China plus ASEAN plus FTA equals East Asian Unification? Not Quite Part II

As discussed in Part I of this series, the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) will be a win-win for the signatories. The agreement will produce greater economies of scales, as it expands trade between members, which will result in an aggregate increase in competitive export products from China and ASEAN. However, it will not foreshadow European-style regional integration, at least not in the near future. The centrifugal force generated by the agreement will not only draw ASEAN closer to China, the regions manufacturing hub, but it will push those states outside the bloc to liberalize their own trade in order to stay competitive. While the United States is generally supportive of ASEAN, it is not in the strategic interest of the U.S. for it to be outside of an Asian economic bloc, especially one that will aid in cementing a strong Chinese leadership position in Southeast Asia. Implementation of this agreement has increased concerns among some analysts that the economic and perhaps, the political center of gravity of the region are shifting away from the United States and toward China.

Over the last 10 years, Southeast Asia has received approximately US$90 billion in U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI); it is the third largest market for U.S. exports; and U.S.-ASEAN trade is over US$140 billion (Pitsuwan 2008). Southeast Asia is flush with agricultural and natural resources, and is home to more than half of the world’s annual merchant shipping traffic. Intraregional trade between ASEAN nations still hovers at 25% and in East Asia, it now verges on 55% (Pitsuwan 2008). Over 80% of Japanese and Chinese oil imports travel through these sea-lanes. The geopolitical reality is that due to proximity and economic clout, China’s access to this region will increase. This could not only be detrimental to America’s economic interests, but also represent a strategic threat.

It is in America and ASEANs best interest for the U.S. to not only promote further ASEAN integration, but also establish stronger ties with the region. This will enable ASEAN to serve as a fulcrum between China (and India). America must also realize that China’s increasing penetration into Southeast Asia is not a zero-sum game; the U.S. must be prepared to have a constructive working relationship with China in the region. If the America hopes to balance China’s growing influence it will need a rapprochement with ASEAN that displays a cohesive policy for the organization, but at the same time exploit the diversity of opinion within ASEAN. This will allow the U.S. to advance its policy goals in the region.

China

Over the last decade, China’s resurgent role in Southeast Asia has moved from a situation that generated fear in the region, to one where China is seen as a benign regional leader that plays a constructive role in creating opportunity. China has worked hard to market this image while participating in regional institutions. Its long-term goals are to create greater interdependencies between itself and Southeast Asia through economic incentives, which will give ASEAN a strong stake in China’s success. In this way, ASEAN can serve as insurance against possible U.S., Japanese, Indian containment in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. At the same time, Beijing hopes it can simultaneously reduce the influence of the United States in the South China Sea.

China is increasing its political reach in the region through a series of strong bilateral ties with ASEAN member-states. These links include increased cooperation in regional security (including providing military training), scholarships, and helping to facilitate conflict resolution in the region. China has also promised over US$10 billion in infrastructure, energy, and cultural programs between the countries. China has especially provided special assistance to the lesser developed states of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

During the 1997 Asian financial Crisis, America did not provide significant leadership, which left room for China advance itself as a regional leader, often at the expense of Japan. China promised not to devalue its currency, the Renminbi, which helped return stability to the markets, a move much praised in the region. Tokyo worked to provide a competitive framework for an Asian Monetary fund, in an effort to engender long-term stability. Washington repeatedly blocked this endeavor, out of fear it would be froze-out by a potential Asian bloc. Japan and China are still pushing their competing ideas of a greater-East Asia economic sphere, but the main difference between the two nations is that Japan wishes to include Australia, New Zealand, and India in an attempt to minimize the influence of China. Obviously, China is not interested in having none ASEAN and East Asian nations involved.

The idea for an Asian Monetary Fund did not die. In February 2008, the ASEAN+3 forum in Thailand agreed to expand bilateral currency swaps and also enlarge the Chiang Mai Initiative reserve fund in order to enhance regional economic stability in the wake of the current global financial crisis. This goal has prompted ASEAN+3, in coordination with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to develop an Asian Currency Unit (ACU) as part of a comprehensive Asian Monetary Fund. China has promoted the idea, which has gained wide regional support. China championing this effort appears surprising considering past objections; however, Beijing is supportive of the ACU because it is now able to take a greater leadership role in its management than Japan, whereas it was not in a position to do so 10 years earlier. Although meant to be non-tradable, the ACU would be an indicator of the stability of participating currencies in the region, an Asian version of the European Currency Unit, which was the precursor to the Euro. Due to the wide variance in levels of economic development, the sophistication of financial transfer systems, and the levels of nationalism in the Pacific Rim, a single currency for the region is still unlikely.

