By Willis Sparks
A few days ago, Google introduced a tool that warns its users inside China about the hundreds of sensitive words and phrases that can produce an error message or even freeze the site, at least for a moment. China Digital Times (CDT) has since compiled a list of the most interesting (sometimes surprising) search terms. Taken together, they offer a glimpse of the wide range of things that China's Internet monitors don't want Chinese citizens reading and talking about. Translations are provided by CDT.
All the terms you see below in bold are apparently considered sensitive subjects.
Why are Chinese authorities worried about truth, benevolence, and forbearance? Because these words are associated with the outlawed spiritual movement Falun Gong. Watch out for the phrase snow lion; it's a reference to the flag of Tibet. Not surprisingly, searches for Taiwan Political Talk, Xinjiang + independence, and the Tibetan government-in-exile produce similar reactions. References to dissidents like Chen Guangcheng and Ai Weiwei can get you bounced. So can entering the words Liu Xiaobo or the Nobel Peace Prize he won in 2010. In fact, you might want to avoid the word dissident.
Nor do China's Internet monitors want citizens thinking about Chinese people eating babies or baby soup. That goes double for pornography, Playboy, and boobs.
Other words and phrases are dangerously suggestive for different reasons. The expression blood house, which refers to forced evictions, is a problem. Perhaps that's because it can encourage curiosity about assembly, a student strike and a people's movement. As these kinds of events take on a life of their own, it can lead young people to explore the so-called three leaves -- leave the Party, leave the Youth League, leave the Young Pioneers -- the 21st century Chinese equivalent of turning on, tuning in, and dropping out. It can also lead students into the public square, trigger a rebellion, a coup d'état or even a revolution. These kinds of things can provoke martial law.
It has happened before, though you won't learn much about that simply by searching for Tiananmen, tankman, block tank, or by entering 89 + student movement, Beijing + something happened, or what happened to Beijing. Lately, these sorts of spontaneous insurrections have been popping up in places like Egypt and Tunisia, stoking fears in Beijing of Jasmine + revolution, a Beijing spring or a China spring.
Insurrections aside, mere political embarrassments ring alarms, as well. Searches for Governor Bo Xilai or Chongqing, the province he governed before scandal charges brought him down, make the list -- as does Heywood, the family name of the British businessman his wife is suspected of having murdered. Add Chen Jian, victim of an earthquake who gave a live interview before dying beneath the wreckage and Zengcheng, a city in Guangzhou with the misfortune to have hosted a riot among migrant workers last summer.
Then there is Twitter and Facebook. Expect problems if you hunt for Wikileaks + China. China Digital Times is on the list along with traditional foreign troublemakers like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia. Expect glitches if you investigate the country's great firewall, the web brigade of Internet censors who help hold it in place, and freegate, dynapass or ultrasurf, tools for those who want to climb over the wall.
It's a bit more surprising that searches for Mao, Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin raise red flags. Even the names of today's leaders (Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao) and tomorrow's (Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang) can create a disruption. Same for searches of the nine elders who operate behind the scenes in the Politburo Standing Committee. Simply entering Chinese Communist Party can create a problem, to say nothing of its less flattering nicknames the Common Disabled Party, Common Tragic Party, or the more colorful red bandits.
It's clear that Chinese authorities don't want citizens reading Mein Kampf. It's less clear why they appear to frown on the Coen Brother's film Burn After Reading. It's easier to understand sensitivity about the phrase best actor when you learn that's it a derisive nickname for Premier Wen Jiabao. But one mustn't get too curious about another of his popular nicknames: teletubbies.
Taken together, these and hundreds more words and phrases demonstrate just how hard it is to "manage" communications in a country of 1.4 billion people, more than half of whom have already found their way online.
Unfortunately for all concerned, this list of words and phrases is only getting longer.
Willis Sparks is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Global Macro practice.
