Posts Tagged ‘China’

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.  Dang 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.

China comes to the rescue of Iran

September 9, 2019

The Chinese and Iranian governments have announced that China will invest $400 billion to develop the Iranian oil and gas industry, a petroleum industry newsletter has reported.

The Iranian government has embraced the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the New Silk Road, an ambitious plan to build infrastructure to unify the economy of the interior of Eurasia under Chinese leadership.

It will include $120 billion for new oil and gas pipeline, including a pipeline through Turkey in violation of U.S. sanctions.  All the equipment for the new projects will be provided by Chinese contractors.

China has the right to buy Iranian oil at a discount and pay for it in soft currencies it has accumulated in dealings with countries in Africa and Asia.  This amounts to an overall 30 percent discount from the world price.

China will employ 5,000 “security personnel” to guard its properties.  This means that any attack on Iran would involve risk of killing Chinese and inviting Chinese retaliation.

Presumably the Iranians, like the Russians, would prefer to sell to Europe, their natural market, for full price, but the U.S. government has blocked them from doing business in Europe in dollars.

The goal of U.S. foreign policy for 70 years has been to control the oil of the Middle East.  Now the oil of Iran is within the Chinese sphere of influence.

There is little intrinsic common ground between China, Iran and Russia.  The U.S. government has driven them together by waging economic warfare against all three.  In the process, it is antagonizing its allies in Europe by forcing them to act against their economic interests.

China’s foreign policy makes it economically stronger.  United States foreign policy is a drain on U.S. strength.  China is making friends.  The U.S. is making enemies.  This will end better for China than it will for the United States.

LINKS

China Defies Trump Big Time With $400 Billion Belt and Road Investment, 5,000 Security Personnel by Juan Cole for Informed Comment.  Hat tip to peteybee.

China and Iran flesh out strategic partnership by Simon Watkins for Petroleum Economist.

How Tehran Fits into Russia-China Strategy by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

A novel of China between old and new

April 24, 2019

Ha Jin is a writer who immigrated to the United States in the 1980s and writes novels in English about China.  I liked his novel WAITING (1999), which I read after picking it up in the free book exchange at my local public library.

The novel is about life in China and about Lin Kong, a Chinese army doctor, who is torn between the old China of arranged marriages and subordination of the individual to the family and the new China of supervision of personal morality by the state.

Ha Jin depicted a China much more tranquil than I imagined.  The 1960s saw the tail-end of the Great Leap Forward and then the Cultural Revolution, but, in the novel, all this happens off-stage.

Nobody is forced into a collective farm at gunpoint, nobody is dragged off by the police, nobody is forced to confess their political sins at a mass meeting.  The worst thing that happens to Lin is that, during the Cultural Revolution, he turns in some of his books and puts covers on the others so that the titles don’t show.

He’s considered daring for owning a copy of the war memoirs of Marshall Zhukov in the original Russian.  Later on he encounters a high-ranking officer who is privileged enough to own a copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.

Everybody in the novel enjoys a modest prosperity.  The characters, except for a few high-ranking officials, all lead austere lives, but nobody lacks food, clothing or shelter.  Lin’s parents own a small piece of farmland, which nobody challenges their right to have.

That doesn’t mean that critical accounts of China such as Simon Leys’ essays or Jasper Becker’s Hungry Ghosts  are wrong, or that, on the other hand, the novel gives a false picture.  It means that China is a vast country, and not all one thing.

In 1962, Lin’s parents pressure him into an arranged marriage with the good-hearted, but illiterate and unattractive Shuyu, so that someone will be available to take care of them in their declining years.  She is one of the last Chinese women to have bound feet.  Lin has no desire to marry her, but goes along rather than defy his parents.

His military duty keeps him far from home, except for 12 days leave a year.  An attractive educated army nurse, Mannu Wu, falls in love with him, and, after a struggle with his feelings, he returns her love.  His superiors tolerate the relationship to the extent of allowing the couple to take walks together in private, but not to the extent of allowing adultery..

Each year, for 18 years, he  returns to his home village to ask Shuyu for a divorce, and each year she refuses.  He waits for the 18th year, when he can legally obtain a divorce without her consent and marry his true love.

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Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Moon

November 16, 2018

Kim Stanley Robinson is one of my three or four favorite science fiction writers.  Red Moon, which just came out, is not his best, but I like it. 

