Archive for June, 2012

Friday, June 22, 2012

Soft Power: Go and Buy a Hat

After so much advice has been given to China’s dictators so far this year, as to how they could boost their (or their country’s, which is basically the same thing in their view) soft power1), JR does not intend to keep his expertise to himself either.

If soft power matters to them, China’s leaders should wear bigger hats. Or, rather, they should start wearing hats at all.

Now, I know that this is problematic, given that people who were “beaten down” (i. e. humiliated, pushed around, killed, etc.) during the Mao era had to wear big paper hats. Bamboo hats may not be deemed desirable for other reasons. But how about Bao Zheng‘s hat, for starters?

The idea came to my mind as a preliminary remedy to China’s (alleged, anyway) soft-power woes when drawing knowledge from the wisdom of my commenter threads.

In September last year, King Tubby had this to say about the Pope and his speech to German parliament:

[I]f Ratzinger wants to make pronouncements to parliaments, he should turn up in a business suit like any other advocate. Put someone in a few colourful vestments and they acquire some sort of undeserved mystique and their words take on a false gravitas plus a whiff of insence.

Iconography designed for the credulous.

The hat the Pope wore in the Bundestag – that and the papal white robe was King Tubby’s point of criticism here – was actually small, but even then, Angela Merkel visibly envied him. Imagine her facial expression if the Pontiff had chosen a miter or a spiked helmet instead.

Some time after 1976, the Chinese ruling class has chosen to wear suits and ties on formal occasions – you know, the ones the English imposed on us, as Marcel Pagnol wrote much earlier2).

Talking about les Anglais, the Queen wears hats, too. Even when of comparatively moderate size, and even among lots of other people with hats, a hat of your own adds to your conspicuity.

a small hat makes a big difference

Even a small hat makes a helluva difference

Manmohan Singh wears something like a hat, too. If you are asked who of the G-20 guys is the one from India, you’ll probably guess him correctly, even if you never cared before.

You won’t see Hu Jintao smile happily too often, but he’s radiant in his Sun-Yat-Sen suit. Add a Bao Zheng hat (see above) or a spiked helmet (Germany invented the Sun-Yat-Sen suit), and Hu will smile Barack Obama (who doesn’t wear hats either) off the global stage anyday.

Hu & Cie would thus improve their standing, and even do away with the habit of slavishly aping the West at one go.

P.S.: It is quite true that hats of whatever size didn’t work terribly well in that case. But then, what can you expect when your country has mainly barter trade to offer, and little else? If you want to avoid a cold war, you have to be in a position to appeal to the greed of the free world, by bluff or substance.

For similar reasons, soft power is also unlikely to take off in that guy’s place.

Lastly, let me get back to King Tubby’s advice to the Pope (see above, para 5). King Tubby referred to the timeless papal style as iconography designed for the credulous.

But that’s the point, isn’t it?


1) Peking Duck, Rectified Name, The Atlantic, and many comments here.
2) “Le spectateur de théâtre porte un col et une cravate, et ce costume anonyme que les Anglais nous ont imposé.” (La Gloire de mon Pere, 1957)



» Gonna Buy a Hat, Chris Rea, 1987


Thursday, June 21, 2012

Liao Yiwu wins German Booksellers Association Peace Prize

The German Publishers and Booksellers Association is awarding its 2012 Peace Prize to Liao Yiwu. […] In his prose and poetry, Liao Yiwu erects an evocative literary monument to those people living on the margins of Chinese society. The author, who has experienced first-hand the effects of prison, torture and repression, is an unwavering chronicler and observer who bears witness on behalf of the outcasts of modern China.

The Board of Trustees statement, June 21, 2012

[Liu Xiaobo and I] both wish for freedom in China. But apart from that, we are very different. Liu Xiaobo is an intellectual, and people like Havel and Mandela are his role models. He sees himself as the leader of an intellectual elite. I see myself as an unpolitical author, as a recording device of the times. […]

Liao Yiwu (廖亦武), in an interview with Börsenblatt (republished by Friedenspreis website), June 21, 2012

Were you one of those kids that does graffiti? That’s a bad habit. I just don’t understand it.