China Photos/Getty Images
By Scott Seaman and Stephen Majors
Many Japan watchers -- and the market -- are hoping for a breakthrough in Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda's efforts to secure passage of a consumption tax increase. The general expectation is that raising the tax from 5 percent to 8 percent in April 2014, and then again to 10 percent in October 2015, wouldn't just be a solid step forward in addressing Japan's ballooning public debt, which is projected to reach 239 percent of GDP by year's end. It would also demonstrate that Japan's political parties are able to work through their differences to tackle tough problems in a country that has had seven prime ministers in the past six years.
But this view wrongly focuses on a narrow, short-term outcome rather than on the broader political malaise such a victory could prolong -- which, in Japan's case, is the most salient factor for long-term reforms. The passage of the tax hike is not necessarily a good sign for the country's ability to tackle its many pressing problems unless it leads to snap elections and a major realignment of Japan's sclerotic party system. The best outcome would be the failure of the tax hike measure, followed by Noda's call for a snap election; or the passage of the hike based on Noda's agreement with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) that he would call an election in return for their cooperation. Outside of these two scenarios, the party realignment that is necessary for Japan to make deep economic reforms and boost competitiveness is very unlikely to happen.
Without major party system realignment, political gridlock on most reforms would persist, undermining medium- to long-term prospects for deeper economic restructuring. A core problem of Japan's political system is that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) and the LDP are both characterized by deep internal schisms over greater openness to economic competition and trade, as well as on fiscal and social welfare reform. Such internal cleavages have blurred distinctions between these parties and made maintaining party discipline and cohesion almost impossible. In addition, a "twisted" Diet (Japan's parliament) in which the DPJ controls the lower house, but lacks a majority in the upper house, allows opposition parties to block legislation with ease. The policy gridlock that often results has contributed to a loss of public support for parties of every stripe and a general sense that Japan's politics is essentially dysfunctional.
Noda has set a deadline to bring legislation for the tax hike to a vote in the lower house of the Diet before the end of the current session on 21 June. Strong opposition outside -- and inside -- the DPJ keeps the odds of enacting legislation for the hike during the current Diet session low. Despite the challenges, Noda may still find a way through threats and horse-trading to pass the increase. Numerous members of the DPJ, LDP, and other parties feel electorally vulnerable and would prefer to avoid a near-term snap election, strengthening their desire to pursue inter- and intra-party compromises. If Noda's government passes the hike without a snap election, markets will likely view this positively based on the argument that any success reduces the risk of a rise in Japanese bond yields and provides a signal that Japan's prospects for better fiscal management have improved.
But focusing on the short-term market spike in such a scenario would risk overlooking the larger implications of successful passage of the hike. Beneath it would lay the perpetuation of a largely dysfunctional status quo. Party system breakdown would be traumatic, and any realignment that follows would be fraught with uncertainty. But if it sets the stage for reform-minded politicians from the DPJ, LDP, and other parties to coalesce into a single party with a majority in both houses of the Diet, the outlook for future reform efforts would be brighter.
Scott Seaman is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Asia practice. Stephen Majors is an editor with Eurasia Group.
By Naz Masraff
The recent move to breathe new life into Turkey's stalled EU accession process is unlikely to have much effect beyond providing Ankara with a minor domestic and international public relations boost. On 17 May, Turkey's EU minister and chief negotiator Egemen Bagis and European Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Fule launched what they dubbed a positive agenda for EU-Turkish relations. The agenda introduces new mechanisms for communication, including specific working groups, intended to accelerate Turkey's compliance with the acquis communitaire in eight chapters, including two that are blocked for political reasons. But the efforts are insufficient to counter the underlying structural problems impeding Turkey's now long-stalled EU accession.
Turkish authorities have not opened any new chapters of the EU acquis since 2010; talks on 18 of the 34 chapters cannot move ahead because of political issues and open ones cannot be provisionally closed. An important obstacle continues to be Turkey's failure to move on politically difficult reforms needed to bring the country's laws in line with European standards, especially on the judiciary and fundamental rights. Bagis's statements suggesting that Turkey would be in full compliance with the EU acquis by 2014 are largely political rhetoric with little substance.