What ASEAN Needs

Western analyst had long criticized and even dismissed ASEAN; the common narrative characterized the organization as soft on human rights and democracy, and therefore incapable of taking decisive and constructive action concerning regional issues that were important to the West. Some pasts areas of conflict involved human rights in Myanmar and East Timor, as well as issues of democracy in key members states like Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Part of the problem is that Western observers have not tended to judge ASEAN on its own merit, but instead, based on how it compares to the contemporary European Union (EU). As a result, ASEAN has never been fully respected by the United States.

For their part, not all ASEAN members have been eager to see a stronger American presence in the region. In the 1990’s, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for a greater East Asian forum, which would exclude the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Many in the region termed this the “caucus without Caucasians”, something Washington successfully nixed, but to only see it rebooted a decade later as ASEAN+3.

At the time, the exclusion of Western nations reflected the regional vogue of “Asian Values”, an ideology trumpeted by Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, along with some political thinkers in Japan. Those who adhered to this ideology espoused that all Asians share distinctive cultural traits that make them fundamentally different from Westerners; therefore, Western political and social norms were not entirely appropriate for Asian societies. Some of these shared Asian values are a preference for social harmony, government paternalism, collectivism over the rights of individuals, respect toward authority, and a greater concern for socio-economic stability over human rights.

By the turn of the century, deeply pragmatic ASEAN states came to the realization that it was impossible to push Western powers out of the region, so it began what was termed, “constructive engagement” with all of them. Under this policy, ASEAN intends to hedge its relationship with the larger powers (China, India, America, and Australia) as an intermediary, reaping the benefits for its member states. Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo, speaking for ASEAN to the press in November 2007, described the importance of America to Southeast Asia: “In short, no major strategic issue in Asia can be resolved without the active participation of the U.S” (Marciel 2008).

America’s Next Move

In the aftermath of 9-11, the bulk of Washington’s foreign policy capacity was consumed by wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Major initiatives in Southeast Asia fell by the wayside as the primary focus moved to counterterrorism and other security concerns. Even when America’s focus broadened beyond the “War on Terror” into issues of trade, its approach was often ineffectual. The U.S. cannot afford to squander another decade in the region teetering between security issues and weak trade.

The 2005, Joint Vision Statement on the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership was not enough to secure America’s future in Southeast Asia; Washington needs to define, create, and utilize more avenues of regular dialogue between itself and ASEAN. Although the U.S. and ASEAN have enjoyed relations for 30 years, no regular annual summits have ever been established. Shoring up the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) is a good place to begin, but it should only be a pass-through for more specialized U.S.-ASEAN talks. The current lack of contact hurts America’s ability to focus its attention on ASEAN states. The U.S. should encourage East/Southeast Asian integration, because it will help to socialize and constrain provocative movements by China. It may also encourage American investors to do greater business in the region, as the various types of independent national laws and regulations are streamlined. Nevertheless, America should also exploit areas of friction between ASEAN and China, as well as the lack of cohesion within ASEAN.

Although China has achieved strong ties with certain members of ASEAN, many nations in the region, such as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam still maintain a healthy fear of Chinese hegemony and anti-Chinese sentiment in their populations has not yet abated. There have been complaints, by some ASEAN members, that China pushed bilateral FTA negotiations to isolate nations that were not very pro-China, such as Malaysia and Vietnam. Southeast Asian diplomats have also grumbled that China’s influence has hindered consensus building within ASEAN as member nations try to gage Beijing’s potential reaction.

The U.S. has also not closely engaged China-friendly states, such as Myanmar and Cambodia. This is especially true in the case of Myanmar due to human rights concerns, which have resulted in embargoes that have resulted in little political change. The U.S. needs a more pragmatic approach. These nations would be very receptive to American competition for their attention.

The United States and Japan remain the largest investors in the region and the largest ASEAN export receivers. China is not close to eclipsing the U.S. in hard power projection and America is still the largest source of popular culture. With respect to trade, some ASEAN members are not pleased that Early Harvest has allowed China to compete in raw materials, agricultural products, and minerals it did not produce, whereas China will eventually have lower tariff free access to manufacturing markets that ASEAN and Chinese firms were already competing in.