Grandpa Zhou, The Public Toilet Manager, Paris Review, Summer 2005

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Another Year of the Cats

And after all the politics in the previous posts, it’s time for something nice. Let’s take a look at what’s going on in the “K” family these days.

Kittens and mouse.


This basket is too big for all of us…


… but let’s meet somewhere else.

Obviously, cats aren’t always cute, but that picture I took outdoors of the (probable) remains of a hunting scene is too ugly to be posted on a blog that might be read without parental guidance.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Vietnamese Spratly Patrol Flights: Let’s Talk about War, but Don’t Get Burned

Vietnam People’s Air Force Sukhoi Su-27 ‘Flankers’ have mounted their first patrols of the disputed Spratly Islands (Link is in Vietnamese) from their base at Phu Cat,

the Base Leg Blog quotes Vietnamese portal Thanh Vien online on Tuesday. Thanh Vien had published the newslet on Saturday.

Also on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei reportedly told a news conference that Vietnam’s recent action was a serious violation of China’s sovereignty.

The spokesman urged Vietnam to strictly abide by the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea, avoid actions escalating or complicating the situation, and make efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability,

Sina English quoted Hong Lei.

The declaration Hong referred to was signed in Phnom Penh in November 2002, by China’s special envoy and former vice foreign minister Wang Yi, and by the foreign ministers of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam (i. e. between ASEAN and China). Among a number of points, the signatory states reaffirm their respect for and commitment to the freedom of navigation in and overflight above the South China Sea as provided for by the universally recognized principles of international law, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (3), undertake to resolve their territorial and jurisdictional disputes by peaceful means, without resorting to the threat or use of force (4), and undertake to exercise self-restraint in the conduct of activities that would complicate or escalate disputes and affect peace and stability including, among others, refraining from action of inhabiting on the presently uninhabited islands, reefs, shoals, cays, and other features (5).

As there is no agreement about whose claims on the South China sea are legitimate, the Declaration basically defines a code of conduct in handling the uncertainties.

In February 2010, Edward Wong wrote in the New York Times that the most vociferous claimants were Vietnam and China. It had also been Vietnam who had been

pushing hard behind the scenes to bring more foreign players into negotiations so that China will have to bargain in a multilateral setting with all Southeast Asian nations that have territorial claims in the South China Sea. This goes against China’s preference, which is to negotiate one on one with each country.

In an interview with the Asahi Shimbun in spring or summer 2010, then commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Patrick Walsh said that China had started describing the South China Sea as its “core interest” – a term that had until then been reserved for Taiwan and Tibet.

Since then, Chinese officials have kept maintaining that multilateral initiatives, i. e. an internationalized rather than a bilateral approach to resolving the South China Sea disputes, would only complicate the issues. In a comparatively blunt statement, Chinese vice foreign minister Cui Tiankai was quoted by Phoenix Satellite Television (HK) in June 2011 that a few countries were playing with fire, and he hoped that America wouldn’t burn itself.

In July that same year, ASEAN and China drafted another agreement, setting out somewhat more specific guidelines for the implementation of their 2002 declaration, and in October 2011, China’s and Vietnam’s party leaders, Hu Jintao and Nguyen Phu Trong, signed yet another – and bilaterally negotiated – document, the Agreement on Basic Principles concerning guidance for the Resolution of Sino-Vietnamese South China Sea Issues.

War scenarios are only publicly discussed in the Chinese media, but even then, Yin Zhuo (尹卓), a special commentator (not a politician) who provided the public with startegic information on Huanqiu Online Television on Wednesday, expressed hope that

we are both socialist countries, friendly neighbors, and things must not get to such a state [of military conflict]. Of course, China doesn’t work into that direction, but you, the Vietnamese, must not push China into that direction.



