Archive for ‘advice’

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Huanqiu Shibao on Chen Guangcheng: “The Rise of China is the World’s Rich and Colorful Stage”

In an article of May 3, 10:22 local time, Shan Renping (单仁平) of Huanqiu Shibao (“Global Times”) describes Chen Guangcheng as a man who seemed to like his “policial super-role” (超级角色) very much. “Some Western forces” had taken “unusual ways of interfering, and Western public opinion and “some Chinese activists on the internet” had turned Chen into a human-rights brand. In fact, however, ordinary people had to cooperate with the big political powers who made their [own] arrangements.

Chen’s supporters had had a much clearer picture of that than Chen himself, and had hyped his case from an individual grassroot issue into a “microcosm” [literally: miniature, 缩影] of China as a country.

Some Western forces and their supporters in China will always need tools to struggle with China’s current political system, and “luck” and “disaster” become the matter of those who serve as tools. Everything can be distorted and labeled. Such a tool will not be lonely and may enjoy other benefits, too. Of course, if they go too far, they will pay the price.
西方一些力量和他们在中国的支持者们永远需要与中国现行政治体制做斗争的工具,“有幸”或“不幸”成为这个工具的人和事,都会变形,被标签化。做这样的工具,可以不寂寞,也会有其他利益。当然如果他们做过了头,也会付出代价。

Chen was just a very small case on Chinese society’s road ahead, and wouldn’t hurt stability in China, or the Chinese cause of human rights to develop further in a normal way. If they should experience “such a matter” again, China’s officials could be absolutely somewhat more at ease (以后遇到这样的事,中国官方完全可以更坦然些). “Some groups on the microblogs” who “warmed themselves at the fire” were on the fringe and did not represent the attitude of Chinese society.

Western public opinion was often looking for a crop in China, to inflate and exaggerate things. Chen Guangcheng and his supporters on the one hand, and Western public opinion, had benefitted each other this time, to blacken China’s ways.

Shan Renping advises the U.S. embassy to work “in accordance with its functions”, to distance itself from inappropriate activities, and to focus on garnering positive feelings among Chinese mainstream society, rather than act as a support for Chinese extremists.

Can the Chen Guangcheng case subside now? Hopefully. But there are some people inside and outside China who don’t want that. In that case, we will see some more quixotic pipedreams. The rise of China is also the world’s rich and colorful stage.
陈光诚的事情会就此平息吗?希望是。但中国国内和国外都有一些人未必愿意。那就让我们多看一些堂吉诃德式的妄想症好了。中国的崛起也是世间丰富多彩的舞台。

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Update/Related

» None of my Business – Readers’ comments, May 3, 2012

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Tuesday, February 7, 2012

How can we keep Franco-German Relations “Natural”?

nannynewsnannynews –

The German chancellor held an unprecedented joint TV interview with the embattled French president, and said it was only “natural” to support a fellow conservative,

the Telegraph quotes Angela Merkel. But if that’s so natural, why did no previous German chancellor get involved in French elections?

Gerhard Schröder probably came closest to that kind of brazen interference in French internal affairs when he

pitched into the French domestic debate in 2005, telling French voters that

We will reproach ourselves later if we let slip this historic opportunity to advance Europe […]  Our children, our children’s children, will reproach us. France and Germany have a very special responsibility for the success of this process.

That, however, was a European topic – a “constitutional treaty” for Europe, frequently referred to as a “constitution”. And if Schröder didn’t damage then French president Jacques Chirac‘s and their common cause, he didn’t really help it either: on May 29, 2005, a majority of voters rejected the treaty anyway.

If  François Hollande, Mr. Sarkozy’s socialist challenger, will win the presidential elections is a big “if” anyway – especially if the Front National’s frontwoman, Marine Le Pen, shouldn’t manage to gather 500 signatures from elected officials. Most of those who would vote for her otherwise are more likely to vote for Sarkozy, if the only alternatives are further to the left.

But if Hollande should win, Merkel will have to work with a new French president – one whom she will have snubbed only months earlier.

