It’s never good to dip into one’s savings just to live large. Gluttony and largess – when one can ill afford it – is foolish … and a sign of decadence. To me, the U.S. so-called pivot to Asia – emblemized by President Obama’s trip to Japan – represents just that.
TOKYO — President Obama encountered setbacks to two of his most cherished foreign-policy projects on Thursday, as he failed to achieve a trade deal that undergirds his strategic pivot to Asia and the Middle East peace process suffered a potentially irreparable breakdown.
Mr. Obama had hoped to use his visit here to announce an agreement under which Japan would open its markets in rice, beef, poultry and pork, a critical step toward the trade pact. But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was not able to overcome entrenched resistance from Japan’s farmers in time for the president’s visit.
This trip was supposed to show that the U.S. is back – and that the pivot is back on track. Yet, on the Washington Post, you will not see any article on Obama’s Japan trip on the top (home) page. On New York Times Home Page, you see just one (the one linked above) – with that one lamenting the visit’s failure.
The following link is an interview of Helmut Schmidt. It’s rare and refreshing to see a Western politician speaking so freely and honestly about Democracy. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/01/china-democracy_n_5067120.html
Based on the above interview, Bill, a thoughtful friend of mine, pretends to be an interlocutor shadowing Herr Helmut Schmidt with his own comments, excerpted from the interview. The result is well worth sharing:
I think it is astonishing and encouraging that you are required to change the leadership every 10 years and that you replace the elder leaders by younger ones. Nobody stays in power any more as long as Mao of Deng.
On the other hand as a foreigner, as the European as I am, I really have no in depth knowledge of Xi Jinping, and I don’t know what kind of people he has surrounded himself with.
One can compare China leadership selection and term limits with the world largest democracy India and world’s most powerful, the US. Even when a leader is voted out of power, the political dynasties of Ghandis, Longs, Roosevelts, Rockefellers, Kennedys, Harrimans, Bushes, etc. continue to exercise power. Family dynasties dominating established democracies morph into ossified institutions as enterprises, foundations and think tanks. They never have to share power with voters or pay attention to their grievances of social inequality. Someone like Sheldon Adelson and Koch brothers give hundreds of millions every two years to hire and fire politicians to consolidate their personal and family influence. One-man-one-vote is often just environmental noise in democratic politics.
China tries hard not falling into this trap. But her chance of success is also in doubt. Xi Jinping’s chooses his own advisors. However, all leaders, democratic or authoritarian, are beholden to kingmakers and the most powerful stakeholders. They could make or break Xi, though to a large extent he is less vulnerable than Western politicians. The 10-year term limit is meant to give Chinese leaders a longer leash to experiment. However well intended and altruistic, Mr. Xi must move the country forward in the next 10 years. That means he is still constrained by many rules of the perpetual power game. History may glorify leaders’ selflessness. Yet human condition and initial conditions of nations to a large extent define all leadership and social agendas.
April 15 is tax day for most Americans. It is the deadline for Americans – rich or poor – to file and pay their taxes. But this year, it appears, it is also smear China day. You may think with so much things going on in the world, things to do, that perhaps for this one day, China might be spared unnecessary smearing. But it is not to be so.
Last week, on April 15, both New York Times and Wall Street Journal ran two underhanded articles on China, assigning the blem for the unfruitful search for missing Malaysian airline MH370 squarely on China. Both papers reported that China was in big on the search for MH370 not necessarily because a majority of the victims were Chinese citizens, but really because Chinese leaders wanted to show off their new technology wares – to grab the International spotlight to to show off. Unfortunately, the Chinese bumbling not only made China look bad, but may have actually stymied the search. Continue reading Malaysia Airline MH370 – American Media Fanning the Flame Wars→
What’s going on? Criticising the occult of Democracy has suddenly gone mainstream?
Just within the past few weeks, I’ve read, with utter disbelief, first in The Economist, then The Washington Post, warnings that Democracy could collapse unless reformed. Even Professor Francis Fukuyama, writer of “The End of History and the Last Man” who declared liberal democracy to be the ultimate political model of mankind, has joined rank. It’s like witnessing the Vatican expressing doubt over the Genesis.
I’ve listed the links of these incredible but excellent essays, plus a couple of my old blasphemous pieces which questioned the viability of Democracy, especially when coupled with extreme capitalism and mass petulance. Hey, these “eccentric and cynical” views are now kinda mainstream! I still find it difficult to take in, and wonder what the catch is. . .
