Posts Tagged ‘China’

A Chinese pianist performs Beethoven

February 5, 2022

My musical knowledge and appreciation is below average and I never heard Beethoven’s beautiful Für Elise before I came across this performance by Lang Lang a week or so ago.  It’s wonderful!

It’s interesting that so many Chinese musicians are superb performers of music in the classical European tradition, and also that there is interest in China in the Greek and Latin classics, especially when so many in the West are losing interest in the classics.

Human rights and the impending crisis

January 28, 2022

Vladimir Putin in Western eyes.

The USA in Russian eyes

The U.S. government depicts its current clashes with Russia and China as a struggle of freedom vs. despotism.  

This is a half-truth.  

Russia and China do not accept historic Western ideals of human rights and limited government.  

In Russia, President Vladimir Putin lives in a billion-dollar palace built with embezzled funds.  The man who revealed this was poisoned and then imprisoned.

In China, President Xi Jinping is introducing a new “social credit” system that is intended to monitor the actions of every Chinese and reward or punish them for what they do.  It is a model for authoritarian governments all over the world.

But the USA cannot claim to be a defender of human rights.  It prosecutes Julian Assange and other truth-tellers for revealing war crimes, occupies Iraq against the expressed will of its government, uses economic sanctions to starve opposing nations into submission, etc. 

Instead the U.S. government has adopted a new concept of human rights based on racial and sexual identity and the sexual revolution.

I of course believe that everyone is entitled to equal justice under law, and no-one should be persecuted or prosecuted for being what they are, so long as they don’t harm third parties and so long as they recognize my right to be what I am.

But reasonable people can differ questions of kindergarten sex education, eligibility for men’s and women’s sports teams, male and female bathrooms, etc.  These are not human rights issues.

Leaders of many nations, not just Russia and China, reject U.S. cultural influence, and with reason.  They think U.S. influence means more pornography, consumerism (the idea that increase of material possessions means happiness) and an undermining of the traditional family.

Again, reasonable people can differ about these things.  But it behooves us Americans to have some sensitivity to other cultures, and accept the fact that we’re not in charge of the world.

The best way for us Americans to champion human rights is to set a good example.

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Historical traumas in Russia, China & the USA

January 22, 2022

I have a friend who, like me, is tired of the propaganda that passes for news nowadays.  He wondered how things would seem to our counterparts in Russia and China—say, to a retired school teacher born in the 1940s.

I can only guess at the answer.  I have no first-hand knowledge of these huge, diverse nations.  But there is no harm in speculating.  

For one thing, such people would have had more radical upheavals in their lives than my friend and I did.

A Russian retiree would have experienced the period of stagnation under Yuri Andropov and Leonid Brezhnev, the euphoria and collapse of the economy under Boris Yeltstin and the slow rebuilding under Putin’s corrupt oligarchy.  

A Chinese retiree would have experienced the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, rebuilding under Deng Xiaopeng and now the tightening up under Xi Jinping.

They would remember the economic collapse in Russia in the 1990s and the Cultural Revolution in China in the 1960s.   I imagine their main desire would be to keep these traumatic events from happening again. 

We Americans may be heading into our own versions of a Yeltsin-style economic collapse and a Mao-style cultural revolution.  

Our economy primarily benefits a small number of super-rich individuals and monopolistic corporations.  The USA never really recovered from the Great Recession of 1980.  Governmental policy props up the banks and financial markets, but does little for average American wage-earners.   This is very like Russian economic policy under Boris Yeltsin.

What’s propping up the U.S. economic is the power of the almighty dollar.  The fact that the whole world needs dollars in order to do business enables the U.S. government to continually cut taxes for the super-rich and finance a huge global military establishment.  

The end of dollar supremacy will leave the U.S. in the same position as other nations with big trade and governmental deficits.  We as a nation would have to raise taxes, cut spending, raise prices, cut wages and sell national assets to foreigners, just like Greece.  But our banks and big corporations may well come out all right.

The other problem with news coverage is what is called  “woke-ness,”  a blanket term for evolving taboos about what you must and mustn’t say in public about race, gender and sexual orientation.  The mentality in many ways is like the Chinese Cultural Revolution

Mao Zedong unleashed the Cultural Revolution in China in order to dismantle potential opponents and reassert control.  Big U.S. corporations, universities and government agencies allow woke-ness free rein because it diverts attention for their abuses.  In China, the movement got out of control.  The same could happen here.

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How to avoid war with Russia and China

January 5, 2022

Click to enlarge. Source: The Sun.

The way for the United States to avoid a shooting war with China and Russia is to unilaterally stop waging economic, diplomatic and covert war against those two countries, and to stop positioning offensive military forces near their borders.

I use the word “unilaterally” for two reasons. One is that we the American people get no benefit from our government’s Cold War against these two countries. Therefore it costs us nothing to give it up.

The other is that the leaders of these two countries are not going to negotiate with us because the U.S. government has proved itself, in a Russian phrase, “not agreement capable.”

The U.S. government has broken agreements under both Democratic and Republican admininstrations.  President George H.W. Bush and Secretary of State James Baker promised President Mikhail Gorbachev that, if he agreed to the reunification of Germany, the NATO alliance would not expand one inch eastward.  This agreement was broken by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump.  

President Obama signed a formal agreement, along with five other countries, to lift economic sanctions against Iran, in return for Iran’s accepting restrictions on their nuclear development program.  This was a sacrifice on the part of Iran, which looks to nuclear energy as a source of power when the oil runs dry.  It cost the USA nothing.