The U.S. has much more work to do on the free trade front. Thus far, America has only one FTA completed agreements, in the nearly 15 years since the U.S. initiated its first Asia-Pacific TIFA, with Singapore in 1991. There are stalled negotiations for FTAs with Thailand and Malaysia, and the Philippines and Indonesia have expressed interest in FTAs. Besides FTAs, policymakers have other eco­nomically significant agreements available, including the expansion of trade and investment framework agree­ments (TIFA) and open skies agreements (OSA). A TIFA is a consultative mechanism for the United States to discuss trade issues, and an OSA creates free markets for aviation services. America has TIFAs with ASEAN, but TIFAs and OSAs have been severely underutilized. Unlike China, the U.S. should work as multilateral as possible with ASEAN to avoid the negative effects of export diversion and encourage ASEAN unity.

Long term, the U.S. could do more in advancing the scope of FTAs and OSAs in Asia. A region-wide agreement would better reduce regional trade barriers, increase U.S.-ASEAN trade, and advance American security interests. The U.S. must stop blocking Japan’s attempts to project a competing vision of Asian unity, because it has not worked. The only result is Japan losing influence to China, which is not in Japan or America’s national interests. Instead, Washington can work with Japan to promote shared interests inside the ASEAN+3 framework, where Japan can serve as a U.S. proxy on specific issues critical to both nations. This would be a similar relationship to what the U.S. enjoys with Britain with respect to the European Union. Currently, Northeast Asia’s economic heavyweights are the world’s last remaining region that lacks an inter-governmental trade bloc, such as ASEAN. The U.S. does not want to find itself outside such a teaming, so it should be working with Japan to create one that is more inclusive. Even if FTAs are not politically feasible, the US should focus on TIFAs for high priority areas of interest.

Lastly, the U.S. should do what it must to gain Japan’s assistance in fighting any attempts for an tradable ACU, because that could limit U.S. government’s ability to finance its larger budget deficits at relatively low interest.

Notes:

As discussed in Part I of this series, the ASEAN-China Free Trade Agreement (ACFTA) will be a win-win for the signatories. The agreement will produce greater economies of scales, as it expands trade between members, which will result in an aggregate increase in competitive export products from China and ASEAN. However, it will not foreshadow European-style regional integration, at least not in the near future. The centrifugal force generated by the agreement will not only draw ASEAN closer to China, the regions manufacturing hub, but it will push those states outside the bloc to liberalize their own trade in order to stay competitive. While the United States is generally supportive of ASEAN, it is not in the strategic interest of the U.S. for it to be outside of an Asian economic bloc, especially one that will aid in cementing a strong Chinese leadership position in Southeast Asia. Implementation of this agreement has increased concerns among some analysts that the economic and perhaps, the political center of gravity of the region are shifting away from the United States and toward China.

Over the last 10 years, Southeast Asia has received approximately US$90 billion in U.S. foreign direct investment (FDI); it is the third largest market for U.S. exports; and U.S.-ASEAN trade is over US$140 billion (Pitsuwan 2008). Southeast Asia is flush with agricultural and natural resources, and is home to more than half of the world’s annual merchant shipping traffic. Intraregional trade between ASEAN nations still hovers at 25% and in East Asia, it now verges on 55% (Pitsuwan 2008). Over 80% of Japanese and Chinese oil imports travel through these sea-lanes. The geopolitical reality is that due to proximity and economic clout, China’s access to this region will increase. This could not only be detrimental to America’s economic interests, but also represent a strategic threat.

It is in America and ASEANs best interest for the U.S. to not only promote further ASEAN integration, but also establish stronger ties with the region. This will enable ASEAN to serve as a fulcrum between China (and India). America must also realize that China’s increasing penetration into Southeast Asia is not a zero-sum game; the U.S. must be prepared to have a constructive working relationship with China in the region. If the America hopes to balance China’s growing influence it will need a rapprochement with ASEAN that displays a cohesive policy for the organization, but at the same time exploit the diversity of opinion within ASEAN. This will allow the U.S. to advance its policy goals in the region.