IN RESPECTABLE AND PREDICTABLE MEDIA
1) Democracy in Trouble? (The Economist)
2) American Democracy Headed to Extinction (The Washington Post)
Some think this is just a purely economical issue. The Taiwanese students are not happy with the trade agreements agreed upon but not yet signed into law between the Mainland and Taiwanese side. This is understandable. College graduates in Taiwan has had a tough time getting (good) employment this past several years (decade?). Many – unfortunately – have come to feel protectionism – legal protection from globalism – is the best way to “compete” in the global economy.
However, this is oversimplification. If you listen to the speeches and talks within the protest, you have no doubt this is about partisan politics between KMT and DPP – and also emotional politics invoked against the Mainland. As I noted earlier in a comment in another thread, the main impetus of the protest is not about economics, but about the uneasy unsettled status of Mainland-Taiwan relations. The real reason is unification/independence politics.
But if this is all there is to the protest, I’d not write this post – as there is not much for me personally to write about. It’s just about normal democratic politicking – built upon base politics, misinformation, distortion, emotional rants, hateful or divisive rhetoric, and what I might call ethno/religious/identity politicking.Continue reading Taiwan’s Student Mob?→
Into every life a little rain must fall – even that of a behemoth superpower.
Picture the President of the United States and his masters of the universe – more formally known as the American Cabinet – with Ukraine-driven nuclear umbrellas unfurled against a downpour of unexpected setbacks in foreign policy lately.
In the winter of his discontent, Barack Obama must be yearning for the new hope of spring heralded by cherry blossoms of Washington’s Tidal Basin. But he should also heed the Japanese proverb: “ “Though on the sign it is written: ‘Don’t pluck these blossoms’ /it is useless against the wind, which cannot read.”
World War II began near an unremarkable town called Wanping, China in July 1937 and ended with soul-destroying fury that ballooned as giant mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
With two atomic bombs, the United States stuffed the genie of Japanese militarism into the American bottle. Under its watch, post-war Japan has maintained an elegant deception as a beacon of pacifism.
But the benign façade is cracking under the pressure of China’s rise and rise. The resurgence has sparked an existential crisis for Japan, its sense of drift even more acute as its erstwhile victim steams ahead.
This is a brief note on elections – that bedrock of modern democracy.
A key and indispensable pillar of modern democracy – heck modernity – is the notion of elections. Elections, many believe, are a fundamental way for people to express their voice, and some believe even for people to engage in self-determination as envisaged in the Charter of the United Nations. Without elections, there can be no political accountability, no political legitimacy. Oh yes, there might be, once in a while, a government such as the one in China today that gains popular approval without elections, but such a political structure cannot be sustained. Over time, bad leadership inevitably arises. Non-democratic political orders provides no means for the people to get rid of a “bad emperor.” Over the long haul, the only way to rid governments that don’t serve the people is elections.
This may sound all fair and good except in real life, elections don’t work that way. In real life – elections rarely project a “people’s voice,” too often detracts from the routine act of governing. And the world has never witnessed – nor do I expect to witness – elections to overturn a truly unjust order.
I was casually browsing through Transparency International’s website, and noticed something peculiar – even though citizens of the Republic of Georgia have a much higher opinion of their country’s ability to deal with corruption in their country relative to their counterparts in the US, and a much more optimistic outlook on the future of public institutions, Georgia ranks 55th on the Corruption Perception Index (CPI), whereas the US ranks 19th (see 2013 rankings). Given the inherent difficulty in measuring actual levels of corruption, I understand why PERCEPTIONof corruption is widely considered the best available proxy. But IF public perception is so important, I still didn’t understand why Georgia is 36 places lower than the US, when its citizens have a far more positive perception about their country’s ability to contain corruption in virtually every category measured.
I did a little digging and asking around, and I found that CPI rankings actually placeLITTLE, IF ANYweighton public perception within the countries being ranked. If Wikipedia is accurate, CPI rankings are actually based on aggregates of “expert opinions” from select institutions that Transparency International (TI) deems “credible”:
“Transparency International commissioned Johann Graf Lambsdorff of the University of Passau to produce the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI). The 2012 CPI draws on 13 different surveys and assessments from 12 different institutions. The institutions are the African Development Bank, the Bertelsmann Foundation, the Economist Intelligence Unit, Freedom House, Global Insight, International Institute for Management Development, Political and Economic Risk Consultancy, Political Risk Services, the World Economic Forum, the World Bank and the World Justice Project.”