Even so, President Trump canceled the agreement, and President Joe Biden says he will not reinstate it unless Iran accepts additional restrictions.  But why would the government of Iran trust the USA?  Why would China or Russia?

War hawks argue that President Vladimir Putin is a new Adolf Hitler, who intends to conquer the former Soviet republics first, the former Soviet satellite states next, and, after that, who knows?  I don’t see any evidence of this.  I don’t see any evidence of Russian troops having a permanent presence in any country where they’re not wanted.

Russian “volunteers” helped the Russian-speaking secessionists in Donetz and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine.  But President Putin has ruled out annexing these regions to Russia.  He wants them to remain as part of Ukraine, but with autonomy to shield their people from extreme Ukrainian nationalists and neo-Nazis.

Russia did annex Crimea, but most Crimean residents are Russians and Crimea is the long-time location of a vital Russian naval and military base.  

If Russia was interested in reconquering former Soviet republics, it would have had a perfect excuse to do so in 1991.  Georgia attacked Russian troops in a neighboring territory, and Russians responded by occupying all of Georgia in a swift five-day war.  But then the Russians withdrew.  

If Russian troops had remained in Georgia, or if Russia invaded Ukraine proper, the result would be a quagmire war, similar to Russia’s war in Afghanistan.  I think Russian leaders have learned from experience, even if U.S. leaders have not.

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China and the conflict of civilizations

October 27, 2021

A blogger named N.S. Lyons has a Substack blog called The Upheaval on which he discusses the civilizational conflict between the USA and China. It’s not just an economic rivalry or a geopolitical struggle. It is a conflict of philosophies.

The USA is the heir to a liberal tradition, going back to Ancient Greece and Rome, that values freedom of the individual.  China is an ancient and successful civilization founded on quite different values.

All this is complicated by the USA’s embrace of what I call woke-ism and Lyons calls the New Faith.  

He has written two parts of a three-part series on China, to which I was waiting to link until he completed the third.  But now he has put his blog behind a paywall, and the third part evidently will be for subscribers only. I don’t like to link to articles that are behind paywalls, so here are links to the first two.

China Empire: What is China to us anyway?  Part One

The China Dream, Lyons wrote, is the dream of Empire.  At different periods of its history, China was a superpower.  Xi Jinping wants to make China great and powerful again.  In this respect, he is no different from Chinese rulers of the past.

The Chinese government commissioned a study of the rise of the great powers of the past few centuries—Great Britain, Imperial Germany and the USA—and concluded that their rise was due to (1) state-assisted economic development, fueled by foreign trade, and (2) a global infrastructure to protect it, including ocean-going British and U.S. navies.

China’s global infrastructure is its Belt and Roads Initiative—roads, pipelines, ports, power lines and fiber optic cables integrating not only the interior of Eurasia, but also connecting China with the whole world, including Africa, the Western Hemisphere and the Arctic.  China is building up its naval force as well.  

The history of European imperialism indicates that military power follows trade, in order to protect trade.  Lyons says that China already regards Eastern Asia as its sphere of influence, much like the USA’s Monroe Doctrine for Latin America.

The Inscrutable Ideology of the New China: Incoherence or totalitarian brilliance? Part Two.

China is officially a Marxist-Leninist country.  The ruling Communist Party enforces ideological conformity on all levels of society.

At the same time China is a highly competitive capitalist country.  Ambitious young Chinese endure what they call a “996” lifestyle—working from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. six days a week.  Wealth inequality is even greater in China than in the USA.

But China is not a free-market country.  State-owned enterprises own 40 percent of national assets and produce 40 percent of national output.  Businesses are expected to serve national goals.

In the West, N.S. Lyons noted, the fusion of an authoritarian government with corporate business is commonly called fascism.  Another characteristic of fascism is intense blood-and-soil ethnic nationalism, which President Xi also is promoting.  Meanwhile many young Chinese embrace an idea “lying flat,” which is doing the bare minimum required to get by.

So what China may be heading for, Lyons wrote, is a new synthesis embracing “the consumptive power of globalized neo-liberal capitalism, the state-directed economic and military might of fascism, the social control of communism, the moralistic welfare-statism of progressivism and absolutely none of the messy liberalism of ye old republican democracy.”

In other words, China is full is contradictions, just like the USA and the West as a whole.

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Both articles are well worth reading in full.  If and when Lyons publishes his Part Three, I will summarize it and, if it is not behind his paywall, link to it.

China, journalism, strikes: Links 10/15/2021

October 15, 2021

The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning by N.S. Lyons for Palladium.   The clash of civilizations.

Intersectional Imperialism and the Woke Cold War: The New Faith Prepares for a Global Crusade by N.S. Lyons for The Upheaval.

‘Frozen Chosin’ Korean War Movie Set to Be Biggest Hit of 2021 by James Barber for Military.com.  In the movie, the Chinese are the good guys.

Out of the Newsroom by Spencer Ackerman for Forever Wars.  Newspapers whose reporters and editors all work from home.

“Government Without Newspapers”: the manufacture of ignorance by Patrick Lawrence for The Scrum.

A strike wave is coming to save America’s working class the old-fashioned way by Will Bunch for The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Great Strike of 2021 by Jack Rasmus.  They also strike who simply refuse to take dangerous jobs for less than a living wage.

Why Record Numbers of Workers Are Quitting and Striking by Sonali Kolhatkar via Naked Capitalism. [Added 10/16/2021]

The Untraversed Land by John Michael Greer for Ecosophia.   How the structure of the world economy causes shortages.

The Afghan War Comes Home to Minneapolis by Thomas Neuburger for God’s Spies.

The Unvaccinated May Not Be Who You Think by Zeynep Tufeckci for The New York Times.