China

Over the last decade, China’s resurgent role in Southeast Asia has moved from a situation that generated fear in the region, to one where China is seen as a benign regional leader that plays a constructive role in creating opportunity. China has worked hard to market this image while participating in regional institutions. Its long-term goals are to create greater interdependencies between itself and Southeast Asia through economic incentives, which will give ASEAN a strong stake in China’s success. In this way, ASEAN can serve as insurance against possible U.S., Japanese, Indian containment in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean. At the same time, Beijing hopes it can simultaneously reduce the influence of the United States in the South China Sea.

China is increasing its political reach in the region through a series of strong bilateral ties with ASEAN member-states. These links include increased cooperation in regional security (including providing military training), scholarships, and helping to facilitate conflict resolution in the region. China has also promised over US$10 billion in infrastructure, energy, and cultural programs between the countries. China has especially provided special assistance to the lesser developed states of Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar.

During the 1997 Asian financial Crisis, America did not provide significant leadership, which left room for China advance itself as a regional leader, often at the expense of Japan. China promised not to devalue its currency, the Renminbi, which helped return stability to the markets, a move much praised in the region. Tokyo worked to provide a competitive framework for an Asian Monetary fund, in an effort to engender long-term stability. Washington repeatedly blocked this endeavor, out of fear it would be froze-out by a potential Asian bloc. Japan and China are still pushing their competing ideas of a greater-East Asia economic sphere, but the main difference between the two nations is that Japan wishes to include Australia, New Zealand, and India in an attempt to minimize the influence of China. Obviously, China is not interested in having none ASEAN and East Asian nations involved.

The idea for an Asian Monetary Fund did not die. In February 2008, the ASEAN+3 forum in Thailand agreed to expand bilateral currency swaps and also enlarge the Chiang Mai Initiative reserve fund in order to enhance regional economic stability in the wake of the current global financial crisis. This goal has prompted ASEAN+3, in coordination with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), to develop an Asian Currency Unit (ACU) as part of a comprehensive Asian Monetary Fund. China has promoted the idea, which has gained wide regional support. China championing this effort appears surprising considering past objections; however, Beijing is supportive of the ACU because it is now able to take a greater leadership role in its management than Japan, whereas it was not in a position to do so 10 years earlier. Although meant to be non-tradable, the ACU would be an indicator of the stability of participating currencies in the region, an Asian version of the European Currency Unit, which was the precursor to the Euro. Due to the wide variance in levels of economic development, the sophistication of financial transfer systems, and the levels of nationalism in the Pacific Rim, a single currency for the region is still unlikely.

What ASEAN Needs

Western analyst had long criticized and even dismissed ASEAN; the common narrative characterized the organization as soft on human rights and democracy, and therefore incapable of taking decisive and constructive action concerning regional issues that were important to the West. Some pasts areas of conflict involved human rights in Myanmar and East Timor, as well as issues of democracy in key members states like Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Part of the problem is that Western observers have not tended to judge ASEAN on its own merit, but instead, based on how it compares to the contemporary European Union (EU). As a result, ASEAN has never been fully respected by the United States.

For their part, not all ASEAN members have been eager to see a stronger American presence in the region. In the 1990’s, former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad called for a greater East Asian forum, which would exclude the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. Many in the region termed this the “caucus without Caucasians”, something Washington successfully nixed, but to only see it rebooted a decade later as ASEAN+3.

At the time, the exclusion of Western nations reflected the regional vogue of “Asian Values”, an ideology trumpeted by Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, along with some political thinkers in Japan. Those who adhered to this ideology espoused that all Asians share distinctive cultural traits that make them fundamentally different from Westerners; therefore, Western political and social norms were not entirely appropriate for Asian societies. Some of these shared Asian values are a preference for social harmony, government paternalism, collectivism over the rights of individuals, respect toward authority, and a greater concern for socio-economic stability over human rights.

By the turn of the century, deeply pragmatic ASEAN states came to the realization that it was impossible to push Western powers out of the region, so it began what was termed, “constructive engagement” with all of them. Under this policy, ASEAN intends to hedge its relationship with the larger powers (China, India, America, and Australia) as an intermediary, reaping the benefits for its member states. Singapore Minister of Foreign Affairs George Yeo, speaking for ASEAN to the press in November 2007, described the importance of America to Southeast Asia: “In short, no major strategic issue in Asia can be resolved without the active participation of the U.S” (Marciel 2008).

