I was going to write another case study on the intrinsic hypocrisy in the rhetoric of freedom – how “freedom” is uttered when useful, and completely ignored when not – using Google’s recent “firing” of an employee who had written a memo that some deemed not politically correct as a basis of discussion.
It is clear now that while the 2016 U.S. election may be over, much of the bitter rancor remains. The latest controversy now swirls over how long-time foe Russia may have hijacked America’s election to secure a Trump presidency.
Americans seem to be transfixed by this latest treachery, with President Obama promising retributions, but Trump warning against politicizing American Intelligence.
One of the arguments many people in the West used to denigrate the HK and Mainland government in support of the Umbrella movement was that the rioters had a right to block streets and shut down districts to get their message out. When some Hong Kongers – siding with HK and Mainland government – pushed back that while freedom of speech grants them the right to protest but not a right to shut down entire districts, they were ridiculed and shamed by the Western press.
Of course, as we know, when the occupy movement flamed across the Western capitals of the world, those governments acted very differently. The police (even paramilitary forces) soon cracked down and order was soon restored. But in China, so-called rule of law quickly gets tossed aside in the name of mob rule (I mean “democracy”). All this reinforced in my mind how “political” “free” speech is. It is “free” when the politics is palatable. But when it’s not, the “costs” – be it national security, social peace, whatever – gets framed as the main (only) issues.
I came across an article in Asia Times on Japan’s WWII surrender that I thought was very well written. It is important because within that surrender lay the seeds of today’s historical revisionism. But more important than that, it is a good case study on what Japan is NOT.
Too often, many in the West think of Japan as this enlightened, modern, forward-looking, peace-loving society. But when the West seems to have misunderstood Japan’s nuanced and conditional surrender for a real unconditional one akin to Germany, then perhaps it is time re-evaluate to what Japan is in reality, and what Japan is headed to be.
Here I offer two articles, first as a context, and second as a case study.
Globalization has brought new challenges for the protection of academic freedom and other faculty rights. In the operations of North American universities in other countries, administrators often refer to local customs, practices, and laws to justify practices that the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT) would not tolerate on North American campuses. In 2009, our two organizations adopted a joint statement—On Conditions of Employment at Overseas Campuses—setting forth appropriate employment standards for overseas campuses of North American universities and stating our commitment to see that those standards are met.
Globalization has also meant that university administrators have welcomed involvement of foreign governments, corporations, foundations, and donors on campuses in North America. These relationships have often been beneficial. But occasionally university administrations have entered into partnerships that sacrificed the integrity of the university and its academic staff. Exemplifying the latter are Confucius Institutes, now established at some ninety colleges and universities in the United States and Canada. Confucius Institutes function as an arm of the Chinese state and are allowed to ignore academic freedom. Their academic activities are under the supervision of Hanban, a Chinese state agency which is chaired by a member of the Politburo and the vice-premier of the People’s Republic of China. Most agreements establishing Confucius Institutes feature nondisclosure clauses and unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China. Specifically, North American universities permit Confucius Institutes to advance a state agenda in the recruitment and control of academic staff, in the choice of curriculum, and in the restriction of debate. Continue reading US professors urge Western universities to end ties to China’s Confucius Institutes→
Oh no … the Chinese government is at it again. The New York Times is running on its front page today an article with the ominous title “Chinese Government Tightens Constraints on Press Freedom.” Here is the full text of the article.
HONG KONG — China introduced new restrictions on what the government has called “critical” news articles and barred Chinese journalists from doing work outside their beats or regions, putting further restraints on reporters in one of the world’s most controlled news media environments.
Reporters in China must now seek permission from their employers before undertaking “critical reports” and are barred from setting up their own websites, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television announced in new rules Wednesday.
In the lead up to the “25th Anniversary” of the Tienanmen Square Incident of 1989, we are hearing everything again of how a great sad chapter of Chinese history has been – and continue – to be covered up. A politically activist museum even opened in Hong Kong earlier this month. Old, tired politically activists are freshly interviewed by the major Western media outlets again (Guo Jian by FT, for example). New books are published, as reported, for example, in this Washington Post piece.
Even though times have changed, the narrative has not. As 1989 fades ever back further to memory, Western pundits try to re-frame the issue more and more as a current freedom of speech issue. In the Washington Post piece linked above, for example, it is reported:
The contours of today’s brash, powerful China were shaped by decisions made in the immediate aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown.
China’s leaders are personally vulnerable because they trace their lineage to the winners of the power struggle that cleaved their party in 1989. … The party’s ultimate goal is ensuring its own survival, and it has clearly decided that it needs to keep a lid on discussion about Tiananmen in public, in private and in cyberspace.
China’s online censors are busy scrubbing allusions, no matter how elliptical, to June 4. As the anniversary nears, judging by precedents set in recent years, the list of banned words and terms will grow to include “64,” “today,” “that year,” “in memory of” and even “sensitive word.” History is apparently so dangerous that China’s version of Wikipedia, Baidu Baike, does not have an entry for the entire year of 1989.