Under these somewhat unfortunate circumstances, JR sees no other choice but to throw himself into French internal affairs, too. My advice would be that Mr. Hollande should be generous, and, if he happens to defeat Mr. Sarkozy, dedicate a few lines of his victory speech to the German chancellor, for loosening up what could otherwise be a somewhat cool beginning. He might say something like:

Thank you – thank you all. I would also like to thank Mrs. Merkel, who didn’t fail to contribute to this wonderful election result. I’m looking forward to our cooperation in the coming months and years, which, I’m sure, will be as fruitful and effective as it has been to date. Nothing is lost for Europe, if we continue to work side by side.

Everything else will develop naturally. Hollande may not be exactly as keen as Sarkozy to strangle Greece’s economy into oblivion (or out of the Eurozone), but Eastern Europeans will probably see to  that.

To date, all French and German leaders have found ways to work together – after 1949, anyway. This isn’t going to change, even if the French people should dare to part the current dream team.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

There’s Power in Opposition, too: Tsai Ing-wen’s Concession Speech

Tsai Ing-wen's concession speech, January 14, 2012

You may be sad, but don’t give up. (Click picture for video)

In today’s 2012 presidential elections, we concede, and we want to accept the decision the people of Taiwan have made in these elections, and we offer our deepest apologies. We congratulate president Ma Ying-jeou. We hope that in the coming four years, he will listen to the voice of the people, that he will govern with all his attention, will take care of each of the people, and that he will not disappoint the people’s expectations.

對於今天2012年總統選舉的結果,我們承認敗選,也願意接受台灣人民在這次選舉裡面所做的決定,並向大家致上最深的歉意。我們恭喜馬總統。希望他在往後四年,要傾聽人民的聲音,要用心執政,要公平的照顧每一個人民,千萬不要辜負人民的期待。

I know how everyone feels now. Today, I believe, many people believed in a victory, but the reality is not as we would have wished. But we need to remain strong. We are the Democratic Progressive Party, and when facing setbacks in the past, we never gave up. We haven’t done that in the past, and we won’t do that today.

我知道此刻大家的心情。今天,我相信有很多人原本期待勝利,但是,現實不盡如人意。但是,我們要堅強,我們一定要比誰都堅強。我們是民進黨,我們過去在面對挫折的時候,我們從來沒有倒下過。以前不會,這一次也一定不會。

Four years ago, we were disappointed, too. We clamped our teeth together, the party stood united, and we moved forward, step by step.

四年前,我們曾經是這麼的絕望,但是,我們咬著牙,整個黨團結在一起,在這四年,一步一步的往前走。

This result is saddening, but there was nothing to our name: we relied on small funding, and we established a new political model. The political position we put forward will play a key role in Taiwan’s future development.

這樣的結果很遺憾,但我們不是一無所有:我們對小額募款的堅持,樹立了新的政治典範。我們提出的政策主張,在台灣未來的發展中,依然扮演關鍵的力量。

Although there is no way that we will govern, that we would turn our ideals into reality, this doesn’t mean that there is no power in opposition. Taiwan must not be without oppositional voices, and it must not be without checks and balances. I believe that as long as you stand behind us and support us, as long as you continue to give us support and inducement, there will be a future for us. Next time, we will make that final mile.

雖然我們未來沒有辦法執政,來實踐理想;但不代表在野就沒有力量。台灣不能沒有反對的聲音、不能沒有制衡的力量。我相信,只要大家繼續站在我們身後,給我們支持,給我們鞭策,我們一定還有未來!下一次,我們一定可以走完最後一哩路!

The DPP’s transformation and reform continues. We will continue to stand on the side of the vulnerable, we adhere to reasonable policies, and to rely on small fundraising, rather than on big business. That’s how we will continue, and one day, we will win the trust of the people’s majority. This road has become longer than we imagined, and we can still do better. The DPP will face today’s results, conscientiously review them, and use them to be watchful.

