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China

Monday, December 1, 2008

The Asia Triangle

I'd like to call your attention to our latest theme issue over at World Politics Review, the Asia Triangle. In three deep analysis pieces (M.K. Bhadrakumar on India here, Jing-dong Yuan on China here, and Arif Rafiq on Pakistan here), we examine the balance of power on the South Asian subcontinent between India, Pakistan and China, and how that might impact the emerging consensus calling for a "regional approach" to turn the tide in, and ultimately stabilize, Afghanistan.

We've had this feature in development for a while now, and last week's attacks in Mumbai obviously underscore the importance of getting this right. To do so, we should start by accepting that we understand as a "regional solution" might not be the same thing as what the region understands as a "regional solution." It also seems obvious that any effort to address India-Pakistan relations has to include China, for a variety of reasons that the three pieces make evident.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   India   Pakistan   

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Covering Up Olympic Coverage

In the aftermath of the Sichuan earthquake in May, I described China's press management as controlled transparency, and mentioned that the cautious manner in which it allowed the world to see its domestic tragedy reflected a lot about how comfortable China was, or wasn't, with its newfound status. The same obviously goes for the upcoming Olympic Games, and by every indication, China still has some ground to cover. With the opening of the Games just days away, the news has now leaked that Pekin has backtracked on its commitment to press freedom, restricting access to internet websites ranging from the BBC to Amnesty International or any site with Tibet in the url.

Today, the World Association of Newspapers (with which I have a professional relationship) has begun a campaign trying to pressure China not only to live up to its commitments, but also to free the more than thirty journalists and fifty cyber-reporters that are already emprisoned. Here's the homepage for the campaign if you're interested.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

The Big Three

If it weren't for all hell breaking loose in the Middle East, the tectonic shifts going on in South Asia would probably be the decade's storyline. As it is, they still might be. In addition to China's rise and India's emergence, there's also all sorts of movement towards warmer relations between the region's traditional rivals that could smooth the way for further growth. Pakistan-India relations, while still prickly and marked by tit-for-tat missile tests, are more cordial than they've ever been. Same goes for China-India relations.

As for China-Pakistan relations, a couple of articles (one here at Asia Times Online, and another here at Jamestown Foundation) discuss how the tensions both countries have historically experienced with India make for a natural tactical alliance between them. Toss in the unstable nature of their recent relations with America and the logic is even more pronounced.

Nevertheless, the Asia Times article suggests China is exercising more caution towards Islamabad of late, in part due to Pekin's warming relations with Delhi, and in part due to its concerns about Muslim Uighur separatists on the Pakistani border with Xianjing province. And this Defense News article about India reinforcing and modernizing its military presence on its Chinese frontier shows that the old Reagan axiom, Trust but verify, is still the order of the day.

The takeaway is that the tensions and faultlines, both internal (Tibet, Xianjing, the Pakistani FATA) and external (Kashmir, Afghanistan, Taiwan), that run deep under the surface will continue to undermine these regional powers in their quest for global influence. With all the factors pointing to its eventual relative decline, that's still an advantage the U.S. enjoys over them, although we've mitigated that advantage by "Americanizing" the costs of the ethno-sectarian conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   India   Pakistan   

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Saturday, March 15, 2008

Election Surprise, Pekin Edition

In a major surprise out of China, President Hu Jintao suffered a stunning electoral reversal and lost 9 votes out of 2,965 cast by China's parliament members. Hu will remain in office, but with only a 99.7% mandate, doubts were raised about his effectiveness as a lame-duck president.

On a more serious note, the election of Xi Jinping as Vice-President as heir apparent seems to be the significant news coming out of this election. He replaces a Jiang Zemin ally, definitively signalling the end of the Jiang era. The election caps a meteoric rise for Xi, who first showed up on the international radar last fall when he was elected along with three other members of China's new generation of national leaders to the Communist Party's politburo. Here's his bio from a Communist Party organ Who's Who, and here's some coverage of his introduction last fall from the Telegraph and the Independent.

Back to a less serious note, a quick tabulation reveals that Xi's Scrabble Index marks a return to the mid-twenties after a disappointing high-teens period under Hu Jintao (18). Xi's 26 points put him just ahead of Yang Shangkun (24), but behind Jiang Zemin's record-setting pace of 29*. I've yet to correlate the Scrabble Index to any substantive policy orientation, but I'm working on it.

*Jiang's record climbs to 33 if you use the hotly disputed 'Zhemin' spelling.

