Archive for May, 2010

Monday, May 31, 2010

German Presidency: Politician wanted

President Horst Köhler has resigned. I believe that he has done Germany a favor by doing so. Roland Nelles of  Der Spiegel writes:

His efforts to provide [the public with] orientation disappeared without a trace. His desire to present himself as a semi-neo-liberal reformist president went up in smoke. With the CDU’s [chancellor Merkel’s party],  CSU’s [the CDU’s Bavarian sister party], and FDP’s  [liberal democrats] miserable performance he had to recognize that many people in the country didn’t want this policy. His mission had failed before it had even begun. Angela Merkel bode the reform policies farewell, and so did her president.

What remained was a vacuum.

That was his problem when he became president. He was an anti-Schröder president – Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle, opposition leaders then, chancellor and foreign minister now, had him nominated and elected by the Federal Convention (where they had a majority) to signal a change in government.

It was too apparent that he wanted a CDU-led coalition. Whatever else he said and did – and he wasn’t the chancellor’s puppet -, it’s hard to imagine that anyone who wanted the social democrats to be the leading governing party could forget the circumstances of his first election in 2004.

He was no politician. He was an official who wanted to serve his country. This sounds great. But his predecessors, who had been elected officials before rising to the highest office, were better at finding the right words when the public was uneasy. And when he went to China, he seemed to be voiceless.

His predecessor, Johannes Rau, wasn’t. When speaking at Nanjing University in 2003, he said:

The Chinese government knows that in our view, rule of law and human rights are immediately linked to each other. We came to this belief through our own, woebegone history.

Therefore, we will always raise our voice when we believe that single persons or minorities aren’t treated as it would correspond with our concept of rule of law and human rights. We want to do that in a discussion with each other, and respectful of different political, historical and social developments of our countries, and in the belief that China is on its way to more democracy and rule of law.

When we do this in this way, it will rather improve our friendly relations. After all, we also expect our friends to give us advice and that they candidly give us their opinions.


One must not misunderstand the advocacy for human rights as a specifically “western” concern which wants to thrust “western” thought on the rest of the world. This impression may arise when human rights and their concretion with western, strongly individualistic society are basically equated. But that would be a wrong perspective. The concept of human rights can take different shapes, including one more related to binding association and common duties as it may correspond with Asian and particularly Chinese culture, shaped by Confucian ethics of duty.


When the fundamental rights of a person, life and liberty, protection from torture, discretionary internment and discrimination are the issue, all that is a prerequisite for walking tall, fundamentally, there can be no relativizing, and no compromise.

I can’t quote president Köhler when Germany’s relations with China are the issue. There was no orientation.

This is how he declared his resignation:

My comments about foreign missions by the Bundeswehr on May 22 this year met with heavy criticism. I regret that my comments led to misunderstandings in a question so important and difficult for our nation. But the criticism has gone as far as to accuse me of supporting Bundeswehr missions that are not covered by the constitution. This criticism is devoid of any justification. It lacks the necessary respect for my office.

But does Köhler himself, with his resignation, show the respect the office deserves? And did he need to take accusations of supporting unconstitutional action seriously enough to throw in the towel?  The only accusation of this kind I have heard came from the Left Party’s Gregor Gysi – there is no reason to belief that many citizens agreed with him. This doesn’t look plausible. Criticism from the Left Party is no justification for a resignation from this country’s highest office.

All the same, I’m feeling sad. It never occured to me that a German president might resign, simply because the man and the office didn’t fit together, as Der Spiegel has put it today. But that’s probably the real reason for Köhler’s decision. Why didn’t he simply decide not to run for office once again last year, but rather stood for re-election? Was it because federal parliamentary elections were looming again, and because the CDU, the CSU, and the FDP wanted to have their way together at last? Was Köhler serving as a signal – and if so, only for the first time, or for the second time? Either way, the christian democrats and the FDP  had their way, and lost public approval only months after forming this government.

What’s next? Köhler is a decent, and even far-sighted man. His business-mindedness and his unusual economic expertise, too, could have served good ends. But his successor will need to be a real politician again – a man or woman who can communicate real issues to the public. And at the same time, he or she will have to be a politician who can make us forget his or her political affiliation.


