Convergence and Divergence in the long-run development of China and the West

The brief era of global dominance by a small group of countries in the West is coming to an end. The global financial crisis signals a turning point in world history, as significant as the end of the patent on Boulton and Watt’s steam engine in 1800. China’s long tradition of positive-sum thinking strives for balanced and symbiotic interaction of the forces of ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ in order to achieve ‘great harmony for all under heaven’. In the complex era ahead, this philosophy can contribute to a cooperative relationship with the West in the face of the challenges that confront the human species. The end of the short era of Western economic, political and military dominance will be complicated and prolonged. It is challenging for ordinary people and political leaders in the West to accept that this era is coming to an end and adjust their relationship with the non-Western world peaceably.

If the relationship between China and the West is positive-sum, it will not only contribute to harmonious global governance in the decades to come, but also in the centuries and millennia that lie ahead. It would make possible the generalisation to a global level the harmonious development that China achieved for its own people for over 2000 years prior to the Industrial Revolution in Britain. This is a choice-of-no-choice, because the alternative is disastrous for the human race.

Peter Nolan, has been described by the FT as ‘knowing more about Chinese companies and their international competition than anyone else on earth, including in China’. He holds the Chong Hua Chair in Chinese Development at the University of Cambridge, and is the Director of the Chinese Executive Leadership Programme (CELP). He has testified at the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission of the US Congress and lectured to the Board of the US-China Business Council, and is also member of the UK Government’s Asia Task Force and the China Council of the World Economic Forum.  He has written over a dozen books about the country, including Is China Buying the World? published in 2012.

Professor Peter Nolan’s talk covered many complex issues that could not be explored fully in the time available. The attached papers will help to expand and develop many of these points. CDF 2017 CG&C April 2017

Cafe date – 22 May 2017 18.45

The Robotics Revolution: How Artificial Intelligence & Robots will change our lives

Developments in Artificial Intelligence and the use of Autonomous Systems ( robots) have reached a stage where they will have an impact on every aspect of our lives, with the potential to change not only the nature of work, but also the way services are provided whether medical diagnosis and treatment, driverless transport or education.  The impact on employment could be huge and the ethical and moral issues that this revolution will expose are of great significance.

Alan Winfield is Professor of Robot Ethics at the University of West England and conducts research in cognitive robotics within the Bristol Robotics Lab. He undertakes public engagement work centred on robotics and within that work has a particular focus on robot ethics.  He has argued that transparency is a foundational requirement for building public trust in Autonomous Systems and that it should always be possible to find out why a robot made a particular decision.  He will look at the likely impact of robotics both at work and in wider society and will also discuss the moral and ethical issues that will confront us as this revolution unfolds.  He has written several books and publications including Robotics: a Very Short Introduction and Swarm Robotics

Cafe Date – 8th May 2017 18.45

Cuba at the crossroads: what does the future hold?

Cuba has survived more than 40 years of US sanctions and the collapse of the Soviet Union. With the succession of  Fidel Castro’s brother Raul in 2008, and Obama’s decision to ‘normalise’ diplomatic relations by loosening the longstanding US trade embargo and easing some restrictions on travel, business, security, and immigration, there has recently been a level of cooperation with the US, and economic policies have become more open. But things are changing fast. Donald Trump has threatened to end the détente unless Cuba conforms to US political demands, and although Cuba has made it clear that the US should not expect concessions affecting the country’s sovereignty, its position is likely to become increasingly difficult and uncertain. Among other factors, supportive left wing governments in Latin America are moving towards the right, and Raul Castro has said that he intends to stand down in 2018.

Stephen Wilkinson will discuss this situation with us. He is Chairman of the UK based International Institute for the Study of Cuba, and editor of the International Journal of Cuban Studies. Among his other commitments, he lectures at King’s College London, and is a regular contributor to Jane’s Sentinel Reports on Cuba. He has been travelling to Cuba for over 30 years, has written extensively on Cuban culture, its domestic affairs and its international relations, and frequently leads study groups to the island.


