Posts tagged ‘Iraq’

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Obituary: Chris Kyle, 1974 – 2013

Chris Kyle was born in Odessa, Texas. His father, originally from Kansas, was a Sunday school teacher. Kyle studied ranch management in the 1990s and joined the US Marine Corps aged 24, after recovering from a rodeo accident.

As a sniper with SEAL Team 3, he earned himself the name of the Devil of Ramadi among the insurgents. He left the US Navy in 2009.

As of January 2012, he was believed to have been the most lethal soldier in American military history. 150 deaths resulting from his career were officially confirmed (or 160, according to the Beijing Morning Post), but Kyle himself believed that the actual number was more than 250, according to Outlook, a BBC documentary series first aired on January 5, 2012. He was mostly known for his role in Iraq during the Second Gulf War, and particularly for his role in the battles of Falluja, Ramadi and Sadr City. Insurgents put a bounty of 80,000-dollar bounty on his head, according to the BBC.

Kyle left for Iraq for the first time one week after the birth of his first child, a son. His wife “put on a strong face” and “made sure that I felt good”, he told the BBC in the Outlook documentary. But after the birth of their second child, a daughter, who was close to death for some time after birth, she told him that he had to make a choice between his family and his job. Divorce rate among SEALs was at 95 percent, according to Kyle, and he chose to save his marriage. Asked if he had regrets about any of the people he had killed, he said that about every person killed “I strongly believe they were bad and when I do go face God, there is going to be lots of things I have to account for, but killing anyone of those people is not one of them”.

After ending his military career, Kyle set up a company that trained troops, police, companies and individuals in the use of firearms. According to the Beijing Morning Post, he opposed tighter gun control legislation.

Chris Kyle and his neighbor Chad Littlefield were fatally shot on a shooting range near Glen Rose in Texas, on Saturday. Reportedly, the perpetrator was a veteran who was struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder. Kyle and Littlefield are said to have been trying to help him cope with the disorder.



» Mind of a Sniper, BBC, January 25, 2012

Main Category: Obituary


Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Senkakus: Some Plans are too Complex to keep the Peace

One Conflict, two Sustainable Solutions

When it comes to the Senkakus (or Diaoyu Islands, in Chinese), I’m sure there are lawyers who can make a convincing case for China’s, or for Japan’s position. The immediate problem seems to be that neither side – neither Beijing, nor Tokyo – will be prepared to have an international court – the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) would be a likely address – decide their dispute. The Economist suggested a natural solution, i. e.:

Our own suggestion is for governments to agree to turn the Senkakus and the seas round them—along with other rocks contested by Japan and South Korea—into pioneering marine protected areas. As well as preventing war between humans, it would help other species.

Hardcore ecologists may agree. If any territory that gets contested by anyone was ti be turned into ecological habitat, too, they might agree even more. But what we need in this context aren’t conservation areas. International relations need rules.

In that light, another suggestion, also by the Economist, but in another article, makes much more sense:

[..] for the majority of disputes, the courts can provide fair results. It may take decades to finish the job, but a long wait is better than the alternative. In the words of one international lawyer: going to court is always cheaper than going to war.

The Economist believes in progress. That doesn’t mean that they would never support war. They supported the war against Iraq in 2003, for example. But generally, their stance seems to be that global economic integration and growing prosperity would be the real way forward. By habitat or by law.

After all, war on Iraq looked manageable, in 2003. A war between China and Japan, one a nuclear military power, the other quite probably backed by a nuclear military power, looks very different, not to mention the impact on the global economy, even if war could be limited.

Click the blood to enter the Mukden Incident Museum

Click the blood to enter the Mukden Incident Museum

It is right to work for peace. But should we take the peace for granted?

Foarp appears to believe that, and cites two reasons:

  • it is the government that drives the demonstrations in China, which in themselves fit a long running pattern for such demonstrations
  • There is nothing to fight for. The islands themselves are of little or no value and are incapable of sustaining significant numbers of inhabitants.

In short, according to Foarp, the current

sudden outburst of government-directed anger against Japan is most likely an attempt at distraction from the CCP’s current problems surrounding this year’s transition of leadership in Beijing. Put simply, in observing Chinese political affairs you should never forget which hand holds the whip.

