Up to a point, as we recognized, the problem of the coolie-millionaire offers no real difficulty. The Chinese coolie lives in a palm-thatched hovel on a bowl of rice. When he has risen to a higher occupation — hawking peanuts, for example, from a barrow — he still lives on rice and still lives in a hovel. When he has risen farther — to the selling, say, of possibly stolen bicycle parts, he keeps to his hovel and his rice. The result is that he has money to invest. Of ten coolies in this situation, nine will lose their money by unwise speculation. The tenth will be clever or lucky. He will live, nevertheless, in his hovel. He will eat, as before, his rice. As a success technique this is well worthy of study.
In the American log cabin story the point is soon reached at which the future millionaire must wear a tie. He explains that he cannot otherwise inspire confidence. He must also acquire a better address, purely (he says) to gain prestige. In point of fact, the tie is to please his wife and the address to satisfy his daughter. The Chinese have their womenfolk under better control. So the prosperous coolie sticks to his hovel and his rice. This is a known fact and admits of two explanations. In the first place his home (whatever its other disadvantages) has undeniably brought him luck. In the second place, a better house would unquestionably attract the notice of the tax collector. So he wisely stays where he is. He will often keep the original hovel — at any rate as an office — for the rest of his life. He quits it so reluctantly that his decision to move marks a major crisis in his career.
When he moves it is primarily to evade the exactions of secret societies, blackmailers, and gangs. To conceal his growing wealth from the tax collector is a relatively easy matter; but to conceal it from his business associates is practically impossible. Once the word goes round that he is prospering, accurate guesses will be made as to the sum for which he can be “touched.” All this is admittedly well known, but previous investigators have jumped too readily to the conclusion that there is only one sum involved. In point of fact there are three: the sum the victim would pay if kidnapped and held to ransom; the sum he would pay to keep a defamatory article out of a Chinese newspaper; the sum he would subscribe to charity rather than lose face.
Our task was to ascertain the figure the first sum will have reached (on an average) at the moment when migration takes place from the original hovel to a well-fenced house guarded by an Alsatian hound. It is this move that has been termed “Breaking the Hound Barrier.” Social scientists believe that it will tend to occur as soon as the ransom to be exacted comes to exceed the overhead costs of the “snatch.”
C. Northcote Parkinson, “Palm Thatch To Packard Or A Formula For Success”, Parkinson’s Law (and other studies in administration), 1957.
September 14, 2014
September 8, 2014
When Mao died, The Economist wrote:
“In the final reckoning, Mao must be accepted as one of history’s great achievers: for devising a peasant-centered revolutionary strategy which enabled China’s Communist Party to seize power, against Marx’s prescriptions, from bases in the countryside; for directing the transformation of China from a feudal society, wracked by war and bled by corruption, into a unified, egalitarian state where nobody starves; and for reviving national pride and confidence so that China could, in Mao’s words, ‘stand up’ among the great powers.” (emphasis mine)
The current estimate is that, during the Great Leap Forward, between thirty and forty million Chinese peasants starved to death. Critics questioning that figure have suggested that the number might have been as low as two and half million.
I am curious — has the Economist ever published an explicit apology or an explanation of how they got the facts so completely backwards, crediting the man responsible for what was probably the worst famine in history with creating a state “where nobody starves?” Is it known who wrote that passage, and has anyone ever asked him how he could have gotten the facts so terribly wrong?
David D. Friedman, “A Small Mistake”, Ideas, 2014-09-07.
September 7, 2014
Sara Hsu reports on the Chinese government’s plans for how Hong Kong’s chief executive will be elected:
Hong Kong is at a political crossroads, as the National People’s Congress (NPC) in Mainland China has proposed to allow universal suffrage in final selection of the Chief Executive, as long as a nominating committee chooses candidates approved by the Communist Party. The proposal is to be voted upon by the Legislative Council; if rejected, the 2017 will be by committee, as in the last election (of Chun-ying Leung). Mainland China’s involvement in Hong Kong’s elections has reduced the ability of Hong Kong residents to freely run for and elect a candidate of their choice for the most powerful government position of this Special Administrative Region. Does this constraint negatively or positively impact the economy?