民進黨的轉型跟改革,不會停止。我們堅持和弱勢人民站在一起,我們堅持政策理性,我們堅持以小額募款擺脫對財團的依賴。我們會一直做下去,總有一天,我們會贏得多數人民的信任,這條路比我們想像得更漫長,我們還可以做得更好。面對今天的結果,民進黨會認真的做檢討,會把它當作警惕。

I bear responsibility for defeat. I resign as the DPP’s chairperson. I believe that the next party leader will keep continuing the DPP’s reform and transformation, and lead everyone further.

敗選的責任,由我一肩扛起來。我宣布辭去民主進步黨的黨主席。我相信,下一任的黨主席,一定會堅持,繼續堅持民進黨的改革轉型,帶領大家繼續走下去。

Finally, Tsai Ing-wen wants to thank everyone who went along with her. These four years were a really good journey, we fought side by side, and I feel that you haven’t only voted for me, but that you have been my best companions.

最後,蔡英文感謝大家一路相伴。這四年,是很美好的旅程,我們一起並肩作戰,在我的心中,你們不只是投票給我的人,你們是我最好的夥伴。

Tonight, I believe, we are all very sad. You may cry, but don’t lose heart. You may be sad, but don’t give up. Let’s remain the way we have been for the past four years: brave, and full of hope. Because we must assume our responsibilities bravely, we must continue to work hard for this land of Taiwan. No matter where we stand, this country needs our continued love and care.

今晚,我相信大家都很難過。你可以哭泣,但不要洩氣。你可以悲傷,但是不要放棄。我們要像過去四年一樣勇敢並充滿著希望。因為,我們必須勇敢地扛起責任,我們必須繼續為台灣這塊土地打拼。無論我們在哪個位置上,這個國家,都需要我們繼續愛她、呵護她。

Dear people of Taiwan: one day, we will come back. To have supported the DPP and Tsai Ing-wen on this day in 2012, I believe, has beeen a matter of pride. With our heads high, we continue our path with courage. Thank you all. My heart will always be with the people of Taiwan.

各位親愛的台灣人民,有一天,我們會再回來。在2012年的這一天,支持民進黨,支持蔡英文,我相信是一件驕傲的事。我們抬起頭,堅強勇敢的走下去。謝謝大家,我的心會永遠跟台灣人民站在一起。

Friday, December 23, 2011

Paper: Improving Agricultural Production

Three authors – Hu Xiaoping (胡小平), Zhu Ying (朱 颖), and Ge Dangqiao (葛党桥) -, addressed the problems of low efficiency in agricultural production. .

Not only “surplus labor”, but workforce who would actually be needed in the countryside, too, have left China’s rural areas in the wake of reform and industrial development and urbanization, according to their paper, published by Guangming Daily (光明日报), and republished by China National Radio (CNR). The author found that labor shortage in agriculture and an aging workforce were problems that went hand in hand. That the workforce was becoming of age had also led to a situation where “the workers’ quality” (导致了从事农业生产的劳动者质量的下降) was deteriorating.

After stating the obvious – that it is mostly younger people who move into rural  [correction (20120308): urban] areas, and that the elderly tend to stay at home -, the article adds:

In our country, there are big gaps between the countryside and the cities, in terms of the economy, culture, public services, social welfare, etc.. To enjoy their share in the fruits of modern civilization and to pursue good opportunities of development, even though they won’t achieve the levels of income they hoped for there, the younger will still wish to move towards the cities. Once they are there, they won’t return to the countryside, unless they absolutely have to. In the cities, they are raising the second generation of migrant workers, and while they remain rural population in terms of household registration, these have never worked in agricultural fields, and will feel no desire to return to the countryside.

在我国,农村和城市在经济、文化、公共事业、社会福利等方面存在较大差距。为了分享现代文明成果和追求更好的发展机会,即使在城市中无法获得预期收入,农 村大量青壮年劳动力也会源源不断向城市转移。进城以后,他们除非迫不得已,都不会再回到农村。他们在城市养育起来的“农二代”,虽然在户籍意义上仍属于农 民,却从未从事过农业生产,今后也不愿回到农村。

Urban industries demand high skills, argues the article, and competition had driven many of those who left for the cities since the 1980s back into the countryside – but the next young generation was on its way into the cities again.