How many people get long Covid?  More than half of those infected, researchers say by Pennsylvania State University.

The old Cold War and the coming one

October 11, 2021

The United States is gearing up for a new Cold War with China.  But the new Cold War will be difference from the one with the Soviet Union.  In some ways, the roles are reversed.

At the outbreak of the first Cold War in the late 1940s, the United States was the world’s leading industrial power and a champion of the status quo.

The Soviet Union tried to catch up with the USA, but never succeeded. It was seen as threat, first, because of its nuclear arsenal. It was, and still is, the only nation with the capability of destroying the United States. Its ability to retaliate with nuclear weapons made it virtually invulnerable to attack.

It also was a threat because it used its invulnerable position to subsidize, sponsor and inspire insurgents and terrorists all over the world, which is not to say the USA did not itself engage in covert action and dirty tricks.

The Cold War ended because the Soviet Union’s failed economic system could not sustain its ambitions for world power.

Now compare that with the situation of the USA and China today. China is expected to surpass the United States as an industrial power within a few years.  By some measure, it already has.

China is a defender of the status quo, except for certain border area claims.  Unlike the old Soviet Union, it doesn’t have a national goal of making the world over in its image.

It doesn’t project its military power far beyond its borders. Its main tool for power is to grant or deny access to its huge market to nations, companies and individuals based on whether they pay lip service to or go against Chinese perceived national security interests.

One of the main sources of U.S. power is the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which gives it the same invulnerability to attack as the old Soviet Union had and the Russian Federation still has.

The other source is financial power, a legacy of the late 1940s when the USA was the world’s main industrial power. The fact that the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasury bonds are still the basis of the world’s financial system gives the U.S. government leverage it does not hesitate to use.

It uses its position to finance covert wars, proxy wars and acts of war short of full-scale invasion. It is a source of instability, not stability. The Chinese, except in their own borderlands, and their Russia allies are champions of world order and the status quo.

In the old Cold War, the Soviet Union was pushing an ideology.  In the new Cold War, the U.S. is trying to impose “woke-ness” and neoliberalism on the world.  In the old Cold War, time was on the side of the USA.  In the new Cold War, time is on the side of China.

Of course there are a lot of things wrong with the world as it is.  Accepting the status quo means accepting tyranny, poverty and war.  And the Chinese system is not one that I would wish to live under.

Maybe I push the role reversal analogy too far.  But U.S. interventions do not make the world better, and are not really intended to.  The present-day USA is a disrupter.  China, unlike in the Mao era, is not a disruptor.  And unlike in the first Cold War, time is not on the side of the USA.

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China and Russia are the real winners

August 19, 2021

The real winners in Afghanistan were Russia and China.   The intrepid foreign correspondent Pepe Escobar of Asia Times reported on how the Russians and Chinese have advised the Taliban on how to put their best foot forward.  He went on to write:

What matters is that Russia-China are way ahead of the curve, cultivating parallel inside tracks of diplomatic dialogue with the Taliban. 

It’s always crucial to remember that Russia harbors 20 million Muslims, and China at least 35 million.  These will be called to support the immense project of Afghan reconstruction – and full Eurasia reintegration.

Source: BBC

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi saw it coming weeks ago.  And that explains the meeting in Tianjin in late July, when he hosted a high-level Taliban delegation, led by Mullah Baradar, de facto conferring them total political legitimacy.

Beijing already knew the Saigon moment was inevitable. Thus the statement stressing China expected to “play an important role in the process of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction in Afghanistan”.

What this means in practice is China will be a partner of Afghanistan on infrastructure investment, via Pakistan, incorporating it into an expanded China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) bound to diversify connectivity channels with Central Asia.

The New Silk Road corridor from Xinjiang to the port of Gwadar in the Arabian Sea will branch out: the first graphic illustration is Chinese construction of the ultra-strategic Peshawar-Kabul highway.

The Chinese are also building a major road across the geologically spectacular, deserted Wakhan corridor from western Xinjiang all the way to Badakhshan province, which incidentally, is now under total Taliban control.

The trade off is quite straightforward: the Taliban should allow no safe haven for the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), and no interference in Xinjiang.

The overall trade/security combo looks like a certified win-win.  And we’re not even talking about future deals allowing China to exploit Afghanistan’s immense mineral wealth.

LINK

How Russia-China are stage-managing the Taliban by Pepe Escobar for The Vineyard of the Saker.

The enduring strength of Chinese culture

May 27, 2021

The Han Chinese are one of the oldest, largest and most unified of the world’s ethnic groups.  Their current success is not only due to their government’s policies, but the enduring strength of their culture.

For many centuries, the Chinese had a claim to be the world’s most advanced culture.  Marco Polo, who visited China in the late 13th century, was astonished at the wealth and wonders of China, including transformative inventions such as gunpowder, the magnetic compass, the printing press and paper money.

The purpose of the voyages of Christopher Columbus were to establish a sea route so Europeans could buy Chinese tea, porcelain (valuable dishware is still called “china”), silk and other manufactured products without going through intermediaries.

But then as now, there was a trade deficit.  As the Emperor Qianlong told the British McCartney mission in 1792-1794, the Europeans didn’t manufacture anything that the Chinese needed.  The British response was the Opium Wars.

Chinese culture was shaped by Confucius (Kung Tze), who taught the importance of duty, loyalty and responsibility—not individual self-expression.

Confucianism is based on five filial relationships—father to son, teacher to student, older brother to younger brother, older friend to younger friend and ruler to subject.

