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‘A Single Spark Starts a Prarie Fire’

This is a famous quotation by Mao Tse-Tung made, I believe, during the national revolution culminating in 1949.

But it can also apply to the people of Wakum.  If anyone can show the road towards democracy (or participary representation) in China, it would be the people of this village who have waged weeks of protests against their local government for selling off collectively-owned land in secret real-estate deals.

The promise of Wakum to spread its protest to nearby villages caught the attention of provincial officials.

According to the New York Times:

The meeting was the first with province-level officials, and it contrasted sharply with the denunciations and threats of arrest that have defined the official response to the protests since the standoff began.

The negotiations were led by the deputy chief of the provincial Communist Party committee, Zhu Mingguo, and the party secretary of the administrative region of Shanwei, Zheng Yanxiong. Mr. Zhu is a top lieutenant to the provincial party secretary, Wang Yang, one of China’s most prominent political leaders and an unspoken candidate for a spot on China’s ruling body, the standing committee of the Politburo, when membership in the body, which now has nine seats, turns over next year.

What’s at stake?

It seems apparent that the Chinese leadership is listening to and evaluating grass-roots demands for the rule-of-law and some form of democracy.  After local officials were chased out of the area by protesters,  the provincial government felt the need to take over.  Mr. Wang Yang’s ability to solve the local problem would either affirm his candidacy for top leadership in the Politburo or doom his changes forever.

Adding to the stakes was the death of Xue Jinbo, one of 12 representives chosen by villagers to negotiate a settlement to the land deal with local officials:

The Lufeng police said that Mr. Xue and the four others were arrested and charged with protest-related crimes, but that Mr. Xue later died of a heart attack. A report by the state-run Xinhua news service said Mr. Xue had become ill after two days of interrogation in which he admitted to his crimes.

Higher authorities arrested village officials in an attempt to diffuse the situation:

Outside authorities have responded by detaining two Wukan officials — the village Communist Party secretary, Xue Chang, and the head of the village administrative committee, Chun Shunyi — for interrogation by the party’s disciplinary officials. The action is tantamount to arrest.

Notice the differences with which human rights advocates in Beijing are treated and how the situation unfolding as described above is dealt with.

The protest in Wakum brought out thousands and spread to nearby provincial areas.  The Communist Party of China (CPC) is more than aware of official corruption at the village level and local protests against it. It will move to protect its legitimacy by bringing in higher officials with more experience an finesse.  At the same time, it will weigh the ability of provincial officials to solve these supposedly ‘local conflicts’ in assessing their readiness for promotion to higher governance bodies.  Yang may or may not be ready.

I believe that figuring out how to prevent or resolve these local conflicts will develop the model for a more democratic China, not the international obsession with ‘human rights’.

 

 

 

 

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China Doubts European Bail Out

Fu Ling, China’s vice-minister for Foreign Affairs, was quoted in the state media:

“The argument that China should rescue Europe does not stand, as reserves are not managed that way…Foreign reserves are not domestic income or money that can be disposed of by the premier or finance minister…Foreign reserves are akin to savings, and their liquidity should be ensured.”

Although she and officials with China’s sovereign Wealth Fund did not rule out buying the bonds, the size, shape and guarantees associated with the bond offerings would also be considerations.

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Reality Check on Chinese Military Build-Up

Yes, China is increasing its military spending.  And as of this year, it now has one aircraft carrier.  It is modernizing its Navy and testing drones capable of carrying out air/sea combat which China believes would be the core of any future war with a foreign nation.

China is aggressively seeking out and securing mineral and energy resources far from its shores.  In Africa, it is building infrastructure and development projects in return for commercial rights to oil and mineral extraction.  Whether China is a positive force in African economic development or exploits the continent, as Europeans did during the era of colonial rule, is still an open question.

Ironically, the claims China is today making in the South China Sea were first drawn under the US-allied Kuomintang in the early 1940s. China has already signed agreements with a couple of the other nations claiming ownership of islands in the SCS to resolve their territorial conflicts peacefully though negotiation.  China, which during the 19th century was called the ‘sick man of Asia’ has not suddenly become ‘the stomping giant of Asia’.  China, in fact, has not one military base off-shore, in stark contrast with our own hundreds all over the world..

Nevertheless, many US politicians perennially raise fears of China within the US public, as if China were stationing war ships off the coast of Hawaii.  Yet, those same politicians insist that the US military has every right to hold war games with other nations in China’s backyard.

This type of slow drumming rancor and needless suspicion over a period of years breaks down communications and good will when a real crisis occurs.  It is the first step in demonizing an enemy – except China is not in any way an enemy of the US, but is a strong competitor.

There is no doubt that the US and China are and will be in ever sharper competition for mineral and energy resources.  Add Russia and India to the equation and pipeline projects being built through multiple countries and anyone familiar with the 20th century shudders at the potential for conflict.

