East Asia

Oil and the Ouroboros

Today, at $45-50 a barrel, the price of crude oil has risen significantly from the $30 lows it reached around the start of 2016. Still, it remains quite far below the $80-110 range in which it resided during most of the past decade, prior to its crash in mid-2014. Gas and coal prices, meanwhile, have in most areas of the world fallen even more than those of oil has. China, because it is the world’s largest net importer of oil and of fossil fuels in general, has often been viewed as a country that is likely to benefit from these cheaper prices.

This view may be incorrect. Not only do China’s energy imports not equal a large share of its GDP, but the growth of China’s energy imports going forward may be slower than many predict. Moreover, there is an enormous discrepancy in the amount of fossil fuels produced by various regions and provinces within China. As such, the crash in energy prices may excacerbate, or at least influence, some of China’s preexisting geo-political divisions.

Energy Imports

China may be the world’s largest energy importer, but it is has also become its second largest energy producer, and as such only relies on energy imports for an estimated 15% of its total energy consumption, in contrast to 94% in Japan, 83% in South Korea, 33% in India, 40% in Thailand, and 43% in the Philippines. In 2014 imports of oil were equal in value to just around 2.4 % of China’s GDP, according to the Wall Street Journal, compared to 3.6% in Japan, 6.9% in Korea, 5.3% in India, 5.4% in Thailand, 4% in the Philippines, and 3.3% in Indonesia.

South Korea and Japan also imported more than two and four times more liquified natural gas, respectively – the prices of which tend to track oil prices more closely than conventional natural gas prices do – than China did. China’s LNG imports barely even surpassed India’s or Taiwan’s. China’s imports of natural gas in general, meanwhile, were less than half as large as Japan’s and only around 20% percent greater than South Korea’s.

China, furthermore, tends to import energy from the most commercially uncompetitive, politically fragile, or American-hated oil-exporting states, such as Iran, Russia, Iraq, Angola, and other African states like Congo and South Sudan. In contrast, Japan and South Korea get their crude from places that will, perhaps, be better at weathering today’s low prices, namely from Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. (Granted, China gets an enormous amount of oil from Saudi Arabia too; however, Saudi oil does not count for nearly as large as share of China’s oil imports as it does for Japanese or South Korean oil imports). Similarly, China gets much of its natural gas from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Myanmar, whereas Japan imports gas from Australia and Qatar and South Korea imports gas from Qatar and Indonesia. China’s top source for imports of high-grade anthracite coal, and its third largest source for coal in general, is North Korea.

China has, in addition, invested capital all over the world in areas hurt by falling energy and other commodity prices, both in developed countries like Australia and developing economic regions like Africa. With energy prices cheap, it may get low returns on these expenditures.

Energy, History, and Politics

Another mistake the financial media makes is looking at China as if it were a country, rather than what it really is: both a country and a continent. Continents contain deeply-rooted divisions along regional, linguistic, and ethnic lines. China is no exception. China’s main division, roughly speaking, is between  areas south of the Yangtze River, which tend to be mountainous, sub-tropical, and dependent upon importing fossil fuels, and areas north of the Yangtze, which tend to be flat, more temperate, and rich in fossil fuels.

China’s Physical Topography                     China’s Population Density

Northern China, stretching over 1000 km from Beijing southward to Shanghai on the Yangtze, is the country’s political heartland. It is densely populated and home to most of China’s natively Mandarin-speaking, ethnically Han citizens. When compared to southern China, the north has historically been somewhat insulated from foreigners like the Europeans, Americans, and even Japanese. Beijing’s nearest port is roughly 5000 km away from Singapore and the Strait of Malacca; Hong Kong, in contrast, is only around 2500 km from Singapore and Malacca. Beijing is rougly 2600 km from Tokyo by ship, whereas Shanghai is 1900 km from Tokyo and Taipei (in Taiwan) is 2100 km from Tokyo.

Japan’s Ryukyu island chain and the Kuroshio ocean currents historically allowed for direct transport from Japan to Taiwan and the rest of China’s southeastern coast; the Japanese controlled Taiwan for more than three and a half decades before they first ventured into other areas of China in a serious way during the 1930s. Even today, Japan accounts for a larger share of goods exports to Taiwan than do either China or the US.

Southern China has often depended on foreign trade, since much of its population lives in areas that are sandwiched narrowly between Pacific harbours on one side and coastal subtropical mountain ranges on the other. In northern and central China, in contrast, most people live in interior areas rather than directly alongside the Pacific coast.

People in the northern interior often did not engage in as much foreign trade as those on the coast, as, in the past, transportation in the interior was often limited by the fact that northern China’s chief river, the Huang-he, is generally unnavigable and prone to flooding northern China’s flat river plains, destroying or damaging roads and bridges in the process. In southern or central China, by comparison, even people living far inland could engage with the coast by way of the commercially navigable Yangtze and Pearl Rivers, which meet the Pacific where cities like Shanghai, Guangzhou, and Hong Kong are located.

Northern China, however, was most directly exposed to the land-based Mongol and Manchu invaders who ruled over the Chinese for most of the past half-millenium or so, prior to the overthrow of the Manchu-led Qing Emperor in 1912. Today, of course, the north continues to retain China’s political capital, Beijing, and a disproportionally large majority of Chinese leaders were born in northern China — including Beijing-born Xi Jinping and Shandong-born Wang Qishan, a former mayor of Beijing). This is in spite of the fact that most of China’s leading political revolutionaries in the twentieth century, including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Sun Yat Sen, Chang Kai-Shek, Zhu De, Ye Jianying, Hong Xiuquan, and the writer Lu Xun, hailed from southern or south-central China.

At present, out of China’s seven Standing Comittee top leaders, only seventh-ranked Zhang Gaoli was born in southern China; whereas five of the seven were born in northern China and one, Premier Li Keqiang, was born in central China. Zhang Gaoli may in fact be the first person born outside of northern or central China in thirty years to have made it to the Standing Committee. He is also the only person currently in the 25-member Politburo born outside of northern or central China. Meanwhile, among the 11-man Central Military Commission, seven were born in northern China, while two were born in north-central China and two in south-central China. By my count, out of the 205 active members of the Party Central Committee, fewer than 15 seem to have been born south of central China.

Indeed, the southern half of China, stretching from islands in Taiwan, Hainan, Hong Kong, Xiamen, and Macau in the east to the plateaus of Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet in the west, seems to be politically peripheral. It is home to a majority of China’s 120 million or so non-Han citizens (most of whom are not Tibetan or Uyghur, though those two groups recieve almost all of the West’s attention), as well as home to China’s 200-400 million speakers of languages other than Mandarin, and to China’s tens of millions of speakers of dialects of Mandarin that are relatively dissimilar to the Beijing-based standardized version of Mandarin, and to most of China’s 50-100 million recent adopters of Christianity, and, finally, to most of China’s millions of family members of the enormous worldwide Chinese diaspora.

Southern China is closer to Southeast Asia, a region with an enormous, economically active Chinese population (many of whom speak southern Chinese languages like Cantonese), than is northern China. Southern China’s Fujian province, in particular, is both linguistically and economically close to Taiwan, and southern China’s Guangdong province—the largest province in China—to Hong Kong. A large share of China’s GDP comes from the coastal areas of China from around Shanghai south to Guangdong, particularly if you include Taiwan as part of the country. Guangdong alone accounts for an estimated 10% of mainland China’s GDP and over 25% of its exports. This creates, arguably, an unbalanced dynamic: China’s political periphery is also its main economic engine.

Fossil Fuels

As it happens, northern China produces almost all of China’s fossil fuels. Most Chinese energy is, in fact, produced in and around the province of Shanxi, 300 km or so west of Beijing, where a tremendous share of China’s (and, indeed, the world’s) coal is mined. Shanxi has also seen the biggest political shakeup of any province from Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign thus far. When combined with the northern “Autonomous Regions” of Inner Mongolia and Xinjiang, as well as China’s north-easternmost province Heilongjiang, Shanxi produces a gigantic of China’s fossil fuels in general. Other northern areas, such as Shandong, Liaoning, and Tianjin, are also significant oil producers.

Southern and central China, in contrast, account for most of China’s imports of fossil fuels—especially if you include the economy of Taiwan as being part of southern China. Taiwan, in fact, may be more dependent on oil imports than any other significant economy in the world, according to data from the Wall Street Journal. Falling energy prices may weaken the historical political heartland of China relative to its periphery, in that case. Whether or not this will generate political instability going forward remains to be seen.

Looking Ahead

If (a big if) energy prices remain low for a sustained period, then the question of China’s future dependence on imported energy also becomes relevant, as does the question of the future dependence on imported energy of China’s most important neighbours. In that case, how dependent on energy imports will countries like China, Japan, and India be in a decade or two from now?

While it is impossible to know what the future will be like, it is not difficult to imagine that China will remain less dependent on energy imports than India and/or Japan during the years or decades ahead, as a result of India’s still-emerging economy and Japan’s still-roboticizing economy.

China is not likely to be a major adopter of energy-intensive robots, in per capita terms, because China has a far larger cheap labour force than any country in the world apart from India. Japan, in contrast, will likely help lead the robot revolution, as its labour force is expensive and aging rapidly. This could make Japan even more dependent on importing energy, as machines that are both highly mobile and capable of sophisticated computation require an enormous amount of energy to run — and indeed, one of their main advantages over human labour is that they can and frequently will be tasked to run 24-7, without even taking any time off for holidays or sick days.

China is not certain to increase its energy imports nearly as much as less-developed economies like India, meanwhile, as the Chinese inudstrial sector is facing challenges as a result of its past generation of energy-intensive growth. China faces rising labour costs in many of its cities; a pollution problem; a US that is concerned with Chinese industrial power; and countries throughout the world afraid of China’s world-leading carbon emissions.

In addition, China is located much further away from the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea oil and gas fields than the Indians and other South Asians are, and so might have difficulty accessing them in a pinch.

China may also, for the first time, have to face industrial competition from resource-rich economies such as Australia, Norway, Canada, Texas, or even the Gulf Arab states,which may be able to use energy-intensive robots of various kinds to build up their manufacturing sectors in spite of their small, expensive domestic labour forces.

All this could make China’s industrial growth rate slip, which in turn might reduce China’s resource imports and thus prevent China from becoming the leading beneficiary of low energy and commodity prices.

Such a shift will be especially likely if the United States or European economies decide to enact tariffs on goods coming from places that generate power by using coal in inefficient ways, a prospect that has become increasingly likely as a result of America’s triple-alliance between environmentalists opposed to coal consumption, shale gas producers competing with coal miners, and energy companies trying to pioneer more expensive but cleaner ways of consuming coal and other fossil fuels. China may then have to focus on growing its service sectors instead of its energy-intensive industrial sectors.