On the other hand, there is a section in TI’s website that covers public opinion, known as the “Global Corruption Barometer” (GCB), from which I noticed the peculiar results in Georgia and the US. This inevitably made me curious about Chinese public opinion of their own institutions compared to that of Americans, so I found the latest dataset (2010/2011) in which both the US and China were included, and here are some excerpts of the survey results, along with my personal interpretation thereof. What I found so far is that IF public perception is supposed to be a good proxy for actual corruption, then one CANNOT conclude that corruption is somehow worse in China than the US, at least not if you’re to believe the citizens of each country. Continue reading Perceptions of corruption in the US and PRC – not exactly what one would expect→
I wanted to follow up on YinYang’s previous post about racial privilege by providing an example of another form of privilege in the US justice system – class privilege. I posted this story (reported through a different source) under the comments section in his post. But since more details have surfaced, I wanted to highlight this story in its own post because it reinforces YinYang’s point in another way. Unlike the bicycle incident, this is not some media experiment, this actually happened in REAL LIFE under a judicial system that promises “liberty and justice for all”.
Remember all that talk in the US media about judicial injustice in China? I wonder how the Chinese public would react to the type of “justice” meted out in this US court:
This is apparently a continuation of an old story of how China is “expelling” foreign journalists en masse. However, there are some conflicting details in the story itself.
“Withholding” visas means they accepted the applications, but won’t issue the the visas. However the article later explained, “Chinese authorities had initially accepted resident journalist visa renewal applications from The Times’ reporters. But they stopped doing so — and in some cases returned applications to reporters — after the newspaper ran a report last month detailing ties between JPMorgan Chase and a consultancy in China run by Wen’s daughter.”
If they won’t accept the applications, or return the applications, that’s not “withholding” the visas. The Applications were just REJECTED for some reason, usually technical. As previous story on this noted, the Chinese government had explained that the applications were rejected for technical /formality reasons.
It is refreshing to see public intellectuals other than Eric X Li speak openly against the blind faith that most westerners place in their own brand of democratic governance and market capitalism (a faith that they attempt to impose on the rest of the world). However, I wanted to voice my skepticism on two of Moyo’s assumptions that I noticed in this linked video.
Recently, one sees again a torrent of articles in the Western press about how China is escalating tensions in the the East China Seas By Creating an Air Defense Identification Zone. The response from the U.S. and its lackey Japan has been swift. NYT reports:
China’s announcement appeared to be the latest step in what analysts have called a strategy to chip away at Japan’s claims of control of the islands. Japan has long maintained a similar air defense zone over them.
The Japanese foreign minister, Fumio Kishida, called the Chinese declaration a dangerous escalation that could lead to what many military analysts most fear in the tense standoff: a miscalculation or accident that could set off an armed confrontation and drag the United States into the conflict.
“It was a one-sided action and cannot be allowed,” Mr. Kishida told reporters, according to Japan’s Kyodo News. It could also “trigger unpredictable events,” he warned.
In a statement on Saturday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warned that the American government viewed the Chinese move “as a destabilizing attempt to alter the status quo in the region.” He also reaffirmed that the United States would stand by its security treaty obligations to aid Japan if it were attacked.
By setting up a competing air defense zone, China may be trying to show that its claim to the islands is as convincing as Japan’s, Japanese officials said. They said China appeared to have a similar objective last Thursday, when Chinese coast guard officers boarded a Chinese fishing boat near the islands.
Ahh … how one-sided and myopic is the NYT report (surprise!).
In a perfect world, we would have free press that report objective and fair news. We are also told that western developed countries are responsible in their dealing with global issues, especially one as important as climate change. However, if you think there is no invisible hand behind what is selected to be reported by press, privately or government held, think again. Contrast the following headlines and one can clearly tell how politics affect what is being reported and omitted: Continue reading United Nations Climate Change Conference, Warsaw 2013→
Apparently, the lure of money makes people forget lessons of the past.
So when recently the housing prices started to rise again in the Western regions of US, People are starting to dump houses, hoping to cash in on the higher prices. (either that, or just trying to get themselves out of the market with little loss as possible).
That’s what I said to my parents-in-law who asked me to explain the “market” behavior that turns on every bit of news.
To the ordinary people, American or Chinese or anyone else, the “market” is hard to explain/understand. That’s because it really is nuts/bonkers/crazy/insane/irrational. This is NOT some “rational market”, because this “market” of today responds to opinions of those who claim to know. But do they really know? Or are they merely seeking to influence the outcome with their opinion?
I have long maintained that boycotts rarely work well as a tool of political protest. Even when mobilized as a collective national action like a trade embargo, history has not shown much effectiveness in causing political change, other than merely increasing bitterness (like the Embargo against Cuba).