Totalitarianism can change Public Opinion, but not Anytime

Both Foarp and I, if I remember our past discussions correctly, think of China as a totalitarian state. But that doesn’t mean that the whip is irrevocably in the hands of the CCP. The CCP did create many of the factors that make nationalism a double-edged sword for Beijing. Nationalism can be the mastic that holds the party and the “masses” together. But nationalism is also one of the few areas of “public opinion” where government censorship on “patriotic” utterances looks truly awkward, and makes the CCP’s own “patriotism” look dingy. In short: a petroleum tanker notched up to full speed over decades – think of patriotic education as the heavy fuel that drives it – can’t easily be stopped within days, or even weeks, without get into odds with people whose anger you would better agree with, for the sake of your own credibility.

Japan is no one-party dictatorship. But there are political parties which use nationalism as a whip on more moderate competitors. Yoshihiko Noda‘s decision to buy three of the Senkaku islands was most probably driven by the desire to snatch that booty away from Shintaro Ishihara, Tokyo’s nationalistic mayor, who had previously planned to buy those islands from its private owners. Depending on Japan’s future national elections, nationalists may still inherit those islands from the moderates.

Nationalism may come, in many ways, naturally. That is debatable in itself, but it’s my belief that love for ones own country, even hot-headed at times, for a limited period and under certain circumstances, can be natural. What is not so natural is the mixture of victimization and megalomania Chinese students have been fed with for many decades. It’s a rather philistine kind of megalomania, but it is too presumptuous to be considered normal. The Bangkok Post published an article by Robert Sutter on Tuesday, and it is more outspoken than what you will get to read in most cases. Above all, it describes a Chinese tendency to believe in a unity of foreign-policy principles and practice, while  from the viewpoint of the neighbours and foreign specialists, the principles kept changing and gaps between principles and practice often were very wide. And Chinese opinion sees whatever problems China faces with neighbours and other concerned powers including the US over sensitive issues of sovereignty and security as caused by them and certainly not by China.

Combine that with a belief that China is becoming invincible. Most Chinese citizens have never been in the army. Even less have seen genuine war. War seems to be a remote thing, even if it should occur. When Yugoslavia was on fire in the 1990s, I was in China, and I was told that Europe was enviable – it had Northern Ireland, the Basque country, and Yugoslavia. There was real action in our place. And those who talked that way were no idiots who ran around in camouflage suits after hours – they were quite normal people. It became a completely different story when the Chinese embassy in Belgrade was bombed a few weeks later.

Patriotism is – in itself – a good thing. That’s why all powers, but totalitarian ones in particular, want to manipulate it to their own ends. A totalitarian political system has the most comprehensive plans. The problem with that, as Walter Sobchak famously said:

If the plan gets too complex something always goes wrong.

Tokyo, and most Japanese people, probably don’t want war. Beijing, and most Chinese people, probably don’t want war, either. But Chinese anger on Japan is not just a welcome “distraction” for Beijing, as Foarp and many commenters suggest. It is fuel that Beijing wants to harness. That, see above, is a very complex plan.

Mark it zero.

This is a league game, Smokey. Mark it zero.

A disproportionate demand for respect – and that’s what nationalism is about -, is usually based on a long, complex story. Therefore, there’s no need for anything substantial to fight over. The demands are substance enough.

If you want a Fight, there’s Always something to Fight over

One can get too obsessed with history. It’s not the proverbial “mirror” to predict the future – but it does give us clues about human behavior – behavior that seems to make sense to contemporaries, even if it leads to war. Behavior that makes no sense to the later generations, or at hindsight, often not even in the countries who “won”.

On July 29 and 30, 1914, Russian Czar Nicholas II and German Emperor Wilhelm II exchanged several telegrams, in which they made demands on each other and at the same time assured each other that neither of them wanted a war. At the same time, Austria-Hungary was mobilizing its army. has English translations of those telegrams. What apparently missed: Serbia actually accepted Vienna’s ultimatum. The German emperor’s reaction:

That’s more than one could expect! A great moral success for Vienna, but with it all reason for war disappears. (Das ist mehr als man erwarten konnte! Ein großer moralischer Erfolg für Wien, aber damit fällt jeder Kriegsgrund weg.)

If all reason for war had disappeared, Vienna didn’t care, and invaded Serbia anyway. From that moment on, Czar Nicholas was under pressure from the Russian public – and Russia’s international position was at stake. Simply giving in would have been another blow, five years after the Bosnian crisis.

