Archive for October, 2008

Friday, October 31, 2008

Brookings: The Political Geography of America’s Purple States

Fractions and decimals of swing counties and swing states have become the nightmares of foreign correspondents like the BBC’s Matt Frei, but for anyone without an overdose of it, here they are:

“Five Trends that will Decide the 2008 Election.”

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The American Era isn’t Over

“Seeking to impose nationalism on the Chinese people as the collective identity of the state, pragmatic leaders stressed the instrumental aspect more than the intrinsic value of nationalism. This confirms Lucian Pye’s famous observation that Chinese nationalism, reflecting the attributes and aspirations of a particular group of political leaders, lacks the collective cultural ideals and shared inspirations and myths that can both nourish a positive public conscience and place limits on the behavior of the leadership. In other words, this form of nationalism is equated with blind patriotism, not with more inspiring cultural ideals and beliefs that reflect China’s modern history and tradition.”
Suisheng Zhao, Chinese Nationalism and Its International Orientations, Political Science Quarterly, No. 1 2000 
George Soros and Niall Ferguson almost agree with each other that  American influence will wane. The powershift toward Asia is a consequence of the sins of the last 25 years of the United States, says Soros, and Ferguson believes that China will overtake America in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) in 2027 or earlier. But Ferguson also sees opportunities for America to emerge with its geopolitical position enhanced.

It would make little sense to try and rival Messrs Ferguson’s and Soros’ analysis. But I believe there is something to add to the economic and geopolitical views they offer. America has more assets than its economic and military might. Soft power is a term that has recently been used in connection with China – but one important reason for this connection seems to be that America’s neocons were too focused on their country’s military strength. I’m quite sure that America’s soft power will outweigh China’s for many years to come – as long as China’s society and policies don’t change dramatically.

When Britain still ruled the waves plus the global markets, America’s luster shone brighter than the Empire’s nevertheless. People from all over the world (Britons included) migrated into what had once been one of Britain’s colonies. History lessons often make it appear like if America was one of very few places where people could freely pursue happiness. If that is really an accurate assessment is a completely different question, but that’s what America meant to many people elsewhere.

The worst hit American prestige has taken doesn’t come from the financial crisis and its consequences. It comes from Guantánamo. Guantánamo is a stark contrast for what America used to stand for. But Guantánamo can be closed down. To get America’s human rights record back on track should be much easier than to overcome the financial crisis. To overcome the latter is important, because a sound economy is the base on which people in America can seek their opportunities. But America’s soft power doesn’t depend on its number one status within the global economy.

Many of the reasons for America’s prestige and China’s lack of it aren’t lofty at all, and have little to do with political choices. China is no immigration country. It is a country that struggles to cope with the huge population it already has, and with enormous challenges to keep the people going. It wouldn’t be fair to blame the way America and China are perceived from abroad only on political decisions. But politics isn’t entirely constrained by economical matters either. There are many cases where politicians can choose between making things better or worse – in America and China alike.

China has recovered Hong Kong. This had a lot to do with China’s rising economic and political clout. There wasn’t too much for British officials to negotiate about when they talked with the Middle Kingdom’s leaders in the early 1980s. But a happily re-united family would look different from mainland China’s with Hong Kong. The Economist summed it down pretty strikingly last year: With no attractive ideas or values to appeal to neighbours, [China] falls back on a resurgent nationalism that scares them instead: we were a great power, should always be a great power, and by golly look at us now, so get out of the way!

To be clear, I am biased. I feel closer to America than to China. But from what I’ve heard from people in Taiwan and Thailand myself, China is viewed with more suspicion there than America – be it for the reasons stated by the Economist, be it because it’s more comfortable to live with the devil you know than with the one who is still growing. You can hear words of admiration or even awe for China from non-Chinese. I know people who respect China (so do I). But with the exceptions of Lisa Carducci and the CPGB-ML, I can’t remember foreigners from anywhere talking about China affectionately. Some of the sillier expressions of Chinese patriotism seem to be a struggle to cope with the way Chinese people feel judged by laowais.

China, just as America, was admired long before it became an economic miracle. When I was a child, Bruce Lee was already a legend. The prospect to see Chinese acrobats in action made my friends’ and my eyes shine. Communism looked rather ugly, but then, Russia and our Eastern European neighbors were Communist, too.

Poverty is a constraint when it comes to prestige. But although it was a developing country until recently (or still is), there was a hype around China’s success.  There are political options for Beijing to do better in political terms, too.