Cross-posted to World Politics Review.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Friday, January 25, 2008

We Try Harder

That's the ad campaign that Avis launched in the early sixties to turn its no. 2 position in the rent-a-car business into a strength:

The results were dramatic…

In 1962, just before the first 'We try harder' ads launched, Avis was an unprofitable company with 11% of the car rental business in the USA. Within a year of launching the campaign Avis was making a profit, and by 1966 Avis had tripled its market share to 35%.

It's the first thing I thought of when I saw that Chinese President Hu Jintao had met with the chairman of Kazakhstan's senate on the latter's state visit to China. Now it's not surprising that China would want to provide a warm welcome to its neighbor, especially its neighbor that ranks eleventh in the world in both gas and oil reserves. But a president giving face time to the visiting senate leader of a "minor country" is almost a breach of diplomatic protocol, and it's the sort of thing that's hard to imagine an American president doing, even though the impact of the gesture is undoubtedly significant.

On a related note, compare the travel itineraries of President Bush, who just made his first visit to the Middle East after seven years as president, to Nicolas Sarkozy, who in less than a year has visited the Middle East, North Africa, China and now India, signing major contracts and nuclear cooperation agreements everywhere he goes, and vastly improving France's strategic position in the process. The president of the United States might very well be the most powerful person on earth, but that shouldn't get in the way of trying hard.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   La France Politique   

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Sub In Subprime

A few days ago Josh Marshall wondered whether he should be unnerved about the fact that foreign governments (read: sovereign investment funds) were snatching up large equity positions in cash-strapped American financial services companies. I think it's more unnerving when the foreign governments decide that it's just not worth the risk anymore:

China's government has apparently squashed a multibillion-dollar investment in Citigroup Inc. by state-owned China Development Bank. The move suggests there is discord in Beijing over how best to deploy China's money pile. A few previous China investments like these have fared poorly so far financially.

These guys have got a pretty big incentive to keep the dollar from bottoming out. The question is whether there's anything they can do about it.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Markets & Finance   

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Thursday, January 3, 2008

Best Practices

The Communist Party of China has published a list of "10 Taboos" that politicians should refrain from during provincial elections and bureaucratic reshufflings this January. A quick glance demonstrates how incompatible Chinese practice of democracy is with the American model:

  • using various ways to win support during the reshuffle, including making phone calls, conducting visits, holding banquets and giving gifts;
  • lobbying officials of higher rank to achieve promotion;
  • handing out pamphlets or giving souvenirs without authorization;
  • holding social activities in the name of reunions of classmates, townsmen or fellow soldiers to form cliques;
  • offering bribes in cash, gifts and stocks to buy government jobs;
  • taking bribes or attending banquets staged to drum up support during the reshuffle;
  • covering up or shielding illicit activities during the reshuffle;
  • spreading hearsay or using letters, leaflets, text messages or the Internet to vilify others;
  • using intimidation or deception to hamper and infringe upon the democratic rights of delegates or committee members;
  • arranging jobs for people or making a rush for somebody's promotion.

If you rule out lobbying, meet and greets, smear campaigns and petty corruption, how in the heck is someone supposed to get elected?

Posted by Judah in:  China   Politics   

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Written In China

The People's Daily Online offers the top ten catchphrases used by Chinese media in talking about the Chinese economy, along with brief explanatory passages that I've excerpted. It's a fascinating glimpse of how this white-hot economy perceives itself:

"Sound and fast"

...The emphasis on "sound" demonstrated the central government's determination in accelerating the shift of economic growth mode and realizing a comprehensive, balanced and sustainable development of the national economy...

Inflation

Huge rises in food prices lifted the nation's consumer price index to an 11-year high of 6.9 percent in November...

The price increases were deemed as "structural and temporary in nature" because the rises were not caused by an imbalance between general social demand and supply. But it was widely believed that China was entering a period when inflation would keep rising...

Excess liquidity

...Affected by imbalance in the world economy, China has been bothered by mounting trade surplus that resulted in huge foreign exchange reserves and the banking system's credit initiative...

Yuan appreciation

...The yuan has appreciated about 11 percent since China de-pegged it from the U.S. dollar in July 2005.

Some critics said that the yuan was undervalued, something which gave China exporters an unfair price advantage. It was also a main reason for the massive trade imbalance between China and its major trading partners...

Interest rates

...On Thursday, the central bank raised interest rates for the sixth time this year to cool the economy after inflation accelerated at its quickest pace since1996.

Such frequent rate hikes have been rarely seen in history...The monetary policies, in the form of "combination punches" as described by analysts, aimed at strengthening the currency and guiding investment growth...

Stock market

...A bullish market calls for discipline and rationality. China Securities Regulatory Commission Chairman Shang Fulin has said, generally speaking, China's capital market was still in the primary stage of continuous and solid development.

