Posts Tagged ‘China’

The passing scene: Links & comments 7/19/14

July 19, 2014

Taking Back America: Here, Finally, Is A Chinese Mega-Blooper—And a Chance For The U.S. To Turn The Tables by Eamon Fingleton for Forbes.

Many American universities are hosts to Confucian Institutes for the study of Chinese language and culture, which are paid for and largely controlled by the government of  China.  In terms of money, a Confucian Institute is a bargain.  In terms of academic freedom, it is a disaster.

Since the days of Mao Zedong, the Chinese government has manipulated Western scholarship by allowing access to the country and to its archives only to scholars whose views it finds acceptable.  No American scholar who works for a Confucian Institute will be able to do research the Chinese government finds displeasing.

I think the likelihood of administrators of American universities breaking their ties with the Chinese government is equivalent to the likelihood of their prioritizing the search for truth over the maximizing of revenue.   Which is not likely anytime soon.

Why the Myers-Briggs test is totally meaningless by Joseph Stromberg for Vox.

The Myers-Briggs personality test classifies people as extroverted or introverted, sensing or intuitive, thinking or feeling, and judging or perceiving on the basis of 93 questions, yielding 16 possible combinations of personality types.

The problems are (1) few people are clearly one or the other of the alternativeds, (2) there is no evidence that Myers-Briggs predicts success or failure in any endeavor and (3) about half the people who take the test twice get different results the second time.   Why then is it so popular?  Marketing, plus entertainment value.

The Pentagon’s $300 Billion Plane to Nowhere by Kate Brannen for Foreign Policy.

When Lockheed Gives You Lemons by Scott Beauchamp for The Baffler.

The U.S. government plans to spend nearly $400 billion to buy 2,443 F-35 fighters, an advanced new warplane that has the disadvantage of being unsafe to fly and almost certainly ineffective in combat.

But if Lockheed Martin’s aeronautical engineering is inadequate, its political engineering is superb.  There are F-35 subcontractors in 45 of the 50 states, and a congressional caucus organized to make the F-35 contract goes through.

Kate Brannen of Foreign Policy quoted a former Pentagon acquisitions officer as saying, “A upfront question with any program now is:  How many congressional districts is it in?”

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Iraq, spies, defense: Links & comment 6/21/14

June 21, 2014

Is Iraq Actually Falling Apart? What Social Science Surveys Show by Mansoor Moaddel for Informed Comment.

Public opinion polls indicate that a majority of Iraqis oppose a breakup of their country, and that they think of themselves as Iraqis first and Sunni and Shia second.   They desire a government that will work for the good of the nation and follow the wishes of the people more than they want a government that follows religious law.  A majority of Iraqi Sunni Arabs, but not of Iraqi Shiite Arabs, believe that religion should be separate from politics.

In other words, most Iraqis want for their country the same things that I want for the USA.  The Iraqis might have a stab at getting it if not for foreign interference.  A majority of Iraqis think of both Americans and Iranians as bad neighbors.

Who has the power to give the Iraqis what they want?  If anyone, it is not Barack Obama.  It is the wise Iraqi leader, the Ayatollah Sistani.   Remember that it was peaceful demonstrations led by Sistani that pressured the American occupation authorities to allow elections in Iraq.

Cross-national intelligence and national democracy on Crooked Timber.

I have written before that multi-national corporations, and the international agencies such as the WTO and IMF, are the closest thing there is to a world government.  But there is another candidate, which is the world’s interlocking intelligence agencies.

My idea of the mission of an intelligence agency is to discover the military secrets of foreign governments.  But in the present day, intelligence agencies co-operate across national borders to spy on their own citizens.  The German BND can’t legally spy on German citizens, but the U.S. NSA can legally do so and share information with the Germans, while the British GCHQ can legally share information about American citizens with the NSA.

The danger of this is that the intelligence agencies have their own political goals, which are not necessarily what the people of their respective countries want, and, so long as they operate behind a veil of absolute secrecy, there is no way of reining them in.

Why Is the Defense Department Buying Weapons With Chinese Parts Instead of US Parts? by Victoria Bruce for TruthOut.