China, Japan, and Siberia 

Japan, lastly, might benefit from Russia’s energy-related woes more than China will. This is not only because the Chinese have to a certain extent often looked to Russia as an ally against the West, but also because the areas of Russia that China is close to are mostly irrelevant to China: they are landlocked, Siberian, and for the most part located far from China’s population centres.

Pacific Russia, in contrast, which is located next to the Sea of Japan on the East Asian side of Russia’s Pacific mountain ranges, has a far more liveable climate than does most of the continental Siberian interior. It is home to several small or medium-sized port cities, such as Vladivostok and Petrapavlovsk-Kamchatsky, which are very, very far away from Moscow. This region accounts for much of the oil and nearly all of the Russian gas exports to Asia—especially energy-rich Sakhalin Island, which is just 40 km away from Japan and was half-owned and inhabited by the Japanese prior to the Second World War.

Russia may, in fact, be somewhat better prepared to fight another border war with China like it did in 1969—which might not be too different than the many other wars Russia has fought within or near its borders both prior to or since then—than it would be to face off against Japan again within the far-eastern, mountainous, archipelagic and peninsular Pacific Russian region, as it did in 1905 and then again during the 1930s and WW2. Of course this does not mean Japan will attack Russia — though it has certainly toyed with the idea of eventually making some bolder moves in the Southern Kuril Islands, which both countries claim as their own. Even the remote, unstated possibility of conflict, however, may help grant Japan leverage in any negotiations with Russia regarding commercial or political issues.

Conclusion

All of this is not to be bearish on China’s future. Energy-intensive industrial growth, after all, woud not necessarily mean an improved quality of life for Chinese citizens. Ideally Chinese standards of living will rise at a considerably faster pace than its energy usage. It does seem, though, that China’s economy may not turn out to be a major beneficiary of the fall in energy prices. The PRC’s neighbours on the other hand, such as Japan and Taiwan, which are less rich in fossil fuels or in labour, may benefit greatly. So too might the poorer countries that depend on energy imports, like India and the Philippines. Just as important, however, yet often overlooked, are China’s domestic geopolitics. Internal Chinese divisions—including along north-south and east-west lines—have been, and might remain, of paramount importance. Energy prices could impact them too.

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East Asia, Europe, India, Middle East, North America, South America, South Asia

Political Dynasties and their Discontents

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Political dynasties have always been a big part of human civilization, and today is no exception.

In the United States, the rise of Donald Trump was at least partially a reaction to the dynastic, Clinton-vs-Bush election that only last year most Americans were expecting to get.

It was, after all, Jeb Bush’s candidacy that split the Republican establishment in two, preventing it from coalescing around a politician like Marco Rubio early on and thus leaving an opening for Trump to force his way into. Hillary Clinton’s high disapproval rating, similarly, could even leave the door open for Trump to become president, however unlikely and unappealing that may be.

Canada

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Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau wave at supporters at the University of Toronto, February 15, 2015 (William Pitcher)

North of the border, Canada has just elected Justin Trudeau as its Prime Minister, the son of Pierre Trudeau who was prime minister for fifteen years during the late 1960s, 1970s, and first half of the 1980s. One of Trudeau’s two opponents in the election had been NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, whose ancestors include the first and ninth Premiers of the province of Quebec.

Mexico

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Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate for Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, waves to supporters in the city of Torreón, June 18, 2012 (Flickr)

South of the border, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto,who came to power in 2013, “is the nephew of two former governors of the State of México (the state in which Mexico City is located): on his mother’s side, Arturo Montiel, on his father’s, Alfredo del Mazo González“, according to Wikipedia.

East Asia

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping (right)

In China, the current General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is now thought to have amassed more personal power than any Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, is the first to come from the “princeling” class. He is the son of a prominent political figure, Xi Zhongxun, from the first generation of the Communist Party leadership. This distinguishes him from the other General Secretaries in the Communist era, including Mao Tse-Tung, whose parents were not prominent politicians and in some cases were actually quite poor.

Other top members of the current Chinese leadership are also “princelings”, most notably Yu Zhengsheng, who is the fourth-ranked politician on the 7-man Politburo Standing Committee (which is generally considered to be China’s top political body), and Wang Qishan, who is ranked sixth on the Politburo Standing Committee and may be one of the most powerful figures in China at the moment as he has been leading Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign . Wang is a princeling by marriage only: his wife is the daughter of Yao Yilin, who was a former Politburo Standing Committee member in the Communist Party.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is arguably the most powerful politician the country has seen in at least a generation as well. He too comes from a political dynasty. According to Wikipedia, “his grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, were both politicians… Abe’s mother, Yoko Kishi,[3] is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960. Kishi had been a member of the Tōjō Cabinet during the Second World War”.

Meanwhile the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, is the daughter of South Korea’s third president, Park Chung-hee. (Update: Park has since been impeached). (And in North Korea, of course, the Kim family’s rule is now into its third generation). In Singapore, the prime minister since 2004 has been Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore’s modern founding father Lee Kuan Yew who served from 1959 all the way to 1990.

India

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Hillary Clinton, then America’s secretary of state, poses for a picture with Indian Congress Party leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi, July 19, 2009 (State Department)

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his often fanatically right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP party became in 2014 the first party in over three decades to win a majority government in a national election. Modi is not from a political dynasty himself, rather he is the reaction to the modern world’s most prominent political family of all: the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

The Guardian wrote in 2007 that “the Nehru-Gandhi brand has no peer in the world — a member of the family has been in charge of India for 40 of the 60 years since independence.” The dynasty (which by the way is not related to the Gandhi) began with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first post-British prime minister from 1947-1964. Nehru was himself the son and nephew of significant political figures in pre-independence India. Nehru’s dynasty then continued with his only daughter Indira Gandhi (née Nehru), who was India’s prime minister from 1966-1977 and from 1980-1984, but was assassinated in 1984 by two of her own Sikh bodyguards in the wake of Operation Blue Star.

The dynasty was then followed by Indira’s sons Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister from 1984-1989 before being assassinated by the Tamil Tigers in 1991, and Sanjay Gandhi, who was expected to become prime minister but was instead killed in a plane crash. Rajiv’s wife Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, is the leader of India’s powerful Congress Party and the mother of Rahul Gandhi, who lost to Modi’s BJP in 2014 but still finished with more parliamentary seats and far more votes than any other candidate in the election. Sonia likely would have run for prime minister herself, but cannot because she was born in Italy.

(Sanjay’s wife Maneka Gandhi, on the other hand, has jumped ship from the historically Gandhi-dominated Congress Party and joined the BJP instead; she is currently a cabinet minister in the BJP-led government. Maneka’s son Varun has also gone over to the BJP, serving as the youngest National Secretary in the history of the party and a member of the country’s parliament. However, Maneka and Varun both remain less prominent than the Congress side of the family, which is led by Maneka’s sister-in-law Sonia and Varun’s first cousin Rahul).

Arguably, frustration with the Gandhis directly paved the way for Modi, a man who was not even allowed to enter the United States prior to becoming president because he was allegedly involved in “severe violations of religious freedom” while serving as governor of the important Indian state of Gujarat.

Philippines

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President-elect Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines speaks with his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, in Davao City, March 6, 2013 (Malacañang Photo Bureau/Ryan Lim)

You may have also heard about the election of the Philippines ridiculous new president Rodrigo Duterte last week. Rodrigo’s father Vicente was a provincial governor of Davao province and a mayor of Cebu, one of the largest cities in the country. Rodrigo’s cousin was also a mayor of Cebu, in the 1980s.

The Duterte’s are hardly alone in their political dynasticism: according to Public Radio International, “in the Philippines, elections in 2016 will be dominated by dynasties. About two-thirds of the outgoing Congress are heirs of political families. The outgoing president is the son of Corazon Aquino, who led the uprising against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos after Marcos had her husband whacked for being a prominent political opponent. But the Marcos clan is back in the picture, with Ferdinand’s wife, son, daughter and nephew all running for different offices. Also running is the grandson of another president.”

Thailand

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Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra addresses the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, September 9, 2013 (UN/Jean-Marc Ferré)

In Thailand too there has been a political reaction against a political family, that of Thaksin Shinawatra (who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 before being exiled by a military coup) and his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra (who was prime minister from 2011 to 2014 before being removed by decree of the Constitutional Court during the Thai political crisis in 2013-2014). According to Wikipedia, the father of Thaksin and Yingluck “was a member of parliament for Chiang Mai. [The Shinawatras are] a descendant of a former monarch of Chiang Mai through her grandmother, Princess Chanthip na Chiangmai (Great-great-granddaughter of King Thammalangka of Chiang Mai).”

Europe

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Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Mariano Rajoy of Spain speak during a European Council meeting in Brussels, June 25, 2015 (La Moncloa)

Europe, at least in contrast to Asia, does not have many political dynasties at the moment. This is, perhaps, in part because European political history was reset to a certain degree following the fall of the Soviet Union. Europe’s leading politicians, including Merkel, Putin, and Erdogan, do not come from political dynasties. Neither does Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (though his ancestors were extremely wealthy) or France’s President Francois Hollande. Italian Prime Minister Mattio Renzi’s was a municipal councillor, admittedly, but that does not really count. (Angela Merkel’s grandfather was, similarly, a local politician in Danzig). Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s family was fairly prominent, on the other hand.

That said, Europe is far from dynasty-free. According to the Economist, “in Europe family power is one reason why politics seems like a closed shop. Fifty-seven of the 650 members of the recently dissolved British Parliament are related to current or former MPs. François Hollande, France’s president, has four children with Ségolène Royal, who ran for the presidency in 2007. Three generations of Le Pens are squabbling over their insurgent party, the Front National (see article). Belgium’s prime minister is the son of a former foreign minister and European commissioner. The names Papandreou and Karamanlis still count for something in Greece.”

Syria and Egypt 

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Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad and his family in the 1990s (Wikimedia Commons)

The Arab world remains full of political dynasties and reactions against dynasties, in contrast. In Syria both of these factors can be seen at the same time, as the civil war threatens to unseat Bashar al Assad, son of thirty-year ruler Hafez al Assad. (Bashar’s brother Bassel was initially supposed to take over from his father, but died in a car accident in 1994). In Egypt, meanwhile,the military government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is in some ways a response to the presumed attempt by an elderly Hosni Mubarak (diagnosed with stomach cancer in the same year he was deposed) to pass on power to his son Gamal, who had not served in the Egyptian military as Hosni Mubarak and previous rulers Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdul Nasser had done.