He pointed out that the key task at present, and for some time to come, was to "accurately grasp the development rule and features of the capital market, strive to develop the capital market and raise the proportion of direct financing".

Property income

This statistical term was used in the report delivered at the 17th Party Congress...

The original statement in the report read "conditions will be created to enable more citizens to have property income"...

Energy and emission

...In 2007, a turning point appeared for the first time in the aspect of energy conservation and emission reduction. In the first three quarters, energy consumption per unit of GDP dropped three per cent and the discharges of both sulfur dioxide and chemical oxygen demand dropped for the first time.

It seemed the nation would achieve the goal in the Outline of the 11th Five-Year Plan -- "from 2006 to 2010, we will achieve the goal of reducing the energy consumption per unit of GDP by around 20 per cent and the total emission of major pollutants by 10 per cent"...

Economic legislation

...The economic lawmaking has been deepened from the level of the framework legislation. It has paid more attention to the establishment of the system and standardization of rights and responsibilities, as well as protection of rights and benefits.

Made in China

"Made in China" -- a term familiar to people of numerous countries around the world -- suffered from an unprecedented "confidence crisis" this year.

The blasting fuse was the recall of China-made toys by Mattel Inc. It was followed by the fact that Chinese exporters encountered quality problems with their toys, toothpastes and foods.

The reasons for the recalls were not just quality defects because behind them were standard disputes, technical barriers, trade protection and the playing-up of media coverage.

However, China was determined to restore the confidence in "China-made" products with a four-month nationwide special campaign for rectification of product quality and food safety.

The Chinese leadership has officially signaled the shift from economic growth to economic development. So it's not surprising to see the emphasis on legal and regulatory infrastructure, as well as the warnings against the pitfalls of excess cash and inflation.

The world has gotten used to double-digit Chinese growth rates over the past ten years. But that can't go on forever. Still, given that China is a cash-importing country, what would a Chinese economic crisis do to the world economy? Any economists who happen to read this, consider that an invitation to weigh in. I'll bump any insightful Comments into an update to the post.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Credit Risk

It looks like the Fed and European central banks aren't the only ones concerned (read: panicking) about the credit crunch resulting from the subprime crisis. The China Investment Corp, the state-run investment company capitalized by China's massive foreign exchange reserves, has just agreed to buy $5 billion worth of Morgan Stanley equity. The equity units will pay 9% interest before being converted to account for roughly 10% of the investment banker's common stock.

While the CIC justified the move, which follows a $3 billion investment in the Blackstone Group earlier this year, by arguing that the American financial sector is undervalued right now, it's hard not to interpret this as a private sector credit infusion reflecting China's concern for its massive dollar reserves. Again, people who get overly worried about China's sway over the dollar should remember that now that China's holding about 750 billion of them, the dollar's got some sway over China,too.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Markets & Finance   

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Transparency

Willy Lam over at The Jamestown Foundation has got some background on the "Hong Kong harbor" incident. It turns out China had a massive military maneuver going on off its southeast coast at the time:

The military drills, which started on November 19, covered a wide swath of the Pacific, including sensitive terrain east of Taiwan and north of the Philippine archipelago. While official PLA media have been reticent about the exercises, Hong Kong papers and military-related websites in China noted that their purpose was to simulate a "pincer attack" on Taiwan as well as a naval blockade...

...Military analysts noted that PLA authorities did not want the Kitty Hawk battle group—whose 8,000-odd sailors had earlier planned to spend Thanksgiving in Hong Kong—to be in the vicinity... On a deeper level, the Kitty Hawk incident reflected Beijing’s anger at Washington's plan to sell Taiwan a $940 million upgrade to its Patriot II anti-missile shield.

Lam also mentions that the tardy decision to deny the Kitty Hawk's previously approved visit, followed by a quick reversal approving the visit for "humanitarian reasons" (the American sailors were on Thanksgiving leave with their families) demonstrates the lack of coordination between the Communist Party, the Chinese government, and the military. The same thing was suggested after the global outcry over the Chinese military's destruction of an outdated orbiting satellite earlier this year, when the Chinese government seemed to be taken by surprise not only by the violence of the world's reaction, but by the fact that the anti-sat strike had even taken place.

So in addition to developing transparency and improved communications with the American military command, the Chinese general staff might want to consider improving their communications with the Chinese government.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Friday, November 30, 2007

The View From Their Window

Once you get past the poor translation, this People's Daily op-ed on America's "capabilities of overseas interference" is pretty encouraging for anyone who takes a bearish view of America's influence in the world. According to Liu Weidong, a researcher at China's Institute of American Studies, a number of factors do in fact contribute to a relative decline in our global influence. Primary among them are the changes wrought by globalization. All roads no longer necessarily lead to Rome; bi-lateral and multi-lateral ties are increasingly being forged independently of the major powers. Beyond that, our soft power has taken a hit in the aftermath of the Iraq debacle. And finally, the folks most associated with interventionism (the so-called vulcans) "...have gone downhill...", to use the author's formulation.