Society is seen as an extended patriarchal family.  Sons, students and subjects owe loyalty to their fathers, teachers and rulers.  Fathers, teachers and rulers have a responsibility to mentor and provide for their sons, students and subjects.

These are not equal relationships, but they are reciprocal relationships.  There is a historic Chinese belief that subjects have a right to rebel against rulers who have lost the “mandate of Heaven.”    

Government service throughout Chinese history was based on passage of examinations, a process that in theory and frequently in practice eliminated old-boy networks and provided opportunity for the poor but talented.

The Chinese have a history of absorbing not only their subjugated peoples, but their conquerors, such as the Mongols and Manchus, through intermarriage and cultural assimilation.  We can see this process going on now, with the Tibetans and Uighurs.

We Americans see diversity as our strength.  We attract people from all over the world, with different talents and ideas, and they all supposedly contribute to the common good.

But this only works if there is a unity underlying the diversity.  Bringing diverse people together in one place accomplishes nothing unless they have a common purpose.  Otherwise it is better to be unified and homogeneous, like the Chinese.

Belief in filial virtues means Chinese typically have strong family ties.

In some cultures, excessive loyalty to family can be a weakness.  Enterprising family members are held back by their duty to provide for their non-enterprising members.

But it can be a strength if the family is united in an ambition to be a dynasty.  The fictional Kee family in James Michener’s Hawaii, with its hard-driving matriarch, Char Nyuk Tsin (“Auntie Chow’s Mother), is an example of this.

Amy Chua’s “tiger mother” is almost a caricature of this.

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The greatness of Deng Xiaoping

May 26, 2021

Arguably Deng Xiaopeng was the greatest Chinese statesman of the 20th century.  Ezra Vogel wrote a biography of Deng, and discusses it in the video above.  I found the video highly enlightening, and maybe you will, too.

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China pioneers digital currency

May 26, 2021

How did China become so mighty?

May 24, 2021

Image via Debating Europe

When I was a schoolboy in the 1940s, I felt sorry for the poor Chinese.

I was taught they were doomed to famine because their enormous population—400 million—exceeded the carrying capacity of the land.

The saying was that if the Chinese marched four abreast past a given point, they would march forever, because by the time the first 400 million had passed, there would be another 400 million behind them.

All this was too bad, because the Chinese were a highly civilized people and in some ways very wise.  For example, they paid their doctors when they were well and not when they were sick.  But, so I was taught, they were hopelessly behind the times.

Now China has a billion more people than it had then.  While some of them, especially the rural villagers, are poor by European and North American standards, none are in danger of starvation anytime soon.

The fertility rate of Chinese women is below the replacement rate, so the imaginary columns of marching Chinese would end at some point.

And much more importantly, the Chinese in many ways have replaced us Americans as pace-setters for world progress.  Charts in my previous post show some benchmarks of Chinese progress

The Chinese are the world’s top manufacturing nation and top exporting nationTheir technology is highly advanced.

During the past 20 years in particular, the USA has been struggling with self-created problems–military overstretch, governmental paralysis, racial conflict, while the Chinese have gone from strength to strength.

China’s rise does not, in and of itself, threaten American independence and prosperity.  The reason we Americans should be concerned is that China’s rulers reject America’s professed ideas of democracy, free-market economics and human rights, and yet are moving ahead while we Americans are falling behind.

China’s mercantilism

Click to enlarge.

China’s economic takeoff began shortly after the death of Mao Zedong, when the government shifted from a centrally-planned economy of state socialism to be loosely-guided economy of capitalist mercantilism.

Mercantilists do not believe in unrestricted free enterprise and they especially do not believe in unrestricted free trade.  Instead they believe in supporting industry by means of infrastructure improvements, protective tariffs and other subsidies.

This was the policy of Alexander Hamilton in the USA, of Friedrich List in Germany and of Deng Xiaopeng in China. 

It has been the policy of many countries, not always successfully.  But the Chinese made it work.

American companies were allowed to operate in China, using Chinese labor and gaining access to the huge Chinese market.  But they were subject to certain conditions.  They had to employ Chinese workers—not just blue-collar workers, but engineers and managers.  They had to allow some Chinese ownership.

And, most importantly, they had to transfer technological know-how to the Chinese.

Other countries besides the Chinese set conditions for entering their markets.  When I reported on business for my local newspaper, I was told by Kodak and Xerox managers that these companies had branch plants in Mexico because the Mexican government would not allow them to see film or copies in Mexico unless there was a certain amount of ”value added” in that country.

China represents an extreme and the USA represents another extreme. 

The Chinese government wants foreign investment to add to that country’s industrial base.  The U.S. government doesn’t care.  About 98 percent of foreign direct investment in the United States consists of purchase of existing assets, not investment in new capacity.

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China, the emerging superpower: in charts

May 24, 2021

The USA still has the world’s largest gross domestic product, but that may not mean as much as it seems.  It includes useless and harmful spending as well as useful spending.

China is by far the world’s leading manufacturing nation.

It is overtaking the United States as the world’s leading trading nation.

China’s global reach is being extended by its “belt and road intiative.”   China intends to finance pipelines, railroads, highways, seaports and other transportation infrastructure so as to economically integrate the whole of Eurasia, with China as the hub.  Admittedly, much of what’s shown on the maps is still on the drawing board, but even if the plan is only partly carried out, it could have a big impact.

Click to enlarge.

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China’s triumph in maritime shipping

December 4, 2020

Double click to enlarge

As recently as 2006, only three of the world’s 20 busiest ports were Chinese.  Now nine of them are, including seven of the top 10.

Notice that China’s largest port, Shanghai, does more than four times the business of the largest U.S. port, Los Angeles.

