“You may think you know what you’re dealing with, but, believe me, you don’t” is one of our favorite lines from our favorite movie, Chinatown. It’s a great quote for the current moment of our world and certainly for when we were trying to affix something to the wall in the downstairs of our Mom’s house last weekend. We heard a ruckus upstairs and wondered if a bunch of people suddenly had entered the home even though my Mom was not expecting company. When we walked up the stairs to investigate we looked above us from the entryway of the house to the source of the banging and clamoring and general much ado about something. It’s coming from the attic, we thought, and went out to the back deck to investigate.
And there we saw the guy you see in the photo below. A raccoon. Just before taking the photo another raccoon had scampered into a hole where two sections of the roof come together. We had found the racoons entryway into the attic, not as elegant as the one we had looked up from moments earlier but functional nonetheless. The raccoon guarding the entryway gave us a cold blooded look. But understanding we have flexible hands, more brains and what we like to think is the courage of a thousand suns, we took a step closer. We’d forgotten raccoons hands are quite agile, they are wily creatures and this particular specimen exhibited the courage of ten thousand red Super Novas–she made very clear she would tear us apart without a second thought if we came any nearer. So we called in the professionals. It turns out it is raccoon baby season as the professional raccoon wrangler explained to us and that this raccoon was undoubtedly the Mom protecting her kids in the attic, the likely location of their birth.
We obviously did not know what we were dealing with when we confronted the raccoon but we know what Ukraine is dealing with in Russia, how Pakistan is dealing with a financial implosion, and how people are mis-dealing with Pelosi’s possible trip to Taiwan. It’s this week’s International Need to Know: forget about it, Jake, it’s Raccoon-town.
Without further ado, here’s what you need to know.
The Strange Calls for Compromise
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to be badly misunderstood by people who should know better. For those paying attention, nearly every day brings a new atrocity committed by Russian forces. The executions and massacres in Bucha just outside of Kyiv have been well covered but are only one example of the crimes against humanity that Russia is committing in this unjustified and unjust war to wipe off the map an independent democracy. A few weeks ago, a new report was filed to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. It concluded that “international human rights law (IHRL) has been extensively violated in the conflict in Ukraine. Some of the most serious violations include targeted killing of civilians, including journalists, human rights defenders, or local mayors; unlawful detentions, abductions and enforced disappearances of such persons; large-scale deportations of Ukrainian civilians to Russia; various forms of mistreatment, including torture, inflicted on detained civilians and prisoners of war.” It also confirmed that hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians—civilians, not military–have been forcibly removed to “filtration’ camps in Russia. In words and deeds, Russia has made clear it aims to erase Ukraine and Ukrainians from the map. And yet so many continue to call for Ukraine to negotiate with Russia. Meanwhile, Russia seems to be mired in the Donbas. What possible reason would Ukrainians have to believe if they ceded that territory in return for Russia ceasing military operations, that a few years hence, after re-building its forces, Russia would not again invade Ukraine to finish its bloody, criminal task? And yet the NY Times Editorial Board, Noam Chomsky, German and French leaders and others, none of whom would make such concessions of their own land, all call on Ukraine to do so in the face of crimes against humanity. Ignore them. This is a war of survival not one over limited territory.
From the side of the pit of economic catastrophe where we gaze down at the recently fallen Sri Lanka, we peer across the way and see Pakistan stumbling near the edge. The pandemic, the war in Ukraine, our inflationary moment and unwise economic policies are placing a number of countries in economic peril (and thus political turmoil). Pakistan might be next. Atif Mian, a Pakistani-American economist at Princeton, alerted us to this danger in a recent informative Twitter thread. He notes that the Rupee has lost 20 percent of its value and debt has risen like a financial vampire, not to mention Pakistan is depleting its foreign reserves at a rapid rate. The latter is concerning because Pakistan is very dependent on imports, including for energy and medicine. How will they pay for them? Pakistan is much larger than Sri Lanka and more politically risky what with its nuclear weapons and all. If it has a financial/economic crisis it is not only a humanitarian disaster but potentially a geostrategic one. In terms of purchasing power parity GDP, Pakistan is the 24th largest economy in the world. There are many debtor countries that are now on the verge of crisis. For most of them it’s due to bad policies that drove their economies out to sea during the current global economic storm. It’s time to start proactively working to defuse the debt bombs for both humanitarian and strategic reasons. The debt will not be repaid so now’s the time for rich countries to develop plans to unwind it.
China Corner: Misdirected Anger
If we were a member of Congress, and we know that every citizen across this great, ornery and contradictory land leaps onto their feet in praise that we are not, we would introduce a bill mandating therapy for all China analysts. They clearly have transferal of anger problems. While the wisdom and strategy of Speaker Nancy Pelosi traveling to Taiwan can certainly be questioned (we are cautious in our approach to Taiwan), we find it odd how angry so many are at her. For example, Mike Chinoy writing in Foreign Policy angrily refers back to the time Pelosi and a couple of other U.S. Representatives* unfurled a small banner in Tiananmen Square in remembrance of the massacre there. Chinoy, who was at the time a CNN reporter stationed in Beijing, complains “After her gesture, Pelosi and the two other members of Congress drove off while furious Chinese police, unable to target a visiting foreign dignitary, roughly detained me and other reporters on the scene for several hours. It was my first experience with Pelosi’s penchant for high-profile gestures designed to poke China’s communist rulers in the eye—regardless of the consequences.”
What’s strange about Chinoy’s article is rather than being angry at the Chinese government for “roughly detaining” him…and, um, massacring thousands of innocent Chinese who had spoken up for liberty, instead directs his anger at the Members of Congress protesting the massacre. Seems like one might save their anger for the oppressive regime even if you disagree with the tactics of these American politicians. Others seem to think somehow Pelosi’s trip will lead to China invading Taiwan. Really? China will commence a full scale invasion of Taiwan with all the complications and risks that entails because the Speaker of the House travels there? It’s a preposterous notion. From all accounts China is putting the screws on the Biden administration about this possible trip but China’s decision to invade Taiwan will be based on a thousand other factors having nothing to do with Pelosi. Now certainly China will likely take some sort of action in retaliation for a duly elected American politician traveling to a thriving democracy in Asia. China’s harsh threats aim to prevent this outcome and out of prudent caution to maintain the status quo the U.S. often goes out of its way to not create an antagonistic atmosphere around the question of Taiwan. But, these things go both ways. If China retaliates or has an overly harsh reaction to a Pelosi trip it will further damage China’s badly injured economy. Capital outflows, already large, will run Usain Bolt style out of the country if China overplays its hand. Supply chains will diversify even more out of China. The U.S. is constrained in its actions but so too is China.
*One of the other “members of congress” Chinoy refers to was my then boss, Congressman John Miller, so yes, we have a personal stake in this story. In addition, when we worked for John we had the honor of participating in meetings with Nancy Pelosi a number of times. Whatever policy differences we had on certain issues with her, we always found Pelosi smart and strategic. So perhaps we are biased in our assessment of her possible trip to Taiwan. We understand why analysts counsel prudence to Pelosi although numerous members of the U.S. House of Representatives have traveled to Taiwan over the years. We were part of a congressional delegation ourselves way back in the late 1980s. But we are baffled by people who are worried Pelosi’s trip will suddenly cause China to invade Taiwan and who are so angry at Pelosi rather than at a government trying to prevent an elected leader in one democracy traveling to another.