The reason is that many high-tech components depend on “rare earths,” a raw material that China produces and that the United States could produce but doesn’t.  The deeper reason is that the big U.S. military contractors also do business with China, and don’t want to disturb that relationship.

Fukushima’s Ongoing Fallout: an unprecedented radiation disaster by John LaForge for CounterPunch.

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China, Mao and historical amnesia

June 6, 2014

A Chinese man recalls:

Twenty-five years ago, before the Tiananmen massacre, my father told me: “Son, be good and stay at home, never provoke the Communist Party.”

My father knew what he was talking about.  His courage had been broken, by countless political campaigns. Right after the 1949 “liberation,” in his hometown Yanting [in Sichuan] they executed dozens of “despotic landowners” in a few minutes. 

That wasn’t enough fun for some people.  They came with swords, severed those broken skulls, and kicked them down the river bank.  And so the heads were floating away two or three at a time, just like time, or like the setting sun always waiting for fresh heads at the next ferry point.  My father left my grandfather, who had made money through hard work, and fled in the night.

mao.famineAfterward he never said a bad word about the Communist Party.  Even at the time of the Great Leap famine, when almost forty million people starved to death, and when I, his little son, almost died.  He did not say anything.  It was hell on earth. 

People ate grass and bark.  They ate some kind of stinking clay; it was called Guanyin Soil [after the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy].  If they were very lucky, they would catch an earthworm; that was a rare delicacy.  Many people died bloated from Guanyin Soil.

My grandmother also died; she was just skin and bones.  Grandfather carried her under his arm to the next slope, dug a small pit, and buried her.  But Mao Zedong, the great deliverer of the Chinese people, would never admit a mistake.  He just said it was the fault of the Soviet Union. 

And so the wretched people all hated the Soviet Union. Just because of their goddamned Revisionism [the label Chinese Communists used for Soviet ideology after the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s], the Soviets had called back their experts and their aid for China!

Mao’s second-in-command Liu Shaoqi couldn’t stand it any longer and mumbled, “So many people have starved to death. History will record this.” For this slip he paid dearly.  During the Cultural Revolution they let him starve to death in a secret prison.  We have a saying: “Illness enters at the mouth, peril comes out at the mouth.”

via NYRblog | The New York Review of Books.

Since the death of Mao, the Chinese have raised their material standard of living, and made their country into one of the world’s strongest powers.  Ordinary people are less badly off in a Foxconn sweatshop than their forefathers were in Mao’s communes.  But there are no civil rights or labor rights, or any rule of law or restriction of governmental power.

I wrote in a previous post about how the Confucian tradition strengthens China.  I should add that while the present Chinese government supports the teaching of Confucius that calls for obedience to authority, it does not follow the Confucian  teachings of ethical conduct, respect for tradition and reciprocal obligation.

The philosopher George Santayana wrote that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.   So long as Chinese authorities suppress the historical record of what Mao has done, the Chinese people will be helpless to prevent the rule of a new Mao.

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China’s power is more than military

June 5, 2014

I can remember when people in the West feared invasion by starving hordes from an overpopulated China.   In more recent years we have come to fear China’s growing economic power, which is now being transformed into assertive military power.

In an article in Foreign Affairs entitled The Geography of Chinese Power, the military journalist Robert Kaplan describes how China is building a strong navy with the intention of dominating the South China Sea, much as the USA dominates the Caribbean Sea.

Kaplan stated the Chinese within the next 10 or so years will be in a position to attack U.S. allies in eastern Asia, including Taiwan (which is in international law a part of China, but in fact an independent US ally).   He called for a U.S. naval buildup to counter growing Chinese naval power.

us-chinaBut the USA cannot counter China’s strength merely by building more ships.  We Americans have a trade deficit with China.  We depend on foreigners, including the Chinese, to finance a significant portion of our national debt.   Our economic position in the world depends on the willingness of the Chinese and other nations to do business in dollars.  Much of our electronics production, which is crucial to national defense, is outsourced to China.

The Chinese are increasing their control of the world’s food supply, but not by invasion or immigration.  Chinese corporations are buying up land in Africa, Australia and other parts of the world, and importing the food.