Reasons, reactions, succession candidates, BBC News, June 1, 2010

Sunday, May 30, 2010

“Arousing Public Mistrust”

Prosecutors May 28 questioned Shin Sang-cheol, who runs Seoprise, a Web-based political magazine, over his assertion that the Cheonan sank in an accident and that the evidence linking the North to the torpedo was tampered with, the JoonAng [Daily] said. Shin served on the panel that probed the sinking.

The magnified photograph of writing on the torpedo showed that the marking was written on top of a rusted surface, the newspaper cited Shin as saying. The Defense Ministry asked the National Assembly to eject Shin from the investigation for “arousing public mistrust,” the report said.

Bloomberg Business Week, May 29, 2010


China urges region to step back, Reuters, May 30, 2010

Saturday, May 29, 2010

How Fruitful is the Iceberg?

U.S. secretary of state Hilary Clinton and more than 200 U.S. officials who attended the second Sino-American Strategic and Economic Dialogue (中美战略与经济对话) had reasons enough to say that they hadn’t made a fruitless trip (这趟 “没白跑”) to Beijing, writes the Global Times (GT, 环球时报, Chinese edition), republished online by Enorth (Tianjin). After all, the American delegation had achieved more than twenty results with the Chinese side. The GT also quotes Germany’s Handelsblatt (“America’s surprising need for Harmony”), plus the paper’s (and other European papers’) explanations for the apparently small role the exchange rate between the U.S. Dollar and the Chinese Yuan had played in Beijing: the need to find a common position concerning Iran’s nuclear policies, and another one concerning sanctions against North Korea (the latter being a topic the Financial Times, as quoted by the GT, had also considered a topic with only a small role in the conference, as it could have been divisive).

Jin Canrong (金灿荣), associate dean of Renmin University, is quoted as one of the usual experts by the GT, and reportedly suggests that the world can’t understand what is happening between China and America, as both countries falsely see each other as enemies in military terms (这两个在军事上都将对方当做假想敌的国家) on the one hand, but at the same time have more than 400 bn U.S. Dollars of bilateral trade with each other. This was completely outside the traditional pattern of relations between big countries, and no theory could explain it, the GT quotes Jin.

Under the Iceberg, Xinwen Lianbo, May 25, 2010

Under the Iceberg, Xinwen Lianbo, May 25, 2010

The paper closes its article by quoting The Times as saying that only an unfriendly surface of ten per cent of the Sino-American iceberg could be seen, while the invisible 90 per cent defined the results – secret deals stop America hitting the China iceberg.

Neither the articles quoted by the GT, nor their quoted expertise, appear to be really insightful, as far as the  90 per cent of the iceberg under the sea are concerned. Maybe they don’t understand the structure of the iceberg either.

To measure it still appears to be a fairly new sport outside China, too. In April, Joshua Cooper Ramo, an author on economic and political issues, suggests in an article for Time that “chance and the future and what we do now will determine whether China is with us or against us”. This is probably the funniest line in Ramo’s otherwise interesting article, because earlier in the same article, he describes a Chinese notion of a (past or present) passive-voice era. Like if what China does wouldn’t determine the future as much as what we do. Like if only one side – the non-Chinese – was responsible for the outcome.

Elizabeth Economy and Adam Segal put things more bluntly: America usually makes little progress when talking with China directly and bilaterally, in a G-2 kind of format.

The European Union and Japan, for example, find it no easier to negotiate with China on issues such as trade, climate change, cyber conflict, and the Dalai Lama. As a result, the United States is more likely to make progress when it spends time and energy cultivating allies throughout the rest of the world.

So why not letting them do the talk?

To some extent, the Obama administration has already premiered this play – or so Southern Metropolis Daily (or, very indirectly, the Financial Times) believes:

Nobody foresaw that, just after chairman Hu Jintao (胡锦涛) had taken part in the “BRIC” conference, in the twinkling of an eye, India and Brazil, China’s BRIC “comanions”, would actually strike the same note as America and strongly demand a RMB appreciation. All of a sudden, a tilt occurred in the sino-western confrontation about the RMB’s exchange rate.

But what is more noteworthy are Obama’s diplomatic means. He has abandoned his predecessor’s hegemonial way of applying unilateral force China to lower its head, and rather convinces the emerging economies to join a big chorus of demands to appreciate the RMB.