Against a much larger target, with even broader scope, such as “boycott China”, the sheer size of lunacy of such a proposition is immediately apparent. Chinese economy is not pinned down in a few special economic sectors, it’s large and diverse, and most importantly international. It produces final products and components and material. It’s not merely economical for businesses, it’s necessity of businesses to buy Chinese products.
But even more interestingly, the increase in the internet economy has shown that it’s not just companies like Walmart that dictates the improbability of “boycott China”, it’s increasingly the end user purchasers who are making it impossible to “boycott China”.
Still recall former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s speech on “Internet Freedom?” Our first reaction on this blog was that America wanted unfettered access to citizens around the world. From a propaganda perspective, that idea enables the U.S. State Department to bypass foreign governments in reaching their citizens directly. Clinton herself has said the Internet would be a more viable means to reach into certain countries than, say, Voice of America (VOA), which often gets its signals jammed. This is also good business for the likes of Google and other American Internet services companies. The more users on Google, the more advertising dollars. And, it was no surprise at the beginning of that speech, Clinton pointedly acknowledged contributions from Google’s Chairman, Eric Schmidt. She affectionately described Schmidt, “co-conspirator from time to time” for that policy formulation. Continue reading A look back at Hillary Clinton’s 2011 “Internet Freedom” speech→
Today, I came across an article in Asia Times titled “Tiananmen Crash Linked to Xinjiang Mosque Raid” by Shohret Hoshur, originally published via Radio Free Asia’s Uyghur Service. In the article Hoshur appears to justify violence and terrorism committed last week by presenting what must appear to him to be legitimate motivations for plowing a car into the guardrails in Tiananmen Square (which resulted in an explosion) last week .
For Hoshur, this event was less about terrorism – as the Chinese government asserts – and more about the desperate acts of another politically disenchanted Uighur. While Hoshur is careful to say this is not organized violence (this would hurt the cause for Uighur independence), he also elevated it from mere spiteful acts of pitiful personal grievance (this would be uninteresting) to a symbolic peoples’ revolt (this is the happy, sweet medium).
Time recently published an article titled “How a Starbucks Latte Shows China Doesn’t Understand Capitalism” on the attention the Chinese government appears to be bringing to the practice of foreign companies overcharging Chinese consumers. According to Time, the government in doing this shows it doesn’t understand capitalism, ought to back off, and let the market reach a proper price.
The article asserts:
The bottom line is this: Companies will price their products based on what the consumer is willing to pay. That’s nothing illicit. It’s simple supply and demand. If Starbucks lattes were truly overpriced in China, the Chinese wouldn’t be buying as many of them, and the American firm would not have been able to build a successful network of over 1,000 shops in the country.
If foreign companies are engaged in illegal practices, then they should be stopped. But meddling in the pricing decisions of independent private companies is another thing altogether. China’s leaders persistently promise to make the Chinese economy more market-oriented, liberalized and fair. Premier Li Keqiang recently committed the government to “steadfastly pursuing reform and opening-up with priority given to the stimulation of the market.” Interfering with the prices private firms charge Chinese consumers suggests that China’s officials believe that they should make economic decisions, not free markets. Continue reading Opinion: Is It Time Magazine that doesn’t understand Capitalism or China?→
I wanted to share a video that has gone viral on Youku, and has gotten the attention of western outlets such as Time Magazine, which will no doubt attract ample amounts of sneers and visceral comments from the West. I’m posting both the English (Youtube) and Chinese (Youku) versions, for everyone’s convenience.
This past weekend, the Jinan Intermediate People’s Court found Bo Xilai guilty bribetaking, embezzlement and abuse of power. The trial has been widely publicized and discussed in China, with netizens on the blogsphere commenting from almost every angle, some in support of Bo, some in disgust of his alleged actions, and others neutral and looking at the bigger picture (see e.g. also this report). South China Morning Post has this short summary of the court’s point-by-point verdict against Bo.
The Jinan Intermediate People’s Court accepted just two of the points former Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai made in his defence as it jailed him for life yesterday. The court, in a transcript released on its official weibo account, set out its point-by-point rebuttal of Bo’s defence. It also detailed ways in which he abused his power after the crimes of his wife, Gu Kailai, and the attempted defection to the US by his key lieutenant, Wang Lijun.
Bo’s claim: I confessed under duress.
The court said: Under Chinese law, the use of corporal punishment, corporal punishment in disguised form, or spiritual torture to interrogate and extort confessions is illegal. The “pressure” Bo faced did not involve any such act.
Bo’s claim: I did not know that [Dalian -based billionaire] Xu Ming was paying the expenses for my wife and son [Bo Guagua].
