Peter Vujakovic, Professor of Geography, explores President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate agreement and the rise of China.
President Trump’s decision to withdraw from the 2015 Paris Climate agreement has created a vacuum in global moral leadership which China and the EU are quickly moving to fill. While Trump has argued he will make the US ‘great again’, this action, as he turns inward to his ‘rust belt’ constituency, is a further dent in America’s ‘ontological security’ – its positive self-image as a global power. This is made clear by the negative responses to his decision from American businesses, from Mark Zukerberg of Facebook to giant companies such as Exxonmobil and Chevron.
The real story here is China’s rise. It has gained in confidence as a global player since the 1990s as its economy has grown to become one of the largest in the world. It now sees itself as a major regional and world power, an ancient civilization emerging to greatness again. China suffered what is known as the ‘century of humiliation’, first under European power including Britain in the 19th century, and then under Japan until the successful communist revolution of 1949. It is now emerging from a long period of ontological insecurity to become a self-assured actor on the global stage. Much of its assertive behaviour in areas such as the South China Sea may have as much to do with projecting its new identity and a response to US naval dominance, itself a lingering slight to its dignity, as an interest in the sea’s physical resources. Its new silk roads initiative, One Belt One Road, proposed by President Xi is a bold initiative to integrate trade across Asia, Europe and Africa. In May President Xi held a meeting of heads of state to launch the initiative, following on from his strong defence of globalization at Davos in January. On top of this, China is now a leading nation in terms of ‘green energy’ development.
The message is one of a ‘soft power’ China, which seeks environmental and political security at the global scale to ensure its and others economic future. This may be a positive development, but the underlying danger is how the US will respond. One fear, articulated by some international relations experts, is the ‘Thucydides trap’, in which a rising power will almost inevitably come to blows with the current hegemonic power (as Athens did with Sparta). President Xi, on a state visit to the US, dismissed this, saying it was not inevitable unless the protagonists actively allowed it. While we may remain concerned about some of China’s repressive measures at home, perhaps the West should accept China’s rhetoric as being genuine and see its rise as a positive development for all rather than a threat. At present, the real threat to environmental security actually appears to be the US, the second largest producer of global carbon emissions, as it turns its back on the rest of the world.
Peter Vujakovic is a Professor of Geography, in the School of Human and Life Sciences. His research interests lie in global geopolitics, and specifically in how issues are treated in the news media and through cartographic representations. He is currently working on news media images of the geopolitics of the South China Sea.
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Dr Alexander Kent reflects on the recent collapse of Gozo’s iconic landmark and what this means for the island today.
Peter Vujakovic, Professor of Geography in the School of Human and Life Sciences, explores the use of caricatures in media publications during the festive season.
T’is the season to be jolly! This December many news magazines have decked their covers with humorous caricatures and satirical graphics. The New Statesman has Donald Trump and Theresa May ski jumping …over the cliff edge? The Week has Boris Johnson in the ‘dog-house’. Even Time Magazine’s ‘Person of the Year’ cover seems to have been strategically arranged so the title letter ‘M’ provides a devilish touch to Trump’s profile. Time denies intent and notes that given the letter’s “location on the cover, many other subjects in the past have also appeared to sprout extra features. It’s happened to Hillary Clinton at least twice.”
What is clear, however, is the stinging intent in celebrated cartoonist Peter Brookes’ cover image for the Spectator. This features Trump and Putin literally carving-up the globe (in the form of a pudding), with Putin serving himself a large slice of the ‘Middle East’. Brookes’ cartoon is a direct pastiche of one of the most famous political graphics in history, James Gillray’s 1805 ‘The Plum Pudding in Danger’, in which the original protagonists were Pitt and Napoleon. This cartoon has been recycled many times; including Thatcher and Foot, Bush and Gorbachev, and recently Cameron and Sturgeon. Like an element of any great festive pantomime it’s an old joke with a contemporary twist. The globe or map in cartoons has always been subject to the power of the protagonists; to control, ‘cleansing’, fragmentation, or even destruction. Numerous examples abound, from Lenin sweeping the globe clear of capitalists, clergy and kings, to Putin ripping a map of Ukraine apart. But are these images under threat?