Climate Change: how low carbon policies can benefit health

Warming of the climate system, due largely to the burning of fossil fuels and land use change, is now considered by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to be ‘unequivocal’.

Over recent decades many of the observed changes have become unprecedented in magnitude, in some cases for millennia.  A major concern is the adverse effects on crop yield as a result of climate change, with evidence that severe childhood stunting in Africa and South Asia will increase markedly under these conditions. Many poor populations are exposed to an increased risk of extreme climate events, for example because they live in areas more prone to flooding than more affluent populations or because pre-existing illness such as HIV makes them more vulnerable to undernutrition.   Current levels of consumption in high income countries and increasingly in emerging economies, with relatively little political will to address these issues, are leading to a potential crisis which will affect the whole planet.

Sir Andy Haines is Professor of Public Health and Primary Care at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. He has been a member of many national and international committees, including the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the WHO Advisory Committee on Health Research and the Sustainable Development Solutions Network and is currently a member of the Scientific Advisory Panel of the UNEP-hosted Climate and Clean Air Coalition. His research interests currently focus on the health co-benefits of ‘low carbon’ policies including sustainable healthy cities and food systems.

He will talk about how policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can yield significant improvements in human health, both in this country and internationally, as well as the potential benefits of changes in dietary, land management and urban development policies.  

Read the British Medical Journal article “How the low carbon economy can improve health”– on how health professionals are uniquely placed to guide the climate change conversation towards better policies that are good for the planet and for people.

Islam and the West: The reality and myth of a troubled relationship

The crisis in the relationship between western secularism and Islam has been fuelled by Islamic fundamentalism and the rise of islamophobic  populist right movements in Europe and America. Yet these movements are based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of Islamic thought.

Christopher de Bellaigue is a writer and journalist who has lived in Iran and travelled extensively in the Islamic world. The author of books about Turkey and Iran, he has written for the Guardian and the New York Review of Books about western responses to Islamic fundamentalism and he is currently finishing a book on the Islamic Enlightenment which will be published in the spring of 2017.  He will look at the history of relations  between Islam and the west, the causes of the current crisis and how the relationship may develop in the future.

Our World’s disappearing forests – slashed for the profit of a few, whilst devastating the planet and billions of lives

Many of the world’s worst environmental and human rights abuses are driven by the exploitation of natural resources and corruption in the global political and economic system. Global Witness is campaigning to end this by carrying out hard-hitting investigations, exposing these abuses, and campaigning for change.  Global Witness is independent, not-for-profit, and works with partners around the world in its fight for justice.  See latest comments on Trump appointment.

Reiner is the Senior Forest Researcher and Campaigner at Global Witness, and is internationally regarded as one of the most experienced field managers of independent forest monitoring (IFM) projects. He has over 25 years experience in West, East and Central Africa, South East Asia, Melanesia and Central and South America. The focus of his work over the last decade is on securing rights and benefits of the rural poor in land use and building good governance in the forest sector.

As In-country Project Manager of the Independent Forest Monitoring (IFM) project in Cameroon, he guided the project beyond forest crime reporting and towards support for establishing efficient law enforcement procedures and has used this experience to set up schemes in Honduras, Nicaragua.and gained international recognition for a pioneering project in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and with networks in Indonesia and Liberia.

Reiner has carried out investigations into the impact of industrial-scale logging upon forest ecosystems, local economies and the livelihoods of communities and indigenous people affected by logging operations in their ancestral forests, in Cameroon, the DRC, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea and Sarawak (Malaysia).

Currently his work is focusing on the different forms of forest destruction in the DRC and state-sanctioned, illegal land grabbing for logging and forest conversion for agribusiness purposes in Papua New Guinea.