Along with this, the Chinese government plans to make China the hub of overland shipping within the Eurasian interior by constructing railroads and oil and gas pipelines.

The problem for the USA is not China.  It is that our American leaders have been pursuing a goal of military and financial dominance while neglecting the real sources of national economic strength.

LINK

Visualizing the World’s Busiest Ports by Nick Routley for Visual Capitalist.  Lots of interesting detail.  Note that the chart is nearly two years old.  Very likely China has increased its advantage since then.

The passing scene: links & comments 7/24/2020

July 24, 2020

Who Is the Most Dangerous Fascist? by Glen Ford, editor of the Black Agenda Report.  The best perspective on Donald Trump and fascism I’ve read yet.

Biden Just Made a Big Promise to His Wall Street Donors by David Sirota on Too Much Information

Cold War Escapades in the Pacific by Patrick Lawrence for Consortiumnews.  The danger of war with China.

Russian coronavirus doctors are mysteriously falling out of windows by Alex Ward for Vox.

Chevron vs. human rights – big consequences for the man who fought big oil on We Don’t Have Time.  A lawyer is literally under house arrest and faces criminal charges in the USA for having won an environmental lawsuit against Chevron in Ecuador.

A Conversation With Walter Benn Michaels and Adolph Reed Jr. for The Bellows.  Benn Michaels and Reed are the best-known critics of “race reductionism.”

What You Need to Know About the Battle of Portland by Robert Evans for bellingcat.

The rise and fall of a love affair with China

July 10, 2020

Winston Sterzel is a British South African who settled in China 14-odd years ago.  My fellow blogger “Nikolai Vladivostok” recommends his YouTube channel, SerpentZA: Stay Awesome, China!, which is about life in China.   I got around to watching his videos just this week, only to find that Sterzel has decided to leave China.

He gave his reasons for being fascinated with China in the video above.  He gave his reasons for leaving in the video below.

It is hard to find a non-propaganda view of China.  Sterzel is an intelligent person of good will whose views are not based on promoting a vested interest or ideological agenda.  His videos are well worth watching.  They might not be the last word, but I trust him more than most.

Sterzel went to China when the nation was booming under the leadership of Deng Xiaopeng.  Dang was in no sense a believer in democracy or human rights as these words are understood in the USA.  But he allowed enough slack in the Chinese system to allow a creativity and enterprise to blossom.  He also set up an orderly succession system, so there would not be a struggle for power like that following the death of Mao Zedong.

China’s new ruler, Xi Jinping, is tightening up the system.  He is restoring Maoist thought control, using advanced surveillance technology to monitor and modify all aspects of human behavior.  He also has declared himself ruler for life.  Whether this is compatible with China’s continued growth in wealth and power remains to be seen.

I read the work of Pepe Escobar, who believes that China’s Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, will bring about the economic integration of Eurasia—China, Central Asia, Russia, Iran and lands beyond.  This potentially could be as important a development in human history as the European Age of Discovery initiated by Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama.

Escobar presents the geopolitical and historical overview.  Winston Sterzel presents the ground-level view.  He makes me wonder whether Xi’s great dreams are all they’re cracked up to be.

LINKS

SerpentZA: Stay Awesome, China!.  A gallery of intriguing videos.

Pepe Escobar: A Roving Eye on Globalistan.

Dr. Tedros, the WHO, Africa and Chinese power

May 8, 2020

Nikolai Vladivostok is the blog handle of an Australian expatriate who has worked extensively in the Horn of  Africa.  He made four posts that contain good information about China, and its influence on the World Health Organization and Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the director of WHO, which I haven’t come across elsewhere.

Here are links to the four posts—all well worth reading.

Dr. Tedros

Trust WHO?

Who the hell is Tedros?

How did China wrest control of the WHO?

How does Tedros manipulate the WHO?

N.V. described how the Chinese have extended their economic influence into Africa and used their leverage on African governments to influence United Nations agencies, including the World Health Organization, and how that paid off during the coronavirus pandemic.

I’ve been skeptical of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s attempt to blame China for the spread of the virus.  I see it as a cynical attempt to divert attention from U.S. failures and to weaken China politically.

But propaganda—systemic attempts to influence public opinion—is not necessarily false.  There is circumstantial evidence that the virus could have originated in a Chinese research lab (not a bio-warfare lab) and escaped into the world through negligence.  I don’t claim to know the whole story, but there certainly is something to investigate.

The Chinese government has used the coronavirus pandemic to increase its geo-political influence.  It presents itself to the world as a kindly helper—the opposite of the U.S. government, whose diplomacy is based on threats and naked self-interest.

As the old saying goes, you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.  But if you are a fly, it doesn’t matter how you are caught.

Should we scapegoat China for the pandemic?

April 24, 2020

The Trump administration blames China for the coronavirus pandemic.  Administration sources say that if Xi Jinping had acted a week sooner than he did, some 95 percent of the infections in China could have been avoided.

Some go on to suggest that the Chinese government may lying about the pandemic.  They say it may have originated in a bio-lab and not in unsanitary live-animal meat markets as is generally believed.  And they say that Xi Jinping is lying about China’s success in bringing the pandemic under control.

Xi Jinping

I think there’s something to the first claim, but it’s a case of a pot calling a kettle black.  The world would have been better off if Donald Trump had acted six weeks sooner than he did.   People who live in a glass house throwing stones.

And while it’s possible that the Chinese government is lying, the U.S. government does’t have a good record for truth-telling.  Recall the claims that the Iraqi government had weapons of mass destruction, that the Syrian government used sarin gas against its people and that Iran was developing nuclear weapons.