But a relative decline is not the same thing as bottoming out. Here's Liu, rotten translation and all:

Nnevertheless, the primary factor for the successful intervention of global affairs is the hard power. In term of hard power or strength, the United States still ranks first. Its intervention capacity via the combination of economic means with coordinated military threat and remote or distance strikes remains very powerful and formidable...

Moreover, from a long-term point of view, the U.S. does not have a matching foe in a relatively long period to come. Although some regional powers have grown in strength, they do not intend to challenge its status and so they neither firmly support nor stay in a vehemently opposition to the intervention actions of the United States. This point is indicated distinctly by recent postures of the new French and German leaders to amend their ties with the U.S. respectively.

Liu minimizes the difference between the interventionist reflex of Republicans and Democrats, distinguishing them instead by their areas of interest and preferred methods (or as he puts it, "...What different is nothing but their focuses of attention and ways of solution they are good at.") Here's how he concludes:

...Global stability in the years ahead is, to a great extent, decided by how the American people relard or look upon international disputes, and whether or not they are able to contain and how to contain their government.

I think those of us horrified at the Bush administration's handling of foreign policy in the aftermath of 9/11 have a tendency to paint a very alarmist picture about how far our standing in the world has fallen. I know I'm guilty of it from time to time. I'm flagging this not because I think Liu's analyses is especially original or authoritative, but more to remind us all that regardless of how glum our own perception of America's standing in the world might be, the rest of the world still has a pretty healthy respect for American power, even if it's only our ability to screw things up even more. Despite everything we've squandered in blood, treasure and prestige over the past six years, we remain the pre-dominant world power, and perhaps the only one really capable of seriously considering the type of unilateral interventionism we've pursued during that time.

It will take a lot of work and effort, but should we decide both to elect a reasonable president and to contain the inevitable urge to excess that comes with such incommensurate capabilities, there's no reason to believe we can't rehabilitate our standing to reflect the true power we still possess.

Posted by Judah in:  China   International Relations   

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Friday, November 30, 2007

Petty Officers?

An AFP report claims that the US pressured Japan to cancel a scheduled tour of an Aegis-equipped warship for visiting Chinese sailors. The ostensible reason was concern that the Chinese might manage to glean some useful information about the cutting edge defense technology. But it's hard not to wonder if it doesn't have something to do with China's recent refusal to grant American vessels entry to Hong Kong harbor.

Japan denied that there was any American pressure, claiming the reason for the cancellation was that the ship was not in port. The visit by the Chinese destroyer is the first port call of the Communist Chinese navy in Japan.

Update: Add another navy vessel to the list of American ships to which China has refused to grant entry to Hong Kong harbor. The Reuben James' request for a New Year's Eve visit was denied at the same time that the Kitty Hawk was turned away last week. This little naval protocol spat seems to be rising to the level of a "perplexing" diplomatic incident.

Posted by Judah in:  China   International Relations   

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Brewing Storm?

I recently did a post about the military hotline that China and the US recently agreed to establish. Among other things, here's what I concluded:

China is one area where the Bush administration doesn't get some credit it deserves. The amount of trust-building measures and joint exercises that have taken place is actually pretty surprising, if you think about where things started (the Hainan airmen) as well as some of the provocation China has engaged in since (the anti-satellite test).

But as if to demonstrate that it never pays to rush a compliment of the Bush administration into print, along comes the Hong Kong harbor controversy:

The saga of a U.S. aircraft carrier being denied entry to Hong Kong at Thanksgiving took a bizarre turn Nov. 29, when China denied saying the whole affair had been a misunderstanding.

The White House said Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi had told President George W. Bush as much Nov. 28...

"Reports that Foreign Minister Yang said in the United States that it was a misunderstanding do not accord with the facts," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference.

China later had a change of heart and granted entry, but by that time the Kitty Hawk carrier group was on its way back to Japan. Be that as it may, if the denial of entry wasn't a misunderstanding, is it possible our friends in Peking were trying to pass along a little message? Here's Liu again:

"We think that generally communication, talks and exchanges are progressing smoothly. Both sides have smooth communication on bilateral and international issues," he added. "But it should be pointed out that recently, bilateral relations have been interfered with and damaged by mistaken actions by the U.S. For example, U.S. leaders have met the Dalai Lama. Also on the Taiwan question, China approves of the U.S. opposing Taiwan’s U.N. entry referendum. At the same time, we have grave concern with U.S. arms sales to Taiwan."