As Will Self has noted satire must ‘comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable’, and Brookes’ work does this. There is, however, a danger that true satire might be endangered by two contemporary processes, first a ‘scatter-gun’ approach in which, as Self has pointed out, the ‘afflicted’ have been made uncomfortable by some of the images produced by cartoonists; he cites cartoons of Mohammed. And secondly, the growing problem of ‘self-censorship’; a reaction to the threats of both violent extremists and the litigious tendencies of the rich and powerful. In the same month as Brookes’ cartoon, US artist Alison Jackson, who has recently published photographs with Trump ‘look-a-likes’, has claimed that she has to fight hard against ‘self-censorship’. “It makes you frightened, it makes you put the brakes on and that is very worrying.” She goes on to note, “Whether it’s artists or cartoonists or satirists, there has to be free and radical thinking. Without that we get into the realms of dictatorship.”
As a Russian naval task force enters the English Channel, Dr Alexander Kent, Reader in Cartography and Geographic Information Science and Martin Davis, University Instructor, explain that the maps and charts they will be using owe to a long tradition of mapping Britain in secret.
It is both fascinating and chilling to realise that during the Cold War, the Soviet Union mapped everywhere on the globe as part of its military mapping programme. The UK received special attention, with at least 90 of our cities mapped in stunning detail, including street names, the classification of strategically important buildings, the depths of rivers, and information about the carrying capacity, width, length and construction material of bridges. Where possible, even the height of the bridge above water is indicated, which is something more likely to have been recorded by a spy on the ground than by using satellite imagery. So it is amazing to consider that, while Ordnance Survey builds its new national database to prevent lorries from getting stuck on our roads, the Soviet Union was busy collecting this sort of information decades ago.
The level of hydrographic detail on the Soviet maps is just as staggering. Submarine contours (isobaths) are plotted in detail, as are other types of information such as whether a river is navigable, how fast it flows, the consistency of the river bed, as well as tidal information. Much of this information is believed to have been gathered from Soviet fishing trawlers and other ships visiting ports in Britain and around the world, particularly as the details between Soviet maps and contemporaneous Admiralty or other charts usually do not match.
It is always tempting simply to label the Soviet maps as invasion plans, but they could have been used for so much more than that, particularly for running the country after a successful Communist coup d’etat. Although they were produced in secrecy, the maps are now openly available online from a variety of retailers outside Russia, including Jana Seta, a map shop in Riga, Latvia, which discovered and purchased several tonnes of maps after the Red Army withdrew in 1993. Many libraries around the world have acquired stocks and Canterbury Christ Church University maintains one of the largest collections of Soviet city plans in the UK.
Even though they are a product of the Cold War, the maps are far from irrelevant. Landmark, an environmental consultancy firm based in Bristol, uses Soviet maps to identify buildings not shown on OS maps, while archaeologists have used the maps in Central Asia to locate sites which are not marked on any other available maps. For some places around the world, they still present the most detailed and reliable source of geospatial information available. For the Russian Navy, they are the ancestors of the digital navigation systems they will be using to steam through the Channel.
The University is making an important contribution to the study of Soviet maps. Martin Davis, who is currently studying for a PhD on the topic, has just returned from presenting his research on accessing Soviet maps at the International Cartographic Association’s History of Cartography conference in Dubrovnik, while Dr Kent gave an invited lecture on the maps at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency in Washington, DC with expert John Davies of Sovietmaps.com. Davies and Kent’s book ‘Red Planet? How the USSR Secretly Mapped the World’ will be published by Chicago University Press next year and John Davies will give a talk at the University on 25th October.
Dr Alexander Kent, Reader in Cartography and Geographic Information Science in the School of Human and Life Sciences, explains why himself and Christ Church colleague John Hills, Geography Technician and Research Fellow, have recently produced one of a series of posters displayed at the UN Headquarters in New York.
Dr Alexander Kent, Reader in Cartography and Geographic Information Science, comments on the use of maps as propaganda tools, by the Vote Leave and the Remain campaigns, in the lead up to the EU Referendum.
As Theresa May gets ready to ‘push ahead’ with Brexit after meeting with MPs at Chequers last week, will she remember seeing a propaganda map put through her letterbox before the referendum?
Professor Peter Vujakovic from the School of Human & Life Sciences explains how recent world events show why geography matters.