Hong Kong’s market economy is to be maintained at least through 2047 according to the Basic Law. China and Hong Kong have strong interests in upholding their mutual economies, as Hong Kong is the largest source of inward investment for Mainland China, and also the largest recipient of foreign direct investment from the Mainland. The economies are intricately intertwined through trade and investment, so in these respects, interests are intertwined.
Nor has the movement against Beijing political involvement gained widespread popularity from an economic perspective. Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, Occupy Central with Love and Peace, has in fact been accused by some of putting Hong Kong’s economy at risk. Even though the movement has had little direct impact on the economy thus far, pro-Beijing groups worry that the pro-democracy movement will give rise to political instability and jeopardize the economic well-being of Hong Kong residents.
September 3, 2014
People seem to want to get freaked out about China passing the US in terms of the size of its economy. But in the history of Civilization there have probably been barely 200 years in the last 4000 that China hasn’t been the largest economy in the world. It probably only lost that title in the early 19th century and is just now getting it back. We are in some senses ending an unusual period, not starting one.
Warren Meyer, “It is Historically Unusual for China NOT to be the Largest Economy on Earth”, Coyote Blog, 2014-08-30.
August 5, 2014
I thought we’d be done by now, but there’s still more historical ground to cover on what I think are the deep origins of the First World War (part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six). The previous post examined the naval arms race between Britain and Germany. Today, we’re looking at the unhappy Russian experiences in the far East and the dangerous domestic situation it faced after the war.
Russia’s Oriental catastrophe
The Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05 was a huge upset, as all the great powers expected Russia to crush the upstart Japanese and put them back “in their place”. Japan’s stunning naval and military successes at the Battle of the Yellow Sea, Tsushima and Port Arthur left Russia in a potentially disastrous situation, with utter undeniable defeat in the East and revolution brewing at home.
The war came about due to irreconcilable differences in the expansionary plans of the two empires: Russia wanted control of Manchuria and Japan wanted control of Korea, but neither side trusted the other enough to make negotiations work. Japan decided to initiate the conflict with a surprise attack on the Russian naval forces in Port Arthur (now known as the Lüshunkou District of Dalian in China’s Liaoning province). From that point onwards, Japan maintained the initiative, forcing Russia to react and interrupting Russian moves on land and at sea.After the defeat of the original Russian fleet in the Pacific, the Baltic Fleet was re-tasked and set out to avenge the loss. The fleet’s luck was terrible to begin with, as shortly after passing between Sweden and Denmark and sailing out into the North Sea, lookouts on the Russian battleships spotted Japanese forces and the fleet opened fire. Twenty minutes, later the enemy was in tatters … unfortunately, the “enemy” were British fishing trawlers. Given the massive firepower of even pre-dreadnought ships, the casualties were surprisingly light: one trawler sunk, two dead, and many wounded. Not long afterward, a Russian ship in the fleet was mis-identified as a Japanese ship and nearly sunk by friendly fire. The nearest Japanese ship was still thousands of miles to the East.
Despite nearly starting a war with the Royal Navy over the Dogger Bank incident (Britain and Japan had signed an alliance in 1902), Admiral Rozhdestvensky was unapologetic and insisted it was the trawlers’ fault and his ships were perfectly entitled to defend themselves from Japanese attackers. As a result of the Russian mistake, Britain refused to allow the fleet passage through the Suez Canal, forcing them to take the far longer trip around Africa instead. If ever a military expedition has had bad omens, the sortie of the Baltic Fleet — now renamed the Second Pacific Squadron for this mission — must be one of the best examples.
When the Russian and Japanese fleets met in the Tsushima Straits, Admiral Tōgō managed to “cross the T” of the Russians, allowing his ships to use their full broadside armament against only the forward-facing guns of the Russian ships. In the end, the Second Pacific Squadron lost all eleven battleships and over 4,000 men killed, another 5,900 captured, and 1,800 interned. Japanese losses were trivial in comparison: three torpedo boats sunk, 117 men killed and about 500 wounded.
There were no major subsequent battles, and Russia was forced to sign the Treaty of Portsmouth to end the war in September 1905. Despite the Tsar’s initial instructions to the Russian delegation, the Russians agreed to recognize Japan’s sphere of influence in Korea, withdraw their troops from Manchuria, and to give up their lease on Port Arthur and Talien. The reaction in both countries was similar: political unrest. Japanese public opinion was that they had been cheated of their full reward from the war, and the government fell in the aftermath. Russians were even more angry and the result was revolution.