The weakness of China in the 19th century and the breakup of China in the early 20th century were aberrations.   During most periods of history, China has been one of the world’s most powerful nations  by reason of its geography, its demography and its patriarchal culture.

It is the world’s third largest nation in area, behind Russia and Canada.  It has reserves of coal sufficient to maintain its industrial economy for many decades and maybe centuries, and it has access to the resources of central Asia and Russia.

It is the world’s largest nation in population, comparable to Europe or to the entire Western Hemisphere.  This  gives it a flexibility beyond what is possible to smaller nations.   China could surpass the USA, Japan or Germany in the number of scientists and engineers, and in the number of highly-skilled technical workers, and still have reserves of more low-paid sweatshop workers than Bangladesh or Indonesia.

Finally China has a cultural unity based on patriarchal loyalties.  These consist of, on the one hand, the filial obligation of the son, the subject and the student to obey the father, the ruler and the teacher.  In return, there is the partenal obligation of the father, the ruler and the teacher to rightly guide their sons, their subjects and their students.

These cultural values have served the Chinese people well.  Through more than 2,000 years, they have come together, after the fall of each dynasty, to form a strong and united state, which is what happened in the 20th century.

That’s not to deny that the Chinese have problems or that China’s continued rise is inevitable.  There is a great deal of labor unrest, and there have been many strikes in sweatshop factories.   Chinese companies may have expanded too fast, and may be unable to sell all that they can produce.  The Chinese economy is subject to the same boom and bust economic cycle as ours is.   I don’t claim to predict the future, except to say that China will be an important country no matter what.

The problem for us Americans is not the growing strength of China, but the eroding strength of our own country.   Our power is a legacy of the past.  As a nation, we are becoming like an old retired person who no longer earns wages and lives on savings.

We are not building for the future by investing in education, public health, scientific research and physical infrastructure.  Neglect of vital needs is a worse threat to American power, including military power, than the size of the Chinese navy or anything else that foreigners are doing.

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Why China and Russia draw closer together

May 29, 2014
One possible pipeline route

A possible gas route

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.
    ==Donald Rumsfeld

In April President Obama visited nations on the rim of eastern Asia to reassure them of U.S. support against China, whose government has aggressively laid claim to islands in the East China Sea that these nations regard as their territory.

China’s response has been to strengthen its ties with its inland neighbors, especially Russia and Russia’s client states in central Asia.   Last week China announced a $400 billion deal to buy natural gas from Russia.

At the same time President Xi Jinping called for greater military co-operation among China, Russia and Iran.

Another possible route

Another possible route

Guests at the Russian-Chinese conference included Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Nasr al-Maliki of Iraq and Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan.  Ironically, their presence together was made possible by the U.S.-backed regime change in Iraq and Afghanistan.  If Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq, he would not be found in the same room with a leader of Iran.  And the Taliban in Afghanistan, before the invasion, were much more anti-Russian than anti-USA.

Pepe Escobar, who has long reported on these developments for Asia Times, says that the most important event of the 21st century will be the economic integration of the Eurasian continent.

Many things could go wrong with this.  Just because something is announced doesn’t necessarily mean that it will happen.  But I don’t have any specific reason for doubting this will come true.

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Who will own the Ukrainian breadbasket?

May 19, 2014
economics

SMEs are “small and medium enterprises”

The rich black soil of Ukraine is the nation’s greatest asset.  The soil made Ukraine the breadbasket of Europe and Russia in an earlier era, and while nowadays Europeans import wheat from North America, the Ukrainian land is still a coveted prize.

Click to enlarge.

Note that none of this is certain.  Click to enlarge.

Investment in farmland by wealthy Ukrainians has tripled in the past five years, and the previous Ukrainian government discussed allowing foreigners to purchase Ukraine land.

There was even talk that the Chinese would lease an area larger than Massachusetts for 50 years.  I put this under the heading of “interesting if true.”  The fact that something is discussed doesn’t mean it will happen.  But Chinese have been buying up large amounts of farmland in Africa and Australia, so there is no reason why they wouldn’t be interested in Ukraine.

The conflict with Russia has disrupted both Ukrainian grain exports and the Ukrainian harvest, but this is temporary.  Analysts seek a great potential in Ukraine as a breadbasket, not for Europe and Russia, but for the rising middle class of Asia.