Saudi Arabia 

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Prince Muhammad bin Nayef speaks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh while Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir looks on, January 27, 2015 (White House/Pete Souza)

In Saudi Arabia, which is by far the largest Arab economy, a half-shift from one Saudi political dynasty to another may just be getting under way. Thus far in the history of the modern Saudi state (beginning around 1930), the country has been ruled either by founder Abdulaziz ibn Saud or else by one of his 45 or so sons, six of whom have become king, most recently King Salman who took the throne in January of 2015.

Last year, however, Salman removed his half-brother Muqrin (another son of Abdulaziz) from the office of Crown Prince, replacing Muqrin with their nephew Mohammad bin Nayef,  who would become the first king in the next generation of Saudi royals if ever takes over. He might never take over, though: many people now believe that is Salman’s own son Mohammad bin Salman, who is the Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister, who is the likeliest to become the next king when Salman (who is 80 years old) steps down or passes away, even though Deputy Crown Prince is formally a lower-ranking position than Crown Prince – and even though Mohammad bin Salman is only 30 years old, which would be an extremely young age for a modern Saudi king.

If Mohammad bin Salman does become king over another prince like Mohammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia could in effect be moving from a dynasty of Abdulaziz to a dynasty of Salman. There are now fears that the political situation in the country could become quite messy if the other branches of the huge Saudi royal family try to avoid becoming sidelined from power as a result.

Iran

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Iranian president Hassan Rouhani speaks as parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani and the chief of the supreme leader’s office, Mohammad Golpayegani, attend a ceremony in Tehran, October 3, 2015 (Reuters)

Across the Gulf, in Iran, dynasties are not too big a factor within the current religious government. Recently the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini even was blocked from participating in elections. One big exception to this, however, is the powerful Larijani family, made up of five brothers in key positions in the government. It includes Ali Larijani, who is the Speaker of the parliament and a former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and Sadeq Larijania, Iran’s Chief Justice.

Israel

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Labor party leader Isaac Herzog (left) and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (right)

A number of leaders in Israel hail from political families as well. Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who has now spent more time as prime minister (from 1996-1999 and now again since 2009) than any politician in Israel’s history apart from Israel’s founding  prime minister David Ben Gurion (who Netanyahu will soon overtake), is the son of Benzion Netanyahu. Benzion was a professor of history at Cornell University, an influential Zionist activist and magazine editor, and personal secretary to one of Israel’s most prominent founding fathers, Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Bibi is also the younger brother of Yonatan Netanyahu, who was the unit commander of and only person to be killed during the famous Operation Entebbe raid in 1976, when 100 or so Israeli commandos rescued 102 hostages of a Palestinian airplane hijacking (compared to 3 hostages killed) from where they were being held in Idi Amin-era Uganda more than 3000 km south of Israel, and returned them safely to their homes in Israel and France.

Israel’s Labour Party leader Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, meanwhile, who won more than twice as many votes as any other Jewish party apart from Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the most recent elections of 2015, is, according to Wikipedia, “the son of General Chaim Herzog, who was the Sixth President of Israel from 1983 to 1993, and the grandson of Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1922 to 1935 and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1936 to 1959″.

The next largest Jewish political party after Labour and Likud is the Yesh Atid Party, led by Yair Lapid. Lapid is a former news anchor who is the son of Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, a former government minister, parliamentary leader of the opposition as recently as 2005, and radio and television personality.

Brazil 

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Brazilian Social Democracy Party leader Aécio Neves answers questions from reporters, May 28, 2015 (Agência Senado/Pedro França)

Leaving the Middle East, Brazils’ Aecio Neves, who in late 2014 very narrowly lost a presidential election to Dilma Rousseff (who may now be on the verge of being impeached herself), is the grandson of Tancredo Neves, who would have been President of Brazil in 1985 if he had not passed away before taking office. Roussef and her influential predecessor Lula da Silva are not from prominent political families, however.

Peru

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Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori campaigns for the 2011 election, December 7, 2010 (Flickr/Keiko Fujimori)

In Peru, the country is in the midst of a presidential election, which is a two-round system that began in April and will end on June 5.  Its leading candidate is former First Lady Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Alberto exiled himself to Japan following corruption and human rights violation scandals at the end of his ten yeas in power in 2000, but was later arrested in Chile in 2005 and is now serving a prison sentence back in Peru.

Argentina

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President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina speaks in José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires, April 27, 2012 (Presidency of Argentina)

Argentina, finally, has just recently ended sixteen consecutive years of being presided over by a Kirchner, first by Nestor Kirchner from 2003 to 2007 and then by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner from 2007 until the end of 2015. The Kirchners were Peronists, a political movement of sorts that has dominated modern Argentine politics, which is named for another power couple, Juan Peron (president from 1946 – 1955) and his second wife Eva Peron, who was a significant political figure in her own right and nearly became Vice President. (Juan’s third wife Isabel Martinez de Peron, meanwhile, was President of Argentina from 1974 to 1976). The incoming Argentine president Mauricio Macri, who is replacing the Kirchners, does not come from a political dynasty, however. His father was just a humble business tycoon.

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East Asia, Images, North America, South Asia

The Provincials — Image of the Day

the provincials

The graph above shows the size of countries’ largest provinces or states in relation to their  overall populations. So California, for example, is home to approximately 12 percent of the total population of the United States, whereas Ontario is home to 39 percent of Canada’s population and Punjab to 47 percent of Pakistan’s.

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The biggest standout here, though, is Argentina’s largest province Buenos Aires, which is by far the most populous of Argentina’s 24 provinces. In fact, the population of the province of Buenos Aires does not even include that of the “Autonomous City” of Buenos Aires – see map above – which is itself the fourth most populous province in the country. In Argentina’s presidential elections this past October, the two candidates were the leaders of the province of Buenos Aires and the Autonomous City of Buenos Aires, respectively.

Below is a graph, made using data taken from Wikipedia, which shows the GDP sizes of the biggest provincial/state economies around the world, in nominal terms. It is led by California, which is thought to have an economic output of nearly $2.3 trillion these days, larger than all but seven of the world’s countries. Given the nature of this information, though, this graph should probably be taken with a decent-sized grain of salt.

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13 of the 34 provinces/states in the graph above are in the USA, 9 are in China, and 13 are in other countries. Germany and Japan both have 2, but they are the only countries apart from the US or China to have more than 1 province on this graph.

No Indian states made it on to the graph above. On the graph below, however, which shows the 34 most populous provinces/states in the world, 11 are from India, whereas California, the most populous US state, is ranked 33rd. 17 out of 34 on the graph below are Chinese, and 6 are neither Chinese nor Indian. This graph also shows the territory size of each province.

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Note the dominance of India’s province Uttar Pradesh. In fact, India’s five most populous states – Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Bihar, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh (combined population: approximately 580 million) – border one another in a direct line, and Uttar Pradesh also directly borders India’s seventh most populous state, Rajasthan, as well as India’s most densely populated state, Delhi (India’s capital). In China and the US, in contrast, some of the largest states, notably California, Texas, Florida and Illinois in the US and Guangdong and Sichuan in China, do not border any of the other most populous states within their own country.

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In Germany, meanwhile, the fifth most populous state in the country, Hesse, directly borders all four of the most populous German states: North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria, Baden-Wurttemburg, and Lower Saxony. Hesse’s chief city is Frankfurt, a European finance and transport hub.

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Finally, in Brazil, the three most populous states, namely Sao Paulo (which is by far the largest), Minas Gerais, and Rio de Janeiro, directly border one another. Sao Paolo also borders the sixth largest state, Parana, while Minas Gerais also borders the fourth largest state, Bahia. The four largest Brazilian states are home to 48 percent of Brazil’s overall population.

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Images, North America

US Legal Immigration — Image of the Day

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With all the disgusting Trump talk on the issue of illegal immigration that has been going on, the other main source of American newcomers – legal immigrants – is sometimes overlooked. The maps above were made by Giorgio Cavaggion, using data from the Department of Homeland Security of immigrants who “became legal permanent residents during the fiscal year of 2012.” That year over one million people in the US became Legal Permanent Residents. Here are 10 thoughts on the maps above:

1. Mexico Still Dominates

Even in spite of the big drop-off in immigration from Mexico to the United States (see graphs below), Mexico still ranks first in half of the states in the country. Only in the northeastern and north-central regions of the US, from Montana to Maine, is Mexico not #1.

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2. India a Strong Second 

India finished first in six states (Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Delaware, and Virginia) and second to Mexico in twelve states (Washington state, Arizona, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina). This is a big increase from previous generations (see graph below).

Still, nearly a third of all Indian immigrants in the US live either in California or New Jersey. More than 25% live in San Jose, Chicago, or Greater New York City. Also notable is that India’s many regions are not represented proportionally in America. Rather, Indian states like Gujarat and Punjab are highly over-represented. Gujaratis, for example, account for more than 20% of Indians in the US, though they are only 6% or so of the population within India itself.

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Population pyramid of Indian Immigrants in the US

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Foreign-born Americans By Country of Origin. India still ranks far behind Mexico, and just barely ahead of various Pacific and Caribbean countries

3. Burmese in Fly-Over Country 

Burma (aka Myanmar) was first in Indiana and second to Mexico in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, and Iowa. This could be significant going forward, given that Myanmar may have finally begun to liberalize its political system and renew ties with the United States in recent years. Indeed, Myanmar has often been seen as one of Hillary Clinton’s primary achievements during her time as Secretary of State, so if she becomes president it could perhaps further impact the US-Burmese relationship. Since the mid-2000’s, though, most Burmese immigrants in the US have been from non-Burmese ethnic minority groups, like the Karen people.

4. Bhutan Surprises

I would never have guessed that Bhutan, a far-away Himalayan country of just 750,000 people, would finish first on this list in three separate states (Vermont, New Hampshire, and North Dakota). No other country, apart from Mexico, India, and the Philippines, was first in three or more states. And even the Philippines was first in just one of the Lower 48 states.

5. The French Connection 

Vietnam finished first in just one state, Louisiana, and the fact that it did reflects two different ways in which history continues to inform the present-day United States. First is the French connection: Louisiana and Vietnam were both part of the globe-spanning French Empire, a fact that seems to resonate today even though neither Louisiana nor Vietnam even speak much French anymore. Or maybe Vietnamese just enjoy New Orleans jazz.

Second is the American military: wherever it goes, people from that country tend to end up in the United States. The Vietnamese have now become one of the biggest non-Hispanic groups in the US apart from Chinese and Indians, as have immigrants from Korea and the Philippines where the US also fought significant wars during the 20th century.  Iraq too has seen its share of immigrants to the US grow over the past decade: on the maps above, Iraqis finished first in Michigan and second to Mexico in Tennessee and Idaho.