Just days ago, I stumbled across “Tiananmen,” written by the British poet James Fenton less than two weeks after the bloody repression. A quarter-century later, his words are still true, perhaps more so even than before.
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.
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.
By the answers, I am hoping to gauge people’s attitude toward Snowden. For me, I am neutral. I personally have nothing against government “snooping.” I have nothing to hide in general. As long as they don’t pick on me for little trivial things (I trust governments generally enough that they wouldn’t), I have nothing against government tapping, government cameras, government sucking of emails, etc. So what Snowden has revealed does not hit me in the stomach on that level.
However, I believe what Snowden has revealed is important in a geopolitical context. Previously, we thought of the Internet as “free” – run by innovative Stalwart companies devoted to freedom, free from government interference. Now we know the vastness of what we consider to be “free internet” is merely a very nationalized network space that is compatible with one specific set of values and that is at the core of 21st century geopolitical competition.
That’s an important insight for humanity to know.
So – should China…?
[Editor’s Note: clarification added 2013-07-09]: From the above write-up about “geopolitical context,” one might misunderstand me as saying that what Snowden has to say has no relevance to Americans and relevance only to the rest of the world. That’s not what I meant. To the extent Americans are world citizens, they should care. They should understand so they understand why the information they get online in the so-called free internet (and also why the information they get in the so-called free media, why their very perspective about the world, about history) may be so biased and American (or Western)-centric. And then perhaps they may understand why so many things they had taken to be Universal may just be American (or Western)-centric. What Snowden revealed, and he may not even understand it, is to change the paradigm by which we view the world by revealing a blindspot we had universally taken for granted. Others have noted the dangers of relying on “google” for all information on the net – because that essentially allows one entity – which is not beholden to the “people” per se – to define our knowledge, our worldview, our identity… It is equally dangerous to rely on the falsehood of a universal, free internet for our information because there is no such thing as a universal internet. Language and cultural barriers would have fragmented it fr0m the start – though now we see politics from the U.S. already set it up to fragment from the very beginning, too.
A lot has been discussed on this blog recently with regards to censorship, most of the discourse so far have revolved around the justice and standards of censorship. I want to take a different but related direction, and discuss yet another myth propagated by the democracy/freedom advocates – the notion that “free” societies are always more innovative than their “non-free” counterparts. To what extent is this actually true? More fundamentally, where does innovation come from, what actually stimulates innovation? How does innovation come about? I won’t pretend that I have all the answers, but here are some of my observations so far. Continue reading Rethinking the Freedom-Innovation Nexus→
Whenever a for-profit – or even non-profit – organization professes to do good, to be a society’s guardian – as Google has – I feel queasy. It’s not that I think Google (or more generally corporations, NGOs, charities, even churches) is inherently evil. It’s just that no non-government entity owes society at large a fiduciary duty 1 per se, as governments do.
Take as a case study Google – that self professed guardian of Freedom.
The purpose (legal duty even) of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders. The obligation of non-profits is to their sponsors and donors … and incestuously to itself. The duty of churches is – well if you are pious – to God, although often a God who cares only for a segment of society, who may be so hateful of the rest as to condemn them all to eternities of hell. ↩
Recently a TED video featuring Michael Anti on China’s censorship seems to be making the rounds. I think Anti does bring some unique insights to the English speaking audience about China that we don’t generally see in Western media; hence I am providing his video below. However, I think Anti can also be a stubborn ideologue who insist on viewing the world through ideological blinders.
There has been terrible violence in India’s Assam region recently and the violence has spread to other parts of India. Since this is a blog on China, not India, I am not going to dig too much into the cause or even meaning of the riots. But I do want to point out the relatively “favorable” coverage India is getting.
In almost all reports I see, India is cast as the force of stability (and humanity), with the forces of conniving politicians and ethnic-based politics the root of instability. By comparison, when ethnic violence occurs in China, the opposite story is told, with ethnic-based politics held in high regard (under the guise of “human rights”) and any efforts to stabilize the situation seen as somehow oppressive and barbaric.
You see this fairly uniformly across Western media in all Western countries, including even self-professed “independent” news sources such as the global post. Here is a recent article global post had on Tibetan self immolations – which place the blame squarely on China. The Tibetans who burned themselves – and by extension the Tibetans who rioted in 2008 – were seen as oppressed people who had a right to riot, to fight back and were cheered on for their presumptive courage. There was never a reference to the official Chinese perspective on what’s really going on. Continue reading Riots in Assam→
The Fifth Session of the 11th National People’s Congress (NPC) has just ended. Here are two stories about Wen that I found interesting. I have no personal insights beyond what is reported, but I thought it is helpful to bring attention to such stories to balance the distorted view in the West that the Chinese government somehow has in its DNA a fear of criticisms and a distrust of people and reforms. Continue reading Wen Jiabao Urges Political Reform and Praises Internet Criticism of Government→
It’s easy to accuse others. After all, as a well-known verse from the Christian Bible says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” But isn’t this going a bit too far?