I’m reminded of a comment made by the late Richard Feynman when somebody asked him whether it was possible that UFOs are piloted by extraterrestrials.  He replied that he wasn’t interested in what was possible, but in what was so.

Lots of things are possible, but claims require evidence—or at least the considered opinion of some qualified expert who doesn’t have a conflict of interest.

The states of Missouri and Mississippi are suing China in U.S. courts.  Presumably the lawsuit won’t get anywhere because of the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act, which bars lawsuits against foreign countries.

There’s a good reason for such a law.  If the Americans could sue foreign countries in U.S. courts and get damages, presumably by seizing foreign assets in the United States, then foreigners could sue the USA in their own courts and seize American assets.

My first thought in writing this post was that ramping up the cold war with China was a terrible idea because the U.S. depends on China for 80 percent of essential drugs.

However, a Google search turned up an article in Reason magazine that show this dependence is greatly exaggerated.  Nobody knows for sure, but the likely figure is closer ti 13 percent from China.

It is true that we Americans are overly dependent on foreign countries overall for medical supplies and much else.  We should do what we can to reduce that dependence, but that will be a project that will take years—assuming we can do it at all.  Meanwhile we can’t afford any break in these fragile global supply chains.

The other problem with scapegoating China is that it is a distraction from American failure.  For example, many countries screen travelers arriving at their airports from foreign countries.  If the traveler has a temperature, he or she is placed in quarantine for 14 days.  But travelers arriving at the New York City airports are allowed to go their way without checking.

It’s not a good sign when governments put excuses for failure in place while the crisis is still ongoing.  It means nothing will be learned from experience.

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China to reopen its filthy live-animal markets

March 31, 2020

Wet market in Guilin, China in 2014. Business Insider.

The coronavirus pandemic is believed to have originated in filthy live-animal meat markets in Wuhan, China.  Now the Chinese government plans to allow these sources of infection to re-open.

A would-be totalitarian government can’t or won’t enforce basic public health measures.

This endangers not only the Chinese people, but the whole world.

Maybe this is a reflection on human nature.  It is easier to make people give up basic rights as citizens than give up cherished habits.

The point is not whether the Chinese government is mainly to blame for the pandemic.  That is a question for a later time.  The point is to demand that China change its policy once again and safeguard itself and the world.

Although the Chinese authorities originally suppressed news of the coronavirus outbreak, they then responded in a way I thought was magnificent.

Dan Wang, a business researcher, and Don McNeil, a New York Times reporter, described China’s effective quarantine and testing.

The Chinese built new hospitals in a matter of days, sequenced the virus genome and shared the information with the world, and provided needed medical supplies to other nations.

They’re getting a lot of credit for their achievements, which they deserve, but they also deserve condemnation for leaving the causes of the virus outbreak untouched and for spreading propaganda about U.S. biowarfare in order to distract attention from their own failures.

I know my own country’s leaders do not have great credibility.  China’s leaders see an opportunity to enhance their country’s power and prestige and I do not blame them for taking advantage of it.

But they’ll have greater prestige in the long run if they face facts and stop lying.

LINK

China’s Assault on the World by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.  This is a good roundup of all the things the Chinese government is doing wrong.  Dreher advocates severance of all ties with China.  This is easier said than done.

Witnessing Wuhan by Tracy Wen Lui for Project Syndicate [Added 4/3/2020]

Note; I made minor rewrites a few hours after posting this.

The coronavirus and the new China-U.S. cold war

March 19, 2020

Xi Jinping visits Wuhan on March 10.  Photo via Unz Review

Xi Jinping is using the coronavirus pandemic to discredit the USA and to position China as the world leader and exemplar.

He contrasts China’s decisive response to the Wuhan outbreak to the slow, fumbling U.S. response.

He contrasts China’s generosity in helping other nations with U.S. economic warfare against vulnerable states.

And his government is spreading a theory that the disease originated not in a Wuhan meat market, but in a U.S. biowarfare laboratory.

Pete Escobar of Asia Times reported—

Beijing is carefully, incrementally shaping the narrative that, from the beginning of the coronovirus attack, the leadership knew it was under a hybrid war attack.

Xi’s terminology is a major clue. He said, on the record, that this was war.  And, as a counter-attack, a “people’s war” had to be launched.

Moreover, he described the virus as a demon or devil.  Xi is a Confucianist.  Unlike some other ancient Chinese thinkers, Confucius was loath to discuss supernatural forces and judgment in the afterlife.

However, in a Chinese cultural context, devil means “white devils” or “foreign devils”: guailo in Mandarin, gweilo in Cantonese. This was Xi delivering a powerful statement in code.

When Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, voiced in an incandescent tweet the possibility that “it might be US Army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan” – the first blast to this effect to come from a top official – Beijing was sending up a trial balloon signaliing that the gloves were finally off.  

Zhao Lijian made a direct connection with the Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019, which included a delegation of 300 US military.

Via Asia Times

The Chinese leaders claim to have the coronavirus under control in their own country, and now are taking a lead in fighting the disease worldwide.  Pepe Escobar went on to report—

Beijing sent an Air China flight to Italy carrying 2,300 big boxes full of masks bearing the script, “We are waves from the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden.”

China also sent a hefty humanitarian package to Iran, significantly aboard eight flights from Mahan Air – an airline under illegal, unilateral Trump administration sanctions.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic could not have been more explicit: “The only country that can help us is China. By now, you all understood that European solidarity does not exist. That was a fairy tale on paper.”

Under harsh sanctions and demonized since forever, Cuba is still able to perform breakthroughs – even on biotechnology. The anti-viral Heberon – or Interferon Alpha 2b – a therapeutic, not a vaccine, has been used with great success in the treatment of coronavirus.  