6. Cubans in Kentucky, Dominicans in Massachusetts 

One might have expected Cuba to finish first in Florida, but in fact Mexico took that honour, leaving Cuba in second. But while Florida was the only state where Cuba finished second to Mexico, Kentucky, surprisingly, was the only state where Cuba finished first overall. Massachusetts and Rhode Island, meanwhile, were taken by the Dominican Republic, which did not finish second to Mexico in any states.

Though Cuba and the Dominican were the only two Spanish-speaking countries apart from Mexico on either of the maps above, the United States of course also has a very large population from other Latin American countries. These did not finish first – or second to Mexico – in any states, however, because many live in Washington D.C. (Salvadorans in particular) or in major immigrant-rich states like California, New York, and Florida, or come from Puerto Rico which is not considered to be a foreign country, or have not yet become Legal Permanent Residents.

7. East Asia in the West 

This is an obvious one: immigrants from East Asian countries often continue to cling to the Pacific Ocean even once they reach the United States. Though Mexico still finished first throughout the entire US West Coast, the Philippines finished first in Hawaii and Alaska and second to Mexico in California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Oregon and Utah, meanwhile, were the only two states in which China was second to Mexico. India, though not a Pacific country, was second to Mexico in Arizona and in Washington state.

8. East Africa in the North

Of the ten states in the Lower 48 which directly border Canada, Mexico finished first in just two (Washington state and Idaho), Canada finished first in just one (Montana), Bhutan finished first in three, Somalia in two (Maine and Minnesota), and Iraq in one (Michigan). Another East African state, Ethiopia, finished first in nearby South Dakota. Ethiopia also finished second to Mexico in Colorado.

9. Filipinos in Coal Country

Outside of the offshore states of Hawaii and Alaska, the only state the Philippines finished first in was West Virginia. Outside of California, Nevada, and New Mexico, the only state the Philippines finished second to Mexico in was Wyoming. Today Wyoming accounts for approximately 40% of US coal production and West Virginia accounts for about 10% of US coal production. Both states produce considerably more coal than any other state; only Kentucky even comes close to  their level of coal production. Wyoming, West Virginia, and Alaska also have the highest per capita energy production of any states in the country.

10. China “Seemingly” Underrepresented

China, in spite of its huge population, only finished first in one state, and only finished second to Mexico in two states. This could be a bit misleading, though, since the state that China finished first in was New York. New York was the only one of the “Big 4” states (California, Texas, Florida, and New York) not to be finished by first in by Mexico, and, with the exception of Michigan, it was the only one of the fourteen most populous states in America not to be finished first in by either Mexico or India.

 

 

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Images

Capital Idea — Image of the Day

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Countries have different way of ordering their own provinces and capital cities, and how they choose to do so may sometimes say a lot about what sort of politics they have. Where countries’ capital cities are concerned, there is usually something akin to one of the following four set-ups:

  1. The Argentine model: the country’s capital city serves as its own unique administrative district and is surrounded on all sides by a single province that it influences to a large degree.
  2. The American model: the capital city serves as its own unique administrative district but is not surrounded by a single province (or state, etc.), but rather by two or more provinces.
  3. The Saudi model: the capital city is not its own unique administrative district, but is part of an important province that is named after itself.
  4. The Canadian model: the capital city is sometimes annoyingly full of bureaucrats, but is otherwise more or less a normal place. It is not its own administrative district.

The Argentine Model 

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Examples of the Argentine model include, of course, Buenos Aires, which is surrounded by the province of Buenos Aires (Argentina’s recent presidential election, in fact, was between the mayor of Buenos Aires and the governor of Buenos Aires province); Berlin, which is surrounded by Brandenburg (see map below); Moscow, which is surrounded by the Moscow oblast; the Australian Capital Area, which is surrounded by New South Wales (see map below), Vienna, which is surrounded by Lower Austria; Brussels, which is surrounded by Brabant (though Brussels does not directly border Walloon Brabant, which is several km to the south of Brussels); Prague, which is surrounded by the Central Bohemian Region; and Addis Ababba, which is surrounded by Oromia.

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Beijing probably also belongs in this category: it is surrounded mostly by the province of Hebei but in two spots also by the city of Tianjin, which like Beijing is one of China’s four “direct-controlled municipalities” (the other two are Shanghai and Chongqing). Tianjin was temporarily made part of  Hebei province in the 1960s, and in recent years there has been much talk of increasing integration and cooperation between Beijing, Hebei, and Tianjin in order to form a sort of capital city macro-region, which is often referred to by the acronym Jingjinji.

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Seoul in South Korea has a similar set-up to Beijing. It is surrounded almost entirely by the province of Gyeonggi, but also touches the coastal city-province of Incheon, in the same way that Beijing does the city-province of Tianjin:

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Note by the way that South Korea has a number of city-provinces. Of these, only Gwangju, in the southwest, conforms fully to the “Argentine model”.

Paris too may be included in this list; Paris is not itself a province, but it is surrounded on all sides by Ile de France, one of France’s 13 regions. (Prior to the beginning of this year Ile de France was one of France’s 22 regions, but these have since been reordered and reduced).

 

The American Model 

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Capitals which are their own unique administrative districts but lack their own single encircling province include Washington D.C. (which is surrounded by both Virginia and Maryland), Tokyo, London, Delhi; Mexico City, Bangkok, Tehran; Hanoi, Abuja (though Nigeria’s largest city by far, Lagos, which was the capital until 1991, is an example of  the Argentine model), Baghdad (which is surrounded by four other provinces), Manila, Jakarta, Madrid, Islamabad, Brasilia (though just barely …and the capital of Brazil prior to 1960 was Rio de Janeiro), Kinshasa, and Bogota (though in a relatively weird way; see map below, Bogota is the sliver between the departments of Cundinamarca – which Bogota is also the capital of – and Meta).

 

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One feature that a number of these have in common is that, while the capital city’s administrative district often borders two other provinces, it is usually surrounded much more by the less populous of the two other provinces. Notable examples of this include Washington D.C., which is surrounded much more by Maryland (population 5.9 million) than by Virginia (population 8.3 million); Delhi, which is surrounded much more by Haryana (25 million) than by Uttar Pradesh (205 million); and Brasilia, which is surrounded much more by Goias (6.5 million) than by Minas Gerais 21 million.

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Capitals which do not fit this pattern, however, are Mexico City, where the federal capital district is surrounded much more by  the state of Mexico (population 16 million) than by the state of Morelos (population 1.9 million); and Islamabad, which is surrounded much more by Punjab (population 91 million) than by Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (population 27 million).

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A number of non-capital cities, meanwhile, such as Hamburg, which is the most populous city in Germany apart from Berlin, fit into this category as well.

 

The Saudi Model 

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A capital city which is not its own unique province, but rather is part of an important province named after itself. Examples may include Riyadh, Stockholm, Dhaka, Santiago, and Ankara. Bern also could probably be on this list, but Bern is only the de facto capital of Switzerland; Switzerland has no de jure capital city.

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The Canadian Model 

Examples of countries in which the capital city is not its own unique independent unit may include Ottawa, Amsterdam, Rome, and Warsaw.

According to Wikipedia “two national capitals in federal countries are neither federal units [like provinces, states, etc.], special capital districts, nor capitals of federal units: Ottawa, the capital of Canada [because Toronto is the capital of Ontario, the province in which Ottawa is located], and Palikir, the capital of the Federated States of Micronesia“. Ottawa is situated entirely within the province of Ontario, but also directly borders French-speaking Quebec.

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Please let me know if I’ve made a mistake on any of these; administrative divisions can be a bit complicated – and I can be a bit lazy.

 

 

 

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East Asia, Europe, India, North America, South Asia

The Geopolitics of Cheap Energy

Oil prices have fallen again: they are now at $29 a barrel for West Texas Intermediate crude and a similar price for Brent, their lowest since 2003. Natural gas, coal, and other commodity prices have also been dropping of late, in most cases. So: what will be the geopolitical consequences of cheap energy in general and of cheap oil in particular, all other things being theoretically held equal?

One consequence of cheap energy is the weakening, possibly, of four potential great powers: Russia, Brazil, China, and Mexico. While the media has understood the Russian and Brazilian half of this list – their economies are both estimated to have shrunk by 1-3 percent druring 2015, after all, which is difficult to miss – it has largely failed to register the Chinese and Mexican half. This is because it views China as being a leading oil, energy, and natural resource importer rather than as a resource exporter like Russia or Brazil, and because it views Mexico as merely a source of drugs, migrants, resorts, and cheap goods rather than as a potential great power.

China

China may be the world’s largest energy importer, but it is has also become its second largest energy producer, and as such only relies on energy imports for an estimated 15% of its total energy consumption, in contrast to 94% in Japan, 83% in South Korea, 33% in India, 40% in Thailand, and 43% in the Philippines. In 2014 imports of oil were equal in value to just around 2.4 % of China’s GDP, according to the Wall Street Journal, compared to 3.6% in Japan, 6.9% in Korea, 5.3% in India, 5.4% in Thailand, 4% in the Philippines, and 3.3% in Indonesia.

South Korea and Japan also imported more than two and four times more liquified natural gas, respectively – the prices of which tend to track oil prices more closely than conventional natural gas prices do – than China did. China’s LNG imports barely even surpassed India’s or Taiwan’s. China’s imports of natural gas in general, meanwhile, were less than half as large as Japan’s and only around 20% percent greater than South Korea’s.

China, furthermore, tends to import energy from the most commercially uncompetitive, politically fragile, or American-hated oil-exporting states, such as Venezuela, Iran, Russia, Iraq, Angola, and other African states like Congo and South Sudan. In contrast, Japan and South Korea get their crude from places that will, perhaps, be better at weathering today’s low prices, namely from Kuwait, Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia. Similarly, China gets much of its natural gas from Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Myanmar, whereas Japan imports gas from Australia and Qatar and South Korea imports gas from Qatar and Indonesia.

China’s top source for imports of high-grade anthracite coal, and its third largest source for imports of coal in general, is North Korea. China has, in addition, invested capital all over the world in areas hurt by falling energy and other commodity prices, including in South America, Africa, Central Asia, Canada, and the South Pacific.

Another mistake the media makes is looking at China as if it were a country, rather than what it really is: both a country and a continent. Continents have internal, deeply-rooted regional divisions, and China is no exception. Its main divide is between areas south of the Yangtze River, which tend to be mountainous, sub-tropical, and dependent upon importing fossil fuels, and areas north of the Yangtze, which tend to be flat, more temperate, and rich in fossil fuels.