But we in America have to have a bit of perspective.  Overestimating the strength of competitors will mislead a country as assuredly as underestimating them.  The charts below show the actual imbalance between US and Chinese military spending in absolute and as percentage of GDP.  Next time you hear from a US politician that ‘China is engaged in a long-term military build-up’ (true) and that the US is ill-prepared you might find it amusing instead of frightening.

SIPRI Yearbook 2011

The world’s top 5 largest military budgets in graph.
(also permanent members of the United Nations Security Council)
Figures sourced from SIPRI.

The following is a table of the top 15 countries with the highest military expenditure for 2010 published in the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) Yearbook 2011 using current market exchange rates in current (2010) US dollars.[5][6]

Rank Country 2010 Spending ($ b.) Share of 2010 GDP (%) World Share (%)
World Total 1 630 2.6 100
1 United States United States 698 4.8 43
2 China Chinaa 119 2.1 7.3
3 United Kingdom United Kingdom 59.6 2.7 3.7
4 France France 59.3 2.3 3.6
5 Russia Russiaa 58.7 4.0 3.5
6 Japan Japan 54.5 1.0 3.3
7 Germany Germanya 45.2 1.3 2.8
7 Saudi Arabia Saudi Arabiab 45.2 10.4 2.8
9 India India 41.3 2.7 2.5
10 Italy Italya 37.0 1.8 2.3
11 Brazil Brazil 33.5 1.6 2.1
12 South Korea South Korea 27.6 2.8 1.7
13 Australia Australia 24.0 2.0 1.5
14 Canada Canadaa 22.8 1.5 1.4
15 Turkey Turkeya 17.5 2.4 1.1
^ SIPRI estimate
^ The figures for Saudi Arabia include expenditure for public order and safety and might be slight overestimates.
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China and ‘Gun-Boat Diplomacy’

IT may seem strange in an era of cyberwarfare and drone attacks, but the newest front in the rivalry between the United States and China is a tropical sea, where the drive to tap rich offshore oil and gas reserves has set off a conflict akin to the gunboat diplomacy of the 19th century.

The Obama administration first waded into the treacherous waters of the South China Sea last year when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared, at a tense meeting of Asian countries in Hanoi, that the United States would join Vietnam, the Philippines and other countries in resisting Beijing’s efforts to dominate the sea. China, predictably, was enraged by what it viewed as American meddling. – New York Times

It’s not strange. It’s alarming!  Then today, President Obama announced that the US will station troops in Australia, its first new Pacific troop deployment since the Vietnam War.

Mr. Obama and his Sec/State tell us that American allies in the region (Vietnam, Philipines, Indonesia) are begging for a stronger US military presence in the Pacific to off-set China’s.  They don’t explain how this jives with China being the major trading partner of those same nations.

The competition boils down, once again, to energy.  More and more, oil will be discovered and pumped from large sea deposits.  China claims a large part of the South China Sea but other countries challenge those claims.  China has explicitly thrown its support behind regional talks on solving the problem. Right now, the islands at issue are uninhabited and worthless.  No country has plans to drill into the sea anytime soon, although exploration continues.

Who is the aggressor?

China doesn’t even have one aircraft carrier.  It has not attempted to project its military power globally and has not foreign bases.  It is slowly rebuilding its navy but spends only a fraction of GDP on its military compared to the US.   Talks among the nations on the South China Sea are ongoing.

So why is the Obama Administration rattling sabres in East Asia?

 

 

 

 

 

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Chinese Public Opinion Against Bail-Out of Europe

Thursday’s G8 summit conference will be closely watched as a way to measure China’s willingness to buy into the European recovery fund:

“It’s not only about saving Europe, but the U.S. and the whole world, including China itself,” said Yi Xianrong, director at the financial research center of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “A stable global financial system is also in China’s own interest.”

But the Chinese public is registering opposition to the European bail-out, just as the American public remains skeptical of the US government’s need to bail out US banks.  Public opinion in China can be measured by comments on popular web and microweb sites.  Again, according to reporting by The New York Times:

China’s leaders also are moving cautiously because they are acutely aware that Chinese public opinion is firmly against helping bail Europe out of its debt crisis. Comments on the hugely popular
Twitter-like microblogging sites,
called weibo, offer a window into the popular sentiment.

For China’s netizens, Europeans enjoy a rich lifestyle with lavish early-retirement packages and several weeks of paid vacation each year, while the majority of Chinese can barely earn enough to make a living. So why should China’s government be using its hefty reserves — the people’s money — to help Europe instead of improving living conditions at home?

“The root of the heavy European debt is excessive welfare,” wrote one weibo user under the name “Turbulence and Change.” “They have a large number of lazy people. Even if China doesn’t offer a hand, Europeans still won’t live worse than Chinese. Furthermore, no European will die of hunger.”