The action takes place in 2047 in China and on China’s future colony on the moon. The main viewpoint character is a young American named Fred Fredericks, who seems to be on the autism spectrum.  

He goes to the moon to deliver a secure two-way communication device based on quantum entanglement, and is framed for murder by mysterious Chinese political conspirators.

He becomes involved with a pregnant young Chinese woman, Chan Qi, who is both the spoiled, proud daughter of a powerful member of the Politburo and the figurehead leader of a vast Chinese protest movement.

They escape capture, flee, are captured again, escape again and flee again back down in China and up on the moon again. 

The growing relationship of these two characters, so very different in personality and cultural background, is the emotional core of the novel.

The second most important viewpoint character is Ta Shu, an elderly poet and celebrity Chinese poet, who takes a liking to Fred and tries to befriend him.  He engages in conversations with various old friends that provide the reader with background information on Chinese history, culture and current and future problems.

Ta Shu sees Chinese history and culture as continuous. and the Communist regime as the latest Chinese ruling dynasty, not as a revolutionary break with the past.

Then there is a rogue agent within the Chinese Great Firewall surveillance network, who is trying to track Qi and Fred while trying to teach an artificial intelligence program, nicknamed Little Eyeball, to think autonomously.

Robinson’s future China has benefitted from Xi Jinping’s reforms, of which the most important he sees not as  the Belt and Road Initiative (aka the New Silk Road), but landscape renewal and restoration.  The benefit is not only repair of the environmental damage created by China’s rapid industrialization, but in reduction in the amount of poverty and improvement in public health.

China in 2047 is the world’s foremost economic and technological power, and has used its new wealth and knowledge to colonize the southern hemisphere of the Moon, leaving the northern hemisphere to late-comers—the USA, the European Union, Brazil and other great powers.

But many problems remain.  First and foremost among these problems is a vast underclass, comparable to unauthorized immigrants in the USA, consisting of 500 million poor peasants who have left their villages without authorization to seek a better life in the cities, but who are mercilessly exploited because they are outside the protection of the law.

The goals of the protest movement are to abolish the hukuo system, which forbids Chinese to change residences without permission, to restore the “iron rice bowl” (guaranteed job security) and to establish the rule of law.  None of the characters wants to overthrow Communism, only to make the Party live up to its ideals.

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What’s so great about democracy?

November 14, 2018

My core political beliefs are the ideals of American freedom and democracy I was taught as a schoolboy.  My belief in freedom as a political ideal was challenged by a book I read recently, Why Liberalism Failed, by Patrick J. Deneen (2018).

Now I have read another, Breaking Democracy’s Spell  by John Dunn (2014), a gift from an old friend of mine, which questions democracy as a political ideal.

Dunn believes that the idea of democracy—especially as understood by 21st century Americans—is incoherent.  Unlike Deneen with liberalism, he does not have a theory of democracy; he just criticizes the shallowness of American thinking on the topic.  Oddly, he deals with the experience of only three countries, the USA, India and China.

He maintains that most Americans fail to realize that—

  1. Democracy does not guarantee good government.
  2. Democracy does not guarantee human rights or the rule of law.
  3. Voting affects governmental decisions but little.  Its main purpose is to give the public the impression they are in control.
  4. Democracy has been in bad repute through most of Western history.  
  5. Democracy’s current popularity is a product of specific circumstances in the past few centuries and may not last.
  6. China’s authoritarian system may prove to be more lasting than democracy as practiced in the USA or India.

Here are my thoughts.

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A growing China reboots totalitarianism

October 22, 2018

Source: Dissident.

My great fear during the Cold War was that the totalitarian USSR would outlast the democratic USA.  I was afraid that a dictatorship would be able to take a longer view than a democracy, and would be better able to prioritize military and diplomatic power.

The philosopher Bertrand Russell, for one, scoffed at these fears.  He said that a democracy would always be able to outlast a dictatorship because dictators insulate themselves from bad news, while, in a democracy, contested elections and a free press provide a reality check.  The fall of Communism in Europe in 1989-1991 appeared to prove him right.

Now the Chinese government has created a new and more effective totalitarianism.  It uses social media and other new techniques to control the population more effectively than Mao ever dreamed of—while keeping the old Communist police state as backup.

