Rise of the Redback: Internationalizing the Chinese Renminbi

Here's a piece I co-wrote with Heiwai Tang in the Diplomat about how the Belt and Road Initiative could serve as a vehicle for the internationalization of the Renminbi, which has been stalling in recent years. 

The Belt and Road Summit, which brings together government officials, business executives, and industry experts to discuss China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, took place this week in Hong Kong. The most cited figures for the initiative’s total investments range around the $1 trillion mark. In comparison, even the Marshall Plan’s $13 billion — about $130 billion in current dollars — appears paltry.

The Belt and Road Initiative’s importance to Beijing’s foreign policy, and its expected impact on world investment and trade patterns, have been described ad nauseam by western pundits over the past five years. Much of the analysis is overblown. Beijing’s plans for the initiative have been vague and inconsistent. Furthermore, China’s enterprises and policy banks often bite off more than they can chew in politically risky countries. Many Chinese-financed and constructed projects get discussed for years but never materialize. Finally, China already represents the most important source of imports for about three quarters of the Belt and Road countries, and is the most important trading partner for just under half of them. Therefore, the initiative is unlikely to drastically alter global trade patterns.

While the initiative might not radically tilt global patterns of trade and investment in China’s favor, it could help achieve one of Beijing’s key long-term goals, the internationalization of the Chinese RMB. This process, which would see the RMB become a more freely traded currency on world markets and a more widely acceptable form of payment to settle trade deals, is at the heart of Beijing’s economic and political ambitions.

Sanctions on North Korea pose little risk to Kim Jong Un’s regime

Here's a piece I co-authored with Heiwai Tang in the Financial Times on what the new set of economic sanctions on North Korea mean for China. 

China this month moved to implement the sanctions on North Korea passed unanimously by the UN Security Council following Pyongyang’s repeated missile tests. Beijing said it will cut off imports of North Korean coal, iron ore and seafood in three weeks. The sanctions aim to cut North Korea’s $3bn in annual exports by a third. If universally implemented, they could have massive repercussions for the country’s economy.

Shortly after voting in favour of the new hard-hitting measures, Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, said: “Given China’s traditional economic ties with North Korea, China more than anyone will pay a price for implementing the resolution.”

He added: “In order to maintain the international nuclear non-proliferation system and regional peace and stability, China will, as always, enforce the full content of relevant resolutions in a comprehensive and strict manner.”

The statement rings hollow, given how little North Korea matters economically to Beijing.

Trump is Pulling America back from the Global Fight Against Corruption

Here's a piece I wrote in the Washington Post about how Donald Trump is hurting the global war against corruption. 

The United States has a president whose contempt for the well-established norms of our political system never ceases to shock the world. President Trump has refused to release his tax returns, ignoring a long-standing benchmark of financial transparency for political candidates. He has also declined to address a whole series of looming conflicts of interest resulting from his complex business empire. As a result, he now finds himself facing multiple lawsuits — including from members of Congress and the governments of Maryland and the District — on the grounds that he may have violated the foreign emoluments clause of the Constitution, which forbids U.S. officials from receiving favors from their overseas counterparts.

Yet even as Trump and his domestic political opponents spar over these issues, a key aspect of the new president’s stance has gone largely unnoticed. Both by action and example, the Trump administration is now directly undermining America’s past achievements as a leader in the fight against global corruption.

An Old King for the Congo

Here's a piece I co-wrote with Marcel Dirsus in Foreign Affairs about the current political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

On December 20, the Democratic Republic of Congo, which had been a democracy for the past decade (flawed though it was), lost that distinction. The backsliding of democracy in the country was preventable; it unfolded slowly and under the watch of the international community. DRC President Joseph Kabila, faced with the end of his constitutional mandate, had two options: call elections or resort to repression to stay in power. He chose the latter.

The Downfall of Democracy in Bangladesh

Here's a piece I wrote in The Diplomat about how democracy is receding in Bangladesh. 

Last month, Ripon Chakraborty, a Hindu mathematics teacher in the district of Madaripur, Bangladesh, heard a knock on his door. As he opened it, three men forced their way in and hacked him with knives repeatedly. He survived—barely.