In addition to turning away the Kitty Hawk, China also recently denied access to Hong Kong harbor to two American minesweepers seeking refuge from a "brewing storm":

China's denial of their request violated "an unwritten rule among seamen that if someone is in need, regardless of genus, phylum or species, you let them come in -- you give them safe harbor," Keating said.

"Jimmy Buffet has songs about it, for crying out loud," he said.

We've got a lot of fragile (nuclear eggs) in our China basket at the moment. The North Korean declaration of activities is due to the Six Nations group any day now. And once Javier Solana delivers his EU report on Iran's nuclear program, negotiations will begin in earnest for a third round of Security Council sanctions. Maybe this is just China's way of reminding the Bush administration that if we want a quid, we've got to be willing to give up some quos.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Reach Out And Touch Someone

It came as something as a shock to me when I learned a few months back that the US and China had never established a "hotline" to prevent the kinds of misunderstandings that lead to accidental nuclear armageddons. Fortunately, the news came in the context of an article reporting that the Chinese and American militaries were making progress on putting one in place. That agreement was finally sealed two weeks ago, and here's what the People's Daily Online has to say about it:

In a nutshell, it can be said that the China-US military hotline is sure to add more mutual military trust to the security cooperation of the two nations and in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole, and it will play a still more positive role in enhancing the high-level military exchanges and cooperation, further increasing their mutual trust, and dispelling any of their doubts or suspicions.

China is one area where the Bush administration doesn't get some credit it deserves. The amount of trust-building measures and joint exercises that have taken place is actually pretty surprising, if you think about where things started (the Hainan airmen) as well as some of the provocation China has engaged in since (the anti-satellite test).

Meanwhile, in case you thought that hotlines were all about nail-biting crisis management, think again. Take the Cold War-era hotline to the Kremlin, for instance, which continues to function to this day:

...It is tested hourly, with the Pentagon sending a message every even hour, and Moscow sending one back every odd hour. Both sides transmit in an agreed-upon code and avoid any political or controversial test messages.

Mostly, operators on either side of the hot line try to test each other's translation skills with selections from obscure texts. For example, the U.S. operators will send their Russian counterparts recipes for chili, or articles on the psychology of pets. The Russians might then respond with excerpts from their great novelists, or a treatise on the history of invention in the ancient world. But the battle of wits is cordial, and some hot line operators have even met face-to-face at government functions.

This is the sort of thing that's important to remember when considering the longterm evolution of all our strategic rivalries. Namely that a cordial battle of wits is as realistic an endgame scenario as a mushroom cloud.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Odds & Ends   Russia   

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Putting Iran In Context

Russian media recently reported that China has agreed to sell twenty-four J-10's, China's fourth generation fighter jet, to Iran. Not so fast, says Defense News; so far there's been no confirmation of any agreement. Nevertheless, the reactions to the reports of the deal are in some ways as revealing as the deal itself:

"At a minimum, this small number of J-10s could provide the escort necessary to allow one nuclear-weapon-armed Iranian F-4, F-14 or Su-24 to reach an Israeli target," said Richard Fisher, vice president of the Washington-based International Assessment and Strategy Center...

But another China-watcher said there may actually be no J-10 deal, only rumors started by Beijing to persuade Washington to deny F-16s to Taiwan.

One rumor, two spins. The first serves to reinforce the meme that Tehran is desperately seeking the means to deliver its nuclear payload to Tel Aviv. The second, more relevant, reminds us that the Iran standoff is not playing out in a vacuum.

If both China and Russia have determined that it serves their interests to counterbalance the Bush administration's efforts to isolate Iran, it's not because they're eager to see a nuclear-armed Iranian regime. It's because America under the Bush administration has decided to aggressively contest these two country's historic spheres of influence. The message behind Russian and Chinese resistance to stronger UN sanctions on Tehran is that a successful diplomatic resolution to the Iran standoff will involve American concessions on missile defense and military bases in Eastern Europe, and on arming Taiwan in Asia. You want your sanctions, you've got to play ball.

But neocons don't play ball. They'll rewrite the rulebook and replace the umpires. They'll even eminent domain the playing field. But they won't play ball. That's why the broader context for understanding the Iran nuclear standoff is the neocon vision for American national security strategy, whose goal is to prevent the rise of rival powers. Contrast that with the reality of the limits of our power and it becomes obvious that something's got to give.