The (first) Russian revolution
While the result of the Russo-Japanese war was the trigger for the 1905 Revolution, it was far from being the only grievance. Margaret MacMillan wrote in The War That Ended Peace:
In 1904 the Minister of the Interior, Vyacheslav Plehve, is reported to have said that Russia needed “a small victorious war” which would take the minds of the Russian masses off “political questions”.
The Russo-Japanese War showed the folly of that idea. In its early months Plehve himself was blown apart by a bomb; towards its end the newly formed Bolsheviks tried to seize Moscow. The war served to deepen and bring into sharp focus the existing unhappiness of many Russians with their own society and its rulers. As the many deficiencies, from command to supplies, of the Russian war effort became apparent, criticism grew, both of the government and, since the regime was a highly personalized one, of the Tsar himself. In St. Petersburg a cartoon showed the Tsar with his breeches down being beaten while he says, “Leave me alone. I am the autocrat!” Like the French Revolution, with which it had many similarities, the Russian Revolution of 1905 broke old taboos, including the reverence surrounding the country’s ruler. It seemed to officials in St. Petersburg a bad omen that the Empress had hung a portrait of Marie Antoinette, a gift from the French government, in her rooms.
In December 1904, a strike in St. Petersburg triggered sympathy strikes in other industries, leading to 80,000 workers and supporters protesting in the city. In January 1905, a mass march by the strikers to the Winter Palace was met with rifle fire from the defending troops. Casualty estimates range from 200 to over 1,000 on Bloody Sunday. The strikes and protests spread beyond St. Petersburg, to the point that the government was threatened. Eventually the Tsar was persuaded to offer concessions :
Under huge pressure from his own supporters, the Tsar reluctantly issued a manifesto in October promising a responsible legislature, the Duma, as well as civil rights.
As so often happens in revolutionary moments, the concessions only encouraged the opponents of the regime. It appeared to be close to collapsing with its officials confused and ineffective in the face of such widespread disorder. That winter a battalion from Nichlas’s own regiment, the Preobrazhensky Guards, which had been founded by Peter the Great, mutinied. A member of the Tsar’s court wrote in his diary: “This is it.” Fortunately for the regime, its most determined enemies were disunited and not yet ready to take power while moderate reformers were prepared to support it in the light of the Tsar’s promises. Using the army and police freely, the government managed to restore order. By the summer of 1906 the worst was over — for the time being. The regime still faced the dilemma, though, of how far it could let reforms go without fatally undermining its authority. It was a dilemma faced by the French government in 1789 or the Shah’s government in Iran in 1979. Refusing demands for reform and relying on repression creates enemies; giving way encourages them and brings more demands.
Russia’s economy did recover eventually, but the political solution was not strong enough to stand the strains of another war any time soon. In some ways, it’s hard to imagine what the Russian leaders who advised the Tsar were thinking as the Russians continued to stir the pot in the Balkans…
June 7, 2014
At Business Insider, Armin Rosen examines what might happen if China decided to resolve the status of Taiwan by military force:
War from the air. The entire island sits within range of Chinese surface to air and short-range ballistic missile systems:
Constant air attacks could “degrade Taiwan’s defenses, neutralize Taiwan’s leadership, or break the Taiwan people’s will to fight.”
A full-scale invasion. Chinese military thinkers have published numerous texts thinking through the realities of an amphibious landing in Taiwan. One, entitled the Joint Island Landing Campaign, “envisions a complex operation relying on coordinated, interlocking campaigns for logistics, air, and naval support, and electronic warfare.”
The report doesn’t think that an invasion is necessarily within China’s current capabilities, and notes that China is mindful of the international scorn that such aggression would invite. But China could seize smaller inhabited Islands that Taiwan claims. And the country maintains numerous military assets in and around the Strait:
And if China establishes a beach head, it would enjoy a substantial manpower advantage over the Taiwanese military: China has 400,000 troops positioned around the Strait, compared to 130,000 total combat soldiers in Taiwan’s standing army.