Cyprus is a huge stumbling block. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has decided not to call a follow-up international conference on Cyprus because there has been no advance since the January talks on the issue. This makes it impossible for the conflict to be resolved before July, when the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) government assumes the EU presidency. Turkey will freeze its relations with the EU presidency for six months in protest, though contacts with the European Commission and the European Parliament will continue.
The RoC's exploration for hydrocarbons in the eastern Mediterranean has exacerbated its contentious relations with Turkey. Turkey claims some areas included in the RoC's new licensing round for further explorations extend onto Turkey's continental shelf, and that any revenues must be shared with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). While the dispute is not likely to escalate into a military conflict, Turkey may continue its gunboat diplomacy, further intensifying tensions. Turkey is now also considering fallback options including pressing other Muslim states to recognize the TRNC.
The new agenda may not result in major advances on EU accession, but it will give the Turkish government some advantages. Ankara can secure public recognition from the EU and boost its domestic popularity even when minor steps are taken. The effort also has bureaucratic advantages, providing another way for both the Turkish Ministry for EU Affairs and the European Commission's Turkey desk, the largest desk operating under the Directorate-General for Enlargement, to justify their existence.
Naz Masraff is an associate with Eurasia Group's Europe Practice.
By James Fallon and Ayham Kamel
On May 21, the Lebanese Armed Forces shot and killed prominent Sunni Sheikh Ahmed Abdul Wahed as his convoy passed through a checkpoint, triggering gun battles in Beirut's Tariq al Jdeideh neighborhood between two Sunni political parties, the anti-Syrian Future Movement and the pro-Syrian Arab Movement Party. The fighting followed clashes between Alawites and Sunnis in Tripoli in response to the arrest of Shadi al Mawlawi, a Sunni Salafist activist accused of aiding the Syrian opposition. Clearly, Syria's troubles have crossed the border into Lebanon.
In fact, Syria's turmoil is polarizing Lebanese factions and threatening the country's delicate political balance. Conflict in Syria has fallen largely along sectarian lines, and it is now fueling sectarian tension in Lebanon. The majority of protesters facing daily violence from the Syrian regime are Sunni, and this has driven moral and material support for their cause from Lebanon's mainly Sunni north. To avoid confrontation with his Sunni community, Prime Minister Najib Mikati has not actively interfered to stop such assistance, creating a perception that his government is at least tacitly complicit in supporting rebels.
Ironically, the one cross-sectarian institution in Lebanon that many consider capable and trustworthy -- the country's armed forces -- is a problematic tool for ending street violence between Lebanon's political parties. On the one hand, the sectarian diversity within the army gives it some level of credibility with all of Lebanon's various factions. In fact, in May 2008, when Hezbollah gunmen fought Sunni militias for control of mainly Sunni neighborhoods in west Beirut, the army helped defuse tensions on both sides -- greatly bolstering its credibility and national popularity. Yet, then as now, the army could not directly intervene to stop the bloodshed, because the sectarian fault lines that run through the country's politics and society are also apparent within its ranks. Prime Minister Najib Mikati knows that if he calls on them to engage directly, there's a risk that soldiers will join the various fights instead of breaking them up.
Recent unrest is exacerbating this fear. During clashes on May 21, Sunni gunmen directed their fire at the army. Following the checkpoint shooting, the army withdrew from some positions in the north, and several Sunni politicians called for a more permanent expulsion. The military's response was measured, but the rise of militant factions in northern Lebanon is making it much harder for the army to intervene in battles in which its soldiers may feel they have a stake. These conditions could be an indication that the army's tenuous role as super-sectarian arbiter is deteriorating among some Lebanese, particularly the Sunni population. As the Sunni-dominated northern region of Tripoli and its surroundings continue to serve as a logistical base for Syrian rebels, we'll probably see more of these clashes, and the government's ability to deploy forces without risking its credibility will definitely diminish.