When China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001, Western leaders hoped that as China made economic progress, it would become more liberal and democratic.

China has made enormous economic progress.  Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been raised from poverty.  China is a major manufacturing nation.

Economic historian Adam Tooze said Chinese economic expansion was the main force pulling the world out of recession after 2008 and today contributes as much to world economic growth as the USA and Europe put together.

The Chinese Belt and Road Initiative, aka the New Silk Road, involves investing more than $1 trillion over the next 10 years to create a railroad, highway, pipeline and electrical grid extending over the whole of the interior of Eurasia, creating an integrated economy centering on China.

But if there was a possibility that this would make China more liberal and democratic, President Xi Jinping has moved to head it off.  Since 2013, China has been cracking down not only on corruption, but also on human rights lawyers, religious believers and critics o the government.

Xi Jinping has abolished the term limits that bound his predecessors and encouraged a Mao-style cult of personality.  There are even Institutes for the Study of Xi Jinping Thought.

Social media in China are monitored, and the Chinese government is in the process of implementing a scheme by which every Chinese citizen will be given a social credit score, based on an algorithm that takes into account credit history and good citizenship, but also opinions and associations, which can determine access to education, health care, credit and even public transportation.  This is powerful, because there is no individual against whom you can protest or to whom you can appeal.

In Xinjiang, members of the native Muslim Uighur population can be sent to Mao-style reeducation camps for the least little thing, even wearing a beard.  Surveillance cameras using facial recognition technology are everywhere.

China’s leaders have found a way to harness capitalism to the service of a capitalist government—much as Lenin tried to do with his New Economic Policy in the 1920s, allowing limited private business but maintaining ultimate control.  Maybe the USSR would have become like today’s China if not for Stalin’s forced collectivization drives.

There is a possibility that much of the rest of the world may come to regard China as a better example to follow than the United States.  Unless things change, the Chinese totalitarian model may prevail not through subversion or military force, but by force of successful example and as a price of doing business with China.

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China’s geopolitical strategy is economic

October 17, 2018

There is an old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar.”  While U.S. government tries to impose its will through threats of military action, covert action and economic sanctions, the Chinese have a long-range strategy based on offering economic incentives.   These two videos from Caspian Report give a good idea of what that strategy is and how it works.

The key parts of the strategy are the Belt and Road Initiative (aka New Silk Road) for extending roads, rail lines and oil and gas pipelines across the interior of Asia to connect China with other Asian nations, Russia and Europe, and also for buying rights to key seaports in the Indian Ocean and beyond.  Another is to finance infrastructure projects to Asian and African nations that can’t get credit from European and U.S. banks.

This is not altruistic.  It is a means of making China more powerful and secure, and giving the Chinese access to the world’s natural resources.  In the long run, leaders of small Third World nations may regret having got into debt to China.  But what do the USA—or, for that matter, the European Union—have to offer as an alternative?

The new New World Order

October 16, 2018

Following the collapse of Communism in eastern Europe in 1989, the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the emergence of China as a capitalist nation, American leaders declared the United States the world’s sole superpower.

After nearly 30 years, the U.S. government is still struggling with Russia and still struggling with China.

Following the 9/11 attacks, American leaders declared a worldwide “war on terror.”  After going on 20 years, that war is still going on, with no clear goal that I can see except to not admit defeat.

It’s time for our leaders and also we, the people, to consider that we may have made a mistake, painful and shameful as it may be to admit that.  It’s time to face facts, which are that (1) the United States isn’t and can’t be the world’s sole superpower and (2) continuous economic warfare and actual warfare is not sustainable.

I read two good articles this morning about the current international situation.  One is a survey by Pepe Escobar, a Brazilian who’s a roving correspondent for Asia Times.  The other consists of constructive suggestions by Col. Andrew Bacevich, a career military officer who served in combat in Vietnam, who had a second career as a professor of history and international relations at Boston University.

Both articles will tell you things about the changing balance of power that, if you’re an American, you won’t find in your daily newspaper or evening network television broadcast.

LINKS

Welcome to the G-20 from Hell: World leaders wrestle with a maelstrom of complex, burning issues as they prepare for November 30 summit by Pepe Escobar for Asia Times.