May 30, 2014
High praise indeed for French espionage operatives from … former US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates:
Former spy and defense department secretary Robert Gates has identified France as a major cyber-spying threat against the US.
In statements that are bound to raise eyebrows on both sides of the Atlantic, Gates (not Bill) nominated French spies as being number two in the world of industrial cyber-espionage.
“In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are the French – and they’ve been doing it a long time” he says in this interview at the Council on Foreign Relations.
Rather than a precis, The Register will give you some of Gates’s (not Bill) words verbatim, starting just after 21 minutes in the video, when he answers a question about America’s recent indictment of five Chinese military hackers.
“What we have accused the Chinese of doing – stealing American companies’ secrets and technology – is not new, nor is it something that’s done only by the Chinese,” Gates tells the interviewer. “There are probably a dozen or fifteen countries that steal our technology in this way.
“In terms of the most capable, next to the Chinese, are probably the French, and they’ve been doing it a long time.
April 21, 2014
The Wall Street Journal‘s China Real Time section wonders why we haven’t seen much linguistic small change from China filtering into everyday English:
As languages go, English is a notoriously promiscuous one, borrowing caricatures from Italian, chutzpah from Yiddish and faux pas from French.
And yet despite the English-speaking world’s deep and wide confluences with Chinese culture, for some reason, few Chinese words have lately entered the English-speaking world’s vocabulary.
China’s state media is hoping that could change: Last week, it cited several Chinese entries that have recently appeared [at] UrbanDictionary.com. “English speakers may soon be saying ‘you can you up, no can no bb’ in response to criticism,” the official Xinhua news agency said, referring to a Chinese phrase that means if you can do it, do it, and if you can’t, don’t criticize others. (The original Chinese is你行你上,不行别BB. In Beijing dialect, “BB” means to nag or complain.)
On the English side, resistance to Chinese words doesn’t seem to be a simple difficulty of pronunciation: though Mandarin’s different tones may be daunting, the basic syllables are easy enough, and the trickiness of French or Japanese pronunciation (coup d’etat, karaoke) hasn’t stopped English from embracing words from either language.
And there are plenty of words that would seem ripe to jump the Pacific: Here at China Real Time, one particularly accessible term, mafan — meaning a hassle, or difficulty — could be easily adopted by English speakers (and in fact already has been by many on staff). And who could resist the roll-off-the-tongue ease of mamahuhu, a term that means “so-so”? (The literal translation is “horse horse tiger tiger.”) Maybe, as some theorize, it’s just a matter of time, as China’s reach grows, and exchanges continue to deepen.
Oddly, some of the most colourful terms listed here haven’t yet become common:
15) Stupid Inbred Stack of Meat
笨天生的一堆肉。・ BUN tyen-shung duh ee-DWAY-RO
On a visit to one of Mal’s old Army buddies, Monty, on an uninhabited moon, Mal and crew encounter “Saffron”, the beautiful con-artist who once tricked Mal into marriage, and nearly stole his ship (played by the absolutely magnificent Christina Hendricks); this time, she’s taken the name “Bridget” and married Monty. A short tussle ensues between her and Mal (lucky bastard) which Monty breaks up as Mal explains the details of their shared history. When Saffron, who had been denying everything, lets it slip that she knows Mal’s name, Monty abandons her on the barren lunar surface. She screams this bit of Mandarin to the heavens as his ship departs. This phrase is also noteworthy for its use on the back cover of Serenity: The Official Visual Companion, where Chinese characters inform prospective buyers: “If you don’t buy this book, your friends will think you’re a stupid inbred stack of meat.”
6) Filthy Fornicators of Livestock
喝畜生雜交的髒貨 ・ Huh choo-shung tza-jiao duh tzang-huo
As a clergyman, Shepherd Book is usually denied the use of the kind of innovative vulgarity the rest of the crew enjoys. Sometimes, however, a particular sight inspires even a man of the cloth to throw down with the best obscenity slingers. Book offers this exclamation in response to crime boss Adelai Niska’s reprehensible act of sending the Serenity‘s crew their kidnapped Captain’s severed ear. Fun fact: the Firefly-Serenity Pinyinary offers translations of not only the entire phrase, but of the component words. We mention this in case anyone might be wondering if this translation is simply a more polite way of saying “Dirty Cow Fuckers”. It isn’t. Foreign languages are fun, huh?