Political instability is likely to rise in Lebanon as the Syria crisis worsens, and efforts better spent on the already difficult task of governing will be redirected toward buttressing the fragile balance necessary to maintain any government at all. Lebanon's political institutions have proven resilient in the face of serious challenges over the years, but that resilience is often the result of choosing to do nothing that might fan the country's flames.
Inaction may avoid making matters worse, but it does little to resolve the underlying causes of persistent instability in Lebanon.
James Fallon is an associate with Eurasia Group's Middle East practice. Ayham Kamel is an analyst in the firm's Middle East and North Africa practice.
By Ayham Kamel
The recent failure of Saudi King Abdullah's proposal to turn the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) into a confederation of states illustrates Riyadh's recurring inability to integrate Gulf nations into a counterweight against Iran. As wary as the Gulf states are about Iran's influence, they aren't ready to turn any of their independence over to Riyadh. It looks increasingly likely, however, that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will establish a mini-confederation of Sunni-ruled states, an alliance that is sure to make Shia Iran uneasy. Heightened sectarian tension and the Gulf states' continued reliance on the US security umbrella will, in turn, make it difficult for the US and other Western powers to disengage from the region.
Abdullah had originally proposed a political union for the GCC, but stepped back in response to negative reactions from fellow Gulf states. Saudi Arabia then pushed for a less ambitious confederation at last week's GCC summit in Riyadh, but even that was anathema to other Gulf states. Both in private and public meetings, GCC leaders had expressed deep reservations about an immediate and broader process of creating a political union. This led Saudi Arabia's foreign minister, Saud al Faisal, to clarify that the new framework for integration would preserve sovereignty over domestic issues. Still, there was no traction.
Riyadh and Tehran could not espouse more different ideals, but Gulf states fear Saudi Arabia's Sunni dominance as much as Iran's power. The rulers of Qatar, Kuwait, the UAE, and Oman have built the foundations of their polities on the principle of remaining independent from Riyadh. In the past 40 years, they sought to reinforce their independence by developing security pacts with Western powers and pursuing policies that distinguish them from Saudi Arabia. Even Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah, the father of the GCC proposal in the 1980's, is not particularly enthusiastic about the trajectory of Saudi Arabia's union plan. The Arab Spring and shared perception of Iran's aggressive intent are creating a new environment, but common fears will probably not translate into the creation of a common polity.
In the meantime, it is increasingly likely that Saudi Arabia and Bahrain will
establish a mini-confederation. While formally labeled as a GCC union, there
are few indications that other states are currently interested in joining under
the new structure. Riyadh has long contemplated a union with the al Khalifa
regime as a means to resolving the perceived problem of Bahrain's
Shia majority. Saudi Arabia continues to believe that Bahrain represents a
strategic challenge to the kingdom, and a collapse of the al Khalifa ruling
family could prompt an uprising in Saudi Arabia's oil rich Eastern Province
where the Shia population is believed to represent a solid majority. There is
an emerging realization in the palaces of the al Saud that Bahrain's political
challenges are here to stay and that a proactive policy to contain threats from
the small gulf island is more of a necessity than a choice.
Last year's uprising in Bahrain prompted Saudi Arabia to reassess its strategy. Despite the Bahrain regime's uncompromising stance with the Shia population, Saudi Arabia still worries about the long-term stability of its Sunni allies. These worries are reinforced by Saudi suspicion of active Iranian interference in Bahrain. Last month's visit by Iran's president to Abu Musa, the first by a head of state to an island claimed by both Iran and the UAE, increased Saudi fears of Iran's disruptive role in the region. Riyadh probably believes that visit signals Iran's willingness to infringe on the internal affairs of Gulf countries and that Tehran could once again claim that Bahrain is part of its historical territories.
A Saudi Arabia-Bahrain confederation would do little more than formalize Riyadh's leverage in Bahrain's affairs. Most importantly, a confederation would almost definitively put an end to prospects of a negotiated compromise with Bahrain's Shia population. Iran would consider the mini-confederation as Saudi Arabia's de facto annexation of Bahrain, and would feel that it needs to be more proactive in confronting Sunni monarchies in the Gulf. Meanwhile, the failure of the broader confederation means that other Gulf states must continue to rely on the US security umbrella. None of this fits nicely with US aspirations to extricate itself from the region, or with hopes for a calmer oil market.