In the 1970s, Vitaly Aronovich Rubin wrote a book about ancient Chinese philosophy: Individual and State in Ancient China. Rubin was a member of the Moscow Helsinki Group which, similar to Czechoslovakia’s Charter 77, worked to monitor the government’s compliance with the Helsinki Final Act of 1975. Rubin was said to be one of many people who believed that ideas do not die.

No foreign power can force China’s leadership to do better, and when looking at the history of countries like Chile, Cuba or Iraq, it is good to see that there is no real temptation to apply force on China. Coercion in itself is a calamity. But given China’s strengthening global position, Chinese people shouldn’t complain about foreign criticism (it isn’t only Western criticism). If the Chinese people are convinced that they are on the right track, they don’t need to feel offended. They don’t even need to take any criticism seriously. And if they aren’t sure, they shouldn’t feel offended either. Ideas, offensive or not, should be judged by the value they might offer.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Global Network Initiative: Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo

“This is an important first step,” says Mike Posner of Human Rights First. Apparently, Microsoft and Google lowered their standards more reluctantly and to a lesser extent than Yahoo in the past. The new guidelines seek to limit what data should be shared with authorities, in cases where free speech is an issue. But the initiative seems to leave a lot at the dicretion of the three competitors. Assessing the human rights climate in a country before concluding business deals is alright, but could still leave a lot of leeway for interpretation. Still, the initiative’s boards will

  • Receive and evaluate regular reports from management on how the commitments laid out in the Principles are being implemented.
  • Review freedom of expression and privacy risk within the overall risk management review process.
  • Participate in freedom of expression and privacy risk training as part of overall Board education.
  • More details are available here ».

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Putin calls on China to use Rubles and Yuan for mutual Trade

    Russia’s prime minister Putin calls on China to abandon the US Dollar in its trade, according to He pointed out that with the global economy based on the Dollar, serious problems had emerged. According to the same article, Putin and president Medvedev are promoting the Ruble as a reserve currency and have called on domestic oil and gas businesses to use the Ruble.

    Meantime, China’s trade with Russia has dropped in the third quarter, for the first time since 2000.

    Russia’s business newspaper Kommersant also reports on the advertising campaign for the Ruble. According to Kommersant, Putin suggested the increased use of both Ruble and Yuan for mutual trade, after similar suggestions to Belarus and Vietnam. Komersant also states that oil is already traded in rubles on the St. Petersburg International Commodities and Raw Materials Exchange, and that international contracts with Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and, to a lesser degree, Armenia, are already frequently made in rubles.

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Dalai Lama: (not) throwing in the Towel

    On Oct. 27th, the Dalai Lama announced to his followers that he no longer believed successful progress in discussions with China on autonomy for his homeland were possible – that’s what reports, and the BBC’s message was much the same last night. Yesterday, the Dalai Lama’s official website posted clarifications. They refer to remarks made on October 25 rather than 27, but seem to refer to what is still in the news:

    “Since the Chinese Government has accused His Holiness of orchestrating these protests in Tibet, he called for a thorough investigation to examine these allegations, even offering access to Central Tibetan Administration files and records here in India. So far, this offer has not been taken up, but the situation in Tibet becomes graver by the day. Therefore, His Holiness said that it is difficult for him to continue to shoulder such a heavy responsibility when the present Chinese leadership does not seem to appreciate simple truth, reason and common sense. In the absence of any positive reciprocal response from the Chinese leadership, His Holiness feels that if he cannot help find a solution, he would rather not hinder it in any way. His Holiness feels he cannot afford to pretend that his persistent efforts to find a mutually satisfactory solution to the Tibetan problem are bearing fruit.”

    Will this jackal treasure the opportunity?

    Will this jackal treasure the opportunity?

    According to Xinhua today, Chinese authorities are to arrange fresh talks with envoys of the Dalai Lama “in the near future” at the request of the Dalai Lama side, and the government hoped the Dalai Lama’s delegation would “treasure this opportunity and make a positive response to the requirements set forth by the central authorities”.

    Maybe the Chinese Communist Party should cherish the time that the Dalai Lama will still be around – the Tibetan Youth Congress is somewhat younger than Tibet’s spiritual leader. The TYC wouldn’t free Tibet at all, but it could cause Beijing a lot of trouble. The Dalai Lama statements of October 25 or 28 are “requests”?