But age alone didn’t explain the low efficiency in agriculture, as a look at the situation in developed countries’ agricultural sectors showed. High prices on their produce, combined with state subsidies, agricultural efficiency wasn’t low in Europe, the United States or Japan, despite a rural population which had come of age there, too.

A survey in the U.S. in 2007 found that the average age of a farm owner there was 57.1 years, in Japan, in 2009, 61 per cent of those who worked in the agricultural sector were older than 65. This doesn’t explain why the agricultural sector’s efficiency should be comparatively low. Abroad, an aging population is no threat to agricultural production, because they have sound social services and a comparatively high level of mechanization there, which offsets labor shortages.

2007年,美国农业普查结果显示,美国农场主的平均年龄已上升到57.1岁;在日本,2009年农业从业者中65岁以上的人员所占比例为61%。这都不是农业生产比较效益低能够解释的。国外农业劳动力老龄化之所以没有威胁到农业生产,是因为他们有完善的农业社会化服务体系以及较高的农业机械化水平,弥补了农业劳动力的短缺。

The central government had intensified its efforts since 2004, writes the author, with some positive effects on efficiency in the agricultural sector, but not to a degree which would have avoided labor shortages, or migration of the young into the urban areas.

Rather extensive management of arable land was one reason for the shortcomings. Land had been left barren. The older farmers preferred land close to their homes, and abandoned more distant arable land. And where two harvests per year had been the rule before, the frequency had gone down to only one harvest a year. Frequently, they only grew food for their own needs. The central government had defined a red line of 1.8 billion mu of arable land to be kept in use, and the extensive use of arable land was in conflict with that requirement.

Attracting skilled work was another problem. Dual structures of rural and urban environments kept potentially skilled workers in rural urban areas. Modern agriculture required technical and management understanding, mechanical skills, which the existing population with rather low educational levels could hardly provide. The phenomenon that many rural citizens moved to the cities temporarily and kept their land as a lifeline didn’t help to make agricultural use of the land more efficient, either. Each of them kept small fields which left no option to achieve economies of scale.

A third problem – and one people in the cities are only too familiar with, would be rising food prices, given that the supplies were rather inefficient. Even though the share of agricultural products in the consumer price index (CPI) had fallen from 60 per cent in the 1980s, to about 30 per cent in 2011, 60 per cent of this years CPI rise were caused by food prices. Under normal circumstances, one should expect that demand for agricultural products would only rise slowly, and expect little volatility, but the fast price rises suggested that there were serious supply shortages. Rises in pig (or pork) prices would suggest that supply would rise quickly, but older farmers were often neither prepared nor unable to raise pigs.  Here, labor shortage was causing the problem.

The paper (or the Guangming Daily article reflecting it)  makes three proposals:

Firstly, train professional farmers. Focus on attracting highly qualified staff into agricultural production, intensify farmers’ education, and create a beneficial environment for rural talents.
其一,培育职业农民。应着力吸引高素质人才从事农业生产,加大对农民培训的力度,营造留住农村人才的有利环境。

Secondly, improve agricultural mechanization. Encourage and support research and development that leads to mechanical solutions in line with the needs of agricultural production, increase the level of mechanization, and decrease the dependence of agricultural production on human labor. Continue to improve and enhance state subsidies for the purchase of agricultural machinery.

其二,提高农业机械化程度。鼓励和支持相关科研机构研发符合农业生产需求的机械设备,提高我国农业生产的机械化程度,降低农业生产对人工的依赖程度。继续完善和提高国家的农机具购置补贴。

Thirdly, strengthen the building and investment in rural social services. Build and perfect social services to be provided before, during and after production [apparently kindergartens and pensioner facilities], accelerate agricultural production, the diffusion of agricultural technology, agricultural information systems, agricultural finance and insurance systems, and reduce the difficulties and risks farmers are facing.