5) Motherless Goats of All Motherless Goats
羔羊中的孤羊 ・ Gao yang jong duh goo yang
Another slice of pure Mandarin what-the-fuckery, this time from Wash, who has the honor of delivering some of the most outrageous Chinese dialogue this side of a Beijing mental hospital. Wash mutters this under his breath when he learns that Magistrate Higgins has put a landlock on the ship — his consternation doesn’t last long, for only a moment after noticing the lock, it was removed. Only Inara knows why (she was hired to deflower the Magistrate’s son, and accomplished making a man of him a bit too well for the senior Higgins’ liking).
4) Holy Mother of God and All Her Wacky Nephews
我的媽和她的瘋狂的外甥都 ・ Wuh duh ma huh tah duh fong kwong duh wai shung
This may be the most awesome phrase we’ve ever heard in any language; only its lack of vulgarity kept it from breaking the Top Three. Once again, it issues forth from the mouth of Wash. In “Our Mrs. Reynolds,” we first encounter the deliciously devious ginger con-babe, Saffron. After leading Mal to the “Special Hell”, she proceeds to the cockpit where she puts the moves on poor Wash. Only his devotion to Zoe keeps him from succumbing to Saffron’s charms — devotion that earns him a roundhouse kick to the head. This marvelous line is his singular response to Saffron’s advances.
April 14, 2014
In The Diplomat, Anthony V. Rinna looks at Canada’s rather history of diplomatic and cultural exchanges with China:
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper has noticeably changed his stance toward China. Previously, the Conservative prime minister maintained a hard line against the PRC based on what he perceived as a poor human rights record. That position has softened over recent years. This seems to be part of a broader strategy aimed at transforming Canada, traditionally Atlanticist in its political leanings, into a leading actor in the Asia-Pacific. Specifically there is ample opportunity for Canada and China to enter into a symbiotic energy relationship. China of course desperately needs energy, and wants a diverse base of suppliers. Canada, in turn, is a major energy producer and exporter and would find a very willing customer in China.
Among the Western democracies, Canada has something of a history as a catalyst vis-à-vis the West’s relations with China. Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was the first Western leader to open up to China, starting in 1970 when Canada officially recognized the government in Beijing as the legitimate government of the land (and the stage had been set for this by Trudeau’s predecessor, John Diefenbaker). Although Hugh Stevens of TransPacific Connections attributes Canada’s renewed interest in strengthening ties with China in part to following the lead of the U.S. “pivot” toward Asia, Canada has the potential to again be a leader and innovator in its own right. Canada’s own unthreatening position can only help.
While Canada’s relationship with China is largely based on trade and investment, military relations between Canada and China continue to develop apace, well beyond the conventional placement of military attachés at each country’s respective embassies in Beijing and Ottawa. In March 2012, then-Canadian Chief of Staff General Walter Natyncyk participated in a high-level visit to China and met with top brass from the People’s Liberation Army. In August 2013, Robert Nicholson, who had become Canada’s Minister of Defence only a month earlier, held talks with his Chinese counterpart Chang Wanquan on deepening Sino-Canadian military cooperation.
Canada has used its position to ease Asia-Pacific tensions in the past, for instance during the South China Sea Dialogues in the mid-1990s. James Manicom of the Centre for International Governance Innovation argues that the Track II-style of Canadian involvement in the 1990s may no longer be appropriate or effective given the rise in regional tensions. Nevertheless, as Canada’s military engagement with China increases, this still leaves the possibility of Canada playing a role in soothing regional tensions on an official level.
Ottawa has positive relations with the other states with territorial interests and disputes in the South China Sea. For instance, 49 percent of Indonesians say they have a positive view of Canada (and only 16 percent express a negative view). In line with its progressive stance toward China in the 1970s, Canada also recognized Vietnam diplomatically toward the end of the U.S.-led Vietnam War (whereas the U.S. only normalized relations with that country late in the administration of President Bill Clinton). Thus, Canada may be in a position to assist not only as a third node in a Canada-China-U.S. strategic triangle, but also to use its own diplomatic clout hand-in-hand with its growing military ties to China to work between China, the U.S. and U.S. partners in the region, many of whom have called for American assistance in counterbalancing China.