Since 2013, Bangladesh has witnessed a spate of grisly Islamist attacks targeting LGBT activists, secular intellectuals, atheists, and religious minorities, with dozens killed. The grim tally has spiked in recent months, with five murders in April, four in May and three in June—not counting those like Chakraborty, who miraculously survived. Grisly as these attacks have been, and despite the fact that the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for many of them, no formal investigation of the killings has taken place. Instead, over ten thousand arrests were recently carried out as part of a new mass “anti-militant drive.” This tepid response to the crisis highlights the worst kind of cynical politics: the attacks have been used by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in the latest episode of her longstanding feud with opposition leader Khaleda Zia.

Votes and Hope in Côte d’Ivoire

Here's a piece Brian Klaas and I co-wrote in Foreign Affairs about Côte d'Ivoire's upcoming elections.

On March 29, 2011, at least 800 villagers were massacred in Duékoué, a town in western Côte d’Ivoire. Militias loyal to Alassane Ouattara, a candidate in the recently held and hotly disputed presidential election, went house to house, AK-47s in hand, rounding up the men and systematically executing them. Witnesses recount the soldiers’ chants of “You voted Gbagbo! We are going to kill you all!” as they fired their rounds. 

In other towns, militias loyal to (and allegedly under the control of) the sitting president, Laurent Gbagbo, used similar tactics, leaving behind a path of “murder, rape, other inhumane acts, and persecution.” Before the fighting ended, 3,000 people had died and roughly a million others were displaced.

That conflict was sparked by Côte d’Ivoire’s last election. On Sunday, the country votes to elect a new president. Will this time be different? 

Nigeria’s Buhari Faces Toughest of Tests in the Niger Delta

Here's a piece I co-authored with Dafe Oputu in African Arguments about the volatile situation in the Niger Delta, and how it represents a threat for Nigeria's new president. 

Nigeria appears to finally be making some inroads against Boko Haram, the Islamist militant group that has plagued it for years.  But as one threat looks like it might be starting to recede, another may re-emerge: the conflict in the Niger Delta. That conflict is often forgotten in the shadow of Boko Haram’s headline-grabbing suicide bombings and kidnappings, but it now stands as a potent threat to Nigerian domestic security.

In 2009, before Boko Haram was a household name, Nigeria finally forged a peace deal that stemmed fighting in the southern Niger Delta, bringing hope that it would spell the end of a conflict that had displaced thousands and cost the Nigerian government an estimated $100 billion in oil revenue through bunkering. But that peace deal is set to expire this year, and the conflict could pick up where it left off “” taking the optimism brought about by the 2015 election with it.

Insecurity in the Niger Delta adds to a long list of concerns for Nigeria’s new President Muhammadu Buhari.  He faces a delicate balancing act, trying to hold together a fraying country with strong regional identities.  But unlike his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, Buhari seems ill-equipped to use the two main tools successfully wielded by the Jonathan administration to stave off conflict: patronage politics and paying off militants.

Nigeria’s Political Cynicism Is Making its Problems Worse

Here's a piece I co-authored with Brian Klaas in the Globe and Mail, about Goodluck Jonathan's lacklustre fight against Boko Haram, which might cost him the presidency. 

Nigerians go to the polls Saturday to decide whether President Goodluck Jonathan deserves re-election. The vote may be disrupted by violence, as Boko Haram has warned of attacks.

In 2014, the radical Islamist militia killed almost 10,000 people in Nigeria, mirroring the Islamic State’s toll in Syria and Iraq. In January, they added to that macabre tally by burning the town of Baga to the ground, with reported casualties ranging from several hundred to upward of 2,000.

Shockingly, it appears that Boko Haram’s ability to execute grisly massacres is something that incumbent Mr. Jonathan has been exploiting for political gain. It is a strategy that may now backfire and cost him re-election.

As World Moves to Weed out Graft, Canada Remains a Laggard

Here is an opinion editorial that Brett House and I published in the Globe and Mail on December 9th, the 10th anniversary of the United Nations' International Anti-Corruption Day. 

While Canada has recently made progress in the sphere of foreign bribery regulation, its stance on the matter remains lax. It lags far behind other countries with regards to enforcement, and important flaws remain in its legislation.

Measures to remedy this situation are unlikely to be adopted. Bill C-474, which would force companies in the extractive sector to publish their payments made abroad, has been stuck in parliament since early-2013.