Who will own the breadbasket?  Ukraine has accepted a rescue package for the International Monetary Fund, which typically demands that countries open up their resources to foreign investment.  Presumably, in the current state of affairs, this would not include Russian investment.

The struggle in Ukraine is not only a conflict over language, ethnicity and political ideology; it is a struggle for control of resources.

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China, Russia and the future of Eurasia

May 19, 2014

centralasian_pipelines

When the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, European and American Marxists were surprised.  Marxist theory said Communism would come first to the most economically advanced countries.

But Bertrand Russell, in The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, wrote that Russia was the only country in which a Communist revolution could have taken place, aside from the USA.  A Communist revolution in Germany, France, Britain or some other country would be soon been destroyed by invasion or economic blockade of the capitalist countries.

The same was true of China, another country where a Communist revolution was not supposed to occur, but which has become, or is well on its way to become, the world’s leading economic power.  Russia and China are members of the BRICS bloc, a loose association which also includes Brazil, India and South Africa.  These rising nations see themselves as an alternative to the old G-7 group, consisting of  the USA, Canada, Britain, France, German, Italy and Japan.

Pepe Escobar, a roving foreign correspondent for Asia Times, interprets U.S. foreign policy as a doomed attempt to prevent Russia and China from dominating the heart of Eurasia, which he calls “Pipelineistan”.

While the USA has sacrificed its industrial base to financialization and militarization, China and Russia have been building up their energy infrastructure in the part of the world that is least vulnerable to American air and sea power or to blockade.  China is working on roads, railroads, pipelines and fiber optic networks that will reach across central Asia and Russia all the way to Europe, and negate U.S. control of the sea lanes.

Escobar wrote:

Embedded in the mad dash toward Cold War 2.0 are some ludicrous facts-on-the-ground: the US government, with $17.5 trillion in national debt and counting, is contemplating a financial showdown with Russia, the largest global energy producer and a major nuclear power, just as it’s also promoting an economically unsustainable military encirclement of its largest creditor, China.

Russia runs a sizeable trade surplus. Humongous Chinese banks will have no trouble helping Russian banks out if Western funds dry up.  In terms of inter-BRICS cooperation, few projects beat a $30 billion oil pipeline in the planning stages that will stretch from Russia to India via Northwest China.

Chinese companies are already eagerly discussing the possibility of taking part in the creation of a transport corridor from Russia into Crimea, as well as an airport, shipyard, and liquid natural gas terminal there.   And there’s another “thermonuclear” gambit in the making: the birth of a natural gas equivalent to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries that would include Russia, Iran, and reportedly disgruntled US ally Qatar.

The (unstated) BRICS long-term plan involves the creation of an alternative economic system featuring a basket of gold-backed currencies that would bypass the present America-centric global financial system.

via TomDispatch.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey for the link)

Unless either China or Russia changes course, the future of Russia is to be an energy and raw materials hinterland to China, the world’s leading industrial power.  It should be needless to say that this is not a development I welcome.  I would not wish anyone I care about to live under China’s or Russia’s authoritarian governments.

What should the United States do about this?  We should be building up our own country’s industrial strength rather than trying to prevent the rise of other nations.

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Did China bungle its age of discovery?

April 21, 2014

Voyages_of_Zheng_He_1405-33

More than 50 years before Columbus, the great Chinese admiral Zheng He (aks Cheng Ho) voyaged throughout the Indian Ocean, and down the coast of east Africa.  Some historians think he may have reached the Cape of Good Hope.  But he had no successors.   His voyages were merely a stunt, for the sake of prestige, like the U.S. moon landings.

Some historians have speculated that if the rulers of the Ming dynasty had followed up, there might have been a Chinese age of exploration and discovery, to rival the great European explorers.  Zheng He’s fleet was larger, both in numbers and in the size of the individual ships, than anything the European explorers sent out.

I’m not so sure.  As James C. Scott wrote in The Art of Not Being Governed, Chinese rulers historically have sought to control large numbers of people, not large areas of territory.  I have read a smattering of Chinese philosophy in translation, and it is all about a ruler who is wise and just can increase his wealth and power by encouraging people to migrate to his realm.