» FMPRC Press Conference Topics, June 15, 2012
» Scarborough Shoal: “Equivalent Action”, South Sea Conversations, May 15, 2012
» Having Fun, China Rises, Sep 5, 2008


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

French Architect “with Bo Xilai Ties” Arrested in Cambodia

French architect Patrick Henri Devillers has been arrested by Cambodian police, reportedly with the co-operation of Beijing, which is seeking his extradition. Also reportedly, Phnom Penh is in a process of deciding whether to send Devillers to France, or to follow a demand to extradite him to China. According to the BBC’s Chinese website, Devillers is a friend of Bo Xilai‘s family, and a business friend of Bo’s wife Gu Kailai. According to a Le Monde report, Devillers had first met the Bo family in Dalian, just as another foreign Bo/Gu contact, Neil Heywood had.

But their businesses were different, and not interlinked, Deviller was quoted in the Le Monde report, in May this year (i. e. weeks before his arrest).

“What we had in common is that we were married to Chinese women. We knew each other (…). What I can say about him is that he wasn’t in the bluff. He had a great mental nobility, in the English traditions of honor.”

“On avait en commun d’être mariés à des Chinoises. On se connaissait (…). Je peux dire de lui en tout cas qu’il n’était pas du tout dans l’esbroufe. Il avait une grande noblesse d’âme, dans les traditions anglaises de l’honneur.”

Devillers had first arrived in China in 1987, aged about 27, to learn Chinese, according to Le Monde. It was there that he met his wife who studied the classical zither [probably the guzheng – JR], and started a movie project about the Tian An Men movement in 1989, which ended with the massacre.

During the 1990s, much of his work involved working with the Dalian city government’s architecture and urban planning department.

The way Devillers comes across in the Le Monde article suggests that he took a great interest in China’s intellectual history, and particularly in Taoism.



» Oh, Rule of Law, April 11, 2012



» No Extradition without Evidence, Telegraph, June 20, 2012


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Shijiazhuang News Net: a Sketch from Space

From Xinhua, June 18, 2010, via Shijiazhuang News Net, June 19 – links within blockquotes added during translation.

Main link: Literary sketch: Tiankong, my Beautiful Home (神九航天员进驻天宫一号速写,美丽的”天宫”我的家)

The door has opened!

A brand-new but also very familiar room has opened to the gaze of the world: Chinese knots, the brightly-colored wuxing hongqi, beige floors, white bulkheads…

On June 18, 2012, having waited in the boundless cosmos for 215 days, Tiangong-1 welcomes family people the crew hasn’t seen for ages: 45-year-old Jing Haipeng, 43-year-old Liu Wang, and 33-year-old Liu Yang.

It’s only another few minutes, but with such a feel of urgence!





At yyy tries to open the space laboratory module’s counterbalance valve – a moment that grips everyone. One, two, three minutes… although Jing Haipeng’s shadow can clearly be seen next to the entrance, through the built-in video camera, the valve doesn’t move.

At Beijing Space Control Center, they can hear each others’ breath. At this moment, the sky-blue screen shows the linked-up entities of Tiangong-1 and Shenzhou flying over the African continent, into the direction of the Eurasian continent.

Four minutes, five minutes have passed…

“Shenzhou-9, do you need ground support?” – a calm voice sounds at the control center.

Please wait a moment, an even more calm voice replies. It’s Jing Haipeng’s reply. The 45-year-old travelled space with the Shenzhou-7 four years ago, and his psychological quality is outstanding. It was also then that Jing Haipeng and Zhai Zhigang cooperated closely in leaving Chinese footprints in deep and vast space.

“The valve has moved!” Suddenly, there are whispers at the control center.

At 17:06, as the counterbalance moves, Jing Haipeng moves forward to Tiankong’s entrance no. 1, the door of which moves up!

People can not help but applaud!












