election and to dealing with the COVID pandemic.

Initially, Donald Trump had a significant lead the first night due to the in-person votes, but as time passed, the mail-in ballots were counted and Biden took the lead and kept it until his eventual victory. (270+ electoral votes).

For some time before the election Donald Trump was already claiming voter fraud without any proof. When the election came he increased his rhetoric, again without any proof. The Trump campaign filed lawsuits in several states claiming irregularities in the voting process. The lawsuits are ongoing.

As of November 8, 2020 there are 73 days until Mr. Biden is sworn in as President of the United States. Until then, Donald Trump will still be president. The question is what will Mr. Trump do during those 73 days and how will he conduct himself?

Donald Trump really has only two courses of action before his term of office ends.

The first course of action is what might be called “scorched earth.” He will fire up his base of voters, and in rally after rally claim the election results are bogus and that Biden is not the legitimate winner. He will incite his most radical followers to action, perhaps even violence. His army of lawyers will file lawsuit after lawsuit. He will not invite Joe Biden to the White House as a courtesy and he will not concede that he has lost the election. Perhaps he will even refuse to attend the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. He will take every opportunity to be small, vindictive, petty, and mean.

The second course of action is for Donald Trump to act “presidential.” That is to concede the election, and attend the swearing in of the new president and vice-president. He could also cooperate in a smooth transition of power from Republicans to Democrats.

Would Donald Trump do this willingly? Probably not; it is just not in his DNA. However, there is a good chance that the elders of the Republican party will have a sit down with the president and explain the facts: that it is in his self interest to make a smooth transition, and if he pursues a “scorched earth” policy, he will do irreparable damage to the Republican party (which has enabled and sheltered him) for decades to come. More importantly for Trump he will damage his own reputation and legacy in the eyes of History.

Another compelling reason, also linked to his self-interest, is that if he fails to concede and fights on he will damage the Trump brand and the futures of his sons and daughter. Also, if he acts as much as statesman and president as he can in those 73 days, he will be able to be seen as an elder statesman and have great influence over those who practice his kind of politics both in the United States and around the world.

Of course, Trump could also do some kind of middle ground between the two extremes; acknowledge the transition but continue his bogus claims of election fraud right up until the end. This, however, would entail walking a fine line, and fine lines are not what Donald Trump does. 

With the mercurial Donald Trump it is hard to predict which course he will choose. There seems to be little doubt that in 70-some days he will vacate the White House. The question is how will he do it?

What do you think will happen? Please let us know.

Photo: Gage Skidmore via flickr