America’s Next Move

In the aftermath of 9-11, the bulk of Washington’s foreign policy capacity was consumed by wars in the Middle East and Central Asia. Major initiatives in Southeast Asia fell by the wayside as the primary focus moved to counterterrorism and other security concerns. Even when America’s focus broadened beyond the “War on Terror” into issues of trade, its approach was often ineffectual. The U.S. cannot afford to squander another decade in the region teetering between security issues and weak trade.

The 2005, Joint Vision Statement on the ASEAN-U.S. Enhanced Partnership was not enough to secure America’s future in Southeast Asia; Washington needs to define, create, and utilize more avenues of regular dialogue between itself and ASEAN. Although the U.S. and ASEAN have enjoyed relations for 30 years, no regular annual summits have ever been established. Shoring up the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC) is a good place to begin, but it should only be a pass-through for more specialized U.S.-ASEAN talks. The current lack of contact hurts America’s ability to focus its attention on ASEAN states. The U.S. should encourage East/Southeast Asian integration, because it will help to socialize and constrain provocative movements by China. It may also encourage American investors to do greater business in the region, as the various types of independent national laws and regulations are streamlined. Nevertheless, America should also exploit areas of friction between ASEAN and China, as well as the lack of cohesion within ASEAN.

Although China has achieved strong ties with certain members of ASEAN, many nations in the region, such as Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam still maintain a healthy fear of Chinese hegemony and anti-Chinese sentiment in their populations has not yet abated. There have been complaints, by some ASEAN members, that China pushed bilateral FTA negotiations to isolate nations that were not very pro-China, such as Malaysia and Vietnam. Southeast Asian diplomats have also grumbled that China’s influence has hindered consensus building within ASEAN as member nations try to gage Beijing’s potential reaction.

The U.S. has also not closely engaged China-friendly states, such as Myanmar and Cambodia. This is especially true in the case of Myanmar due to human rights concerns, which have resulted in embargoes that have resulted in little political change. The U.S. needs a more pragmatic approach. These nations would be very receptive to American competition for their attention.

The United States and Japan remain the largest investors in the region and the largest ASEAN export receivers. China is not close to eclipsing the U.S. in hard power projection and America is still the largest source of popular culture. With respect to trade, some ASEAN members are not pleased that Early Harvest has allowed China to compete in raw materials, agricultural products, and minerals it did not produce, whereas China will eventually have lower tariff free access to manufacturing markets that ASEAN and Chinese firms were already competing in.

The U.S. has much more work to do on the free trade front. Thus far, America has only one FTA completed agreements, in the nearly 15 years since the U.S. initiated its first Asia-Pacific TIFA, with Singapore in 1991. There are stalled negotiations for FTAs with Thailand and Malaysia, and the Philippines and Indonesia have expressed interest in FTAs. Besides FTAs, policymakers have other eco­nomically significant agreements available, including the expansion of trade and investment framework agree­ments (TIFA) and open skies agreements (OSA). A TIFA is a consultative mechanism for the United States to discuss trade issues, and an OSA creates free markets for aviation services. America has TIFAs with ASEAN, but TIFAs and OSAs have been severely underutilized. Unlike China, the U.S. should work as multilateral as possible with ASEAN to avoid the negative effects of export diversion and encourage ASEAN unity.

Long term, the U.S. could do more in advancing the scope of FTAs and OSAs in Asia. A region-wide agreement would better reduce regional trade barriers, increase U.S.-ASEAN trade, and advance American security interests. The U.S. must stop blocking Japan’s attempts to project a competing vision of Asian unity, because it has not worked. The only result is Japan losing influence to China, which is not in Japan or America’s national interests. Instead, Washington can work with Japan to promote shared interests inside the ASEAN+3 framework, where Japan can serve as a U.S. proxy on specific issues critical to both nations. This would be a similar relationship to what the U.S. enjoys with Britain with respect to the European Union. Currently, Northeast Asia’s economic heavyweights are the world’s last remaining region that lacks an inter-governmental trade bloc, such as ASEAN. The U.S. does not want to find itself outside such a teaming, so it should be working with Japan to create one that is more inclusive. Even if FTAs are not politically feasible, the US should focus on TIFAs for high priority areas of interest.

Lastly, the U.S. should do what it must to gain Japan’s assistance in fighting any attempts for an tradable ACU, because that could limit U.S. government’s ability to finance its larger budget deficits at relatively low interest.