Northern China, stretching over 1000 km from Beijing southward to Shanghai on the Yangtze, is the country’s political heartland. It is densely populated and home to most of China’s natively Mandarin-speaking, ethnically-Han citizens. When compared to southern China, the north has historically been somewhat insulated from foreigners like the Europeans, Americans, and even Japanese. Beijing’s nearest port is roughly 5000 km away from Singapore and the Strait of Malacca; Hong Kong, in contrast, is only around 2500 km from Singapore and Malacca. Beijing is rougly 2600 km from Tokyo by ship, whereas Shanghai is just 1900 km from Tokyo and Taipei is just 2100 km from Tokyo.

Japan’s Ryukyu island chain and the Kuroshio ocean currents historically allowed for easy transport from Japan to Taiwan and the rest of China’s southeastern coast; the Japanese controlled Taiwan for more than three and a half decades before they first ventured into other areas of China in a serious way during the 1930s. Even today, Japan accounts for a larger share of Taiwan’s imports of goods than do either China or the United States.

Southern China has often depended on foreign trade, since much of its population lives in areas that are sandwiched narrowly between Pacific harbours on one side and coastal subtropical mountain ranges on the other. In northern and central China, in contrast, most people live in interior areas rather than directly the along the Pacific coast. These people in the interior generally did not engage in as much foreign trade, as in the past moving goods between the interior and coast was often limited by the fact that northern China’s chief river, the Huang-he, was generally unnavigable and prone to flooding northern China’s flat river plains, destroying or damaging roads and bridges in the process.

In southern and central China, by comparison, even people living far inland could engage with the coast by way of the commercially navigable Yangtze and Pearl Rivers, which meet the Pacific at the points where Shanghai and Hong Kong are located.

Northern China, however, was most directly exposed to the land-based Mongol and Manchu invaders who ruled over the Chinese for most of the past half-millenium or so prior to the overthrow of the Manchu Qing Emperor in 1912. Today the north continues to retain the political capital, Beijing, and a disproportionally large majority of Chinese leaders were born in north China — including Beijing-born Xi Jinping and Shandong-born Wang Qishan (a former mayor of Beijing) — in spite of the fact that most Chinese political revolutionaries, including Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Chang Kai-Shek, Sun Yat Sen, Zhu De, Ye Jianying, Hong Xiuquan, and famed writer Lu Xun, hailed from southern or south-central China.

Today, out of China’s seven Standing Comittee top leaders, only seventh-ranked Zhang Gaoli was born in southern China, whereas five of the seven were born in northern China and one, Premier Li Keqiang, was born in central China. Zhang Gaoli may in fact be the first person born outside of northern or central China in thirty years to have made it to the Standing Committee. He is also the only person currently in the 25-member Politburo born outside of northern or central China. Among the 11-man Central Military Commission, meanwhile, seven were born in northern China, while two were born in north-central China and two in south-central China. Out of the 205 active members of the Party Central Committee, fewer than 15 were born south of central China.

Indeed, the southern half of China, stetching from islands in Taiwan, Hainan, Hong Kong,  Xiamen, and Macau in the east to the plateaus of Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet in the west, is politically peripheral. It is home to a majority of China’s 120 million or so non-Han citizens (most of whom are not Tibetan or Uyghur, though those two groups recieve almost all of the West’s attention), China’s 200-400 million speakers of languages other than Mandarin, China’s tens of millions of speakers of dialects of Mandarin that are relatively dissimilar to the Beijing-based standardized version of Mandarin, most of China’s 50-100 million recent adopters of Christianity, and most of China’s millions of family members of the enormous worldwide Chinese diaspora.

Southern China is physically closer to Southeast Asia (a region with a huge Chinese minority population) and most of the populous areas of Japan, and further away from sparsely populated Mongolia or Siberia, than northern China is. The south’s Fujian province, in particular, is linguistically and economically close to Taiwan, while the south’s Guangdong province is close to Hong Kong. A large share of China’s GDP comes from the coastal areas of China from around Shanghai south to Guangdong, particularly if you include Taiwan as part of the country. Guangdong alone accounts for an estimated 10% of mainland China’s GDP and over 25% of its exports. This creates a somewhat unbalanced dynamic: China’s political periphery is also its economic centre.

As it happens, northern China produces almost all of China’s fossil fuels (particulary in and around Shanxi province, 300 km or so inland from Beijing, where a large share of China’s coal is mined and which has seen the biggest political shakeup of any province from Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign thus far), whereas southern and central China, especially if you include the neighbouring economy of Taiwan as being part of China, account for most of China’s imports of energy. Taiwan, in fact, may be more dependent on oil imports than any other significant economy in the world. Falling energy prices may weaken the Chinese political heartland relative to its periphery, in that case. Whether or not this will generate any political instability going forward remains to be seen.

If (a big if) energy prices remain low for a sustained period, then the question of China’s future dependence on imported energy also becomes relevant, as does the question of the future dependence on imported energy of China’s most important neighbours. In that case, how dependent on energy imports will countries like China, Japan, and India be in a decade or two from now?

While it is impossible to know what the future will be like, it is not difficult to imagine that China will remain less dependent on energy imports than India and/or Japan during the years or decades ahead, as a result of India’s still-emerging economy and Japan’s still-roboticizing economy.

China is not likely to be a major adopter of energy-intensive robots, in per capita terms, because China has a far larger cheap labour force than any country in the world apart from India. Japan, in contrast, will likely help lead the robot revolution, as its labour force is expensive and aging rapidly. This could make Japan even more dependent on importing energy, as machines that are both highly mobile and capable of sophisticated computation require an enormous amount of energy to run — and indeed, one of their main advantages over human labour is that they can and frequently will be tasked to run 24-7,  without even taking any time off for holidays or sick days.

China is not certain to increase its energy imports nearly as much as less-developed economies like India, meanwhile, as the Chinese inudstrial sector is facing challenges as a result of its past generation of energy-intensive growth. China faces rising labour costs in its cities, a pollution problem, crowded transportation infrastructure, a US that is concerned with Chinese industrial power, and countries throughout the world afraid of China’s world-leading carbon emissions. In addition, China is located much further away from the Persian Gulf and Caspian Sea oil and gas fields than the Indians and other South Asians are, and so might have difficulty accessing them in a pinch.

China may also have to face industrial competition from resource-rich or capital-rich economies such as Australia, Norway, Canada, Qatar, Texas, and maybe even Hong Kong, which will perhaps be able to use energy-intensive robots of various kinds to build up their manufacturing sectors in spite of their small labour forces. This could make China’s industrial growth rate slip, which in turn might reduce China’s resource imports and thus prevent China from becoming the leading beneficiary of low energy and commodity prices.

Such a shift will be especially likely if the United States or European economies decide to enact tariffs on goods coming from places that generate power by using coal in inefficient ways, a prospect that has become increasingly likely as a result of America’s triple-alliance between environmentalists opposed to coal consumption, shale gas producers competing with coal, and energy companies trying to pioneer more expensive but cleaner ways of consuming coal. China may then have to focus on growing its service sectors instead of its energy-intensive industrial sectors.

Japan, lastly, might benefit from Russia’s energy-related woes more than China will. This is not only because the Chinese have to a certain extent often looked to Russia as an ally against the West, but also because the areas of Russia that China is close to are mostly irrelevant to China: they are landlocked, Siberian, and for the most part located far from China’s population centres. Pacific Russia, in contrast, located next to the Sea of Japan on the East Asian side of Russia’s Pacific mountain ranges, has a far more liveable climate than the continental Siberian interior, is home to a number of useful medium-sized port cities, and accounts for much of the oil and nearly all of the Russian natural gas exports to Asia — led by energy-rich Sakhalin Island, which is just 40 km away from Japan and was partly owned and inhabited by the Japanese prior to the Second World War.

Russia may, in fact, be somewhat better prepared to fight another border war with China like it did in 1969, which might not be too different than the many other wars Russia has fought around its own borders both prior to and since then, than it would be to face off against Japan again within its far-eastern, mountainous, archipelagic and peninsular Pacific region, as it did in 1905 and then during World War Two. Of course this does not mean Japan will attack Russia — though it has certainly toyed with the idea of making more forceful moves in the Southern Kuril Islands, which both countries claim as their own. Even the unspoken possibility of conflict, however, may help grant the Japanese leverage over Russia in negotiations relating to commercial or political issues.

Mexico 

Mexico is much more than just America’s messy basement. It has the world’s 11th largest population,14th largest GDP, and, because it is in the New World, its population is in many ways much more internally unified than those of most other large countries are. It also has important ties to the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, to the Latin-based world in general, and to the 35 million or so Mexicans in the United States in particular, most of whom live in states adjacent to the Mexican border. Mexico is the clear potential leader in the Spanish-speaking world: its population is bigger than those of Colombia, Argentina, and Venezuela combined, and its economy is about to surpass Spain’s. If you include illegal transactions, Mexico already has the largest economy in the Spanish world by far. Along with (or perhaps instead of) Portuguese-speaking Brazil, Mexico could potentially help Latin America to become one of the most prominent regions in the world during the decades ahead.

Mexico may not be a major beneficiary of low energy prices, for three general reasons. First, it is a net oil-exporting economy: oil exports accounted for an estimated 2.7% of Mexico’s GDP in 2014, and Mexico had been hoping to increase its oil and gas production since its president enacted widely-touted reforms in the country’s energy sector that year. Mexico is also often a relatively high-cost oil producer, and so may be forced to cede market share to more price-competitive producers in other countries.

Second, Mexico has ties – both existing ties and potential future ties – to other countries in Latin America, a region that is highly economically dependent on exports of energy and other natural resources. Most of the South American economy is already in or flirting closely with recession as a result of the commodity crash, which on the whole is probably not a good thing for Mexico.

Third, Mexico has ties to the southwestern United States, in the areas of America that were part of Mexico prior to the 1830s-1850s, most notably California and Texas where around 25 million Hispanic-Americans live today. Like Mexico itself, this part of the US is dependent on energy exports, led by Texas (a major producer of oil, gas, coal, wind power, solar power, and refined petroleum products: Texas produces approximately one-fifth of US energy and one-third of US crude oil) but also including the surrounding energy-producing states of Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, Utah, Louisiana, Arkansas and the federally-administered oil-and-gas producing waters in the Gulf of Mexico.

Nearly all of the states with a high share of Mexican-Americans are either energy-exporting states or else, in the case of California, New York, Florida, and Arizona, have the lowest per capita energy consumption of any states apart from tiny  Rhode Island, Hawaii, and Connecticut.