A joint venture in China is producing an inhalable version, and at least 15 nations are already interested in importing the therapeutic.

Now compare all of the above with the Trump administration offering $1 billion to poach German scientists working at biotech firm Curevac, based in Thuringia, on an experimental vaccine against Covid-19, to have it as a vaccine “only for the United States.”

Via Asia Times

China’s governing philosophy is a weird mixture of Maoist thought control, Confucian conservatism, blood-and-soil nationalism and neoliberal capitalism, together with elements of independent civil society left over from the Deng Xiaopeng era.  But Chinese success and American failure to deal with the coronavirus make the Chinese system highly appealing.

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What it takes to fight the coronavirus

March 16, 2020

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The USA, China and the coronavirus pandemic

March 14, 2020

We Americans have long liked to think of our ideals of freedom and democracy as models for the world.  But China, whose leaders reject those ideals, seems to be doing a better job that we are of protecting its citizens and the world from COVID-19.

Advocates of democracy claim that our system is better because it provides a reality check.  When the government fails to do its job, the loyal opposition and free press are there to point it out.

Click to enlarge

China’s initial response to the coronavirus showed the truth of this.  The first physicians to detect the coronavirus were threatened by police for spreading false rumors.

But once China’s rulers realized the truth, they drew upon the strength of a totalitarian system, which is to be able to focus all a nation’s resources on a single objective.

By the way, I greatly admire the courageous Chinese doctors and nurses who risked their lives to stop the spread of the disease,  Not only the Chinese, but the whole world, owe them a debt.

The Chinese appear to have succeeded in stopping the spread of the disease in a relatively short time.  The number of cases in Hubei province, the center of the outbreak, seems to be leveling off at about 70,000.  This is cases, not fatalities.  Hubei has a population of 58 million, almost as great at italy, with 60 million.

Dan Wang, an American living in Beijing, reported on the effectiveness of quarantine measures there.

Click to enlarge. Source: Forbes

The problem with the Chinese system of government is: How can we be sure?  In any large, hierarchical organization, whether corporate, military or something else, those in the lower ranks will tell those in the lower ranks what they want to hear, and those in the higher ranks will tell those in the lower ranks what they want them to believe.

I think there will be a natural tendency of those on the lower levels of the Chinese hierarchy to report everything is under control, whether or not it is.  I know a college professor with a great many Chinese students.  She tells me they are all cynical about reports of success in China, and whether all Chinese cities will get the same protection as Beijing.

Under Deng Xiaopeng, there was enough of a limited free press and civil society to point out the problems.  Will this be true of Xi Jinping?

Based on what little I know, I think the Chinese have responded magnificently and the world owes them a debt.  But if the opposite were true, it would be a long time before I had any way to know it.

Here in the United States, we have Donald Trump, a totally incompetent, but democratically-elected leader who denies reality as blatantly and obviously as any Communist ruler of old.

The saving grace of our system is that his failure to lead is not hidden.  it is obvious to anyone who has eyes to see and a willingness to face facts.

And the other saving grace is that we the people can take constructive action without waiting for orders from the federal government.  State and local governments, universities, research centers, commercial corporations and civic groups are all taking corrective action.

Still, we should ask ourselves.  How is it that we are so completely unprepared?  Why do we have so few hospital beds?  Why is it that China and other countries are able to test for COVID-19 on a large scale and we are not?

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China bids for world leadership

February 19, 2020

China has the world’s largest or second largest economy, depending on how it is measured.  It is world’s leading manufacturer and exporter.  It has nuclear weapons and the world’s largest standing army.

Its leader, Xi Jinping, has a plan to connect the interior of Eurasia an integrated whole, through construction of railroads and oil and gas pipelines.

This Belt and Roads Initiative, together with China’s informal military alliance with Russia, would make the interior of Eurasia an economic zone dominated by China and largely invulnerable to U.S. sea and air power.

It would mean world leadership for a nation whose leaders explicitly reject such ideas as universal values, intrinsic human rights, freedom of the press and an independent judiciary—ideas that we Americans consider foundations of Western civilization.

How likely is it that China’s leaders can realize these ambitions?  A scholar named Elizabeth C. Economy took a calm and skeptical look at China in a 2018 book entitled THE THIRD REVOLUTION: Xi Jinping and the New Chinese State.

The first revolution, in her view, was Mao Zedong’s victory over Chiang Kaishek in 1949.

Mao made China a unified nation free of foreign influence, and started China on the road to industrialization.  But his utopian dreams and totalitarian government brought China to the brink of collapse.

Hundreds of thousands and maybe millions of Chinese were killed in purges.  Millions and maybe tens of millions starved to death because nobody dared tell the truth about his failed agricultural policies.  Mao’s Cultural Revolution, intended to break up a new emerging social hierarchy, reduced the whole country to chaos.

The second revolution, in her view, was the emergence of Deng Xiaoping.  He accomplished what few leaders in history have been able to do—reform an authoritarian government.   Typically reformers fail to change the system, like Khrushchev, or undermine the stability of what they are trying to reform, like Gorbachev.

Deng loosened the authority of the Communist Party and relaxed economic controls just enough to allow for individual initiative, while keeping control.   He set up a system of collective leadership with an orderly succession.

Unlike Mao, he kept in the background and exercised power from behind the scenes,  On the world scene, his policy was to quietly make China stronger without alarming the existing great powers.

His policies, and not Mao’s, produced a great leap forward in economic development.  China’s rise from the wreckage of the Cultural Revolution was as great an economic miracle as the rise of Germany and Japan from the ashes of World War Two.  Deng was one of the great statesmen of the 20th century.