其三,加强对农业社会化服务体系的建设和投入。建立和完善对农业生产提供产前、产中、产后的社会化服务体系,加快在农业生产、农业技术推广、农业信息、农业金融和保险等领域的服务体系建设,减轻农民的务农难度,增强农业抵御风险的能力。

Fourthly, change organizational and management methods in agricultural production. Change the traditional decentralized patterns of agricultural production, encourage the formation of professional guilds, cooperatives, specialized organizations and other forms of specialized economic cooperation, and increase the organizational levels in production. Encourage and support conditions which allow the achievement of appropriate economies of scale, based on reliable foundations of contract household responsibility systems.

其四,改变农业生产的组织经营方式。改变传统的分散经营的农业生产模式,鼓励农民建立专业协会、股份合作社、专业合作社等不同形式的专业合作经济组织,提 高农业生产组织化和产业化程度。支持和鼓励条件允许的地区,在稳定家庭联产承包责任制的基础上推进土地流转,进行农业适度规模经营。

The paper touches upon many related issues in economic, social, and ideological fields which are fairly frequently recorded on this blog. It also reflects existing confines of long-term and more recent restrictions on reform. I will try to build some links between these issues and this blogpost during Christmas.

Published without spell-checks or other corrections.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Three Approaches to Managing American-Chinese Competition

As China’s ascendance and America’s relative decline continue, the two will continue to compete for geopolitical influence, Minxin Pei (or Pei Minxin, 裴敏欣), writes in an article for The Diplomat on November 28. If 2010 was the year China made a series of strategic and tactical moves to strengthen its position in East Asia, 2011 saw the region – and America – push back. At the East Asia summit in Bali in November,

China was literally ambushed by the United States, which skillfully coordinated a pushback against China’s assertiveness on the South China Sea.  Except for Burma and Cambodia, every other country present at the summit, including Russia, implicitly criticized China’s stance on the South China Sea and called for a multilateral solution, which China has consistently opposed.

China needed to rethink an existing policy of “befriending afar and attacking near” (远交近攻)1), Pei suggests. Otherwise, territorial disputes would antagonize Japan, Vietnam and India and [make] them eager partners of a potential anti-China coalition.

Minxin Pei’s closing remarks may be read as a purposeful provocation towards Beijing to do better – or as an indication that he sees the partners of a potential anti-China coalition safely on America’s side:

Of course, whether a one party regime known for its political paranoia can pull off a feat of such strategic dexterity and sophistication is anybody’s guess.  It’s up to Beijing to prove its skeptics wrong.

In Chinese – in an article for the BBC‘s Chinese website on Monday -, Pei wrote that in Bali, Beijing had not only lost face, but had been completely isolated by the American-led network’s and other regional powers’ challenge (美国联络盟友和东亚地区的主要大国在南海问题上公开挑战中国政府的立场,使北京不仅丢脸而且十分孤立). Another major development had been that Japan announced that it wanted to join a trans-Pacific free-trade partnership2). Here, too, China appeared to be isolated. Pei also touches upon a recent US-Australian military cooperation agreement, and on secretary of state Hilary Clinton‘s visit to Myanmar. More explicitly than in his Diplomat contribution, Pei states that

Until recently, many strategic observers in the Asian region, but especially Beijing’s political elite, believed that America had fallen into irreversible decline, and that China’s influence in the Asia-Pacific region would gradually exceed American influence. It now seems that this judgment was premature.
不久之前,亚洲地区的许多战略观察家,尤其是北京的政治精英,都认为美国已陷入不可逆转的衰落,而中国在亚太地区的影响则将逐渐超过美国。现在看来,这种判断为时过早。

US hegemony in the Asia-Pacific region was based on structural advantages which China did not have. Ever since World War 2, America’s role in the region had been based on its goal not to allow a challenger to its regional hegemony to arise in that region. American interests and all the regional countries’ interests – with the exception of China’s and the former Soviet Union’s – coincided here. While America had been busy in Afghanistan and Iraq, China’s influence in the Asian-Pacific region had grown, not least thanks to its restraint and its smile diplomacy ( literally: smile offensive, 微笑攻势) in South-East Asia. But Beijing’s more recent approach to the South China Sea, the Senkaku / Diaoyutai controversies with Japan, and its lukewarm stance on North Korea’s nuclear provocations (在朝鲜武力挑衅南韩时的不力干预) had changed Asian perceptions of China.