Notes:

Pitsuwan, Surin. 2008. “Bolstering U.S.-ASEAN Cooperation”

Japan Times Online.

Marciel, Scot A. 2008. “Remarks to Center o Strategic International Studies Meeting

‘U.S. and Southeast Asia: Toward a Strategy for Enhanced Engagement'”

U.S. State Department.

House on the Sand

Jeremy Leggett, a former oil man, wrote an article in ‘The Independent’ (20/1/06) entitled, ‘What they don’t want you to know about the coming oil crisis.’ He wrote:
‘A spectre is haunting Europe – the spectre of an acute, civilisation-changing energy crisis. … We have allowed oil to become vital to virtually everything we do. Ninety per cent of all our transportation, whether by land, air or sea, is fuelled by oil. Ninety-five per cent of all goods in shops involve the use of oil. Ninety-five per cent of all our food products require oil use.’

The world consumes more than 80 million barrels of oil a day, 29 billion barrels a year. This figure is rising fast, as it has done for decades. The US government expects that global demand will grow to around 120 million barrels a day, 43 billion barrels a year, by 2025. However there is no way that the oil industry can produce this amount of oil. Leggett says, ‘The most basic of the foundations of our assumptions of future economic well being is rotten. Our society is in a state of collective denial that has no precedent in history, in terms of its scale and implications.’

The modern industrial world has been built on the supply of energy keeping the electricity supply to our homes and work places running and fuelling our transport system which ensures that goods and people can move from place to place around the world. Without the energy sources – coal, oil, gas and nuclear power – the whole system crumbles.

In America that possibility is beginning to be considered by those who see the phenomenon known as ‘Peak Oil’ as the next big threat to the western way of life. Peak Oil is the point at which oil production reaches a plateau before it declines while demand for oil consumption continues to rise. Once worldwide demand for oil outpaces worldwide production (of oil by a significant margin the price of oil will sky-rocket, oil-dependent economies will crumble, and resource wars will explode.

Matthew Savinar has written an article on this subject on the internet site [http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net]. He writes, ‘Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely-respected geologists, physicists, and investment bankers in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global ‘Peak Oil’.’

When will this happen? According to Savinar, ‘Some geologists expect 2005 to be the last year of the cheap-oil bonanza, while many estimates coming out of the oil industry indicate ‘a seemingly unbridgeable supply-demand gap opening up after 2007,’ which will lead to major fuel shortages and increasingly severe blackouts beginning around 2008-2012.’ Richard Heinberg, in his article ‘Smoking Gun: The CIA’s Interest in Peak Oil’ says ‘A growing consensus of petroleum geologists places this event in the mid-range period of 2006 to 2015.’

Savinar dismisses alternatives to oil as sources of power for the current world system as fantasy. Green alternatives like solar, wind and wave power produce only a tiny fraction of the power now available through oil. Hydrogen as an alternative to oil does not work either due to the huge costs of producing it and the vast problems of storing it. He says there is no time to develop the huge infrastructure needed to switch from an oil based industrial system to an alternative one. Nor is there the political will or the financial capability.

Savinar sees an inevitable collapse of the US economy coming which will drag down the rest of the world. ‘As the driver of the world’s economy, the demise of the US will take down other industrialized countries. The financial dislocations wrought by the coming oil shocks could set the stage for a series of destabilizing resource wars and ‘currency insurgencies’, in much the same way Germany’s financial meltdown during the Weimar Republic of the 1920s set the stage for the rise of Third Reich in the 1930s and World War II in the 1940s.’

Added to all this is the fact that the present suppliers of most of the world’s oil are anything but reliable. 70% of global proven reserves of oil are to be found in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest reserves with 264.2 billion barrels of proven oil reserves (25% of the world total). Oil from this area is the easiest to extract and export. Recent finds of oil in the Caspian Sea area and in Central Asia are not as great as was originally hoped and these areas are landlocked so getting the oil out involves building pipelines through such unstable regions as Afghanistan to the south or the Caucasus region to the west. The vulnerability of pipelines to terrorism has been shown by the frequent attacks mounted by insurgents in Iraq.