So far, the pushback against the neocon vision has been limited to piecemeal proposals designed to address particular crises. And in some ways, a realist approach to foreign policy is limited to this method by the value it places on pragmatism. But at a certain point, the effort to contain the damage done by the Bush administration suffers from the lack of a broad strategic vision for reconciling American national security with the need to co-exist with rival powers in the evolving geo-political landscape.

The neocons have their strategy, and it has the advantage of being reassuringly familiar to anyone who's played "king of the hill" as a seven-year old. We've got... What? Diplomacy? Negotiations? Those are tactics, not strategies. It's something we've often accused the Bush administration of confusing in its approach to foreign policy. It's time we took our own medicine.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   Iran   Russia   

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Thursday, October 4, 2007

Bitter Pills

Because the American military cannot replace the 190,000 firearms that have already gone missing in Iraq quickly enough, Baghdad is turning to China to arm its police force, to the tune of $100 million. Granted, it's a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.6 billion arms deal we just signed with the Iraqis. But as the article notes, the Iraqi police force is a pivotal component of any American exit strategy. And we still haven't really solved the problem of how to arm them.

Meanwhile, to add irony to injury, among the four oil development deals that the Kurds -- to the annoyance of Baghdad -- concluded today was one with the privately held French company, Perenco. L'horreur, l'horreur.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Iraq   

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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Peacemakers

Here's a thought-provoking passage I found while surfing through the Time Magazine archives. It's from a March 1969 article describing Spiro Agnew's charm campaign to improve his image as a bumbling moron:

He told the Gridiron Club dinner that Nixon had urged him to get on TV interview shows, and had the White House staff schedule appearances. Said Agnew: "I'll be on Meet the Press, opposite the Army-Navy game; on Face the Nation opposite General de Gaulle's arrival at the White House; and on Issues and Answers opposite live coverage of Julie and David's surprise party for Ted Kennedy — at the ranch." But Nixon also promised him, he said, "that when he's ready to recognize Red China, he'll let me announce it." (Emphasis added.)

The self-deprecating gag being that in March of 1969, the idea that Richard Nixon might one day recognize Red China was so farfetched that he could safely promise the announcement to his incompetent veep. Of course, in hindsight, the irony is that reality is sometimes more optimistic than our assumptions about it.

I don't know why, but I've recently had a recurring vision of President Bush touching down in Tehran, firmly, proudly, courageously. Talk about stealing Ahmadinejad's propaganda thunder. I've also wondered what the history of the last four years might look like if he had flown into Baghdad to confront Saddam Hussein personally, instead of sending in a hail of cruise missiles to do it for him.

The argument goes that meeting with our enemies legitimizes them, and demonstrates weakness. But has anyone ever looked at the pictures of Nixon in China without marvelling at the sheer improbability of it all? Or seen the images of Sadat in Jerusalem without a chill running down their spine?

In this moment when the collective imagination seems to be preoccupied with rumors of another ill-conceived war, I'd like to think that reality still has the capacity to outstrip our lowered expectations. It's been said that President Bush is obsessed with leaving his mark on history. He'd do well to consider that while history certainly remembers the men who wage war, it cherishes the peacemakers.

A dream? Maybe. But as the man said, "If you don't have dreams, Bagel, you got nightmares." Here's hoping.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   Iran   

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Monday, July 2, 2007

T Meets X

In yet another troubling indication of China's increased military spending and the growing threat it poses to American interests, the Chinese military is investing 6 billion Yuan to upgrade its uniforms. After years of being shown up by their peers in international peacekeeping operations, Chinese soldiers will soon be able to puff out their chests and feel proud:

Working from the "97 Style", designers refined the cut and the sizing of the uniforms to enhance the appearance of the wearers. The new casual uniform for spring and autumn fit more tightly because they have been taken in the chest, waist and bust. Female servicemen will find their shoe heels have grown by a centimeter from the previous four centimeters...

"Letter H uniforms have been ditched once and for all, they're a thing of the past," said Wu Yu, a QEI senior engineer. "Now we have letter T uniforms for men and letter X for women."

When compared with military uniforms from other countries, H-shaped uniforms appear baggy and dull. Men in T-shaped uniforms that highlight shoulder breadth look taller and stronger; women in X-shaped uniforms featuring contracted waists are much sassier, she explained.

And as Maxim's "Girls of the IDF" feature proved, we know how dangerous sassy soldiers are.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Shanghai Project

Okay, so it wasn't in Shanghai. But the American nuclear factories weren't in Manhattan either. Anyway, here's what the working conditions for the Chinese teams that produced the country's first H-bomb were like:

At that time, there were hundreds of thousands of people in the site, living in caves and eating barley and millet flour with a little oil. The only dish they could eat was Chinese cabbage soup. If they felt hungry, they could gather wild vegetables. Wang Jingheng said although life was hard, people's spirit were very good, hopeful, and positive.