The Chinese are chartering the iceberg, too. But they still seem to dither between flattering themselves (the international community pays close attention to the Sino-American Strategic and Economic Dialog) and fear of becoming complacent.


» Inaugural US-India strategic dialogue, Mangalorean/IANS, May 29, 2010
» 白跑一趟 (bái pǎo yī tàng) – to make a fruitless trip, Baike.Baidu, 2010
» Appointing Jon Huntsman “brilliant move”, People’s Daily, May 18, 2009

Saturday, May 29, 2010

I’ve never been clever…

… because need it never.

This is probably the only piece of real music they’ll hear on the Grand Prix d’Eurovision in Oslo tonight.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Horst Köhler: Full of Trade

Afghanistan: is the Cat out of the Bag?

Afghanistan: is the Cat out of the Bag?

Horst Köhler, Germany’s federal president,  “articulated” differences with the Chinese leadership “in a way the Chinese can handle and which are still effective”. How effective these aspects of his talks really were is debatable – after all, the president also told the press that during a previous trip to China, he had delivered a name list of dissidents, just as he did this month – and nothing happened. “But we will keep doing it.”

For sure, the Chinese leaders were able to “handle it”, and Köhler spoiled no business opportunities there.

And maybe on a surprise visit to German troops stationed in Afghanistan during a stopover on his way back to Germany from China, the president had become a bit too relaxed when he articulated his views about Germany’s military involvement there, in an interview with a German radio reporter:

“But my estimation is that, on the whole, we are on the way to understanding, even broadly in society, that a country of our size, with this orientation toward foreign trade and therefore also dependence on foreign trade, has to be aware that when in doubt in case of an emergency, military deployment is also necessary to protect our interests.

For example, free trade routes, for example to prevent instability in a whole region, which certainly have an negative impact on our opportunities via trade, jobs and income. All of that ought to be discussed and I believe that we are not doing too badly.”

The German social democrats, who already struggle with their own misgivings about the war (which must not be referred to as a war in this country) every time they decide to continue their political support for the military mandate, are angry. Thomas Oppermann, speaker of the opposition Social Democrats (SPD) parliamentary group, told news magazine Der Spiegel that Köhler was “damaging the acceptance of the Bundeswehr’s foreign missions.” Germany was not conducting “a war for economic interests,” Oppermann said. It was, on the contrary, about security. Anyone who said differently was “making the case of the Left party,” he added, referring to Germany’s far-left socialists who strongly oppose the war.

Constitutional lawyer Ulrich Preuß of Berlin’s Hertie School of Governance also critcised Köhler’s choice of words.

“That is a thinly veiled expansion, through the constitution, of the acceptable grounds for a Bundeswehr mission for economic interests,” he told Der Spiegel.

Preuß said Köhler’s remarks were a “discernibly imperialist choice of words.”

“It reminds me of the English imperialists of the 19th century, who defended their naval supremacy with similar arguments,” Preuß said.

Left party co-chairman Klaus Ernst, said Köhler had “openly said, what cannot be denied.”

Bundeswehr soldiers were risking “life and limb for the export interests of giant companies.” It was a “war about influence and commodities,” which was not the idea covered by the Afghanistan mandate passed by the parliament, he said.

Chancellor Merkel’s christian democrats stand behind Köhler’s statement (although they don’t seem to be too happy with it), and the Greens recommend that the president should correct it – he had apparently been talking without knowledge about military missions abroad. Ruprecht Polenz, chairman of the federal parliament’s foreign relations committee, pointed out that Köhler had said nothing new – after all, the international navy missions at the Horn of Africa served economic ends, too. However Polenz, himself a christian democrat, too, conceded that Köhler’s phrasing hadn’t been too fortunate, “to put it carefully”.

For sure, Köhler’s words shift public attention from security justifications to economics. He may have said said nothing wrong, and before mentioning economic interests, he had mentioned security interests first of all – but with his choice of words, he has entered a minefield, and he stands no chance to see this ensuing discussion through at his security-and-economic double-term.

Köhler’s interview in full (in German) is here.