Much of Pei’s advice is identical with his Diplomat article, but here, too, he is more explicit. One approach for China would be to make great concessions in territorial disputes with its neighbors (在领土争端上作出极大让步), and to play an active role in regional security issues. This wasn’t likely to happen, given  the CCP’s firm opposition to such a path.

A second approach amounted to steps to be taken at home, within China – the country needed to democratize. This could permanently end strategic competition with America, and dispel fears among China’s democratic neighbors, Pei believes (一是走民主化道路,这既可永久结束中美的战略竞争,亦可彻底打消周边的民主国家对中国的安全恐惧). Democratization could work in theory, but was in fact very difficult. An authoritarian (or despotic) government’s sense of security (安全感) was rather low, and besides, it lacked sincerity (or integrity, 诚信).

There are only five readers’ reactions so far, three of them from outside China, according to their signatures, and only two of them are sort of “friendly” reactions to Pei’s article, as one of them calls the CCP rogues with lots of money, and the second gives a positive appraisal of America’s role in the region (Well done, America – 美国做得好).

A commenter from Canada thinks of both recommendations as dead-end roads, and recommends a third approach: China should build an alliance with countries which were close to it, drop the principle of non-interference, firmly strike at countries which dared to be enemies, and intensify contradictions and conflicts between South-East Asian nations, so as to profit from the tensions as a third party. (简直是胡说八道,两条都是死路,中国唯一出路只有与亲中国家结盟,放弃不干涉别国内政原则,坚决打击敢与中国为敌的国家,激化东南亚国家之间的矛盾和利益冲突,以收渔人之利!)

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Notes

1) the 23rd of the 36 Stratagems.

2) Earlier in November, at an APEC summit in Honolulu, Canada, Japan and Mexico expressed interest in joining the project which had until then been under discussion among America, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, according to the Economist.

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Related

» Who’s Afraid of Jon Huntsman, Nov 27, 2011
» South China Sea: an Introduction, Oct 7, 2011
» Who is Kishore Mahbubani, Dec 18, 2010

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Monday, December 5, 2011

Helmut Schmidt: Not on Our Own

[…]

If we, the Germans, were tempted into claiming a leading European role – or, if not quite that, to act the a primus inter pares -, a growing majority among our neighbors would efficiently oppose that. The periphery’s concerns about a too-strong European center would return very quickly. The likely consequences would be maim Europe. And Germany would drop into isolation.

Wenn wir Deutschen uns verführen ließen, gestützt auf unsere ökonomische Stärke, eine politische Führungsrolle in Europa zu beanspruchen oder doch wenigstens den Primus inter pares zu spielen, so würde eine zunehmende Mehrheit unserer Nachbarn sich wirksam dagegen wehren. Die Besorgnis der Peripherie vor einem allzu starken Zentrum Europas würde ganz schnell zurückkehren. Die wahrscheinlichen Konsequenzen solcher Entwicklung wären für die EU verkrüppelnd. Und Deutschland würde in Isolierung fallen.

[…]

Our central geo-political location, our unfortunate role in the course of European history well into the mid-20th century, and our performance today all demand – from any German government – a lot of empathy for our EU partners’ interests, and our cooperation is essential.

Unsere geopolitische Zentrallage, dazu unsere unglückliche Rolle im Verlaufe der europäischen Geschichte bis in die Mitte des 20. Jahrhunderts, dazu unsere heutige Leistungsfähigkeit, all dies zusammen verlangt von jeder deutschen Regierung ein sehr hohes Maß an Einfühlungsvermögen in die Interessen unserer EU-Partner. Und unsere Hilfsbereitschaft ist unerlässlich.

We haven’t achieved our reconstruction of the past six decades just on our own, nor  self-propelled. It wouldn’t have been possible without help from the Western allied powers, without being embedded in the European Community and the Atlantic Treaty, help from our neighbors, the political rise in eastern central Europe, and the end of communist dictatorship. We have reasons to be grateful. And we are liable to live up to the solidarity shown to us before, by showing solidarity ourselves, to our neighbors.