March 31, 2014
The WSJ‘s China Real Time column heartily approves of the guide to CCTV (China Central Television) posted by The World of Chinese:
… it’s a very handy guide to interpreting CCTV’s newspeak on the Network News at seven o’clock (Xinwen Lianbo新闻联播). It describes how CCTV sets the tone on the key issues of the day — every day, rain or shine — and in a nutshell some of their key observations are:
- Your remote will be rendered useless and there is no place to hide. Central, provincial, city and local channels are all required to broadcast the program
- Unplugging the TV won’t help as the same message awaits you on websites and newspapers the following day
- No issue is too small when it comes to practicing the core values of socialism
For readers who are studying Chinese, the post also offers handy examples of the program’s particular phraseology — a sparse and wooden collection of stock formulations all too familiar to some of CRT’s more grizzled correspondents. A few of our favorites: “The two sides carried out an affable and friendly discussion” (双方进行了亲切友好的会谈), “[Insert country here] reaffirms that it objects to any forces threatening to undermine Chinese sovereignty and territorial integrity” ( ___ 重申，反对任何破坏中国国 家主权和领土完整的势力), “The Chinese side highly praised the [insert country here] government’s efforts to always adhere to the one-China policy. (中方高度赞赏 ___ 政府始终坚持一个中国政策的立场)
To further the understanding of the uninitiated, we offer a few observations of our own:
- The chairman always tops the news no matter how irrelevant his activities were that day
- Nobody makes unimportant speeches
- Nobody ever says what was in the important speeches
- Long handshakes with unrecognizable visiting dignitaries always make interesting TV
- China’s position is always reasonable
- The world outside China’s borders is a frightening miasma of natural disasters, political crises and economic ruin.
To understand that last bullet point, you only have to watch a few minutes of MSNBC or Fox News.
March 29, 2014
Edward Luttwak describes the very first time China was able to bring powerful “barbarians” into a tributary state, and how that first success has become a key element of Chinese geostrategic thought ever since:
It is this successful transformation of a once superior power first into an equal (signified by imperial marriages) and then into a subservient client-state that seems to have left an indelible residue in China’s tradition of statecraft. It was achieved with a specific “barbarian-handling” tool box first described by its early practitioner, the scholar and imperial advisor Lou Jing (婁敬) 199 BCE. His method was first applied when the Xiongnú [匈奴 horse-nomad state] were still very strong and the Han were not only tactically inferior (their chariots were totally obsolete for fighting mounted archers) but also beset by political divisions, so much so that a 198 BCE4 treaty required the payment of an annual tribute in kind (silk, grain, etc.), and the formal attestation of equality for the Chanyu [Qagan, Khan] embodied in a marriage alliance, formalized by imperial letters that make the equality fully explicit.
The first barbarian-handling tool is normally translated as “corruption” in English translations, but perhaps “addiction,” or more fully “induced economic dependence” are more accurate: the originally self-sufficient Xiongnú were to be made economically dependent on Han-produced goods, starting with silk and woolen cloths instead of their own rude furs and felt. At first supplied free as unrequited tribute, these goods could still be supplied later on when the Han were stronger, but only in exchange for services rendered.
The second tool of barbarian handling, is normally translated as “indoctrination”: the Xiongnú were to be persuaded to accept the authoritarian Confucian value system and the collectivistic behavioral norms of the Han, as opposed to the steppe value system, based on voluntary allegiance to a heroic (and successful in looting) fighting and migration leader. One immediate benefit was that once the Chanyu’s son and heir married an imperial daughter, he would be ethically subordinated to the emperor as his father-in-law — remaining so when he became Chanyu in turn.
The much larger, longer-term benefit of the second tool was to undermine the entire political culture of the Xiongnú, and make them psychologically well as economically dependent on the imperial radiance, which was willingly extended in brotherly fashion when the Han were weak, and then contemptuously withdrawn when the Xiongnú were reduced to vassalage. What happened between the Han and the Xiongnú from the equal treaty of 198 BCE to the vassalage treaty of 51 BCE, remained thereafter, and still remains today the most hopeful precedent for Han dealings with powerful and violent states — evidently the assigned role of the United States in the present Beijing world-view.