That was forty years ago. You've come a long way, Baby.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Spears And Shields

No sooner did I click publish on that last post than I ran across this article on a proposed American-Japanese ABM system in the People's Daily Online. The system is meant to counter the N. Korean nuclear threat, but that hasn't stopped the Chinese from getting bent out of shape about it. Said Jin Linbo, a scholar with the China Institute of International Studies:

"We cannot regard it as a defensive system just because that's what it is called... Since ancient times both spears and shields have been regarded as weapons in Chinese culture - because shields can make spears useless..."

The Bush-Putin catfight isn't the story. The story is that we need to find a way to address the issue of rogue nuclear proliferation without undermining the concept that's served as the basis of nuclear deterrant for the past fifty years.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   Russia   

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Friday, June 8, 2007

It's No Longer A Mad, Mad, Mad World

This past weekend, there was a medieval festival in the small village where I live in the South of France. And boys being boys, one of the demonstrations that the Lil' Feller and I spent the most time at was the catapult and cannon exhibit. Lined up side by side, the weapons really brought to life the way in which slow advances in technology expanded the range of our ability to project deadly force. (Or in this case, water balloons. But you get the idea.)

These were simple machines, at first disposable, later more sturdy, that became steadily more accurate and deadly. But it was a process -- of practical needs and technical progress driving design advances -- that lasted centuries. As a result, strategy and tactics had plenty of time to adapt to the new conditions on the battlefield.

Contrast that to the introduction of the atomic bomb in 1945, and the subsequent proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. Within a matter of years, our collective destructive capacity accelerated exponentially until it achieved exit velocity. For the first time in history, humanity could not afford to learn the uses of its new arsenal through trial and error.

In retrospect, the greatest achievement of the generation that introduced the Bomb was the strategy it developed immediately afterwards to contain the consequences of its newfound technological capabilities: Mutually Assured Destruction. The counter-intuitive genius of M.A.D. lay in the notion that the surest way to prevent a nuclear launch was to guarantee that the risks always outweighed the potential benefits.

Which explains why anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems were considered so dangerous. By introducing the possibility of surviving a nuclear launch, they undermined the logic of MAD.

As I've mentioned before, the entire dust-up between the Bush administration and Vladimir Putin over the proposed American ABM system based in Poland and Czechoslovakia is a bit mysterious. On the one hand, it's an untested system to counter a non-existent threat. On the other, the idea that ten missile interceptors could seriously inhibit a Russian launch is farfetched.

Putin's opposition may be more posturing than real concern. But in its rush to dismiss it out of hand, the Bush administration has ignored the ways in which, by its very nature, the proposed system violates the logic of MAD. If the only way for Russia to overwhelm the system is to adopt a massive launch strategy, it creates a situation that amplifies the consequences of error and misunderstandings.

By the way, the proposed American system isn't the only example of MAD's recent decline as a guiding principle of nuclear deterrance. According to a recent analysis, the Chinese have begun to deploy nuclear and conventional warheads on the same class of missiles, greatly increasing the risk of an accidental nuclear conflict.

The Cold War might be over, but the doctrine that helped us survive it still serves an important purpose. There's no question that rogue states and global terrorism have created new challenges for nuclear deterrance. But those challenges demand a strategic response that enhances our security. Not an impulsive one that diminishes it.

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   Russia   

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Sunday, May 13, 2007

Three Guesses...

...where the Multifunction Palmtop Game Machine was manufactured.

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Friday, April 27, 2007

A Hundred Battles

Since coining the term "China's Peaceful Rise" in 2003 to describe their intentions as a global superpower, the Chinese have encountered some skepticism from the West with regard to just how committed they are to co-operation and multi-lateralism. I tend to think that recent developments -- such as their participation in the N. Korean talks, as well as recent efforts to increase communication and openness between the Chinese and American militaries -- back up their claim.

Now, in what's got to be taken as a further sign of good intentions, China's top legislature has just appointed Yang Jiechi foreign minister. Yang had served in the Chinese Embassy in the United States for nearly 13 years during various periods since 1980, and was named ambassador to the US in 2000:

During his term in the United States, he was said to be able to balance the need to firmly defend China's national interests while maintaining smooth and stable ties with the United States.

He also won acclaim for his efforts to promote China-U.S. cooperation in fighting terrorism, improving trade ties and enhancing exchanges in law enforcement, military affairs and on the Korean Peninsula nuclear issue.

The man Yang succeeds as foreign minister, Li Zhaoxing, was also his predeccesor as Ambassador to the US. So clearly, the Chinese want someone familiar with their foremost strategic rival running their diplomatic shop. What's encouraging is that Yang seems not only to be familiar with, but also on good terms with, his American counterparts.