Wir Deutschen haben doch unsere große Wiederaufbau-Leistung der letzten sechs Jahrzehnte auch nicht allein und nur aus eigener Kraft zustande gebracht. Sondern sie wäre nicht möglich gewesen ohne die Hilfen der westlichen Siegermächte, nicht ohne unsere Einbettung in die europäische Gemeinschaft und in das atlantische Bündnis, nicht ohne die Hilfen durch unsere Nachbarn, nicht ohne den politischen Aufbruch im Osten Mitteleuropas und nicht ohne das Ende der kommunistischen Diktatur. Wir Deutschen haben Grund zur Dankbarkeit. Und zugleich haben wir die Pflicht, uns der empfangenen Solidarität würdig zu erweisen durch unsere eigene Solidarität mit unseren Nachbarn!

[…]

Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt, in a speech to the SPD party congress in Berlin on Sunday.

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Related

» The Costs of Running a Trade Surplus, Aug 7, 2011
» Central Europe, the Concept’s History, Wikipedia

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Saturday, November 12, 2011

“Correcting the Country’s Course”: Paul V. Kane, not Quite the Economist

Paul V. Kane, a former international security fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, advises the Obama administration to “ditch Taiwan”. In an op-ed for the New York Times, he wrote on Friday:

With a single bold act, President Obama could correct the country’s course, help assure his re-election, and preserve our children’s future.

Kane quotes Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, as saying that “the most significant threat to our national security is our debt”. Besides, Kane argues,

America has little strategic interest in Taiwan, which is gradually integrating with China economically by investing in and forming joint ventures with mainland Chinese firms.

I’m not trying to judge America’s big or small strategic interest in Taiwan. Besides, I have the vague impression that advanced arms technology delivered to Taiwan may not be too well-protected from Chinese espionage.

But only a clear American decision for isolationism could be a cause for considering  “ditching Taiwan”.

Kane may have felt encouraged by statements like those made by U.S. president Barack Obama,  that the nation he is most interested in building is America itself. But that statement was made in context with Afghanistan (and possibly Iraq, the dumb war). And I haven’t read Mullen saying anything that would suggest that he would want to “ditch Taiwan”. Rather, according to Mullen, America’s military power needed a sound economy as its base – a point Obama, too, made in a speech in 2009.

But neither Mullen’s or Obama’s statements, nor much else in this world, would suggest that there were good reasons to believe that abandoning Taiwan would make the world – including America – any safer.

Probably some time in 2009 or 2010,  Beijing began to refer to the South China Sea as a core interest (核心利益) – a term which had been used to describe Beijing’s claim on Taiwan, but not for the South China Sea until then. In 2009, either a year prior to the South-China-Sea referral or about at the same time, Chinese state councillor Dai Bingguo (戴秉国) defined a – at least apparently – more “conservative” set of three “core interests”:

  • the survival of China’s “fundamental system” and national security,
  • the safeguarding of China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity (which in itself is, of course, pretty flexible after all, and may allow for a real lot of “core interests”), and
  • continued stable economic growth and social development.

Kane seems to believe that Beijing’s definitions of its own interests are stable. That doesn’t look like reasonable political judgment.

But above all, Kane’s argument makes no sense economically. Ten per cent of American foreign is certainly a huge amount – but it’s existence or non-existence would be no game-changer. Even if Kane started a global auction and found ways to please other creditors than Beijing into forgiving their shares of America’s debts, too (in exchange for similarly immoral offers), this wouldn’t change anything about America’s structural economic problems. Yes, it took America many decades to pile up its current debts – but it wouldn’t take America terribly long to incur debts of a similar dimensions again – not in the state it is in right now.If there is something America needs to worry about is that their leaders don’t seem to act their act together. The debt incurred so far won’t actually kill America.

What would make sense for America is to remind its allies – both formal and informal ones – that American commitment can be no one-way street. This isn’t targeted at Taiwan specifically, because it would seem to me that Washington actually applauded Taipei’s cross-strait policies of recent years. Rather, South Korea, Singapore, Vietnam and other countries who believe that America should strike a balance in China’s neighborhood need to be reminded that they, too, must do their share to keep the region – including Taiwan – safe. The current division of labor in the region – America projecting military power, and everyone else chumming up to Beijing in America’s shadow – is indeed unsustainable.