The method forms a logical sequence:
Stage One: start by conceding all that must be conceded to the superior power including tribute, in order to avoid damage and obtain whatever forbearance is offered. But this in itself entangles the ruling class of the still-superior power in webs of material dependence that reduce its independent vitality and strength.
Stage Two: offer equality in a privileged bipolarity that excludes all lesser powers, or “G-2” in current parlance. That neutralizes the still powerful Other party, and isolates the manipulated soon-to-be former equal from all its potential allies, preventing from balancing China with a coalition.
Stage Three: finally, when the formerly superior power has been weakened enough, withdraw all tokens of equality and impose subordination.
Until the Chinese government decided — very prematurely I believe — to awaken the world to its classically imperial territorial ambitions by demanding the cession of lands, reefs, rocks, and sea waters from India, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam (demands that disturb and damage the concurrent Tianxia narrative of an alternative and more harmonious state system, disseminated even within the confines of Stanford University), it was making much progress towards Stage Two, the stage of equality preparatory to the final stage of subordination.
March 28, 2014
The WSJ‘s China Real Time section discusses a recent announcement that the government will be cracking down on “fake news”:
According to the People’s Daily, the official mouthpiece of the Communist Party, such a phenomenon “seriously damages the image of news workers, corrodes the credibility and authoritative nature of the news media, is strongly opposed by all sectors of society, and bitterly detested by the people.” Nine government departments will be involved in the crackdown on such activity, the newspaper said.
By extortion, the government was referring to the practice in which people presenting themselves as journalists — real or not — threaten to report negative information on sources unless they pay them. While it didn’t explicitly spell out what it meant by “fake news,” the government has in recent years been cracking down on the dissemination of rumors or thinly sourced reports that it says contribute to social instability.
Late last year, in one particularly high-profile case, a Chinese newspaper journalist confessed to accepting hundreds of thousands of yuan in exchange for producing stories defaming a large construction-equipment maker. (Chinese reporters routinely accept hongbao, or small packets of money, when attending press events.) Meanwhile, deal-cutting among IPO candidates faced with media extortionists — in which many companies pay for advertisement space to avoid negative coverage — is common, according Caixin Magazine.
March 10, 2014
Bruce Schneier on the odd linguistic tic of how we describe an act depending on who the actor is:
Back when we first started getting reports of the Chinese breaking into U.S. computer networks for espionage purposes, we described it in some very strong language. We called the Chinese actions cyber-attacks. We sometimes even invoked the word cyberwar, and declared that a cyber-attack was an act of war.
When Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has been doing exactly the same thing as the Chinese to computer networks around the world, we used much more moderate language to describe U.S. actions: words like espionage, or intelligence gathering, or spying. We stressed that it’s a peacetime activity, and that everyone does it.
The reality is somewhere in the middle, and the problem is that our intuitions are based on history.
Electronic espionage is different today than it was in the pre-Internet days of the Cold War. Eavesdropping isn’t passive anymore. It’s not the electronic equivalent of sitting close to someone and overhearing a conversation. It’s not passively monitoring a communications circuit. It’s more likely to involve actively breaking into an adversary’s computer network — be it Chinese, Brazilian, or Belgian — and installing malicious software designed to take over that network.
In other words, it’s hacking. Cyber-espionage is a form of cyber-attack. It’s an offensive action. It violates the sovereignty of another country, and we’re doing it with far too little consideration of its diplomatic and geopolitical costs.
February 12, 2014
Another day, another non-Spanish leader or ex-leader being charged with crimes against humanity in a Spanish court … but perhaps not for long:
Spain’s MPs voted on Tuesday to push forward with a bill that limits the power of Spanish judges to pursue criminal cases outside the country, a move that human rights organisations said would end Spain’s leading role as an enforcer of international justice.
Last month, the ruling People’s party (PP) tabled a fast-track legal change to curb the use of universal jurisdiction, a provision in international law that allows judges to try cases of human rights abuses committed in other countries. Since being adopted into Spanish law nearly two decades ago, the doctrine has allowed Spanish judges to reach beyond their borders and investigate serious human rights abuses in countries such as Argentina, Rwanda and Guatemala.
Its use put the Spanish justice system into the headlines at times — most famously for the 1998 arrest of the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London.