Will Köhler speak for Hu and Liu, May 16, 2010

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Köhler takes stock after China Visit

On his departure, German president Horst Köhler left a list with the names of human rights activists who are persecuted in China. Köhler had been on a state visit to the country, with talks in Beijing and a visit to the Shanghai Expo 2010. Liu Xia and Zeng Jinyan, the wives of Liu Xiaobo and Hu Jia, had asked Köhler to advocate their husbands’ release from prison.

“We will follow up what will be done about it,” dpa quoted Köhler on Thursday. On a previous visit to China, he had delivered a name list, too. There had been no reaction, “but we will keep doing it”. His talks had verified the good, but also difficult relationship between Germany and China.

“Everyone knows that we differ on certain issues, such as democracy or human rights, but we articulate it in a way the Chinese can handle and which are still effective.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Phrasebook: qián néng bǎipíng yīqiè


qián néng bǎipíng yīqiè

钱: money

能: to be able to

摆平: to sort out, make things even

一切: everything

Depicting (and frequently criticizing) a belief that crime, misbehavior, lacks in quality etc. are acceptable, so long as you pay hush money, bribes, “school fees”, or whatever the situation demands to achieve an undue edge.


Previous Phrasebook Entry: yī jùn zhē bǎi chǒu, January 24, 2010

Monday, May 24, 2010

Reality Check: Is Taiwan a Province of China?

Taiwan is reportedly trying to persuade China to drop a demand that all Taiwanese goods exported to China had to be marked “Made in Taiwan Province of China”, writes dpa. The Liberty Times quoted vice economics minister Lin Sheng-chung as saying that “we will not accept China’s demand, and will hold talks with China to find a solution”. In recent months, several regions in China have reportedly begun to screen the source of origin of Taiwanese goods, and rejected those marked “Made in Taiwan”. Labels to China’s liking would be “Taiwan, China” or “Taipei, China”.

One would probably need to be a lawyer, and one with a good grasp of international law at that, to understand the possible legal ramifications of such labels – just as of the flags under which Taiwan is taking part in international conferences, or international sports events. And I’d really be able to assess if  minister Lin rejects the Chinese demand because of possible legal effects, or rather because he fears a public outcry if Taipei gives in to such a demand. Or if Taiwan’s government is worried about the political effect that giving in to the Chinese demand would have on China’s aggressiveness itself. One concession begets another concession – especially when blackmail is the name of the game.

The mere fact that China is a member of the United Nations, or that most governments of the world firmly adhere to a One-China policy doesn’t offer much orientation about what it takes to be a country. When the Economist tried to define the makings of a country in April, it found that the answer to that question was surprisingly difficult:

Any attempt to find a clear definition of a country soon runs into a thicket of exceptions and anomalies. Diplomatic recognition is clearly not much guide to real life. In the early years of the cold war most countries recognised the Chinese regime in Taiwan (“Free China”) while the mainland communists (“Red China”) were isolated. Now the absurdity is the other way round. The number of countries with formal diplomatic ties to Taiwan has shrivelled to just 23—mostly small, cash-strapped islands. Yet Taiwan is not just a country, but a rather important one. Under mainland-pleasing names such as “Chinese Taipei” it is a member of the Asian Development Bank and the World Trade Organisation, and an observer at some OECD panels. It has nearly 100 “trade offices” around the world.

So there they are, the Beijing-pleasing names. God knows if “Taiwan, China” or “Taipei, China” would mean just as little (or much), and if they’d do so by legal, or rather by political standards. Even if the implications should be political rather than legal, every time Taipei gives in to Chinese pressure – directly applied as in the current country-of-origin issue controversy, or indirectly applied through international political, economic or cultural organizations and associations -, it sends a signal of helplessness, and fuels what may, in reality, be little more than Chinese illusions.

After all, some day in the rather near future, with or without the ECFA signed, Taiwan will wake up to the reality that the number of Chinese missiles aimed at their island has continued to grow. The Chinese will wake up to the reality that saying that Taiwan is their province still hasn’t made it so. That will be a surprising and very uncomfortable moment for everyone involved – and that’s really everyone on this globe. The Cold war may be over – the nuclear age definitely isn’t. If there is a genuine determination to defend Taiwan, Beijing’s criminal energy shouldn’t be encouraged by yet more signals that would suggest the contrary.


The Stupid Little Mermaid, March 12, 2009

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