Unsolicited Advice for an Undeclared Presidential Candidate: a Letter to Elizabeth Warren by Andrew Bacevich for TomDispatch.

Trade power and financial power

August 28, 2018

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The international trade in goods is one thing and the international flow of money is another.

I came across these two charts showing how China is at the center of world trade in goods, and the United Kingdom is at the periphery, and the UK is at the center of world banking and China is at the periphery.

Economic historian Adam Tooze said that the UK is trying to make itself China’s financial gateway to the world.  It is well positioned to do that.   The danger is that the greatest current threat to the world economy is a Chinese meltdown, he wrote, and the UK is even more exposed than the rest of the world.

LINK

Trade and Finance – Two Very Different Visions of the Twenty-First Century Economic Condition by Adam Tooze.

 

China tries to draw Afghanistan into its orbit

December 30, 2017

China’s ancient Silk Road

China’s modern Silk Road

The U.S. government for 15 years has been trying to pacify Afghanistan, without success.

During these same 15 years, the Chinese government has been extending its power and influence into the interior of Asia by investing in railroads, oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure across the region at the invitation of local governments..

The Chinese call this the “Belts and Roads Initiative”—the belts being the oil and gas pipelines. Others call it the New Silk Road.

Recently China made an agreement with Pakistan to create an economic development corridor, culminating in a port giving China direct access to the Indian Ocean near the Persian Gulf.   Now China and Pakistan are trying to draw Afghanistan into their economic alliance.

I don’t know how all this will turn out.  Many things can go wrong.

But it seems clear that Beijing has been more effective in extending its power by offering material benefits than Washington has by means of military intervention and economic sanctions.

Furthermore China’s policies have made it economically stronger while U.S. policies have depleted U.S. strength.

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Trump: detente with Russia, conflict with China?

December 15, 2016

One good thing which I hoped to see in a Trump administration was a détente with Russia.

Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and in her campaign record seemed hell-bent on a military confrontation with Russia, the one country with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the United States, over issues that matter very little to the American people.

chinatrump1461102238372-cachedIt looks like this hope will be fulfilled.  Unfortunately Trump seems hell-bent on a military confrontation with China, and also with Iran.   This, too, could turn out badly for the United States and everybody else, although for different reasons.

President Trump isn’t even in office yet, and his lifetime success strategy is based on being unpredictable, so I don’t claim to be able to foresee what he will do.

But based on his appointments and his rhetoric, it appears as if he intends to intensify the “pivot to Asia” begun under the Obama administration.

The anti-Russia policy was based on economic sanctions, covert war and a military buildup to force Russia into a destructive arms race.    It appears as though an anti-China policy will be the same.

The problem with this, from the U.S. standpoint, is that China is a stronger economic power than the United States.  By some measures, it has a larger gross domestic product.  It has a stronger manufacturing economy.   The United States has a trade deficit with China.   The U.S. government probably could finance its budget deficit without selling some of its Treasury bonds to China, but it would be more difficult.

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A giant statue of Chinese warrior hero Guan Yu

September 24, 2016

giant-war-god-statue-general-guan-yu-sculpture-china-9

This 190-foot tall, 1,450-ton [*] statue represents Guan Yu, a heroic general and warrior who lived during China’s Three Kingdoms period (220-280 AD).   His famous Green Crescent Dragon Blade weighs 150 tons [*].  For comparison, the Statue of Liberty is 111 feet tall and weighs 225 tons.

Guan Yu was so fierce and righteous that he is worshiped as a god.  This statue, one of many in China, was erected last summer in the Chinese city of Jingzhou in Hubei province.  There is an even larger statue, 292 feet high, in his home town of Changping in Shanxi province.

He was a character in the famous Chinese historical novel, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which became the basis of many a Chinese movie and video game and is said to be one of the favorite reading of Mao Zedong.

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The US is already in a trade war with China

June 9, 2016

chinesesteelmillU165P5029T2D556619F24DT20130201141929

President Obama has a habit of undercutting Republicans by stealing their issues.  He is doing that to Donald Trump on trade.

Trump has threatened a trade war with China, but the Obama administration has already launched a trade war.

Trump proposes to hit China with protective tariffs of up to 45 percent on goods shipped to the United States.   But the Obama administration has authorized U.S. Steel Corp. to ask the International Trade Commission for permission for total ban on Chinese steel exports to the United States.