“This reform makes it even harder to probe into severe human rights abuses,” said Ignacio Jovtis, of Amnesty International Spain. “It’s a step backwards for human rights and justice.”
Nearly two dozen international human rights groups have spoken out against the change, calling it political interference in the justice system and urging the government to abandon the reform.
It’s one thing to provide a venue for pursuing violations of civil rights, but it’s quite another to allow your justice system to become an international laughingstock. Spain’s legal system has come dangerously close to the latter with the current law in place. It certainly has created some awkward situations like this:
MPs voted to push ahead with the move a day after a court in Spain ordered Interpol to issue arrest warrants for the former Chinese president Jiang Zemin, as well as four senior Chinese officials, over alleged human rights abuses in Tibet decades ago.
The arrest orders come just as Spain is seeking to lift its sagging economy by deepening trade relations with the Asian superpower.
China issued a sharp rebuke, leaving little question that the issue had strained ties between the two countries. “China is strongly dissatisfied and firmly opposed to the erroneous acts taken by the Spanish agencies in disregard of China’s position,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, at a daily briefing.
January 31, 2014
In The Diplomat, Ian Easton gives some anecdotal run-downs of People’s Liberation Army operations (and mishaps) over the last decade:
In April 2003, the Chinese Navy decided to put a large group of its best submarine talent on the same boat as part of an experiment to synergize its naval elite. The result? Within hours of leaving port, the Type 035 Ming III class submarine sank with all hands lost. Never having fully recovered from this maritime disaster, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is still the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council never to have conducted an operational patrol with a nuclear missile submarine.
China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier. While it launched a refurbished Ukrainian built carrier amidst much fanfare in September 2012 – then-President Hu Jintao and all the top brass showed up – soon afterward the big ship had to return to the docks for extensive overhauls because of suspected engine failure; not the most auspicious of starts for China’s fledgling “blue water” navy, and not the least example of a modernizing military that has yet to master last century’s technology.
Indeed, today the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still conducts long-distance maneuver training at speeds measured by how fast the next available cargo train can transport its tanks and guns forward. And if mobilizing and moving armies around on railway tracks sounds a bit antiquated in an era of global airlift, it should – that was how it was done in the First World War.
While recent years have witnessed a tremendous Chinese propaganda effort aimed at convincing the world that the PRC is a serious military player that is owed respect, outsiders often forget that China does not even have a professional military. The PLA, unlike the armed forces of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other regional heavyweights, is by definition not a professional fighting force. Rather, it is a “party army,” the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Indeed, all career officers in the PLA are members of the CCP and all units at the company level and above have political officers assigned to enforce party control. Likewise, all important decisions in the PLA are made by Communist Party committees that are dominated by political officers, not by operators. This system ensures that the interests of the party’s civilian and military leaders are merged, and for this reason new Chinese soldiers entering into the PLA swear their allegiance to the CCP, not to the PRC constitution or the people of China.
This may be one reason why China’s marines (or “naval infantry” in PLA parlance) and other amphibious warfare units train by landing on big white sandy beaches that look nothing like the west coast of Taiwan (or for that matter anyplace else they could conceivably be sent in the East China Sea or South China Sea). It could also be why PLA Air Force pilots still typically get less than ten hours of flight time a month (well below regional standards), and only in 2012 began to have the ability to submit their own flight plans (previously, overbearing staff officers assigned pilots their flight plans and would not even allow them to taxi and take-off on the runways by themselves).
And yet, despite the occasional comic opera situation, the PLA (especially the PLAN) seems to be more dangerous to neighbouring countries:
Yet none of this should be comforting to China’s potential military adversaries. It is precisely China’s military weakness that makes it so dangerous. Take the PLA’s lack of combat experience, for example. A few minor border scraps aside, the PLA hasn’t seen real combat since the Korean War. This appears to be a major factor leading it to act so brazenly in the East and South China Seas. Indeed, China’s navy now appears to be itching for a fight anywhere it can find one. Experienced combat veterans almost never act this way. Indeed, history shows that military commanders that have gone to war are significantly less hawkish than their inexperienced counterparts. Lacking the somber wisdom that comes from combat experience, today’s PLA is all hawk and no dove.