In the light of history, this might not have been a bad choice..   The English, French, Spanish and Portuguese spread all over the world, and they have millions of descendents in North and South America and other parts of the world, but this no longer adds to the power of the English, French, Spanish and Portuguese nations.

Today China, which did not seek to rule an overseas empire, is much more powerful than any of these countries.  That is not to deny that China is an empire.  Just ask the Uighurs (in what used to be called Chinese Turkestan) or the Tibetans.   It is that China is a more unified and enduring empire.

China never needed a merchant fleet or overseas outposts to participate in the world economy.   Since the days of the Roman Empire, merchants traveled the Silk Road across central Asia to buy Chinese silk, porcelains and other manufactured products.

Spain and Portugal sent out explorers to find routes to China and India so that their merchants could bypass the Muslim countries in between.   The Spanish conquistadors were greedy for gold and silver because it was scarce.  China and India had favorable balances of trade for centuries and a large fraction of the world’s precious metals ended up in those countries.   The Spanish regularly sent out treasure galleons from Mexico to the Philippines to trade with China.

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Most people live in or near India and China

April 21, 2014

These maps illustrate an important fact that I find hard to get my mind around – the immensity of the populations of China and India.   They aren’t just individual countries in the way the USA, the UK and Russia are countries.    They equal or exceed the populations of individual non-Asian countries.   There are provinces of China and India that are more populous than important European countries

Half the World

Double click to enlarge.

The top map shows that the combined populations of China, India, Japan and a couple of neighboring countries exceed the populations of the whole rest of the world.

The bottom map shows the world divided into equal segments of 1.2 billion persons each.  They show that the populations of (1) part of China plus Japan and (2) part of India plus Bangladesh and Burma are equal to the populations of  (3) all of North and South America plus Australia and New Zealand, (4) all of Europe plus western Asia, (5) all of Africa and (6) the rest of Asia.

worldpopulationbillions

Double click to enlarge.

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General Motors pivots toward China

March 6, 2014

This video, which has been making the rounds of the Internet for nearly two years, is deeply flawed, as well as possibly out of date.  But the producer, whoever he is, makes a good point.  The managements of General Motors and other big corporations headquartered in the United States are not especially American in their orientation.  They go wherever profit takes them.

I remember reading about some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, fantasizing about the possibility of creating their own nation on an uninhabited island, free of annoyance by the pesky U.S. government and American public.

This is not the case with the management of Chinese corporations.  They are closely aligned with the Chinese government and the goal of making China a rich and powerful nation.  This makes for an unbalanced relationship.

There are many economic reasons, including cheap labor, for U.S. companies to manufacture in China.  One of the reasons is that China is now the world’s largest market for automobiles, and no car manufacturer can afford to ignore the Chinese market.  And the Chinese government, like the governments of many other countries, does not allow foreign companies to sell products in their country unless they have local manufacturing content, and, more importantly, they share their manufacturing know-how.

When I reported on Eastman Kodak Co. and Xerox Corp. for the Rochester, N.Y., newspaper in the 1980s and 1990s, corporate executives explained that this was the reason they set up manufacturing plants in Mexico, Japan and other countries.

The government of the United States, which is the OPEC of consumption, was in a better position than any other to impose such requirements.  But this was not done.

The U.S. government operated under the theory that unrestricted free trade was best for everybody, and if other governments were so foolish as to hurt themselves by restricting trade, that was a problem for them, not for us.

The problem with such arguments is that when manufacturing goes away, the skills and knowledge needed to make things – the so-called human capital – goes away with them.

Instead of the U.S. government imposing domestic content requirements on foreign manufacturers, some of our state governments offer them economic incentives, tax abatements and an anti-union legislation.

To be clear, I don’t think government policy is the only reason, or even the main reason, why auto companies operate where they do, or whether they succeed or fail.  But it is a fact that the governments of most other industrial countries are pro-active in promoting domestic industry.  The U.S. government doesn’t take an interest in the success of its manufacturers until they are on the verge of bankruptcy.

Hat tip to Don Montana for the video.


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