A disruption anywhere could cause market panic and spiralling prices. Texas oil analyst Matt Simmons has written a book ‘Twilight in the Desert’ which warns that the skyrocketing price of oil could plunge the world into war. One spark which could ignite this fire is Iran’s nuclear programme which is causing worry about possible disruptions of the supply of oil from the Middle East. In January 2006 Iran threatened to cut oil supplies if Europe continued to meddle in what it sees as its right to develop a nuclear programme. It has also threatened to block shipping through the Straits of Hormuz at the entrance of the Persian Gulf if its nuclear facilities are attacked. Every day, 15 million barrels of oil pass in tankers through these narrow Straits.

Production of oil is in decline in more than 50 oil-producing nations, including the USA and Britain. Discoveries of large oil fields are decreasing year by year, while the demand for oil is constantly increasing. In particular China and India are already having a major impact on both oil resources and the environment on account of their huge populations and growing numbers of people prospering as a result of economic development. There have been large finds of oil in Russia with deep wells sunk in Siberia. However Russia could well prove an unreliable source of supply.

January 2006 began with a crisis caused by Russia demanding a huge increase in charges to Ukraine for its gas supply and threatening to cut supplies if the price was not paid. Many saw this as Russia punishing Ukraine for its pro Western policies. But the threat to turn off the gas supplies in the middle of winter did not just affect Ukraine. For a few days countries across Europe watched nervously as the crisis unfolded.

The deputy chairman of Gazprom, the giant Russian company that controls the flow of Russian gas to the west came to London to reassure Britain that there would be no risk of disruption to British gas supplies. The very next day, temperatures in Moscow broke a 50-year record, plunging to minus 30C. Gas normally exported was diverted to the home front. Supplies to the West fell. Nervousness on this subject was increased by news reports that Gazprom is seeking to buy a controlling share in British Gas.

As huge price rises for gas supply are announced, the prospect of the source of this supply being in the hands of a power which once confronted the West during the Cold War is hardly reassuring. After all Russian President Putin once wrote a thesis saying that Russia could use its energy resources to regain its global power. Russia supplies a quarter of all the gas used in Europe and 90% of it flows through Ukraine. This supply is scheduled to increase when the giant pipeline now being built under the North Sea from Russia to Germany is completed. Britain will be at the end of the line for this gas which will become vital as our North Sea oil and gas decline.

A crisis caused by oil resources being cut off or a huge surge in the price of oil and gas could plunge the world into chaos. The Bible prophesies such a time coming at the end of this age and compares it to the birth pangs of a pregnant woman. In 1 Thessalonians 5.1-3 Paul writes: ‘But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. For when they say, ‘Peace and safety!’ then sudden destruction comes upon them, as labour pains upon a pregnant woman’.

When a woman goes into labour a process begins which will lead to the birth of the child. She knows the signs of the impending birth are taking place, but she does not yet see the child and she does not know how long the process will go on for. Today the signs of the second coming of Jesus Christ are taking place – not just some of them but all of them. We do not know how long it will be before the crisis we are describing in this article explodes across the earth, but there is no doubt that it will. When it does the world will enter a period of time described in the Bible as the great tribulation. Jesus describes this period in Matthew 24.21-22: ‘For then there will be great tribulation such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened no flesh would be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days will be shortened.’

Anyone can see that our society is built on shaky foundations. Modern technological society lines up with the well known words of Jesus:

‘Whoever hears these sayings of mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the wind descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock. But everyone who hears these sayings of mine and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand; and the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall.’ Jesus speaking in Matthew 7.24-27.

Sooner or later the storm will come and this house will crash. What will happen to you and me then? The world situation today is pushing humanity towards an unprecedented crisis in human history which will affect all nations of the earth and bring the possibility of the end of all life on earth if God did not step in through the return of Jesus ‘shortening’ those days and bringing the time of human mis-management of the planet to an end.

Despite all this there is a glorious hope for the future. Jesus said ‘When these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near.’ Luke 21.28. These things have begun to happen so we should look to the return of the Lord Jesus as the hope for the world. While people without faith are described by Jesus as experiencing heart failure for fear at the things which are coming on the earth (Luke 21.26), the believer has a totally different expectation: ‘We should live soberly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Titus 2.12-14.

As the lights go out all over the world, the light of faith and hope in Jesus will never go out in the heart of those who really believe in Him. In order to escape the coming collapse of oil based industrial society, Mr Savinar, in the article already quoted suggests that people should ‘relocate to an area as least vulnerable to these issues as possible’. But for many people that will not be a viable option and it will not save you anyway. As in the days of Noah there will be no escape.