But if America wants its allies to doubt its commitment to regional security, there could be no better prescription for that, than Kane’s “recommendation”. It’s a safe way to lose credibility.

Apparently, Kane’s op-ed was no put-on, as The Atlantic‘s James Fallows initially  suspected. And anyway, I don’t know who Mr. Kane is, and I’m sure that he isn’t the only person who might come up with such bizarre ideas. What really makes me wonder is that the New York Times actually chose to print this kind of stuff.

Maybe they and Mr. Kane just want another tax break.

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Related

» “A Threat that Doesn’t Exist”, Business Insider, Nov. 11. 2011
» The Costs of Running a Trade Surplus, August 7, 2011
» Creative Destruction or Development, March 15, 2010

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Thursday, September 29, 2011

European Debt Crisis: How Germany can “Lead”

If in the future, Germany were asked to guarantee amounts beyond the current 211 billion Euros for the EFSF,  nothing would happen without the Bundestag’s (lower house of German parliament) approval, federal finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble told the Bundestag today. The members of parliament endorsed Germany’s current contribution to the EFSF, with most of the votes both from the governing coalition parties, and the opposition.

Many anglo-saxonian papers, such as the Economist, have told Germany’s government to “lead”, to restore creditors’ and investors’ trust in the Euro. The truth is that Germany can’t simply “lead” Europe. Our country is trusted to a surprising and encouraging degree, given the past century’s history, but the two world wars aren’t forgotten. Many comments, especially from Greek commenters on this thread on a Die Welt blog, may serve as indicators.

But what can the German government do?

Even if the governments of Greece, Italy, and Spain did everything it takes to restore trust in their Euroland share, politicians there could hardly resist to point out that it was “Germany” (as if there were no other European  states taking positions similar to Germany’s) which “imposed” the hardships. But without such commitment from the countries in crisis, contributions to the EFSF will not only be meaningless, but will become Finland’s, Germany’s, or the Netherlands’ burden, and wreck their public finances, too. Besides, Greece, Italy, and Spain will not only need to restore their financial status, but they will also need to rebuild their economies, i. e. their competitiveness. That, in fact, is a prerequisite for sound public finances.

It is obvious that not only the “southerners”, but Germans, too, will need to prepare for tougher times. Germany hasn’t yet balanced its own budget (let alone its pension systems). That’s an immediate task, and be it only to put  certain amounts of the saved money aside –  for a transfer union (because the countries in crisis won’t be able to rebuild their economies all alone), and to put aside further amounts should the countries in crisis – and many of their creditors – go bust.

To believe that there will be a European watchdog that will make sure that the southern states will live up to their commitments (if there should be commitments at all) is an illusion. Germany, along with other contributing countries, should provide funding for a transfer union for a limited period, just as the Taiwanese state provided its fledgling industries with a limited period of protectionism, decades ago. After a given period, the funding should stop – mercilessly – just as Taiwan removed protective barriers around its industries after a given period. Meantime, the southern countries should take the steps they – not a European agency or a contributing European country – believe to be useful.

If they succeed or not: time would be bought, the contributing countries could prepare for a time after a break-up of Euroland (if the Eurozone should prove to be unsustainable), so could the creditors, and noone could seriously accuse the contributing countries (especially Germany, the whipping kid of many southerners’ choice) of accroaching a hegemonic role over other sovereign states.

For many reasons, we should see ourselves in the same boat as Greece, Italy, or Spain. As long as our trade with the three, and many other trade-deficit countries didn’t appear to pose obvious problems, people here in Germany didn’t ask too many questions, either. If we want to be true Europeans, we can be just that, and leave it to our fellow Europeans if they want to be “EU-Europeans”, too, and do their share of the work.

These steps wouldn’t only help to restore trust within the financial markets. They would also provide some peace of mind among those EU member states which aren’t yet members of the Eurozone. They could stay on the sidelines and wait if the day to join will ever come.

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