Even California’s energy imports do not balance out Texas’s energy exports, because California is itself the US’s third largest oil-producing state, tenth largest energy-producing state, and has the fourth lowest per capita energy consumption; its energy imports are not as large as one might expect given the enormous size of the Californian economy. They might even shrink in the future, if the Monterrey basin shale resources are developed. California is also the largest agricultural producer in the United States (Texas is fourth), a big sector that can be hit by falling commodity prices as well.

Mexico has admittedly been benefiting from cheap gas prices brought on by Texas’s shale boom.  Mexican imports of US gas have nearly tripled since 2009, which has benefited the industrial sector in northern and north-central Mexico. This gas import growth might slow going forward, however, as America’s LNG export facilities may soon be coming online, LNG import facilities in both Europe and China are expected to be opened soon, and the Panama Canal expansion which will be finised this year may allow LNG ships to traverse the canal from Texas to Asia for the first time. As LNG allows US gas to be sold worldwide, Mexico’s import growth of US gas might slow down. In any event, Mexico is the 19th largest natural gas producer in the world, so even with increasing imports from the US it will not soon become a significant net importer of natural gas.

In the future, meanwhile, somewhat similar to China, Mexico’s industrial growth may not be as strong as most people expect, which could cause it to become less dependent on energy and other commodity imports relative to other countries. Mexico is currently a major industrial economy, the result of its large and cheap labour force and proximity to US consumers. As labour and other prices in northern and to a lesser extent central Mexico are becoming more expensive due to economic growth in these areas, however, Mexico’s industrial growth rate may slow. This is because central and especially southern Mexico are separated from the US by vast areas of mountainous deserts or jungles, making the north-south roads and pipelines through Mexico expensive to build, use, and maintain, as well as potentially vulnerable to groups like the drug cartels, indigenous peoples, or local governments. Southern Mexico resembles Central America more than it resembles northern Mexico.

Mexico may increasingly also have to face industrial competition from Cuba, which is the only other sizeable Hispanic country close to the United States; from Venezuela, if it too can finally mend fences with America and leverage its energy resources to industrialize; or from Canada and the US, if they try to use robots and other technologies to re-industrialize. If, finally, domestic politics lead the US to try to make the Mexican border more of a barrier, Mexico might have to industrialize less and stick more to the many other sectors of the diverse Mexican economy, which are less resource-intensive.

Europe 

There is a fourfold division in Europe, where energy and commodity imports are concerned. First is between mainland Europe, which is a major importer of energy and oil, and the regions surrounding mainland Europe (namely Scandinavia, the North Sea, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, North Africa, western Africa, and the Americas), which are energy and commodity producers. Even the United States has now become such a big energy producer that its energy imports account for only around 15% of its overall energy consumption, a very low share in comparison to an estimated 62% in Germany, 71% in Spain, 77% in Italy, 46% in France, and 43% in Britain.

Second is between countries which use the Euro as their currency – Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Greece, Slovakia, etc. – which tend to be significant importers of oil or other commodites, and countries that do not use the Euro – Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Britain, Denmark, Poland, Romania, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, Russia, etc. – which tend to produce a decent amount of oil, energy, or other commodities — or else, like Switzerland, have economies that are not energy-intensive and so may not benefit as much from cheap energy. (Switzerland, the 20th largest economy in the world, also relies on imports for just 52% of its energy, according to the World Bank, which is a lower share than in all but four of the 19 countries within the Eurozone). Admitedly there are a few exceptions to this rule: most notably Turkey, which imports a lot of energy but does not use the Euro, and Estonia and to a lesser extent the Netherlands, which produce a decent amount of energy domestically yet do use the Euro. Still, even the Netherlands is a major net importer of crude oil.

The third division is between countries that are in the European Union and European countries that are not in the European Union. This division is similar to the Eurozone one, except that states like Britain, Denmark, Poland, Romania, and Sweden — all of which are mid-sized energy or commodity producers – are in the European Union but do not use the Euro, which leave the continent’s major commodity and enegy producers of Norway, Russia, and Ukraine as more prominent outsiders. Turkey, meanwhile, is, unlike Russia, Switzerland, Norway, or Ukraine, a member of the quite important European Customs Union, though like them it is not part of the EU.

Finally, and in some ways most pertinently, there is a division between northern Europe and southern Europe. The further north you go, the less dependent the Europeans are on energy imports. Scandinavia and Russia are the furthest north: they are major energy and commodity producers. (Even the three Baltic states, which are generally assumed to be among the smaller countries in Europe, actually own far more land per capita – and especially forested land, which is crucial for feeding Europe’s sizeable wood-fuel industry – than any European countries to the south of them do).

These are followed by countries like Britain, the Netherlands, Romania, Ireland, the German economies, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Belgium, and northern France, which have economies that are also not too dependent on energy imports. (Like Switzerland, both Ireland and northern France have economies that are not at all energy-intensive, when compared to others).

In southern Europe, finally, there are the economies of Spain, Portugal, Greece, Italy, France-sans-Paris, Turkey, Cyprus, and Malta, which are highly dependent on imports of oil, natural gas, and energy in general. (While nearby Algeria remains a large energy-exporting state and Libya has energy-export potential, Morocco, Israel, Lebanon, and Jordan are highly dependent on energy imports and Egypt and Tunisia are both more or less energy neutral). Perhaps not incidentally, most of southern Europe has experienced an economic depression during the past eight years.

The biggest exception within southern Europe, meanwhile, is Italy, which produces more oil than France, Greece, Turkey, and Spain combined, slightly more oil than even Germany produces. This may in fact partly help to explain why Italy has been suffering a great deal of late, whereas the Spanish, Portuguese, and possibly even Greek economies might finally be on the mend. Even Italy is the world’s third largest gas importer, however, so as with Spain, Portugal, Turkey, and Greece, the Italians depend on imports from abroad to supply more than 70% of the energy they consume.

Turkey

Turkey is in the most interesting position of all when it comes to energy and geopolitics. It, along with its nearest European neighbour Greece, is a significant net energy importer; Turkey has a relatively energy-intensive economy and energy imports account for three-quarters of its energy consumption, while in Greece energy imports account for 60% of energy consumption. Oil imports in Turkey and Greece were estimated to be equal in value to 3.2% and 4.5% percent of GDP in 2014, respectively, both figures quite a bit higher than in most other countries within Europe.

Surrounding Turkey and Greece, however, is a ring of leading energy-producing regions: the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, the Caspian Sea-Central Asia region, and North Africa. Even Turkey’s closest Western neighbours of note, namely Italy, Romania, and Austria, are not necessarily going to benefit much from cheap oil or cheap energy. Italy produces nearly three times as much oil as Turkey does, Romania produces nearly twice as much oil as Turkey and depends on energy imports for just 22% of its energy consumption, and Austria has the lowest oil-imports-as-a-percent-of-GDP of any country in the Eurozone. Even Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt have made major new energy discoveries of late, of natural gas within the Eastern Mediterranean.

In past years, Turkey has already seen many of its neighbours fall to shambles to one extent or another — first the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Lebanon, Algeria, and the Caucuses in the 1990s, now Iraq, Syria, Ukraine, Greece, Georgia, and Libya, among others. Further troubles in the regions surrounding Turkey, then, perhaps brought on by the falling price of energy, could create a serious power vaccum for the Turks to consider filling.

Turkey’s close-to-home rivals the Kurds, meanwhile, are also potential losers in a cheap energy environment. They produce a lot of oil in Iraqi Kurdistan, abut a number of hydropower facilities located within Turkey’s mountainous Kurdish regions where the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers form, and possess ties in some cases to energy-rich Iran (as a result of the Kurdish population in Iran as well as the fact that Persians tend to be ethno-linguistically closer to most Kurdish groups than most Kurds are to either Turks or Arabs) or to energy-rich Iraq (as a result of the sizeable Kurdish population that lives in Iraq).

India 

India, like China, is both a major energy producer, the seventh largest in the world, and a major energy consumer, the third largest in the world. In India, however, oil imports were equal to 5.3% of GDP in 2014, compared to just 2.4% in China, while energy imports accounted for 33% of Indian energy consumption, compared to just 15% for China. And whereas in China the areas that benefit the most from cheap energy are located outside of the Chinese political heartland, in India the country’s political core territories — which are centred around India’s largest state by far, namely Uttar Pradesh (population 200 million), as well as parts of its neighbouring states like Bihar (India’s third largest state), Madhya Pradesh (5th largest), Rajasthan (7th largest), and Delhi (India’s capital city, population 17 million) — may benefit among the most in India from falling oil and energy prices.

Some of the other areas within India, on the other hand, such as parts of both Western India (which produces 75% of the oil from onshore fields in India, and which has close economic ties to the nearby energy-rich Persian Gulf) and Eastern India (which is where most of India’s coal and other commodities are produced or exported), might not benefit in the same way*.

[*when I say “benefit”, I mean it in the geopolitical sense of the term, not in the ethical sense. From an ethical point view, for example, the fall in energy and commodity prices is arguably great news for many of the people in Eastern India who were being exploited because of their coal and mineral wealth. Obviously, things like this are usually far more complicated in reality than can be captured in any single essay].

India’s geopolitical dream is of a prosperous, peaceful Indian Ocean basin in which it, by virtue of its size, diversity, and central location, would be far and away the most prominent and powerful country. In order to accomplish this India must have better relations with Pakistan, a country that has been backed by the United States as well as by fellow Muslim states like Saudi Arabia. With the Saudis and other Sunni Muslim countries hurt by cheap oil and energy prices, and with India’s traditional allies against Pakistan, namely the Russians and Iranians, hurt by cheap energy too, both India and Pakistan might perhaps be forced to rely more heavily on the Americans. If, then, the Americans decide to prioritize India-Pakistan peace-making as a way to maintain stability in South Asia and help to contain forces like China, Russia, and pan-Islamism, there may be some cause to be hopeful. Don’t be too sure though: there are plenty of reasons why India, Pakistan, and the United States might each find it difficult to pursue Indian-Pakistani or Hindu-Muslim reconciliation.

Within the wider Indian Ocean region, stretching 6000 km from Madagascar to Indonesia and 6000 km from Sri Lanka to Kerguelen, there is also some scope for careful optimism. In East Africa, from around Ethiopia south through the Great Lakes, most economies are not dependent on energy exports in the way that western African countries like Angola, Nigeria, Algeria, Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea are. Even South Africa, the world’s sixth largest coal exporter, is not nearly as dependent on energy exports as Nigeria, Angola, or Algeria are, and is a net importer of crude oil. Oman and Yemen, similarly, the two Arab countries with coastlines directly along the Indian Ocean, are not nearly as dependent on energy exports as other Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, and Kuwait are. They, especially Yemen, may also be leading importers of food.