Ayham Kamel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Middle East and North Africa practice.
By Carsten Nickel
Since the onset of Europe's crisis, Angela Merkel's step-by-step approach to managing reform of the eurozone has attracted much criticism, and her government's resistance to a systemic solution to the crisis has clearly failed to calm markets. For now, no one with real political influence in Berlin is willing to consider any strategic "Plan B" that includes a Greek departure from the eurozone. But when it comes to Greece, Merkel's insistence on "looking no further ahead than the headlights allow us to see" might actually prove to be a blessing.
The risk is rising, but it's still premature to expect an imminent "Grexit" from the eurozone. Call it incrementalism or muddling through, but we might be set for many months of more of the same. It's simply too early to determine yet where Greece, Germany, and the eurozone are headed, in part because Merkel is more flexible and pragmatic than her government's seemingly relentless insistence on front-loaded austerity suggests.
If and when it becomes inevitable, the Germans will offer concessions to keep Greece in the club. As a measure of Merkel's flexibility, consider how many agenda items now under discussion appeared to have been ruled out months ago: Talk of a European growth agenda will launch at the Brussels summit in late May, and the Bundesbank has now hinted that it could accept a German inflation rate slightly higher than the eurozone average as part of a macroeconomic adjustment process. Once Greek elections are behind us, Germany might well offer concessions on the timing of the Greek bail-out program.
Berlin calculates that a combination of eleventh-hour German flexibility and rising Greek fear of the potentially catastrophic consequences of Euro exit will persuade Greek voters to back a government that will accept the central German demand: That European financial help will continue to depend on Greece's willingness to push forward with structural (and painful) reforms.
Think of it as a political trade-off in German politics: To win domestic support for further assistance to southern Europe, Merkel needs assurance from other governments that structural reforms will move forward, assuring German voters that future crises are much less likely. With that reassurance, there is room for Merkel to compromise, even on important details.
Making things easier, Merkel's support within Germany remains strong. Foreign press and the opposition have cast recent local election losses for Merkel's Christian Democrats as a protest against her management of the eurozone crisis. But a hugely popular regional prime minister and the rise of the Pirate Party had much more to do with these results than anything to do with the euro, and members of Merkel's party are still prepared to accept compromise as the outcome of European negotiations. She remains the most popular politician in Germany, and despite public outrage over Mediterranean profligacy, there is still no German majority calling for the Greeks to leave.
None of this can keep Greece in the eurozone forever. Greece's future will be decided by Greeks. But Germans don't believe that an imminent Greek exit is inevitable -- and neither should we.
Carsten Nickel is an analyst in Eurasia Group's Europe practice.
By Alexander Kliment
Russian President Vladimir Putin's last minute decision to skip a G8 summit with President Barack Obama is a snub to Washington, but the Russian president's no-show may in fact increase the chances for a constructive relationship between the two countries.
Last week, just days after his inauguration, Putin let it be known that he would not attend the upcoming G8 summit at Camp David, where he and Obama were set for a one on one meeting.
The White House, in turn, said Obama wouldn't attend the 2012 Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC) summit this fall in Vladivostok, Russia -- though it was always hard to imagine Obama skipping the Democratic National Convention.
According to the Kremlin's official explanation, Putin can't leave Russia right now because approving the cabinet nominations submitted to him by Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is too sensitive a task for Putin to oversee by phone from Maryland. So Medvedev will send the list to Putin and head to the summit himself.
Putin's decision is a breach of G8 protocol, which expects that sitting heads of state will attend the group's summits. French President Francois Hollande, for example, will attend, just days after his 15 May inauguration. And by sending his number two to an organization in which Russia is already something of a second fiddle, Putin is raising questions about the wisdom of keeping Russia in the group at all.
Accordingly, many analysts have cast the move as a brazen rebuke to the U.S., which Putin alleges is behind the unprecedented street protests that have become a feature of Moscow life since last December.