Ironies of China’s dealings with West

So, here we have people in a country that conservatives like to denigrate as the boogeyman ‘socialism’ and liberals harp on for being ‘undemocratic’  complaining about the lazy West (as distinct from hard-working Chinese) and opposing China contributing to European and American financial stability.  Meanwhile, the leadership in China, not happy about the prospect, feels it needs to bail out capitalism in its hour of need for its own good.

From the Chinese perspective, the self-indulgent, corrupt, opulent West coming cup-in-hand to the disciplined, hard-working frugal East.  The West caused their own problems, let them fix it!

Marx must be turning over in his grave

 

 

 

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Clinton-Obama Military Build-Up

Components:

1.  Obama amps up use of drone warfare

(Source: New America Foundation)

2.  Redefining military strategy -  use of special ops, drones for quick-strike regional wars and/or fighting terrorism:  Libya, Somalia, Yeman, Sudan.  This began under Bush but given new flesh under Obama.

3.   Leaving Iraq paves way for new footprint (‘security architecture’) in Persian Gulf, including sending more U.S. naval ships through the Gulf as show of force to Iran, maybe US troops in Kuwait for quick deployment to Iraq or Iran.  From there, can expand footprint into Central Asia,  an underdeveloped oil-rich region.

4.   Maintaining position in E. Asia by excluding military supporting this area from US defense department budget cuts, more naval exercises.

 

 

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Obama’s New ‘Security Architecture’ Finishes Bush’s War

If you ever thought that Barack Obama would change the post-Cold War/War on Terror assumptions and find a new direction for US global security policy, the last nail has been hit into the coffin of hope.

The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.

It is clear that the US ‘footprint’ in the Persian Gulf and Middle East will continue to expand with both the goal and justification of encircling Iran.   Although overthrowing Saddam Hussein removed the ‘natural enemy’ of Iran, thus enhancing the latter’s influence in the region, it was also a war to clear the path of an aggressive US national security strategy.   The US needed both an excuse and a place to establish a strong military presence in the region and was counting on a weak Iraq to provide both.

In addition, last year the Administration agreed to sell Saudi Arabia $60 billion in weapons and began building a tailored down ‘missile defense system’ against Iran. It will send more naval ships through international waters in the area and strengthen the Gulf Cooperation Council, composed of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other assorted emirships and kingdoms (do we still need to add ‘undemocratic’).

Nuclear issue only part of Iran story?

The US is actively challenging Iran on its nuclear program.  But this is only half the story.  The real goal is to halt China and Russia from expanding their influence and economic partnerships in the region.

This is the stuff World Wars are made of.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Europe Asks China: Bail Us Out!

In a stark sign of the times, Europe the head of the European Financial Stability Facility flew to Beijing this week, asking the Chinese, who have $3.2 trillion in foreign reserves, to invest in Europe’s recovery.  The New York Times, a reliable China-basher, is beside itself reporting:

That Europe would turn so openly to China to help stabilize the debt crisis shows how quickly the Chinese economic juggernaut has risen on the world stage. Indeed, if China comes to Europe’s aid, it will signal a new international order, with China beginning to rival the role long played by the United States as the world’s pivotal financial power.

But the Chinese aren’t so quick to bite:

A senior Chinese official, Vice Finance Minister Zhu Guangyao, said China — like the rest of the world — was still waiting for the Europeans to deliver crucial details on how the rescue fund, the European Financial Stability Facility, would operate and be profitable before deciding on whether to participate.

The Chinese are also worried about domestic reaction to the government investing so much in the West instead of at home.

Now, Chinese-owned companies run the biggest shipping port in Greece. They own highways and other crucial infrastructure, and are working to snap up other strategic businesses to anchor their presence on European soil.

Chinese citizens have also been venting anger on the Internet about government investments in Europe that have turned out to be anything but profitable, including billions of euros worth of volatile bond holdings from stricken countries like Spain and Greece.

Although China says it is opposed to mixing political issues with investment decisions, it has wanted Europe to recognize it as market economy, and has steadfastly refused to address US demands to raise the level of its currency.

Is the World Collapsing?

Changes in the world order are accelerating at a dizzying rate ever since the US invaded Iraq and lost credibility as the ‘can-do’ country.  Now, in the wake of the Western financial crisis, it is losing its place as the ‘go-to’ economic power.

But these are not bad things.  The economies of many other countries, particularly in Asia, have exponentially expanded in the last 30 years and that’s increased the world’s economic breadth.  The more other countries ‘catch up’ to the US,  the larger the world’s economy and greater the world market for US goods and services.  England, France and Germany survived the ascendence of US power after WW2 and they’d been destroyed by the war.

The US, never so unfortunate as to experience a major foreign war on its own soil, nor the destruction such war brings, will survive the ‘rise of China’.  It is in the economic interest of every nation in the world to see other nations prosper as well.  Access to markets and control of land – gained through claims, occupation, invasion, royal marriages, colonialism, etc. – are the fundamental reasons for war.   International organizations, not war, are the forum for handling these disputes.

If China can help save Western capitalism, why not?

 

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