In the eastern Indian Ocean, the Indonesian islands of Sumatra and especially Java (combined population: 195 million) tend to be energy-importing areas, in contrast to Indonesia’s Pacific islands like Kalimantan and, 3500 km to the east of the Indian Ocean, West Papua, which account for most of Indonesia’s energy production as Sumatra’s aging oil fields are declining. In Indonesia’s neighbour Malaysia, similarly, most oil production comes from around the Pacific island of Borneo, an island Malaysia shares with Indonesia and Brunei, rather than from the Malay Peninsula on the edge of the Indian Ocean where most of Malaysia’s population lives. Singapore, moreover, which is located roughly in between western Malaysia and western Indonesia, is the world’s 13th or 14th largest oil importer (it is roughly tied with Thailand, which is also located along the outer edge of the Indian Ocean); in spite of its small size Singapore now imports nearly twice as much crude oil as Indonesia and Malaysia combined export to the world.

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Middle East

10 Consequences of US-Iranian Reengagement

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1. Iraq

Iran is the key to stabilizing or destabilizing Iraq. The Iranians have close religious and political ties with Iraqi Shiites, who make up a majority of the overall Iraqi population and control most of Iraq’s oil wealth. Iran also has potentially close ties with the Iraqi Kurds, since Iran’s own Kurdish regions are arguably better integrated into Iranian society than the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, or Syria are within Turkish or Arab society, and since Kurdish is actually a branch of the Iranian language family. Iran has consistently proven that it is not willing to relinquish its influence within Iraq, regardless of any sanctions or threats aimed towards it. This is not surprising, since the Iranians remember too well the hundreds of thousands – or perhaps more than a million – of their citizens who died fighting the Iraqi army between 1982 and 1990, in a war in which chemical weapons, and maybe biological weapons, were repeatedly used. As such, to combat groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda without sending US soldiers to Iraq and Syria, Iran probably needs to be cooperated with.

2. Syria

Given that Assad has not fallen after four years of intense fighting, it may seem to the US that the best move now is to try and cut a deal with the Syrian government that will bring an end to the conflict in the country as soon as possible. The alternative – a sort of large-scale version of the Lebanese Civil War which lasted from 1975-1990, which killed perhaps five percent of the Lebanese population (far more than the share of Syria’s population that has died thus far) and directly drew in the armies of Syria, Israel, and the United States – is a truly terrifying prospect. Iran, because of its ties to the Assads, to Hezzbolah, to Iraq, and potentially to the Syrian Kurds, must be a negotiating partner within any Syrian ceasefire deal. Moreover, because Assad no longer rules over most of the oil-rich desert of eastern Syria, much of which is now controlled by the Sunni group ISIS instead, and because Assad has been struggling to control all of the urban areas even within the much more populous western half of Syria, cutting a deal now may not even leave the Iranians with the level of influence in Syria they had enjoyed prior to the start of the civil war.

3. Afghanistan

Apart from Pakistan, Iran is the only significant country to share a long and accessible border with Afghanistan. Two of Afghanistan’s three biggest cities, Kandahar and Herat, are quite close to the Iranian border and to Iran’s second largest city, Mashhad. One of Afghanistan’s two lingua franca, Dari, is mutually inteligible with modern Persian. One of Afghanistan’s two major ethnic groups, the Tajiks, speak a language that is mutually intelligible with modern Persian as well. Afghanistan’s other major ethnic group, the Pashtun, speak a language that, while not mutually inteligible with modern Persian as such, is nevertheless a member of the overall Iranian language family. And 10-20 percent of Afghanistan’s population is, like Iran, Shiite. As a result, with the US finally withdrawing most of its armies from Afghanistan, Iran may be necessary to ensure that the country remains relatively stable and does not become a haven for Sunni extremism, a source of conflict between India and Pakistan, or a destablizing force for Pakistan (which, unlike Iran, already has many nuclear weapons) via the Af-Pak border-spanning Pashtun and Baluchi peoples – and specifically, via the most famous Pashtun organization, the Taliban.

4. Russia

The US may want to enlist Iran for the newly remergent American rivalry with Moscow. Iran is the only power outside of China to border Russia’s sphere of influence in ex-Soviet Central Asia. The Central Asian country of Tajikistan actually speaks modern Persian as its main language, while the gas-rich country of Turkmenistan shares direct ethnic ties with the adjacent areas of northeastern Iran. Iran is also the only country outside of the former Soviet Union to border the massive, energy-rich Caspian Sea, across which the West has been hoping to build a roughly 200 km long pipeline that will link Central Asia with Europe by way of Turkey and/or the Black Sea, in order to break the monopoly that Russia (and to a lesser extent, China) has on transporting Central Asian energy. Alternatively, Russia’s monopoly in Central Asia could be undercut via the construction of pipelines running through Iran from Turkmenistan to the Indian Ocean, or through Iran and the Middle East toward the Black or Mediterranean Seas.

Iran is also the only country apart from Russia and Turkey to border the Caucasus, a region that includes the southernmost, seperatist-inclined districts of Russia as well as the ex-Soviet states of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan; a region in which 15-20 million Muslims, and a similar number of non-Muslims, live. One Caucuses country, Azerbaijan, is energy-rich: it is currently the world’s 17th largest crude oil exporter and 30th largest natural gas producer. Azerbaijan is also intended to be the lynchpin of any attempt to build a pipeline linking Central Asia with the West. Crucially, Iran has potentially close ties with Azerbaijan, as an estimated 20-25 percent of Iran’s own population is ethno-linguistically Azeri, and as Azerbaijan’s population is Shiite rather than Sunni. Azerbaijan’s leading city, Baku, is only 500 km from Tehran, compared to 1900 km from Moscow and 1750 km from Istanbul.

Finally, given that Iran is thought to have by far the world’s largest reserves of easily-accessible natural gas outside of Russia, and given that Iran’s natural gas export capacity has been consistently underdeveloped in the past generation as a result of sanctions and war (Iran is currently only the 20th-25th largest natural gas exporter, in fact), the US may hope to see future growth in Iranian gas exports substantially undercut Russia’s gas revenues. This would be very significant if it were to occur, sincd Russia is far and away the world’s largest exporter of natural gas at the moment, even without counting the enormous amounts of natural gas in Central Asia where the Russians continue to hold most of the cards.

5. Arabia

By far the biggest prizes for Middle Eastern powers to fight over are the small, energy-rich monarchies in the Persian Gulf: Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, tiny Bahrain, and the considerably larger (though still pretty small) United Arab Emirates. Kuwait and the UAE alone possess an estimated 20 percent or so of the world’s “proven oil reserves” that are not located in shale deposits or tar sands, while Qatar accounts for an estimated 12 percent of the world’s proven natural gas reserves. Together, these mini-monarchies account for 5-10 percent of the world’s current oil and gas production.

These states also directly border the most energy-rich areas of Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq, and even reach as close to 380km from an important region of Pakistan. Nearly all of the US military bases in the Middle East are located in these small kingdoms. Their populations are not ethnically or religiously homogenous: rather, they are a complicated mishmash of ordinary citizens, extended royal families, foreign visitors, and so many foreign workers (many of whom are non-Muslim) that non-citizen immigrants now often outnumber the citizens of these countries. Religiously, their citizens and royals are a mix between Sunnis, Shiites, and, in Oman, Ibadi Muslims.

Regardless of a deal with Iran, the US is probably not going to back away from its relationships with these monarchies under any circumstances. It has already proved its commitment to these countries in the past, most notably in 1990 when it liberated Kuwait from Iraqi annexation, and most recently in 2011 when it basically supported a Saudi-led invasion of Bahrain during the Arab Spring, which was aimed at protecting Bahrain’s Sunni monarchy from its protesting Shiite-majority population. Today, virtually all of the American soldiers in the Middle East (not counting Afghanistan) are stationed in Kuwait.

The US and its allies in this region have long relied on Iran to ensure safe passage through the narrow Strait of Hormuz, and for this reason alone a deal with Iran makes sense. While there is admitedly a risk of Iran becoming more influential in the Persian Gulf than the US or its allies would be comfortable with – in particular, because southern Iraq and eastern Saudi Arabia are both Shiite-majority energy-rich areas – the US is probably not going to let Iranian influence grow to too great an extent. Iran’s ability to access the Gulf is further limited, moreover, by the fact that the population of its own Gulf coastlands are home mainly to ethnic Arabs rather than to Persians, while a majority of Iranians live many hundreds of extremely mountainous – and for the most part inaccessible – kilometers away from the Gulf. As such, while the Iranians might conceivably be able to block or disrupt the energy production of the Gulf Arabs, they are unlikely to consider seizing the energy directly like Iraq tried to do when it annexed Kuwait.

6. Turkey

Many people worry that Iran will become the major power in the Middle East. In reality, however, Turkey actually seems to be in a far stronger position than Iran is. The Turks have an economy that is larger than Saudi Arabia’s and more than double the size of Iran’s; an economy which, unlike most other economies in the region, will probably benefit a great deal from the recent fall in oil prices. Turkey has a population that is less internally fractious than those of Iran or Saudi Arabia, and which has significant ties with the Turkic populations of Uzbekistan, Khazakstan, Turkmenistan, and western China, as well as with Turkic Azerbaijan and with the populous Turkic Azeri regions of Iran. Moreover, unlike Shiite Iran or extremist Wahabbi Saudi Arabia, Turkey potentially has ties with the rest of the world’s Sunnis, who account for perhaps 90 percent of all Muslims. Turkey also has a military that has benefited from being an ally of the US – and the only longtime Muslim NATO member – for decades. The Turkish military has dominated Turkey’s domestic politics for most of the past century, securing for itself a generous budget in the process.

Turkey’s economy grew faster than any other major country apart from China during most of the 2000’s; it grew, for example, from about the same size as its arch-nemesis Greece twenty years ago to roughly quadruple the size of the Greek economy today. One of Turkey’s closest allies, Azerbaijan, meanwhile, was virtually the fastest growing economy in the entire world during the past decade: the Azerbaijani GDP is now more than 11 times larger than it was back in 2003. Finally, and most importantly, almost every single one of Turkey’s neighbours – Greece, Syria, Iraq, Ukraine, Georgia, Libya, Egypt, Cyprus, Russia, the European Union, and before them the former Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Armenia – have been either seriously weakened or completely torn apart during the recent past. This has created quite a large power vacuum for the Turks to consider filling.