U.S. Steel executives ask for the ban in retaliation for theft of their trade and manufacturing secrets by Chinese hackers.

Earlier this year the Obama administration has imposed a tariff of 522 percent on cold-rolled flat steel from China and 72 percent of this type of steel from Japan.  Cold-rolled flat steel is used in auto manufacturing, shipping containers and construction.

The justification for the tariff is that Chinese companies are dumping steel on the world market below their cost of production.  They produced more steel than they can profitably sell, and so are trying to cut their losses by selling their product for whatever they can get.

Based on a quick reading of on-line news articles, I think there is a basis for the charges against the Chinese.  European countries also charge China with dumping.

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China, U.S. plan new open investment treaty

March 24, 2016

The U.S. and Chinese governments have nearly completed negotiations on a Chinese Bilateral Investment Treaty, which will make it easier for American companies to invest in China, and vice versa.

Such a treaty would serve the interests of the Chinese government and American corporations, but not necessarily the interests of American citizens and workers.

us-chinaAt the same time, the U.S. government is confronting China militarily in the South China Sea.  And President Obama is trying to sell the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement on the basis that it will enable the United States and not China to write the rules of international trade.

But this new treaty, based on what has been reported about it, will make the U.S. and Chinese economies even more interlocked than before.

The problem from my standpoint as an American citizen is the difference between the status of Chinese corporations and U.S.-based corporations in their home countries.  Chinese corporations serve the goals of Chinese government policy.  U.S.-based corporations serve the interests of their executives and stockholders, and them alone.

A U.S. investment in China could take the form of buying shares in Chinese companies, or it could take the form building factories or even retail stores in China.  The same would be true of Chinese investments in the United States.

Currently Chinese investment in the United States is greater than U.S. investment in China.  That is a natural result of the Chinese trade surplus.   Dollars that Chinese earn through exports have to go somewhere.  Some of them are used to buy Treasury bonds to help finance the federal government.   Others go to buy American assets.

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The Pentagon’s new war plan for North Korea

March 16, 2016

China watcher Peter Lee reports that the Pentagon has adopted a new war policy toward North Korea—a policy based on pre-emptive war rather than mere deterrence.

130410174145-lead-inside-a-pentagon-war-game-00011026-horizontal-galleryThe policy is that if American generals determine that North Korea is about to launch a war, they will order “surgical” strikes against North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and send in special forces teams to assassination North Korea’s leaders.

The problem with that, as Lee noted, is that if Kim Jong Un determines the U.S. is about to destroy North Korea’s nuclear defense and kill its leaders, he would try to strike first.  This is a racheting-up process that makes war more and more likely.

The Pentagon’s larger purpose, in Lee’s opinion, is to deter China—to, as the Chinese say, “kill the chicken to frighten the monkey.”

What’s interesting about Lee’s articles is that nowhere to they mention President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter or Secretary of State John Kerry.   The Pentagon evidently has its own policy independent of the policy set by the President and the Cabinet.

This is a vital Constitutional question.  Where does the power in government really lie?

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Does China’s currency manipulation hurt the US?

March 10, 2016

Hillary Clinton, John Kasich, Marco Rubio, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and other American politicians accuse the Chinese government of currency manipulation—that is, of keeping the exchange rate for its currency artificially low.

yuanperdollarchinareservesscreen-shot-2013-02-04-at-12-03-15-pm

As the charts indicate, this does not seem to be supported by the facts.  Notice that although the lines in the two charts are going in opposition direction, they both indicate that, over time, it takes fewer yuan to buy a dollar.  In other words, the value of the yuan over time is rising, not falling.

chinausdollar

Even if China was manipulating its currency in a nefarious way, I think it is futile for the U.S. government to demand that foreign countries act against their own perceived self-interest.

It is within Washington’s power to devalue the dollar, and there are reasons why this is not done.

Much of the world’s business is done in dollars.  This includes world oil sales.  Most of these dollars pass through American banks.

This is a source of Wall Street’s power and also Washington’s power.  It is why economic sanctions are so powerful a weapon of American foreign policy.  It is hard for foreign countries to avoid dealing with the United States and American banks.  As a debtor nation, the United States would not have nearly so much economic power otherwise.

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