Neither war, nor a trade war between China and Japan, are inevitable. But status and influence in East Asia are a league game. Japan “retreated” in a diplomatic showdown about the arrest of a Chinese trawler crew in 2010.

Business concerns prevailed, the Economist noted, in September that year,

and so did China, in a sense. A bitter feud with Japan had been escalating since September 7th, when a Chinese fishing boat ran into a Japanese patrol in waters which both countries claim as sovereign territory. Today Japan released the boat’s Chinese skipper, who had been accused of bashing into the two Japanese vessels deliberately. With the release of the captain, Zhan Qixiong, the diplomatic world breathes a sigh of relief. But how to score this match? Japan comes off looking weak, as it succumbs to an avalanche of pressure.

That’s not going to work every time. Neither public pressure in China (which has long forgotten 2010 and feels “humiliated” all over again), nor public pressure in Japan should be underestimated.

Nothing to fight for?

People who feel that they are just bystanders may feel that real clashes would be irrational. People who feel that they are stakeholders may view things very differently.



» Out of Hand, Beijing Cream, Sep 17, 2012
» Caught in the Screw, Nov 18, 2010


Thursday, July 5, 2012

Public Diplomacy: “… then Social Media it is”

One of the core problems with the State Department, and the one that most significantly contributes to the Department’s increasing irrelevance in foreign policy, is that State seems just content to “be,” to create conditions of its own continued existence. So, if social media is a new cool thing, and Congress will pay for it, then social media it is.

Peter van Buren, We Meant Well, July 2, 2012



» RCI “Effectively Retired”, April 9, 2012
» State Dept moves, Washington Post, March 14, 2012
» Trying to Pigeonhole DW, Febr 19, 2012
» David Ensor, not familiar, Sept 9, 2011
» Open Standards, Berners-Lee, Nov 22, 2010


Sunday, July 1, 2012

Shortwave Log, Northern Germany, June 2012


Recent Radio History

Radio Baghdad International (RBI) was neither one of the major international broadcasters, nor a small exotic one. Reception was no challenge in  Europe during the second half of the 1980s. RBI had reportedly spent a great deal of money on the installation of high-powered shortwave transmitters which had resulted in far better reception of Radio Baghdad, the Australian Radio DX Club (ARDXC) reported in an (apparently) regular column published by The Age, Australia, on December 13, 1984. RBI signals became much weaker during and/or after the First Gulf War, but the international service remained active throughout the 1990s, and early this century.

QSL Radio Baghdad, 1986

QSL Radio Baghdad, 1986 – click picture to hear two August 1990 Radio Baghdad soundtracks in English (“The U.S. surprised us”).  [Update, July 8, 2013: soundfile removed, but if you want to listen to the recording, I’ll put it online again for a while.]


Recent Shortwave Logs

International Telecommunication Union letter codes used in the table underneath:
ARG – Argentina; CLN – Sri Lanka (Ceylon); G – UK; IRN – Iran; KRE – North Korea; SYR – Syria.

Languages (“L.”):
C – Chinese; E – English; G – German.






Time GMT

 11535 Vo Korea  KRE  C June 14  22:00  4 4  4
 13760 Vo Korea  KRE  E June 15  21:00  4 4  3
 15500 IRIB Tehran  IRN  G June 23  07:30  4  5  4
  198 BBC1) Radio 4  G E June 23  09:00  5  5  5
  9430 Vo Vietnam2)  G  G June 27  20:00  5  5  5
15345 RAE Buenos Aires  ARG  G June 27  21:00  3  4  3
 9330  R. Damascus  SYR  E June 27  21:19  3  4  3
 7485  VoA3)  CLN  E June 28  20:00  3  5  3


Notes / Soundtracks

1) BBC Radio 4 programs on long wave – sometimes varying from the FM broadcasts in that they send maritime weather reports once in a while, and endless hours of Cricket, when it is the season – are broadcast from Droitwich in Worcestershire. Too reliable reception to be especially noted, but then, any day you tune in to 198 kHz may be the last one. The transmitter uses valves which are no longer manufactured, and there were only a few more valves on stock in October last year, according to the Guardian.

2) Skelton relay, Great Britain.

3) Sri Lanka Iranawila relay. A member of the Sri Lankan government recently demanded the VoA transmitter sites in Sri Lanka to be shut down. VoA transmissions from Sri Lanka had reportedly been controversial at least since 1992, when opposition also came from local population.



» Previous Logs, February 2012


Saturday, February 11, 2012

Responsibility to Protect: Where’s the Iceberg?

Open civil war in Libya created the vacuum that drew the United Nations in. It was the grim outlook for Benghazi, its militias, and its inhabitants which stirred much of the Arab, European, and probably global public. Whenever you heard a discussion about Libya in everyday life, it was mostly about what was officially referred to as the responsibility to protect, or R2R.

MasasitMati: Beeshou's Nightmares

MasasitMati: Beeshou's Nightmares - click picture for video

Every time when military intervention is considered, many supporters of the option suggest that the situation is exceptional, and that it requires exceptional responses. But the frequency of such military interventions – in Yugoslavia in the late 1990s, in Sierra Leone and in East Timor in 2000, in Iraq in 2003, in Lebanon in 2006, in Georgia in 2008, and in Libya in 2011, just to name a few -, hardly suggests that military intervention can still be seen as an exception.

Now, military intervention in Syria appears to become more likely – depending on the sources you read, it may already be in progress -, and one in Iran may be somewhat further down the queue.

Responsibility to protect is a norm, not a law. Even if it were a law, different states with different interests could still disagree if the law applies,or if it doesn’t. When it’s a norm, decisions will depend either on ethics, or on interests, or on a combination of both. What counts in the decision-making process is which laws or rules may serve to make international “norm enforcement” legal.

In Libya’s case humanitarian considerations were only the tip of the iceberg – in global politics, anyway, not necessarily in the press. The need to help the vulnerable – the need to “do something”, as Aidan Hehir referred to this humanitarian urge  in his The responsibility to protect and international law chapter*) -, seemed to dominate everyday discussions.

What was the actual iceberg about? I don’t know, obviously, but the first step to understand it better should be to look at the document that made military intervention in Libya legal. UN Resolution 1973

[…] Authorizes Member States that have notified the Secretary-General, acting nationally or through regional organizations or arrangements, and acting in cooperation with the Secretary-General, to take all necessary measures, notwithstanding paragraph 9 of resolution 1970 (2011), to protect civilians and civilian populated areas under threat of attack in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, including Benghazi, while excluding a foreign occupation force of any form on any part of Libyan territory […]

An occupation force isn’t the same thing as ground forces, as far as I can see. The mandate was maxed by the intervening forces, but they weren’t necessarily in breach of it.

Which reasons did the resolution give for what was, after all, an intervention in a sovereign country? Civilian casualties, gross and systematic violation of human rights, the need for unimpeded passage of humanitarian assistance, the Arab League’s support for a no-fly zone to be established, concern for the safety of foreign nationals in Libya, and the plight of refugees.

The Council welcomed the response of neighbouring States, in particular Tunisia and Egypt – tens of thousands of Libyans had fled their country, either to the east or to the west. It wouldn’t have taken too many months until Europe had faced an influx of refugees, too – in fact, Muammar Gaddafi had previously been Europe’s cooperation partner in keeping refugees from all over Africa south of the Mediterranean, and his sons had been welcome guests in Europe.

The first thing to do when judging the need to “do something” is to cool down – or to try, anyway. The beautiful language UN resolutions are wrapped into might as well be put into much more common words. Resolution 1973 became possible because Gaddafi – to various degrees – had become a disturbing factor in the business of all the stakeholders – Arab countries’, China’s, European countries’, and Russia’s.

The need to cool down also applies when it comes to the suspicions against political motivations. Many of these suspicions are certainly called for, but similar to the way many proponents of intervention monger their “morally superior” positions, many of the objections, too, are applied like cluster bombs.

It is probably wrong to think that there was that one overriding motivation (“Libyan oil” would probably be cited the most, when searching angry blog posts). It should  be more accurate to think of goal hierarchies, rather than of single goals that would define the military mission. Among a bundle of goals, the desire to avoid growing flows of refugees was probably among the bigger ones, at least in Arabia and Europe.

But while the UNSC managed to integrate all the stakeholders’ positions in 2011, concerning Libya, interests seem to differ too widely this time, concerning Syria. Besides, even benign powers like Brazil and India distrust interventionism. Brazil seems to put its reservations forward constructively:

In November, Brazil pushed the debate further by circulating a concept paper to all UN members on a new concept: “responsibility while protecting.” While the Council had cited the “responsibility to protect” civilians from mass atrocities over Libya, the Brazilians argued that the Council should develop stronger guidelines for the use of force and procedures “to monitor and assess the manner in which resolution are interpreted and implemented.” Although the Brazilian paper never mentions Libya, the purpose of its recommendations is clear: to set out constraints that would prevent a repeat of NATO’s escalation of the campaign against Gaddafi, which so quickly slipped beyond the Council’s control.

Not that only America, the Arab League, Britain or France were to blame. Practically everything deemed necessary by the authorized member states had been made “legal” by the 1973 resolution – at least in the widest sense. That couldn’t have happened without the UN security council’s agreement.

But while more  or less humanitarian initiatives might fool stakeholders with legitimate interests once, you can’t fool them every time you want.



*) Critical Perspectives on the Responsibility to Protect, Interrogating theory and practice, ed. Philip Cunliffe, Oxon, New York, 2011, p. 85



» Sheikh Hassoun interview, Der Spiegel, Aug 11, 2011


Thursday, November 24, 2011

The BoZhu Interviews: “I’ve Become more Aware of How Easily People Adapt to new Circumstances” –

FOARP about Democracy, Arguments between Memory and Ego, and the End of Reform in China

FOARP (Fear of a Red Planet) is a blogger from Britain who lives and works in Poland. He has also lived in China and Japan, and his first long-distance flight took him to Taiwan, ten years ago. The following interview is all about the past ten years.
His blog’s homepage can be found here.

The interview –

Q:  Most foreign China blogs seem to get started at the beginning of an expat’s stay there, or at some time during their stay. Your first post says, “It’s Good to be Back”, in October 2007, after your return to Britain. Why the delay?

A: Until 2006 I had never even looked at a blog, much less comment on one. I guess like a lot of people I saw such things as a giant time waster (which they are) and as inconsequential (which they may or may not be). The change happened after I started working for Foxconn, where my job consisted of periods of intense activity interspersed with the occasional period of inactivity, in which I turned to reading/commenting on blogs as a way of fighting the boredom.

Q:  Not too long after your return to Europe, you became an expat again, a Briton in Poland. How did you get there? Had you been there before? Do you speak Polish? And does life in Poland have an effect on how you view the world?

A: Actually I left the UK back at the end of 2009, when I travelled to Japan and worked for a patent firm there. I came to Poland at the start of this year to work in-house for a Finnish MNC where I get to use my Chinese, my knowledge of intellectual property, and get to travel a lot. Coming to Poland for the job interview was my first time in the country. My Polish classes are funded by the company – at the moment I can speak some Polish, ale niezbyt dobrze.

I would say that both my experiences in Japan and my experiences in Poland have affected my view on the world. Working in Japan taught me a lot about people, some good, some bad. I made some very good friends, but also worked incredibly long hours, alongside people who basically sacrificed their personal lives on the altar of work. Poland is almost the polar opposite. Perhaps it is the communist inheritance with its emphasis on work-to-rule, but the Polish draw a very solid line between their personal lives and their work lives and clearly distinguish between them.

Living in both these places also put a different perspective on my experiences in China. Japan obviously has many cultural similarities with China (although I think the idea of a genuine ‘Confucian’ world is an incredibly dangerous oversimplification). However, Japan’s cultural inheritance has not cursed it to eternal dictatorship.  Poland’s story as a country which has emerged from dictatorship is also obviously relevant.

Q:  Relevant in which ways?

A: Poland managed to successfully ditch communism without harming economic growth, or even ever suffering a real recession, and without excessive bloodshed after the end of the martial law period. It hasn’t had the same exposition that East Germany experienced due to the activities of the Gauck commission though. Perhaps the ideal post-communist liberation would be economically Polish and politically East German, but then East Germany had the rest of Germany to assist it.

Of course, the experience of Taiwan is perhaps more to the point.

Q: When did you decide to go to China? Did you study the language, along with law, before going there?

A: I graduated with a degree in Physics and Astrophysics and no idea of how I was going to use it to find a job back in the summer of 2001. The one thing I was certain of, however, was that I wanted to see the world and to learn a language that would be useful. It was basically a toss-up between Russian and Chinese, and Chinese won.

Before I arrived in Taiwan in November 2001 I had studied Chinese for about 3 weeks but that was about the limit. Firstly in Taiwan, and then later at a university in Nanjing, I taught English and used the money from that to pay for my studies. It was only after studying Chinese for a few years that I felt confident enough to take on a job in the patenting department at Foxconn at the start of ’06, which was also my first introduction to patenting. After working there for about 18 months I decided that I wanted to try to get some qualifications related to patenting, and so returned to the UK where I studied my master’s in intellectual property as well as a diploma in law. The job market being as it was in ’09, I ended up going back overseas after graduating.

Q:  Did life in China have an effect on how you view the world?

A: Since I was 21 when I went to Taiwan, and 22 when I arrived in Nanjing, it’s kind of hard for me to distinguish between the changes that naturally occur after 21 and the effect that China had. Compared to most of the people I knew back home, though, I would say that I’ve become more cynical, and more aware of how easily people adapt to new circumstances and get used to them.

Some experiences which I had in China which had a big effect on me:

  • SARS – my interesting life in China was converted in a very short time into something approaching semi-apocalyptic within a few days of the government switching from cover-up to over-reaction.
  • My boss in Nanjing’s attempted murder of his secretary, his subsequent suicide, and the response of party authorities to it.
  • Learning the language – a great confidence-booster and something I will use the rest of my life.
  • The sight of the hundreds of new recruits who showed up from the countryside every day at the gate underneath my office windows at Foxconn.
  • The expat community – put simply, my fellow expats included some really clever, smart people, as well as some real scum-bags. The real shock was discovering that the two were not as mutually exclusive as I had previously thought.
  • A friend of mine crying when she described the poverty of her home town. It had never occurred to me before that that people could be that ashamed of a poor background.

Reading the above it sounds like I had a really bad time in China, actually I had a ball, it’s just that I also had to take the rough with the smooth – and in China there’s a lot of both.

Q:  I guess if there was something that would boost my confidence, it would be earning a degree in Physics and in Astrophysics… One of the purposes of your blog, as stated in October 2007, was to keep your Chinese polished. How closely do you follow Chinese and non-Chinese blogs on China respectively? Do you (as a reader) or they (as bloggers) focus on certain, recurring kinds of news and topics?

A: I try to keep up my Chinese by watching the occasional soap-opera and reading news articles, as well as the stuff I translate at work. Chinese bloggers who I follow have dwindled – Song Qiang and Wang Xiaofeng only post about once a month. On the English language side, blogs I’ll look at at least once a day include the Peking Duck, China Geeks, China Law Blog, Imagethief (when he posts) and, of course, Just Recently’s Beautiful Blog.

As a reader I’m not so interested in the business/legal side of things – outside of work, anyway. Politics and history are the things I like to read the most. A couple of new (to me, anyway) blogs I’ve been getting into recently: Sinostand, Seeing Red In China, and Roll, Roll, Run. Why not any with a more positive spin on the Chinese government?  Well, I simply don’t believe such a spin reflects the truth.

Q:  Have you seen big changes in your own blog or blogs, and in the Chinese, or foreign “China blogosphere” since you started blogging yourself?

A: The biggest change happened between 2006 and 2008, with the introduction of comprehensive blocking. Put simply, this destroyed the expat blogosphere in China, since the humorous complaining that had made up 90% of what was posted about life in China became impossible to access without a proxy, thus preventing people finding them by accident the way people did with websites like Talk Talk China. These blogs fed off comments, so without them they withered and died.The growth of the nationalist movement since 2008 and its effect on the Chinese internet has been well enough described elsewhere that I don’t need to go into it.

In my own blog, I’ve found out that the best use for it is as a sort of log book of what I thought about something in particular at a particular time. Nietzsche said something about how, when your memory and your ego argue, it is your memory that eventually gives way. I like to use my blog as a way of counteracting the temptation to unconsciously re-write what you really thought about something at the time. You see this a lot when you ask people if they supported the Iraq war – my friends accuse me of it.

Q:  In your view, has China changed since you started blogging? Has Britain? Has the world? How so?

A: The biggest change in China has been the ditching of reform – combined with the predicted slow-down this could spell big trouble. Or it might not.For the UK, the economic crisis has had a big effect, but I believe in the long term there will be some positive outcome from it. I’m hoping that the crisis in the Eurozone will teach people that they are much better off having their own economic destiny in their own hands, and not decided for them by Frankfurt, Brussels, or Athens. The death of the idea that continuous borrowing on the never-never is an acceptable way of running the country is also something I hope the current crisis will bring about.

For the world in general, I see two changes this year. The first is the re-emergence of democratisation as an engine of change. From 9/11 until this year it seemed that democracy was on the retreat in Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Central Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere. The Arab Spring will, I hope, change this. The second is the all-enveloping economic crisis has also had an effect, destroying confidence in many of our financial institutions.

Q:  Besides a return to, let’s say, the subsidiarity principle within the EU –is that what you mean? –, would you like to see a smaller role for organizations such as the IMF or the World Bank, too? If so, why?

A: I’m afraid it rather revolves around the current dispute between Mr. Cameron and Mrs. Merkel. Mrs. Merkel’s solution is more Europe, Mr. Cameron’s solution is less. The UK at least signed on to the European Economic Community after a referendum in which it was promised that the EEC would be a trade union first and foremost, you could argue that things have developed from there, but there was never really any mandate given for this change. My hope is that whichever way things go, some reference is made to the people of Europe and what they actually want, preferably through a referendum.

The IMF and the World Bank have something of a mixed record, but a lender capable of imposing conditions is certainly something that is necessary at the moment.

Q:  Have you ever stopped reading blogs because you felt they were becoming boring, or because they angered you?

A: Never because they angered me – I even still read Hidden Harmonies. Some blogs that used to be good have gone downhill however – Danwei being an example.

Q:  What’s the worst online article or post you have ever read about China (that you remember)? And what’s the worst online article about Britain that you remember?

A: China – well, there’s so many. It’s really a toss-up between Shaun Rein’s “Real poverty is pretty much gone” piece, his piece proposing that the Nobel prize be given to Deng Xiaoping, and Paul V. Kane’s piece suggesting that the US sell-out Taiwan in the NYT last week.

Britain? Well, there was a lot of stupid rubbish written in the US about “imperial decline” after the 2007 Iranian hostage crisis, but that’s the only thing that comes to mind. I guess you can also include the nonsense Mark Stein used to peddle about Europe (and Britain in particular) turning into “Eurabia” because of Muslim immigration – something with no statistical basis.

Q:  That’s to say, you don’t believe in that life-cycle – rise, decline and fall of empires?

A: Well, very few countries admit to being empires any more, do they? But any theory of history based on things being cyclical overcomplicates the point – things change, except when they don’t, and that’s it.

Q:  An interview about your blog wouldn’t be complete without a question about your online brawl with Chris Devonshire-Ellis. In November 2008, you wrote a post stating that Chris Devonshire-Ellis wasn’t a lawyer, and that it annoyed you that he was treated as an expert by people who ought to know better. Were you the first blogger to make that statement? Wang Jianshuo, a Chinese blogger, wrote in December 2009 that he had previously run into Mr. Devonshire-Ellis, too (also online, and not in real life). Did you expect what followed – i. e. this kind of correspondence? This followed almost two and a half years after your actual post, and it probably caused you some trouble. Would you have written the post anyway, knowing the aftermath? Why, or why not?

A: Actually someone left a comment on a thread on Wang Jianshuo’s blog outing him as early as 2006, and people knew about it before even that. It’s just that he had managed to silence them through intimidating tactics such as those Wang Jianshuo (and also Ryan McLaughlin) describe on their blogs. People were also discussing his disreputable tactics – particularly giving out that he was a legal professional when he had not even finished his A-levels – on various defunct expat blogs back in 2006, which is where I first heard of him. I checked out his story myself after I got back to the UK, and after hearing from some more people who had been hassled by him, I decided to write a post on him to encourage those who were being hassled to stand up to him by showing that there was actually nothing, legally speaking, that he could do to stop them telling the truth about him.

Do I regret outing him? Absolutely not! Yes, the old boy certainly knows how to hold a grudge, but as far as I’m concerned, he can go and whistle for all I care. I’m in the right, and he’s in the wrong. It’s that simple.

Even having my real identity outed by him, to me, was not such a problem. For years I had been planning to out myself  but the correct moment never seemed to present itself. He solved the problem for me. The negative consequences of being outed have so far been precisely zero.

I would, however, like to give a shout-out to everyone who wrote comments on my blog supporting me.

Q:  Your most beautiful post, you said when it was your turn in a blog-nomination-snowball initiative in August this year, was one about Taiwan. At the same time, it seems, you like to tease Taiwanese nationalists, once in a while. Why is that? Does your sympathy for Taiwanese (or expat-Taiwanese feelings) depend on the way they are expressed?

A: When I lived in Taiwan I had a lot of sympathy for the pan-greens. I still do. It’s just that sympathy does not extend to uncritically swallowing scare-stories about a KMT-CCP conspiracy to annex Taiwan to China over the heads of the Taiwanese electorate without evidence. It’s also striking how Taiwanese independence is the lens through which some of these bloggers see everything. They’ve become far more committed to Taiwanese independence than the average Taiwanese person, and far more committed to the pan-greens than the average Taiwanese voter, a commitment not unlike certain US officials and the former South Vietnam – which is why my first post on this was entitled “Taiwan Expats and the Saigon Syndrome“.

Also having followed the last ten years, it’s become obvious that for some people war is always just around the corner, and they always write accordingly. The Chinese invasion is always in the next election year, the KMT is always trying to fix a deal (for which there’s no evidence) , the CCP is always carrying forward its plans etc. etc. etc. Sure, “the boy who cried wolf” and all that, but there’s a difference between warning people to maintain vigilance, and essentially trying to sell scare stories on the basis of rumours.

The goal of demonising the KMT is to de-legitimise them as a political party. Any vote they win is put down to dirty tricks. Their manifesto is portrayed as a tissue of lies. The idea that, by de-legitimising one half of Taiwan’s democratic balance, they are also delegitimising Taiwan’s political system, does not seem to occur to the purveyors  of such propaganda. It does not matter that propaganda from the other side has the same effect.

I’ve kind of mellowed on the Taiwan blogs, though, firstly because the DPP has changed it’s policies over the past few years – particularly since Tsai Ing-wen become leader – and a lot of the blogs have followed their lead. I’m certain that the CCP will try to paint her as an extremist – it’s what they do to everyone – but this is neither here nor there. I just hope that, if she loses, she, or someone like her, gets another chance.

Q:  Is there an unasked question you’d like to reply to?

A: I’ve been asked a lot how I ever could have worked for Foxconn. The answer is that I joined them before the major scandals came out. Actually, for me, it was quite a positive experience. I know I’ve been critical of people who have worked for outlets like Global Times and it may look like I’m applying a double-standard, but to me it does not seem that way.

Q: Foarp, thanks a lot for this interview.

The interview was conducted by an exchange of e-mails.



All BoZhu Interviews


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.



» “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


Thursday, September 15, 2011

Press Review: Egypt, Israel, Turkey and the “Energetic Arab Horse”

The mob attack on Israel’s embassy in Cairo in itself would have been reprehensible enough, the Pioneer (published from several locations in India) wrote on Monday:

For now, Egypt’s ruling military council, which is clearly on the defensive, has portrayed the incident to the outside world as a law and order issue, one that it intends to solve by increasing security at the Embassy and punishing the guilty. The perception that the weekend’s events were merely a security failure was also shamelessly propped up Egyptian media as well as news outlets in the region that repeatedly broadcast rioters’ interviews as they gloated about their “heroic” act, wholly indifferent to the very criminal nature of their deed that violated the most basic tenets of international law.

Egypt, the Pioneer notes, is flush with ‘freedom’ but ignorant of citizens’ responsibility.

Meantime, Kerim Balci, a columnist with Today’s Zaman, explains what he considers to be Turkey’s essential role to help the West

understand what is going on in this part of the world. With their post-colonial — yet still colonialist — perspectives, they cannot understand why the Turkish prime minister behaves as if he is the leader of the Arab revolutions that took place earlier this year.

Israel, the columnist suggests, can understand Turkey’s good intentions, but is not trying to do so. Turkey is just trying to make sure that no wrong rider (France or other outsiders) mounts this energetic Arab horse:

In fact, the Turkish prime minister called on the leaders of the Arab nations, saying that they should lead the revolutions themselves. A Turkish ride is only Plan B, to go into effect if the owners of the horse fail to do so.

Nothing unlogical, from a nationalist Turkish perspective – after all, previous Turkish leaders were only unseated by the Arabs because of colonialists interfering with Ottoman affairs.



Egypt and Turkey: “Rivalry for sure”, Al-Jazeera, Sep 14, 2011
“Genocide” in China, July 11, 2009


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