But the Lord has a plan to relocate His people: ‘For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.’ 1 Thessalonians 4.16-17.

This event, known as the Rapture of the Church, will take place unexpectedly and unannounced like a thief coming in the night. At that moment those who are saved will be taken to a place of safety before the judgements fall on the earth in the great tribulation period.

In the light of all this there is only one hope for the world. The return of Jesus. The human race has blown our chances of saving the world by ourselves already.

The world system today will not stand because it is on the wrong foundations. But when everything else is shaken, God’s kingdom cannot be shaken. In order to enter God’s kingdom Jesus says ‘You must be born again’ (John 3.7) not physically but spiritually by turning from sin and unbelief to faith in God who raised Jesus from the dead when He had paid the price for our sins and will raise with Him all who put their trust in Him.
If you have not yet made that step I urge you to do so without delay. Here is a prayer which you can say to accept salvation through Jesus the Messiah.

‘Dear Heavenly Father, I admit that I am a sinner and need your forgiveness. I believe that Jesus the Messiah died in my place, shedding His blood to pay for my sins, and that He rose again from the dead to give me eternal life. I am willing right now to turn from my sin and accept Jesus the Messiah as my personal Saviour and Lord. I commit my life to you and ask you to send the Holy Spirit into my life, to fill me and to take control and to help me become the kind of person you want me to be. Thank you Father for loving me. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Much of the information in this article is taken from a new book written by Tony Pearce, ‘The House on the Sand’.

Confirmation Bias

One of the most important things that impacts us in personal, professional, and financial life is an effect called confirmation bias. Put more simply, this is a tendency for people to only seek out information that confirms what they already think. In many cases, people will examine the same information and come to wildly different conclusions because of their internal biases. Naturally, this makes objective thought and analysis extremely difficult to perform since we are not always the best judge of ourselves.

This effect becomes especially dangerous when it enters the financial arena. When evaluating investment strategies, many people (such as Robert Merton and Myron Scholes of Long-Term Capital Management) fail to examine possibilities that lay outside of their theory. Many hedge funds and derivatives traders create highly complex formula’s based on many assumptions that are usually true, but not always true. These financial models typically use large amounts of leverage, and are prone to tremendous losses if market movements do not match the model assumptions. Another iteration of this self-delusion is the tremendous run-up in housing prices that was based on the assumption home prices would never go down. There was ample evidence to indicate that housing prices could not increase forever, but it was completely ignored in favor of self-delusion by the government agencies, financial institutions, and borrowers who perpetuated the financial crisis.

The impact of confirmation bias also enters the political sphere on a regular basis. There are Nobel laureate economists in favor of higher taxes who claim to have evidence in support of their position and Nobel laureate economists in favor of lower taxes who also have evidence in support of their claim. When the government funds research studies, it is not surprising that the results of the study almost always come back confirming the original theory or hypothesis. Other ways that this phenomenon works its way into the political landscape is through metrics that are impossible to prove or disprove. One of the most famous is an ambiguous employment metric of “jobs created or saves”. It is impossible to objectively define a “saved” job, so the intellectual delusion is perpetuated.

The confirmation bias effect has even found its way into the scientific domain, as demonstrated most prominently in the climate science movement. What used to be called “global warming” has now been changed “climate change”. This makes every observation of temperature a “confirmation” of the hypothesis since the climate by its very nature is always changing. It should not come as any sort of surprise that the so-called “consensus” concerning climate change was completely fictional. It only resulted from suppressing voices of dissent and stifling debate so that the self-delusion of confirmation bias could continue without restraint. If the science was so strong, then it should be able to withstand a rigorous debate. If the proponents of the theory are not willing to debate, then it stands to reason that the science is not very strong.

In the end, it is and always will be extremely difficult to be objective. As astute individuals, we must learn to recognize the impacts of confirmation bias in ourselves and in the world around us. Since most of us do not possess the ability to change the world, we must squarely focus on the things that we do have the power to change… namely ourselves. When making an important decision, it is imperative to ‘step back’ and determine whether there is something we haven’t thought of that could squash our plans. By actively avoiding the bias of confirmation, it will help us to make more informed decisions and live a more fulfilled life.

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