It's true that the Kremlin's official explanation isn't wholly credible. Most cabinet decisions have likely been agreed upon already, Putin's re-election was never in doubt, and the G8 summit's date has been known for some time. That said, he reassumes the presidency amid rising popular opposition, which has sowed fresh doubts about his legitimacy. Keen to prevent infighting or, worse, insubordination among Russia's powerful elites, Putin could well be preoccupied with some last minute horse-trading at home.
The timing may, in fact, be no better in Washington than it is in Moscow.
Obama is entering a challenging re-election campaign in which he has already drawn fire from his Republican opponent Mitt Romney about the pursuit of a reset with Russia and his broader foreign policy track record. U.S.-Russia ties have deteriorated recently -- on account of disagreements over Syria, continuing friction over missile defense, and Putin's allegations of U.S. complicity in the protest movement -- meaning the U.S. president would be under pressure to take a hard line with Putin.
But that could risk an unpredictable flare-up with the notoriously sharp-tongued and pugnacious Putin. At the very least, it might complicate White House attempts to secure congressional support for granting Russia normal trade relations status so that U.S. companies can benefit from Russia's WTO accession.
In short, with both men facing heightened domestic concerns and pressures, Obama's meeting with Medvedev, who has warmer relations with Obama and who is seen chiefly as a messenger for Putin, carries much less political significance, but also much lower political risk. The practical result is that it leaves open the chance of greater flexibility between Washington and Moscow that could help maintain a pragmatic relationship in the medium term.
Alexander Kliment is an analyst with Eurasia Group's Eurasia practice.
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images
By Antonio Barroso and Mujtaba Rahman
Francois Hollande's May 6 victory in one of France's tightest presidential elections ever will have few implications for the EU's management of the eurozone crisis. Hollande is taking shape as a pragmatist who will follow reason on the European front, as signaled by the candidates he's likely to put in important positions in France's new government.
The president-elect claims he has already selected the new prime minister, who will be revealed on May 15 after Hollande takes office. Socialist Party (PS) leader Martine Aubry and long-time socialist politician Jean-Marc Ayrault are the most likely candidates, although a surprise choice (for example Hollande's campaign director Pierre Moscovici) is not completely out of the running. Aubry's selection -- who the majority of the French left support, according to opinion polls -- would hint at a more leftist course for Hollande's government. Ayrault's nomination, however, would imply policy pragmatism. The former minority leader in the National Assembly would likely be better able to build consensus among the many leftist factions in parliament, especially if the government must adjust policies to match the challenging economic situation.
Michel Sapin, a socialist, is frequently mentioned as the candidate most likely to take the crucial post of finance minister. Sapin, who has already served as finance minister, is a close ally of the president-elect and helped draft Hollande's economic program. Another possible choice is Jerome Cahuzac, a socialist former president of parliament's finance committee who actively supports austerity and deficit reduction. Both men would make a good finance minister, given their experience and their commitment to a balanced budget.
But Hollande's victory will not fundamentally change how the EU is managing the ongoing eurozone crisis, though there will likely be some changes around the margins. Hollande's desire to introduce some focus on growth in the fiscal compact is easy for German Chancellor Angela Merkel to accept and there are already tentative signs that Berlin will support such efforts. Hollande's objective of securing a capital increase for the European Investment Bank (EIB) also is unlikely to prove controversial. But the biggest obstacle to growth -- moving away from regressive agricultural payments toward greater use of structural adjustment funds in the EU budget -- is actually more difficult for France to overcome than it is for Germany. Also, Hollande's pledge to seek a change in the European Central Bank's mandate is a non-starter. Such a change requires all 27 member states to agree, but it will face stiff opposition in Germany, where it is perceived as a French strategy to inflate away debt.
Antonio Barroso and Mujtaba Rahman are analysts in Eurasia Group's Europe practice.
The Call, from Ian Bremmer, uses cutting-edge political science to predict the political future -- and how it will shape the global economy.