Many Western observers thought that as China became integrated into the world economy, it would adopt liberal and democratic values.  Xi Jinping’s third revolution is intended to prevent this from happening.

Xi has eliminated tern limits.  He evidently intends to serve for life, which could mean a succession struggle like the one that followed the death of Mao.  He has reaffirmed Communist Party control of the economy, and insists on ideological orthodoxy.

But what is the meaning of Communist ideology in a country with a stock exchange, giant profit-seeking corporations and 485 billionaires?  Under Xi, Communism is reduced to Chinese nationalism and obedience to authority.

One reason for the downfall of the Soviet Union was that people stopped believing in Marxism-Leninism as an ideal.   How long can the Chinese believe in a “socialism with Chinese characteristics” that is indistinguishable from capitalism?

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The new Chinese surveillance state

January 29, 2020

Shoshana Zuboff warned us of the perils of American surveillance capitalism, and Edward Snowden of the American surveillance state.  But China’s ruler, Xi Jinping, is creating a surveillance system that leaves anything else far behind.

I recently read WE HAVE BEEN HARMONIZED: Life in China’s Surveillance State, by a German journalist named Kai Strittmatter, about how the components of the new system are now being put into place in different parts of China.

The components are:

A unified Internet service that combines the functions of a smart phone and a credit card, and allows for tracking of all electronic communication and all financial transactions.

A video surveillance system using facial recognition software that allows for tracking of all public behavior.

An artificial intelligence system capable of integrating all this information.

Algorithms that give people a “credit score” based on the government’s approval or disapproval of their behavior.

This is something like the two-way television sets in George Orwell’s 1984 and something like the East German Stasi’s real-life eavesdropping and surveillance system.

Both the fictional and the real system were limited by the human inability to keep track of everything all of the time.  The Chinese government’s hope is that advanced computer technology can overcome these limits.

At the same time, China is still an old-fashioned Soviet-style police state.  Dissidents are treated the same as in the Soviet Union in the 1970s.  The new controls do not replace the old.  Instead they are layered on top of them.

China, according to Strittmatter, is a virtually cashless society.  Payments are made through the WeChat app on the TenCent smartphone service or the Alipay app on the Alibaba service.  All transactions and all calls are monitored.

Certain words and phrases are forbidden in electronic communication. including “I do not agree,” “my emperor,” “Animal Farm” and “Winnie the Pooh”—the latter a nickname for the tall, stout, benign-looking  General Secretary Xi.

A law imposes three years in prison for anyone who posts a harmful rumor on the Internet, if it is shared 500 times or viewed 5,000 times.  There was a wave of arrests in 2013 for spreading false rumors.

Strittmatter saw a video surveillance system at an intersection that showed the faces of jaywalks on a huge screen, together with their names, home addresses and ID numbers.  These systems do not exist everywhere in China, but they are examples of what might be.

He saw a video surveillance system in a collage classroom that monitored whether students were paying attention.  It also recorded their facial expressions, which were fed into a system that supposedly could evaluate their feelings and emotions.

Robin Li, CEO of Baidu, a leading Chinese search engine company, told Strittmatter that his goal was to insert artificial intelligence into every aspect of human life.

The Chinese government plans to use this data to set up a “social credit” system which will give each Chinese person a score for “social truthworthiness.”  Strittmatter saw such a system being tested in the small city of Rongcheng.

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Where the world gets its stuff

December 9, 2019

Click to enlarge.

Most countries of the world used to get more stuff from the United States than they did from China.  But now it’s the other way around.  Now most countries buy more stuff from China.

This map, which has been making the rounds of the Internet, appeared in the Financial Times—behind a paywall, unfortunately for me, because I don’t subscribe to the FT.

Many economists think the turning point was in 2001 when China joined the World Trade Organization, which included the world’s most advanced industrial nations.

China became entitled to “most favored nation” status, which means no trade barrier against a WTO member could be higher than a barrier against any other member.

I say China’s gains had to do with the effectiveness of China’s industrial policy, and the lack of any U.S. industrial policy.

China told foreign nations that if they wish to sell goods in China, they would have to locate manufacturing facilities in China.  Furthermore they would have to share their technological know-how with Chinese partners.  Then the Chinese would take their new knowledge, improve on it, and use it o compete with their former partners.

The U.S. government, under Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, was content to let this happen.  American consumers benefitted from cheap imports, and stockholders in American companies shared the profits of offshoring.

Meanwhile the United States dissipated its wealth in waging pointless and inconclusive foreign wars, while China used its wealth to make itself stronger.

Unlike his predecessors, Donald Trump has correctly identified terms of trade with China as a problem.  He deserved credit for putting this issue on the table.

But his scattershot tariffs on Chinese goods do not solve the problem.  All they do is to create a market for goods from other low-wage countries.

The Chinese government successfully executed a long-range plan to build up its industrial strength, using subsidies but also building up the infrastructure and know-how of the nation as a whole.

The U.S. government has no plan.  It has been content to stand aside and allow financiers to hollow out U.S. manufacturing.  Tariffs aren’t an answer unless they are part of an overall strategy to rebuild.

The Chinese aren’t to blame for our problems.  Our leaders are to blame for our problems.  We are to blame for our leaders.

LINKS

The New China Syndrome: American business meets its new master by Barry C. Lynn for Harper’s magazine.

How Bill Clinton and American financiers armed China by Matt Stoller for BIG.

China Revolutionizes World Trade While Washington Dozes by Geoffrey Aronson for The American Conservative.