» Spacecraft docks, National Post, June 18, 2012
» China can’t stay Idle, July 13, 2011


Monday, June 18, 2012

Japan and Vietnam announce Rare-Earths Research Center

Japan and Vietnam have announced the establishment of a rare-earths research and technology transfer center in Hanoi’s Danfeng County, aimed at reducing dependence on Chinese rare earths, reports the BBC‘s Chinese website. The center will train Vietnamese workers on how to extract rare earths. An agreement to this end had been signed in October last year, between Vietnam’s head of government Nguyen Tan Dung and Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda. Vietnam’s Geology and Minerals Department (ministry) statistics are quoted as saying that Vietnam is one of the countries with the biggest (potential) rare earth resources worldwide.

Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi gave assurances in October last year that Beijing would remain a “reliable supplier” of the high-tech ores, according to a BBC report back then, possibly under the impression of a WTO ruling of July that year which didn’t apply to the earths in question, but to a similar dispute about other categories of minerals exported (or not exported) by China. But by then, Japanese companies dependent on what seems to constitute a virtual current Chinese monopoly on rare earths had begun to look for suppliers outside China, including Indian suppliers.

Under the (probably correct) impression that China had begun to link bilateral disputes with Japan, and Japan’s dependence on mineral imports from China, the Economist, usually a more mild critic of Beijing, railed against an especially nefarious turn in the Chinese government’s response to Tokyo, as China

apparently suspended its export of rare-earth minerals, which are vital to making electronics components used in everything from handheld gadgets to cars. On September 23rd China emphatically denied that it is blocking exports. And this may be true: there probably isn’t a formal directive. But in a country where informal rules abound, exporters know that it can pay to withhold shipments—in solidarity with a government that is angry at its neighbour.

That was in summer 2010, and Japan had apparently succumbed to Chinese pressure – no charges were brought against a Chinese skipper, Zhan Qixiong, who had originally been accused of  deliberately bashing into two Japanese patrol boats. Apparent Japanese weakness vis-a-vis China was bad, the Economist mused.

China’s worst offense, from the perspective of those who advocate global trust – warranted or unwarrented – in the interest of unlimited international division of labor, had been that it politicized supplier-customer relations in a very sensitive field, i. e. the minerals Japan’s high-tech industries depend on heavily. No wonder that the Economist was angry.

As more ventures like [the Vietnamese-Japanese center] get off the ground, it will be interesting to see if China decides to lower its prices and change its rhetoric, writes The Register. But no such change should keep Japan and other high-tech producing countries from diversifying their supplies further.

Friday, June 15, 2012

China’s “Soft-Power Own Goals”: Stop Laughing, Start Thinking

Citing a number of issues in the news (see links there), Rectified Name states that China keeps scoring own goals in terms of soft power, when it comes to the question as to how to react to unwelcome events somewhere abroad.

This mixture of criticism on the one hand, and advice to China’s dictators as to how to improve their image on the other, are a pattern that emerges regularly, frequently among Westerners, but I’ve also seen a Korean example. This approach, however, leaves a few crucial factors out of the account.

For one, it is diplomats who will care most about soft power. Yang Jiechi, China’s foreign minister, isn’t even a politbureau member. Like state-sponsored scientists, diplomats may compile working papers, but they are probably not calling the shots.

Obviously, China’s rulers would rather like to see the Dalai Lama under quarantine in Dharamsala. But to suggest, in this context, that Beijing will only get the opposite of what it actually wants, ignores the fact that there is already a number of countries where the Dalai Lama is unlikely to get a visa for the rest of his lifetime. Much more vital questions – if basically market economies can afford trade with a state-capitalist economy without a plan of their own, for example – aren’t even seriously discussed in Europe.

Another – related – misconception is that to be viewed positively would be the CCP’s “A” priority. It isn’t. They want a nice image for themselves and for China, but not as an end in itself. They rather want a nice image and control, but control comes first. From Beijing’s perspective, to become successful in both these fields will mainly be a question of perseverance – and of their “opponents'” self-overestimation.

Under these circumstances, scoffing at Beijing’s regular “representations” amounts to burying one’s head in the sand.

Rather than doing that, we need to ask ourselves where we want to be in ten or twenty years. If we still want our politicians and event managers to be the masters of their own appointment diaries by then, we’d better stop laughing at Beijing’s “own goals”, and start thinking instead.

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