The court said: Bo’s denial in court is invalid as his written statements before the trial matched the testimony of Xu Ming and others, showing he not only knew that Xu Ming was financing Bo Guagua’s study abroad but also understood well their deal – exchanging power for money. Whether Bo knows the exact amount or not makes no difference.
Bo’s claim: I had no knowledge of the villa in France [bought on behalf of Bo’s family with cash from Xu Ming].
As part of the interesting discussion between Black Pheonix, ersim, ho hon and others in this recent thread, Black Phoenix made this insightful comment:
Sun Tzu definitely wrote not so much about “just war”, as he admonished rulers against War, using costs of war as arguments.
Sun Tzu was not concerned with what would justify war. His solution was to end wars as expeditiously and with minimum cost as possible.
He was in a time, about 550 years of continuous warfare in China. There was serious debate in that time about what would be considered “just war”, but there were no good conclusions.
In the end, the only solution was “unification”, as the ultimate solution to end all wars.
Thus, I would argue that from China’s unification, the ONLY valid justification for war were to repel invasion or for unification (both are to protect China’s sovereignty).
Other moral justifications are simply excuses.
This is an insightful comment when viewed in context of how so many Westerners today mock China’s stance on unity and sovereignty. Sovereignty and unity is deemed an excuse to skirt its moral obligations to (Western created and controlled) ideals such as human rights. Both are deemed as pretexts for the government to do things that are substandard by the West’s reckoning. Continue reading The Chinese Order and Putin’s Comment on American Exceptionalism→
One of the main reasons I wanted to contribute to the success of this blog is my desire to dispel ideological myths and dogma that exists in western discourse, and if I’m lucky, reach out to a few people in my age group back in China. One of the myths, against which I voiced skepticism in “Rethinking the Freedom-Innovation Nexus” is the supposed causal link between political freedom and scientific innovation.
I wanted to follow up on this with a McKinsey discussion on the Chinese model of innovation. I think this is podcast yields useful insights on the current state and characteristics of modern day Chinese innovation at the enterprise level.
A couple of highlights:
– Chinese companies embrace change and adaptation at a faster pace relative to their other Asian counterparts at a similar stage of development in their respective countries.
– Chinese companies are more willing to import talent from abroad, China’s ‘richness of talent’ comes in part from returnees who received education and worked in the west, as well as state funding of world-class academic research institutions.
If there is a religion in the modern world, it is the fanatic belief in democratic self-governance. From a philosophical perspective, the legitimacy of democratic self-government requires the notion of a public forum – a democratic corpus, a public sphere formed by citizens, if you will – to frame, debate and discuss political issues and events, free from “government interference.” This might be called a public sphere of privacy (privacy from government), rather than a private sphere of privacy (privacy from other citizens), and is essential to the working of a democratic government. It is of utmost importance to keep this public sphere vibrant and pure because in today’s paradigm, all governments have a tendency to to intrude, dominate, and control for its benefit at the expense of that of the people. And a democratic government means little if people’s thoughts and voices can be manipulated, coerced, manufactured, or censored. A belief in the vibrancy of the democratic corpus to deliver good governance (with that, justice, prosperity, “freedom,” and peace) represents the very soul of the modern democracy religion.
During my teenage years, I dreamed of becoming a jet fighter pilot. Believe it or not, I was accepted by the U.S. Air Force Academy, and had I opt for that career, I would certainly have seen my share of war. Anyways, few days ago, my family visited the U.S.S. Midway aircraft carrier in San Diego. The ship and the airplanes on it have been decommissioned for couple of decades now, but being in their presence still rekindled the excitement I had many years ago. Below is a frontal view of a Phantom F-4 on USS Midway. These two pieces of arsenal made a formidable duo during the early years of the Cold War. The fighter is capable of speed faster than mach 2 (two times the speed of sound). It can carry a variety of missiles and bombs, including the nuclear bomb!
I think Citizens of the UK should start familiarizing themselves with the phrase “being invited for tea” (请喝茶). Democracy at work, folks. Oh by the way, for those extolling the righteousness of “rule of law”, this is all legal under current British law.
EDIT: One more note, at least Chinese security doesn’t rob you of your video games when they invite you for tea.
China is often regarded as a nation without Freedom of Speech – or at least a nation that disrespects Freedom of Speech, or a nation with serious infractions of Freedom of Speech. I have often argued that such disparaging conclusions rarely turn out to based on Freedom itself, but a disrespect of China’s social, historical, and political contexts and current interests. I will use recent events to further demonstrate my thinking.
For those of you paying attention on issues surrounding “Freedom of Speech” on the international stage, you might have noticed that France caused quite a stir last week by finally abolishing a law against insulting its president.