As Turkey’s power has grown, and as Turkey’s relationship with the West and especially Israel has become increasingly strained, a deal with Iran has become much more palatable for the US. Indeed, prior the mid-19th century, Iran was the only significant foil of the Turks in both the Middle East and Caucasus for many hundreds of years. Today, potential Iranian influence with the Kurdish people – the achilles heel of modern Turkey – and with the Alevi religious grouping that makes up arguably one-fifth of Turkey’s own population, may help in containing the vehemently Sunni and allegedly neo-Ottoman tendencies that have been emerging under the stewardship of Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister-turned-President Recep Tayyip Erdogan since 2003. Iran may also be useful in balancing Turkish influence in both the Caucasus and Central Asia, where Turkey has very ambitious economic and pan-Turkic aspirations. Finally, the Iranians may have some economic leverage over the Turks, since Turkey gets around 40 percent of its oil imports from Iran, 20 percent of its natural gas imports from Iran, and 20 percent or so of its oil imports from Iraq where the Iranians continue to have influence.

7. India

While the Americans and Israelis have been publically spending most of their time worrying about the eventual possibility of an Iranian nuclear bomb, a much more pressing and probable danger may actually be that, should the political stability of South Asia deterioriate, one of Pakistan’s hundred or so nuclear weapons might fall into the wrong hands. Today, with the US leaving Afghanistan, and with India having last year elected a Prime Minister from an anti-Islamic, arguably fascistic organization (a Prime Minister who is not even allowed to travel to the United States except for when he is serving as Prime Minister, because he is seen as having been complicit in a large-scale attack against Muslims while he was governor of the Indian state of Gujarat), the politics of South Asia, which are brittle in the best of times, may be getting worse. This is not good for anybody.

Iran, however, has the potential to serve as a stabilizing force in South Asia. This is not only because of its level of influence in Afghanistan, which is signficant, but also because Iran is the only major country that has potentially close ties to both the Indians and the Pakistanis. Iran already has a very close economic relationship to India; even with sanctions, India gets around 5-10 percent of the oil it imports from Iran, another 15 percent or so from Iraq, where the Iranians have influence, and another 10-15 percent or so from Iran’s main Arab trade partner, the United Arab Emirates. Moreover, the Indians and Iranians have a relatively close political relationship, which has emerged in order to balance against the Sunni Arab-Sunni Pakistani-Sunni Afghan relationship that they both are afraid of. India is also home to tens of millions of Shiite Muslims, hundreds of millions of speakers of Hindi, which is related to modern Persian, and millions of speakers of Urdu, which uses the Persian script and is even more closely related to modern Persian (though admitedly, Urdu is quite a bit closer to Hindi than it is to modern Persian).

Pakistan, meanwhile, shares a long border with Iran, and, jointly with Iran, governs over the large, sparsely populated, resource-rich region of Baluchistan, where many Baluchis would like to gain independence from both Iran and Pakistan (and where Iran and Pakistan have historically cooperated in order to ensure that they are not able to do so). Baluchi languages are part of the Iranian language family, as are the Pashtun languages that are spoken by tens of millions of people in Pakistan along the Afghan border and in megacities like Lahore and Karachi. Anywhere from 15-35 million Shiites live in Pakistan, meanwhile, and nearly all of Pakistan’s population speaks Urdu. Finally, like India, the Pakistanis also have an increasingly voracious appetite for Middle Eastern and/or Central Asian energy, which the Iranians could help to provide them with.

Iran, therefore, could be helpful in keeping South Asia relatively stable. Given the harsh realities and dangers which exist in South Asia, which could in theory spread from South Asia to the rest of the world – and have already done so in the past, most famously on September 11, 2001 – stability in this region could be a huge boon for everyone, the US and its allies included. From a long-term, self-interested US point of view, moreover, an Iranian partner might eventually be useful in helping to contain India geopolitically if India becomes a major power and if the Pakistani or Bangladeshi states implode.

8. Qatar and the UAE

In recent years, the foreign policy of Qatar, the Gulf Arab monarchy with a per capita GDP that is well over double any of the others (it is the highest in the world apart from Norway, in fact), has diverged from those of some of the other Gulf Arab states. Not only has Qatar been trying to gain global prestige and influence via its plan to host the World Cup in 2022, its hosting of the pan-Arab news station Al Jazeera, and its ambitions for its capital city of Doha to outshine even Dubai as a regional hub, but the Qatari government has also been bankrolling groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (and its Palestinian affiliate, Hamas), which the Saudis view as an enemy. The Saudi-Qatari rivalry came to a head in 2013, when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood government was overthrown in a coup by the Egyptian military, which has been receiving huge amounts of subsidies from the Saudis, and which had the support of Egypt’s next largest electoral bloc, the Saudi-backed Islamist Salafists.

The Saudis have been looking for a way to curb Qatar’s confident meddling in the region, but this is not easy to do, since the Qataris have powerful friends in the United States (Qatar hosts a critical US air force base), Turkey (which has been the Muslim Brotherhood’s other leading backer in the politics of the Middle East), and Japan (which buys about 40 percent of the world’s LNG, an industry in which the Qataris are by far the dominant players). While the Saudis are certainly not happy about the possibility of American-Iranian reengagement, they may nevertheless see a silver lining in the deal as being that it could reduce the regional clout of Qatar.

The reason this could occur is because the Qataris, unlike the other Gulf Arab states, overwhelmingly produce natural gas rather than oil. With Iran itself having the world’s second largest gas reserves, and needing lots of Western capital in order to build pipelines and LNG facilities in order to transport those reserves to market (since transporting gas is not nearly as simple a process as transporting oil), a US-Iran deal could hurt Qatar’s position in the global natural gas market – and in particular, its dominance in LNG markets, in which Qatar accounted for one-third of the world’s exports as recently as 2013, which was almost quadruple the amount of the world’s next largest LNG exporter, Australia.

Apart from Qatar, Saudi Arabia’s other potential frenemy within the Gulf Cooperation Council fraternity is the United Arab Emirates, a country with a population that is about as large as those of Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain combined – and with a GDP that is actually larger than those of Iran and Israel, and more than half the size of that of Saudi Arabia itself. The Emiratis have historically had relatively close commercial ties to Iran, and they have kept these ties in place throughout the modern sanctions era. The UAE is also home to quite a large Iranian population. Indeed, along with Iraq, the United Arab Emirates are thought to have been by far the leading intermediaries for Iran’s covert, sanctions-beating imports of goods and exports of oil. This has earned the UAE enormous sums of money, but has also bothered the Saudis at times. If the sanctions on Iran end, it might put an end to this situation, which could be another silver lining for the Saudis. (The Economist had a somewhat different take on this point).

9. Israel

There has always been something a little bit ironic about the rheotric Israel has used regarding Iran, given that Israel arguably needs Iran as a balance against the Sunni, Arab, and Sunni Arab worlds far more than any other country does. Indeed, it seems possible that Benjamin Netanyahu was never as worried about Iran as it seemed to be, but was railing against it mainly because doing so helped his party within domestic Israeli politics, and because, prior to Iran’s weakening position in the Middle East as a result of the rise of anti-Assad rebels in Syria, Israel may have been agreeing to play “bad cop” with Iran during the past decade, while the US played “good cop”. (The Saudis – who are truly terrified of Iran – were not willing to publically play bad cop themselves, since they did not want to be seen as stoking inter-Islamic conflict. Moreover, the Saudis, unlike Israel, lacked the ability to seriously scare Iran with military threats much even if they had been willing to issue them). Certainly, the Iranians have a far better historical relationship with Israel and the Jewish people, both in modern and premodern times, than any major Arab state has.

The Iranian-Israeli relationship has also been indirectly improving of late, as a result of the broken ties between Hamas and Iran over Syria, and the fact that Hezzbolah and Assad have been focused entirely on Syria rather than on Israel since the civil war began, and finally because Israeli relations with Turkey have sdeteriorated sharply ever since the Gaza flotilla incident in 2010. The Israeli economy is also likely to be among the major beneficiaries of the lower oil prices that a US-Iran deal could help to solidify. This is of course not to say that Israel is not worried about Iran – far from it. But Israel has a lot of things to worry about. It is not so difficult to imagine that Israel may actually end up being happier about improving relations with Iran than even the Americans will be. And even if the Israelis do keep Iran as their main enemy, a US-Iranian deal may still be appealing, as it will distance the US from Israel a little bit, which some Americans may be pleased with since it could help grant them leverage against Israel with regard to Israeli-Palestinian relations.

10. Iran

Apart from the geopolical argument that a rapprochment with the Iranians will make Iran too strong in the Middle East, or the argument that it will allow Iran to covertly develop nuclear weapons, the most common argument against a US-Iranian deal is that Iran is a terrorist state that is pushing an extremist ideology across the Muslim world. In fact, this argument has never made too much sense, because clearly Saudi Arabia fits this description far better than the Iranians do. Unless the Americans are willing to adopt a new strategy in which both Saudi Arabia and Iran become US rivals, this argument does not seem to have much merit.

Indeed, as has often been pointed out, Iran is in many ways arguably the most promising major country in the region from a cultural perspective. Much of its population is urban (72 percent, the same percentage as Turkey’s population, and not too far from double that of Egypt’s), and it is also much more pro-American than any other major Muslim country in the region (in some ways at least), and less socially conservative than most of the Arab world, or even than large areas of Turkey or a decent-sized share of the Israeli population. Iran’s government, meanwhile, while hardly a true democracy, is a lot more democratic than many other Middle Eastern states. And since Iran is Shiite rather than Sunni, its ability spread its extremist religious ideology around the rest of the Muslim world, which as a whole is thought to be nearly 90 percent Sunni, is relatively limited.

Iran also has one of the largest, and probably the wealthiest and most secular, American diaspora among major Middle Eastern states. This is a result of the historical US and British alliance with the Iranian elite, which fled the religious Iranian Revolution in 1979. The Iranian population in California, where about half of Iranian-Americans live, is sort of like a smaller version of the Cuban-American diaspora that resides in southern Florida. By contrast, there is not much of a Turkish diapsora in the US, and the Arab diaspora in the US tends to be made up of poorer immigrants who arrived just in the past decade or two. Because the Iranian diaspora has been in the US for a longer period of time, and because it is not Arab, its relationship with the US was not complicated by the recent 9-11 and Iraq War era in the same way that America’s Arab diaspora has been. Moreover, its earlier arrival has given it the time to give birth to a generation of bilingual, bicultural children who have now come of age.

Finally, the Iranians have a a uniquely proud identity that stretches back far before the emergence of Islam. This stands in  contrast to some of the other Middle Eastern states, such as Saudi Arabia, where Islam is seen as the fundamental and overwhelming attribute of national identity, or Turkey, which was proudly the seat of the Sunni Caliphate, with formal control over Mecca and Medina, until the early 20th century, and where pre-Islamic history is associated with the original Turkic home of Central Asia rather than with the country’s modern location in Asia Minor.

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