Reiner will show how the, often risky, work at Global Witness has exposed the scale of de-forestation and the multinational interests behind it and how his innovative project work with local communities is beginning to demonstrate long lasting solutions.

Link to Global Witness Report on the Central African Republic

Terrorism and Trafficking – an Alliance of Fear and Despair

A powerful and sophisticated underground business delivers thousands of refugees a day all along the Mediterranean coasts of Europe. Overall, the trafficking industry today is bigger than the illegal drug trade and worth hundreds of billions of dollars annually. The new breed of criminals that controls it has risen out of the political chaos of post-9/11 Western foreign policy and the fiasco of the Arab Spring and, more recently, the destabilization of Syria and Iraq coupled with the rise of ISIS.  New opportunities for crime have opened up in the Middle East, from selling Western hostages to jihadist groups, to trafficking millions of refugees. Loretta Napoleoni is a journalist, author and economist who has written and lectured widely on the financing of terrorism.  As chairman of the counter terrorism financing group for the Club de Madrid, she brought heads of state from around the world together to create a new strategy for combatting the financing of terror networks, and her latest book Merchants of Men: How Jihadists and ISIS Turned Kidnapping and Refugee Trafficking into a Multi-Billion Dollar Business was published in the UK in January 2017 by Atlantic Books.

The Russian intervention in Syria

The tragic civil war in Syria between the Alawite-led government of President Bashir Assad, and the numerous disunited rebel brigades (including ISIS) that battle for control of the country, has been marked by extreme violence on all sides. The conflict has already claimed over 250,000 lives, more than 4.5 million people have fled the country, a further 6.5 million are internally displaced, and the nation’s infrastructure is in ruins. Regional and international powers including the US have attempted to intervene, all with their own geopolitical agendas. However only the Russian intervention on Assad’s behalf, both military and diplomatic, has had any significant impact, and despite furious criticism by the West, Putin has persuaded the US to make its top priority the defeat of ISIS rather than the fall of Assad. The distinguished foreign correspondent Jonathan Steele will discuss the situation with us. Jonathan has spent many years in the Middle East and Russia, and was the Guardian’s Moscow bureau chief during the collapse of communism. He has won numerous awards including the Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, and has twice been named International Reporter of the Year in the British Press Awards. He is the author of widely acclaimed books on international relations, including four on Russia, and is currently Chief Reporter of the website Middle East Eye.

23rd January 2017

Poland: The revolution of the populist right and the threat to democracy in Eastern Europe

Having come to power in 2015, Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party stands accused of attempting to reverse the country’s democratic transition by seizing control of Poland’s independent democratic institutions. Commonly labelled conservative or nationalist, Law and Justice blends the religious and patriotic rituals of Poland’s long history of resistance to foreign oppression with hostility to free-market capitalism and a heavy dose of conspiracy regarding the machinations of Poland’s enemies. Yet surprisingly this right wing populist movement has come to power at a time when Poland is more prosperous than it has ever been.

Christian Davies is a journalist and writer who has lived and worked in Poland. He will look at the background to the success of the Law and Justice party in Poland and the impact of the new right wing populism on Poland and Eastern Europe.  Link to Guardian audio on “The Conspiracy Theorists who have taken over Poland”

Global Powerhouse: The International Financial Markets and the City of London

The City, as London’s financial centre is known, is the world’s biggest international banking and foreign exchange market, shaping the development of global capital. It is also a crucial part of the mechanism of power in the world economy.All big international companies – not just the banks – utilise this system, and the operations of the City of London are critical both for British capitalism and for world finance. Tony Norfield is a Marxist economist who completed his PhD at SOAS after 20 years of experience in City of London financial dealing rooms, and ten years as an executive director and global head of Foreign Exchange strategy in a major European bank. He will examine the nature of our modern financial system, the role of the US dollar in global trading, the network of British-linked tax havens, the flows of finance around the world and the system of power built upon financial securities. His book The City: London and the Global Power of Financewas published by Verso in April 2016.