Recently, FAIR had an interesting article about the militarizing of the police in the U.S. and the aggressive tactics taken by police against the Occupy protesters throughout the nation.
As you may know, there is a heated high-profile war being waged in the U.S. now over a new bill called SOPA (“Stop Online Piracy Act” in the House) and PIPA (“Protect Intellectual Property Act” in the Senate). The bills have been temporarily put on hold, but the issues highlighted by the controversies will not go away.
Ma Ying Jieu has won what has been a tough and closely watched election in Taiwan. Emphasizing close relations with the mainland, Ma celebrated the victory as a victory for the people of Taiwan. The DPP, with charismatic (and “native Taiwanese”) Tsai, gave stoic (and “外省人”) Ma a much bigger challenge this time (characterization by my deep-green family-in-laws), losing to Ma by what looks like a 51.6 to 45.63 margin (compared to the 58% to 42% margin in 2008). While the issue of independence has been much toned down this time, relations with the Mainland still dominated the election, with issues of the economy also a major issue.
As you all know, Osama Bin Laden was killed by special U.S. op forces a couple of days ago in Abbottabad, Pakistan. According to Obama’s remarks in the immediate aftermath of Bin Laden’s death, Osama Bin Laden died in a firefight when he resisted capture.
Personally, I am ambivalent about the killing, especially the circumstances of Bin Laden’s death. The Whitehouse at first suggested Bin Laden put up resistance, but is already retracting that narrative.
I am especially skeptical of the U.S. sense of righteousness. To the extent it is wrong to assassinate a leader, I think the assassination of Osama is not justified. Some may point a finger: but Bin Laden is a terrorist. My response: to the extent Bin Laden is a terrorist, one might label the U.S. to be a terrorist, too. Al Qaeda may have a casual disregard for American life (about 3,000 died in New York), but so do the U.S. have a disregard for Muslim life (110,000 civilian deaths in Iraq, 9,000 civilian death in Afghanistan).
The EU begins officially to investigate Google for alleged anti-competitive practices. According to this aljazeera report,
European Union regulators are to investigate whether Google has abused its dominant position in the online search market in what will be the first major inquiry into the internet giant’s business practices.
The competition watchdogs formally announced their investigation on Tuesday after complaints by rivals that Google gave their services “unfavourable treatment” in unpaid and sponsored search results.
Authorities will investigate whether Google’s services are being given preferential placement in search engine results, some of which may lead to consumer spending.
One of the complainants, British search site Foundem, said in a that its revenue “pales next to the hundreds of billions of dollars of other companies’ revenues that Google controls indirectly through its search results and sponsored links”.
As Google prepares potentially for a highly politicized exist of China, we’ll hear a lot more accusations on how closed China’s Internet is. The presumption of Google’s move would be that China’s Internet is closed while the rest of the world (in which Google still does business) is open.
Of course, anyone who has even remote experience with China’s internet (and Chinese society for that matter) will understand the Internet in China is amongst the most dynamic in the world, as well as amongst the most explosive and important.
Google’s recent drama in China has endeared itself to some human rights activists, democracy advocates, even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Many have applauded Google for taking a “principled stance” against the evil empire of China. I find such rhetoric comical. Continue reading Google vs. China – Good vs. Evil?→
This is the full session between Niall Ferguson and James Fallows at the recently held Aspen Ideas Festival. Allen had posted excepts and we promised you the complete discussion as soon as it became available. Niall Ferguson had coined the term “Chimerica” to describe the symbiotic relationship between the economies of China and the United States. He currently sees this relationship as being in jeopardy, while James Fallows feels the relationship is far stronger the most realize. This video is slightly over 75 minutes.
Events of the last week in Iran have been widely reported by the world press. Not long before, the press also reported on the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989. Were these two distinct events reported in a similar manner or were they treated as different and unique events? Let’s take a look at each and see what we can find.
1) Who are the good guys and who are the bad guys?
Based on the coverage I’ve seen, both governments were cast as being in the wrong and both protest movements as in the right. In the case of China, the government sent in tanks and used live ammunition to break up a protest movement that was alleged to have turned violent. Most of the reporters in the world press were located in or near the same area, and their reports reflected what occurred in that vicinity. Analyzes of this event in most cases pointed to the government as the culprit and the demonstrators as being victims and responding in a suitable fashion. Is this an accurate assessment? The Chinese government attempted to confiscate film of the event from foreign sources but those attempts were successfully evaded in most instances.
There’s a new phenomenon sweeping China. Back in January on a Chinese web page, a new video made its way from there into the hearts of internet users all across the country, spawning a wave of related items such as cartoons, documentaries and grass-mud horse dolls.
I suppose it is generally a good idea not to pick up a fight with someone agreeing with you. Or as Sherlock Holmes would have said, “it’s elementary”. So with that in mind, this following story probably sounds rather amusing. (H/T to Charles Liu)