Of course the skeptics might still quote Sun Tzu: "If you know both yourself and your enemy, you will come out of one hundred battles with one hundred victories."

To which I'd respond: "Therefore One hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the most skillful. Seizing the enemy without fighting is the most skillful."

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Sunday, March 11, 2007

That's A Dis

Last Thursday, the State Department released its annual Country Reports on Human Rights, detailing the human rights practices of 196 countries around the world. In response, the Chinese Information Office of the State Council published its own report, titled The Human Rights Record of the US in 2006, which focuses on the human rights practices of, predictably enough, the United States.

Crime, poverty, racial discrimination, political corruption, judicial misconduct and malfeasance, prison conditions, and police brutality all figure prominently. But the coup de grace is undoubtedly the section that focuses on the human rights abuses involved with the Global War on Terror. The Chinese report concludes:

The United States has lorded it over other countries by condemning other countries' human rights practices while ignoring its own problems, which exposes its double standard and hegemonism on the human rights issue. We urge the U.S. government to acknowledge its own human rights problems and stop interfering in other countries' internal affairs under the pretext of human rights.

Remember when it was easy to write a reply like that off as wooden propaganda?

Posted by Judah in:  China   Global War On Terror   Human Rights   

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Sunday, March 4, 2007

China's Military Shopping Spree

When he was in Australia last week, Dick Cheney wondered how China's rising military expenditures square with their stated aim of a peaceful rise to global superpower status. Now comes a WaPo article reporting that the 2007 Chinese military budget has indeed increased by 18%. Care to wager a guess in the comments as to what that brings their entire military budget to, before clicking through for the answer? (Remember, don't spoil it for everyone else once you've gotten the answer.)

Posted by Judah in:  China   

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Friday, February 16, 2007

The End Of The Bubble

I talked yesterday about how the tactics being applied in Iraq, ie. Clear and Move On, will become America's regional strategy in the event of a war with Iran. All it takes is a look at the ways in which the geo-political landscape has been altered over the past six years to understand why it won't work.

In January 2001, the United States was an often resented, but widely admired and respected superpower wielding a historically unprecedented global influence. Rightly or wrongly, we occupied a perceived position of moral leadership among the global community, which when coupled with our economic, diplomatic and military power made our involvement decisive in every continent.

Russia was too busy shaking down the oligarchs who had made off with all of the Soviet Union's industrial infrastructure and most of the Western world's capital infusion to spend much time on projecting its power abroad. China, while a looming economic giant, seemed fatally compromised by its abysmal human rights record to ever be more than a regional power. Chavez had his hands full holding onto power in Venezuela. And Iran was constrained to the role of regional troublemaker and spoiler in the Middle East.

If America faced a potential threat to its position of global hegemon, it was the prospect of an increasingly integrated and assertive European Union trying to contest it on the international stage.

Fast forward six years to January 2007...

Read the full post>>

Posted by Judah in:  China   Foreign Policy   International Relations   Iran   Iraq   Russia   

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Winning Friends & Influencing People

Ever wonder what China's doing with its $1 trillion-plus foreign exchange reserves? Well, they're using part of the loot, as this article explains, to buy influence with resource-rich countries through generous foreign aid packages. Aid packages that undercut World Bank and other development organizations by offering more money, with less oversight, to countries where public funds have a tendency to end up in Swiss bank accounts. These are the kinds of deals that, if Tony Soprano were arranging them, would be called graft. And as with all graft schemes, the folks who suffer the most are the ones who might otherwise have ended up with a functioning railroad system, or an environmentally-friendly power grid, but instead wind up with nothing at all, if not worse. Oh, and for what it's worth, our trade deficit with China for 2006 was a little over $232 billion. How do you say, "Don't spend it all in one place," in Chinese?

Posted by Judah in:  International Relations   China   Markets & Finance   

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Monday, February 12, 2007

China's Getting Thirsty

We're used to thinking about the geopolitical race for natural resources in terms of oil, gas, minerals and metals. But reading through this rundown of China's strategic concerns by Gideon Rachman, the foreign affairs commentator for Financial Times, what jumped out at me was what came right after "Energy": Water.

Here's a map modelling global water scarcity come 2025, and as you can see, things don't look so good for the Chinese. The northern part of the country will be in physical scarcity, meaning the actual drying up of water sources, while the south will be forced to choose between either devoting its dwindling water supplies to agricultural irrigation, or maintaining its industrial production.

Something to think about when watching the pieces on the global chessboard move from square to square.

Posted by Judah in:  China   International Relations   

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