    One of the silliest common Chinese accusation against some foreign media is that they are condescending. But look at the kind of note Beijing is trying to strike when addressing the Dalai Lama. Power negotiation would be one thing. But to talk to a globally respected leader just like a cop would talk to an offender caught in the act is another. The “cop” approach is silly, and foreign coverage could  hardly make the Chinese leadership look as stupid as its communiques right there from Xinhua do.


    BBC Profile (May 20): The Dalai Lama »

    Daily Telegraph (March 18): Controversial Middle Way »

    Wednesday, October 29, 2008

    Chinese Researcher on Rural Land Rights posted a translation of a Souther Metropolis Weekly interview with Yu Jianrong, director of the Rural Development Institute’s Social Issues Research Center at CASS (Chinese Academy of Social Sciences). He sees little new in resolution passed by the Central Committee’s third session of the 17th Party Congress. “The importance of this as a symbol lies in the fact that it and related statements from the Third Session are a confirmation and development of an already-existing system for land transfers.”

    Details here »

    Zheng Yongnian, head of the Asian Institute at the National University of Singapore, takes a much more skeptical view on the status quo. New rules – once enacted – would only benefit China’s countryside if the farmers were also given the right to organize politically, Zheng said in an interview with the BBC’s Chinese Service earlier this month.

    Related: Hermit’s Scientific History Lesson, October 18

    Related: Farmland Reform, October 8

    Tuesday, October 28, 2008

    Radio Taiwan International’s information policies

    I’m an occasional listener to Radio Taiwan International’s Chinese, English and German programs. It didn’t strike me that I heard nothing there about the bulk resignations at the CBS board and RTI’s director-general Shao Li-chung less than a month ago. I supposed I simply missed it there (and maybe I have).

    But when you search RTI’s website for the name of Cheng Yu, RTI chairman, through Google, you only get three results, and they are all about a celebration in summer 2008. A search within RTI’s English service’s website for Shao Li-chung (director-general) doesn’t get any hits at all between 01/24/2007 and 10/24/2008.

    To be fair, a search for Cheng Yu in Chinese does lead to an RTI news article about the chairman. And maybe somewhere within the depths of RTI’s website, there is still more information about the news about the stormy board meeting early in October.

    So I’m not suggesting that this is a case of censorship. But I can’t be sure that it isn’t, either. Does RTI believe that its foreign listeners don’t care about this kind of information?

    Cues as to where on RTI’s website information about the resignations can be found are welcome.

    Monday, October 27, 2008

    Governor Palin “Going Rogue”?

    going rogue?

    going rogue?

    All or most of those who speak about alleged rising tensions within the McCain / Palin campaign seem to be doing so anonymously. But the stories look credible. If the campaign goes wrong, Palin will make a great scapegoat. She has blundered before, and critical self-assassment and re-adjustment are hardly her greatest strenghts.

    That said, she would still be a scapegoat. After all, it was Senator McCain who thought that she was a great choice, and if the Karl-Rove style mudslinging machinery had got the same attention as it did in 2004, Palin might have worked just as fine as people of her kind did four years ago. She’s spiteful and getting uglier one day at a time, but she’s by no means the only person to be blamed for a Republican campaign that appears to be on the brink of failure.

    The Republicans haven’t addressed the issues. They haven’t done that four years ago either. But four years ago, it was enough for the Republicans to frown and to say things like Our security is too important to be left to Liberals. This time, the voters are very well aware that their vote could make a real difference for America’s future. The economy? Don’t ask Senator McCain. He will work on an honorable exit strategy for Iraq, and if that works, America will be fine (if you want to believe him).

    And Palin does work fine on the mood of the desperate housewives standing behind her with angry and jerking faces. Tell ’em, Sarah, they seem to mutter. But tell em what? Telling em that Obama is “hanging out with terrorists”? Give me a break. Then again, it fits into a dirty machinery of the established Karl-Rove style. One would have wished that this campaign had been a bit more decent than that.

    Those aides who are handling Governor Palin apparently haven’t told her to shut up about Senator Obama’s integrity, even though discussions about integrity “issues” are usually nothing else than hypicrite attempts to sling mud and look decent while doing it. Apparently, the handlers only became alarmed when Governor Palin called the use of robo calls “irritating”, and seemed to (you can often not be sure what she really means) disagree with the campaign’s decision to pull out of Michigan.

    In short, Governor Palin was a bad choice. But she was Senator McCain’s choice. All you can blame her for is that she didn’t say “No” when she was asked to be candidate for Vice President.

    %d bloggers like this: