Posts tagged ‘public diplomacy’

Friday, January 20, 2017

Xi Jinping in Davos: the Warming Sunshine of Economic Globalization

“Davos: China’s president Xi Jinping argues for a liberal economic order”, German business paper “Handelsblatt” titled on its front page on Wednesday. (Not quite the headline, though – that was a news article on Theresa May‘s Brexit speech.) The paper also quotes incoming US president Donald Trump‘s advisor, Anthony Scaramucci, as saying that the US didn’t want a trade war, “but we want fair trade”, and that Trump’s attacks on NATO and EU had been misinterpreted.

The editorial in the same edition is enthusiastic: Xi Jinping‘s Davos speech had been “a dressing-down for populists”, argues Handelsblatt editorialist Stephan Scheuer, and provided “a keynote for discussions of the coming years”. Xi’s unambiguous message was that China would “not close its doors, but open them further for the world.”

Scheuer’s Wednesday editorial seems to confirm the impression of a Chinese government researcher, Zhao Jinping (赵晋平), who was quoted by “People’s Daily” as saying that reactions to Xi’s speech had been sympathetic (共鸣).

Gulliver in Smurfland (Xinhua artwork)

Gulliver in Smurfland (Xinhua artwork)

While Zhao pointed out that globalization remained the international mainstream consensus, Xi Jinping himself found more flowery words to express the same belief (as quoted in another “People’s Daily” article):

“The global economy’s vast sea, if you like it or not, is there, and you can’t avoid it.” Xi Jinping pointed out that a desire to artificially cut every national economy’s capital flows, technology flows, flows of products, industries, and people, and to shrink the vast sea of the global economy to an isolated small lake, or a small river, was impossible, and would not be in correspondence with the historic trend. When facing economic globalization’s opportunities and risks, the right choice is to make full use of the opportunities, to cooperate to respond to challenges, and to guide the direction of economic globalization well.

“世界经济的大海,你要还是不要,都在那儿,是回避不了的。”习近平指出,想人为切断各国经济的资金流、技术流、产品流、产业流、人员流,让世界经济的大海退回到一个一个孤立的小湖泊、小河流,是不可能的,也是不符合历史潮流的。面对经济全球化带来的机遇和挑战,正确的选择是,充分利用一切机遇,合作应对一切挑战,引导好经济全球化走向。

And:

Protectionism is like locking oneself into a dark room, as if one wants to avoid the hardship, but also the warming sunshine. The result of trade wars would only bring harm to both sides.

搞保护主义如同把自己关进黑屋子,看似躲过了风吹雨打,但也隔绝了阳光和空气。打贸易战的结果只能是两败俱伤

But not everyone appears to have become fully convinced this week that the hero now lives in Beijing, and that the villain is going to reside in the White House. Frank Sieren, a columnist who had been accused by his former Deutsche Welle colleague Su Yutong of being too nice to Beijing more than two years ago, reminds his readers that Xi, no less than Trump, would stand against those who are currently lauding him – whenever that makes sense for him. And both Xi and Trump would have to pursue goals of their own: China would have to get more integrated with the world to be successful, and America would need to produce more goods at home, without making the products more expensive for Americans.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Fond Memories and Grinding Teeth: AM Closures in Australia and France

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Radio Australia leaves Shortwave by End of January

Radio Australia is signing off with the end of January, if things keep going in accordance with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation‘s (ABC) schedule. A press release on December 6 quoted the head of ABC’s radio section as saying that

“While shortwave technology has served audiences well for many decades, it is now nearly a century old and serves a very limited audience. The ABC is seeking efficiencies and will instead service this audience through modern technology.”

20161209_radio_australia_message_received

There are people in Australia who disagree. There are others who support the decision. In an interview with Richard Ewart, co-host of Radio Australia’s Pacific Beat, former Australian High Commissioner to Fiji and the Solomon Islands, James Batley, defended the closure of shortwave transmissions to the Pacific, but came across as somewhat unprepared for that role:

Batley: The shortwave transmissions have had a very long and distinguished history. But I suppose I can’t help thinking now that … I guess this is a thing of technology really overtaking that form of broadcasting. And it’s a very different world these days, than sort of the heyday of shortwave broadcasting in past decades. But it’s a pity, because I guess we’ve all got fond memories of tuning in to Radio Australia by shortwave radio in the past.

Ewart: Isn’t one of the key elements of this decision, though, that the risk that it may pose, particularly during times of emergency? We’ve seen two huge cyclones strike in the Pacific over the last couple of years, and during an emergency like that, a shortwave broadcast could be a life-saver.

Batley: Yeah, look, I think the whole media and communication scene has really changed pretty dramatically, over several decades, in the Pacific, and there are now … I think there are more options available for public broadcasters, for governments’ communities, to access information. So I certainly … you know … there will be some people who still listen on shortwave, but I think it is a diminishing audience. I think you’d have to say that. And certainly, people of my acquaintance, fewer and fewer people would use shortwave radios.

Ewart: But what about those who continue to rely on shortwave, particularly, for example, in rural areas of Papua New Guinea, the numbers, we understand, are pretty high for those who can’t access digital technology. They would rely, still, on shortwave to get any sort of broadcast coming out of Radio Australia.

Batley: Yes, look, I don’t actually know the numbers. I’m not sure what the figures are. […] But like I said, I think there are a lot more options available these days, for governments, for broadcasters. And I think there is a sense in which shortwave may be a technology that’s been, perhaps, superseded.

Ewart: Our understanding is that accurate figures are in fact being gathered by the ABC right now, which makes me wonder why would they make this decision if they don’t already have that information. Could it be a little bit precipitate?

Batley: Well, look, it’s not for me to question the management’s decision on this. I’m not sure what considerations they may have taken. I don’t know all those numbers.

[…]

Wavescan, Adventist World Radio‘s (AWR) media magazine, compiled a number of voices and programs from Australia, New Zealand, and the Asia-Pacific region in December, including the a/m interview with James Batley. It starts in the ninth minute of the podcast dated 18/12/2016 (currently available for download).

In an interview with ABC, Batley said that the money saved by abandoning shortwave broadcasts should be re-invested in a more robust FM transmitter network and increased regional content. The issue was also touched upon in the a/m Radio Australia interview. The shutdown is said to save some 2.8 million Australian Dollars a year.

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France Inter no longer on 162 kHz

This January 1rst must be a happy day for controllers at Radio France: the demise of longwave broadcasts on 162 kHz is said to save the broadcaster six million Euros per year, Sud-Ouest, a French regional newspaper, wrote on Friday. The longwave broadcasts ended last night, around midnight. During 2016, Radio France had already saved seven million Euros, also according to Sud-Ouest, thanks to switching off the medium wave transmitters carrying France Bleu and France Info programs.

Some five to seven percent of the audience, or some 500,000 people, had still been listeners to the longwave broadcasts, writes Sud-Ouest, suggesting that teeth were grinding among the more nostalgic listeners.

The end of the longwave broadcasts also marks the end of the meteorological service being carried to adjacent and more distant waters, writes the paper. They had been part of the daily programs, every evening after the 20-h journal, and had been dropped on FM much earlier, in 2009.

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Related

France Inter / RFI history, May 31, 2014

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Friday, December 2, 2016

Is the Truth losing in Today’s World? (And if Yes: How so?)

That’s what Richard Stengel, currently undersecretary for public diplomacy at the State Department, believes, according to a Washington Post article:

“We like to think that truth has to battle itself out in the marketplace of ideas. Well, it may be losing in that marketplace today,” Stengel warned in an interview. “Simply having fact-based messaging is not sufficient to win the information war.”

And, adds the author of the WaPo article, David Ignatius:

How do we protect the essential resource of democracy — the truth — from the toxin of lies that surrounds it? It’s like a virus or food poisoning. It needs to be controlled. But how?

Fascinating stuff – fascinating, because it feels like a déjà vu to me (and I’m wondering for how many others who have a memory of some decades).

The Genius leads the spectators: engineering of consent in its early stages in applauding his works.

The Genius leads the spectators: engineering of consent in its early stages.

When I studied and worked in a fairly rural place in China, I had a number of encounters with – probably mainstream – Chinese worldviews. That was around the turn of the century, and these were probably the most antagonistic, and exciting, debates I ever had, as the only foreigner among some Chinese friends. Discussions sometimes ended with the two, three or four of us angrily staring at each other, switching to a less controversial topic, and bidding each other a frosty good-bye.

But there was a mutual interest in other peoples’ weird ideas. That’s why our discussions continued for a number of weekends. At at least one point, I felt that I had argued with overwhelming logic, but my Chinese interlocutor was unimpressed. I blamed Chinese propaganda for his insusceptibility, but apparently, propaganda was exactly his point: “If propaganda helps to keep my country safe, I have nothing against propaganda,” he replied.

I found that gross. The idea that propaganda should just be another tool, something you might volunteer to use and to believe in, so as to keep your country and society stable, was more alien to me than any Chinese custom I had gotten to know.

The idea that truth is, or that facts are, the essential resource of a (working, successful) democracy looks correct to me. Democracy can’t work without an informed public. But when it comes to German mainstream media, I have come to the conclusion that they aren’t trustworthy.

I agree with the WaPo article / Richard Stengel that the US government can’t be a verifier of last resort. No government can play this kind of role. The Chinese party and state have usurped that role, but China is known to be a low-trust society – that doesn’t suggest that they have played a successful role as official verifiers. While many Chinese people do apparently think of their government as the ultimate guardian of national sovereignty and individual safety from imperialist encroachment, they don’t seem to trust these domestic public security powers as their immediate neighbors.

And the ability of any Western government to be a verifier ends as soon as an issue involves state interests, government interests, or governing parties’ interests.

The US government as a verifier of last resort concerning the Syria war? That idea isn’t even funny.

The German government as a verifier of last resort when it comes to foreign-trade issues (within the European Union, or beyond)? Bullshit.

But what about the American media? I don’t have a very clear picture of how they work, but it would seem to me that US television stations usually address the issues that earn them most of the public’s attention. If that is so, it should be no wonder that Donald Trump profited more from media attention, than Hillary Clinton.

But if tweets, rather than platforms, become the really big issues, the media must have abandoned the role that has traditionally been ascribed to them.

German (frequently public-law) media are strongly influenced by political parties, and apparently by business-driven foundations, too.

I don’t know if something similar can be said about American media, but even if only for their attention-seeking coverage, they can’t count as well-performing media either.

What about “social” media? According to Stengel, as quoted by the Washington Post, they give everyone the opportunity to construct their own narrative of reality.

Stengel mentions Islamic State (in 2014) and Russian propaganda campaigns as examples. In the latter’s case, he points to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and other political organizations during the elections in particular.

I believe that Stengel / Ignatius may have half a point. Russia – provided that they were indeed behind the leaks – only targeted Clinton’s campaign, not Donald Trump’s.

But then, wouldn’t it have been the task of the US media to unearth either campaign’s dirty secrets? Russian propaganda performed, even if only selectively, where US media had failed. It exposed practice in the Democratic Party leadership that was hostile to democracy, but acting under the guise of defending it.

How should citizens who want a fact-based world combat this assault on truth, Ignatius finally asks, and quotes Stengel once again, and addressing the role of “social media”:

The best hope may be the global companies that have created the social-media platforms. “They see this information war as an existential threat,” says Stengel. The tech companies have made a start: He says Twitter has removed more than 400,000 accounts, and YouTube daily deletes extremist videos.

Now, I’m no advocate of free broadcasts for ISIS videos. But if the best hope is the removal of accounts and videos by the commercial providers, it would seem that there isn’t much hope in human power of judgment, after all – and in that case, there wouldn’t be much hope for democracy as a model of government.

Ignatius:

The real challenge for global tech giants is to restore the currency of truth. Perhaps “machine learning” can identify falsehoods and expose every argument that uses them. Perhaps someday, a human-machine process will create what Stengel describes as a “global ombudsman for information.”

Wtf? Human-machine processes? Has the “Global Times” hacked the WaPo?

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Related

Why Wikileaks can’t work, Dec 1, 2010

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Monday, October 31, 2016

German FM Vietnam Visit: Counter-Balancing China?

“Vietnam is Germany’s important strategic partner”, Nhan Dan‘s Chinese edition quoted German foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, in one of its headlines on October 29. Nhan Dan is the organ of Vietnam’s Communist Party central committee.

German foreign minister Frank Walter Steinmeier left Berlin on October 29 to begin a trip intended to strengthen the two countries’ strategic partnership.

德国外交部长弗兰克-瓦尔特·施泰因迈尔10月29离开柏林,开始启程对越南进行访问,旨在加强两国战略伙伴关系。

German foreign minister Steinmeier is leading a delegation with members in charge of economic and cultural affairs.

德国外长施泰因迈尔率领负责经济和文化事务代表团对越南进行为期三天的访问。

The German foreign minister sees Vietnam as Germany’s important economic, political, cultural and strategic partner. The head of Germany’s federal parliament, Norbert Lammert, visited Vietnam in March 2015, and Vietnam [then] state chairman Trưong Tan Sang’s visit to Germany in November 2015 strengthened the two countries’ relations further.

德国外交部将越南是为德国重要的经济、政治、文化战略伙伴。德国联邦议院议长诺贝特·拉默特2015年3月对越南进行访问和越南国家主席张晋创2015年11月对德国进行访问为两国关系增添了新动力。

In the framework of the two countries’ strategic-partnership action plan, Germany’s and Vietnam’s cooperation activities are developing further, in a variety of fields, with new projects being added every year. One of these important projects is the “German House”, under construction in Ho Chi Minh City, which is going to be a headquarter for German organizations and companies in Ho Chi Minh City.

在两国战略伙伴行动计划框架内,德国与越南合作活动在各领域上继续向前发展,每年都有新的合作项目。两国重要合作项目之一是在胡志明市兴建 “德国屋”,这里将成为在胡志明市德国组织和企业的总部。

Bilateral trade between Vietnam and Germany amounted to 10.3 billion USD in 2015, with German imports from Vietnam at eight bn, and exports to Vietnam at 2.3 bn USD. Major export products from Vietnam are footwear, textiles, farming and seafood products, electronic components, wooden furniture, etc.. Major import products from Germany are machinery, transport, vehicles, chemical products, and measurement instruments, etc..

越德两国2015年双边贸易金额达103亿美元,德国自越南进口80亿美元、对越南出口23亿美元。越南对德国主要出口产品是鞋类、纺织品、农海产品、电子零件和木家具等;越南自德国进口主要产品是机械、运输车辆、化学物品和化学仪器等。

On Sunday, Nhan Dan reported a visit by Steinmeier to a German company’s investment site in Haiphong. According to the newsarticle, the gypsum production site, built by German gypsum producer Knauf, is one of the biggest investment projects in Haiphong.

Vietnam’s foreign broadcaster Voice of Vietnam‘s (VoV) German service adds a short description of the Phu Lac wind farm.

Betram Lang, a MERICS researcher, wrote earlier this month that

[i]n times of rising diplomatic tensions in the South China Sea, the European Union (EU) tries to bolster the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a counterweight to China in the region. To this end, the EU has offered generous financial support to foster the regional integration process and sponsor the still politically toothless ASEAN secretariat. It almost tripled previous financial commitments to 196 million EUR between 2014 and 2020.

That however was proving difficult: While Cambodia has been positioning itself as China’s closest ally in South East Asia since at least 2001, other ASEAN countries have recently sought their own kind of ‘privileged relationship’ with the PRC as well.

China’s online media apparently don’t report Steinmeier’s Vietnam visit – most of the Chinese-language coverage appears to be from Vietnamese sources.

Before heading for Vietnam, Steinmeier reportedly called on Vietnam’s leadership for political reforms in Vietnam, an issue that Vietnam’s state-controlled media didn’t cover (not in Chinese, anyway).

In a speech at the opening ceremony for a German and European Law program of study at Hanoi Law University, Steinmeier came back to the topic of political reforms. Successful modernization required the rule of law, and a strong civil society, he said.

Steinmeier also addressed the South China Sea conflict – in a diplomatic way -, plus ASEAN:

For us, but for Vietnam with its important and further growing role in ASEAN and the United Nations, one thing is clear: Peace can only be secured when international law and politics work together. International law aims at guide power within tracks, and the powerful in politics must accept these tracks. The latest decision, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, was an important legal step. What matters now is that the groundbreaking elements of the decision will gradually be turned into practice of international law.

Für uns, aber auch für Vietnam mit seiner wichtigen und weiter wachsenden Rolle in ASEAN und in den Vereinten Nationen ist jedenfalls eines klar: Frieden wird nur gesichert, wenn Völkerrecht und Politik zusammenspielen. Das Völkerrecht zielt darauf ab, Macht in Bahnen zu lenken, und die Mächtigen in der Politik müssen diese Bahnen akzeptieren. Der jüngste Schiedsspruch, basierend auf der Seerechtskonvention der Vereinten Nationen, war ein wichtiger rechtlicher Schritt. Jetzt kommt es darauf an, dass die wegweisenden Elemente des Schiedsspruches Schritt für Schritt auch völkerrechtliche Praxis werden.

Vietnam’s opposition to China’s naval strategy in the South China Sea has been stronger than that of other ASEAN nations. But geostrategic considerations are only one aspect of Germany’s Vietnam policy. Vietnam’s economy keeps growing fast, and East Germany and Vietnam in particular share a history of economic cooperation.

Deutsche Welle, once Germany’s foreign radio station, in a March 2015 report, commemorating fourty years of German-Vietnamese ties:

When that country [East Germany] collapsed, almost all its Vietnamese workers suddenly lost their jobs. They did not want to return to Vietnam because the employment prospects in their home country were very poor. The Vietnamese economic boom was yet to come.

Even so, the majority of these Vietnamese were still repatriated because they did not have a residence permit.

The conflict over contract workers and the regulation of old debts strained the German-Vietnamese ties for several years, according to Gerhard Will. “Only during the course of negotiations, it became clear to both countries what they could offer a lot to each other,” writes Will, who has been a Vietnam expert and worked at the German Institute of International and Security Affairs in Berlin.

[…]

In 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed the “Hanoi Declaration” to establish a “strategic partnership” between the two countries. The two leaders expressed the desire to continue economic partnership and cooperate in the areas of development policy, environment, education and science. The German-Vietnamese University in the city of Ho Chi Minh, founded in 2008, is considered a model project in terms of bilateral cooperation.

There is also a West German-Vietnamese history. 33,000 immigrants may not sound like a big number these days, but it did in the 1970s and 1980s.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Dalai Lama: there’s a Chinese Constitution

Whereever I go, I do not wish to create trouble for politicians in charge. No worries. Actually, the purpose of my visits isn’t to meet politicians in charge, but to meet the public, or people. I have nothing to tell to the officials. I prefer to talk about happiness.

Should I stay or shoud I go?

Why, surely you aren’t here to stirr trouble?

That’s how French daily Le Monde quoted the Dalai Lama, on September 10. Tibet’s spiritual leader did, however, have something to say to the Chinese leadership:

We don’t seek independence, we demand all the rights that are written down in the Chinese constitution.

It’s funny to be reminded that there is actually such a thing in China – a constitution.

According to Voice of Tibet (VoT), a Norway-based radio station and website, the custodians of the Chinese constitution were kept busy by the Dalai Lama’s visit to France, from September 12 to 18:

His Holiness’, the Dalai Lama’s visit to France received close attention from China. A joint photo with hotel staff and the Dalai Lama, posted by a Hyatt Group Hotel, immediately met with resistance from Chinese netizens who demanded that the hotel remove the online post. Also, students at Sciences Po protested against the recent cancellation of a speech by his Holiness and emphasized “the need to respect free speech”.

达赖喇嘛尊者访法行程受到中方密切关注,凯悦集团旗下饭店在网上刊出员工与尊者的合影后,立即有中国网友提出抗议,要求饭店删除该则贴文。另外,巴黎高政学生则对校方日前取消尊者演讲而表达抗议,强调“言论自由”应受到遵守。

Official receptions for the Dalai Lama on overseas trips from his exile in India have increasingly vexed the Chinese government, writes Radio France Internationale (RFI English service). But that is hardly accurate – efforts to isolate Tibet’s paramount monk have been part of Beijing’s policy ever since the beginning of his exile in India. And depending on China’s clout overseas, such efforts are sometimes highly successful.

The Dalai Lama didn’t get a visa to visit South Africa in 2009. A few weeks later, South African foreign minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane said that the Dalai Lama could visit South Africa anytime he wanted.

Anytime, except October 2014, of course. (Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was still South Africa’s foreign minister.)

As for the protests against the Hyatt hotel welcome for the Dalai Lama in Paris, VoT writes:

There were Chinese netizens unaware of the facts, who used propaganda content that had been directed against the Dalai Lama by the Chinese Communist Party for decades. They demanded that the removal of the online photo and said that if Hyatt wanted to continue business in China, they should not actively be in touch with this “splittist element”.

有不明真相的中国网友在该则贴文下,使用中共数十年来对西藏议题与达赖喇嘛尊者的不实宣传内容,向饭店表达抗议并要求删除这张照片,更表示:若凯悦集团希望在中国继续经营下去,就不该去主动接触这位“分裂份子”。

Today, on September 17, [the hotel] removed the text and photo from its Facebook page.

今天17日巴黎旺多姆帕悦酒店已从官方脸书上撤下该则贴文和照片。

Apparently, the Collège des Bernadins wasn’t quite that afraid of Beijing. On September 14, they hosted a meeting on inter-religious dialogue with the Dalai Lama.

(Maybe they’ve got a nice auberge for him, too, next time he visits France. He could be in need of one.)

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Updates / Related

» China threats after EU Parliament visit, Reuters, Sep 19, 2016
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Sunday, April 3, 2016

Germany: Is “The Ivan” Back?

The Russians are coming was a standard line when I was a child. Sometimes, everyone into the blockhouses would be added. it was meant to be fun, but there was an underlying fear in it.

Another term for Russians in general would be The Ivan*) (probably an echo from “Ivan the Terrible”). At least in West Germany, fear of Russia was part of collective post-war identity – much more so than in Britain or France.

There may be many possible explanations for this, and I tend to believe that it was a combination of several factors (Germany being subject to allied, including Soviet, control being one that lasted particularly long) was one of them. West Germany’s existence and raison d’être as a frontline state was another. And then, there was a widespread inclination among many Germans to see their country as a victim in the first place, rather than as an initiator of Nazism and boundless war.

By 1983, it had become evident, at least in certain quarters, that the USSR had lost most of its expansionary power. In terms of soft power, Moscows message had become about as attractive as athlete’s foot, and in military terms, the “Evil Empire” was grossly overestimated.

But there was a narrative, and as usual (when the narrative is well crafted), it prevailed over facts. On March 31, 1983, US president Ronald Reagan told a Los Angeles World Affairs Council Luncheon that

In the last 15 years or more, the Soviet Union has engaged in a relentless military buildup, overtaking and surpassing the United States in major categories of military power, acquiring what can only be considered an offensive military capability. All the moral values which this country cherishes-freedom, democracy, the right of peoples and nations to determine their own destiny, to speak and write, to live and worship as they choose—all these basic rights are fundamentally challenged by a powerful adversary which does not wish these values to survive.

Der Spiegel, back then a center-left and liberal German newsmagazine, took issue with Reagan. While the USSR was certainly no paper tiger, and while it was true that Soviet military had seen a huge push during two decades under Leonid Brezhnev (with American military budgets being  reduced by some 2.5 percent per year during the Nixon, Ford, and Carter presidencies), the USSR’s military power wasn’t as strong as first reported.

Shortly before a paper was published by US secretary of defense, Caspar Weinberger (also in March 1983, and supportive of Reagan’s March-31 remarks), the CIA had retracted all its US statements concerning Moscow’s military budget:

military expenditures had been overestimated by fifty percent. Rather than by three, four, or more percent, there had been growth by a maximum of two percent since 1976.

Such subtleties, however, didn’t put Ronald Reagan off-message. His story remained the same; the Soviet Union was about to put an end to [a]ll the moral values which this country cherishes.

Fourty-year-old statistics like those debted in the early 1980s are hard to verify (or falsify). But in at least one respect, the Spiegel authors, in 1983, were wrong: contrary to what they believed (quoting “experts”), America proved able to finish the USSR off in a gargantuan arms race, and the factors that lead to the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991 were pretty much the weaknesses that the Spiegel authors themselves had pointed out less than a decade earlier.

The rest, as they say, is history. The world, from Alaska to Siberia (the long way round, of course), and from Pole to Pole, happily awaited huge peace dividends. After all, we had reached the end of history.

But Russia felt squeezed by NATO – understandably, the Baltic nations and Poland had felt rather urgently that they needed a strong reassurance against potential future Russian expansionism. (Not everyone appeared to trust the story about the end of history, and besides, a democratic society doesn’t necessarily live in a peaceful, unaggressive state.

Germans have viewed Russia – and the Soviet Union – differently since the mid-1980s. By 1987, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev had overtaken Ronald Reagan, in terms of popularity here. That didn’t change after the USSR’s demise: while Gorbachev was seen as a failure, or even a “sellout” of sourts, among many Russians, Germans considered him “the” man who had made German unification possible. And Boris Yeltsin‘s Russia, even if not looking terribly respectable at the time, certainly didn’t look like something to fear either.

In an article in Germany’s weekly Die Zeit, a Moscow correspondent stated in May 1994 that once again, a majority of Russians considered the end of the USSR a greater calamity than its beginnings, and that Russian reformers had not been successful in “learning from the West”, as stipulated by Yeltsin two and a half years earlier.

Yeltsin had to accept that the safeguarding of authority, which had for centuries been based on expansion rather than on enlightenment, could not be redesigned with a new constitution alone.

Jelzin hat einsehen müssen, daß Herrschaftssicherung, die seit Jahrhunderten durch Ausdehnung statt durch Aufklärung erfolgte, mit einer neuen Verfassung alleine nicht umgestaltet werden kann.

Only pacts and compromises with conservative forces could save the “autumn” of Yeltsin’s presidency, the correspondent wrote.

In economic terms, a Stratfor paper dating from November 1999 suggested that veterans of perestroika, such as Prime Minister Vladimir Putin or former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, could strip the oligarchs of their wealth and influence, and enact more centrist policies.

To quite an extent, this seems to be what Vladimir Putin‘s presidency has done. In its early years, it continued the ideological consolidation started by Yeltsin himself, and his administration began to implement a policy that the “Zeit” Moscow correspondent described as west-oriented as a matter of principle, but moving away from America in particular. […] In America, however, the “Zeit” article quoted Yeltsin, forces were concentrating that would like to keep Russia in a state of controllable paralysis. That said, Putin  – in the eyes of investors – may have arrived at a point similar to Yeltsin’s, by now. Too little appears to move, economically.

When reading the press these days – certainly the German press -, you might be forgiven if you think that Russian policies had fundamentally changed since the 1990s. But they haven’t. There has been a remarkable Russian continuity – and a tendency in the West to disregard realities in Russia, and in its remaining sphere of influence.

When late German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle told Moscow in December 2013 that it was “not appropriate” for the EU “to ask third parties for permission before inviting the Ukraine to develop into Europe’s direction”, this represented widespread western- and central European illusions.

Russia, too, is a European country – most Russians live on the European continent, and Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and Volgograd not least, are European cities. The discriminatory – and self-centred – approach of equating Europe with the EU has done much to its recent crises, be it on its eastern, be it on its northwestern boundaries.

There is an important difference to make: it would have been unethical if NATO had refused Polish or a Baltic country’s accessions, and it would have been particularly unethical if Germany a main author of Polish partition and loss of the Baltic states’ sovereignty,- had demanded such a refusal.

But in Ukraine, there had been no consensus to join an alliance with the West. In a row, administrations closer to Moscow or closer to the West had been elected, but there had been no continuity. There was Russian intervention, but there had been unwarranted Western interference prior to that. I have no doubt that any Russian leader, be it Putin, Yeltsin, or Gorbachev, would have reacted just the way Putin did. That was no matter of conviction; it was a matter of geopolitics.

Now, Germany’s federal government intends to counter Russian espionage, propaganda, and disinformation in Germany, writes German daily Die Welt. What they mean is, that Russian and pro-Putin publications have blown several issues in the news – issues that have recently troubled many Germans – out of proportions, or given them a slant that favored narratives from the fringes, rather than the much-conjured “center” of German society.

If the German public can be persuaded by domestic propaganda to swing back from a rather “russophile” (since the 1980s) to a rather anti-Russian attitude again (as from the 1940s to the 1970s) remains to be seen. But if the political class have their way, it is going to work that way.

That said, there are surprises, once in a while. In May 2015, Joachim Gauck, not particularly famous for being a friend of the Russian people, gave a speech in the Westphalian town of Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock, a prisoner-of-war campsite during World War 1 and, more notoriously, World War 2. What Gauck said, was this:

We have gathered here today in Schloß Holte-Stukenbrock to recall one of the worst crimes of the war – the deaths of millions of Red Army soldiers in German prisoner-of-war camps. They died in agony without medical care, starved to death or were murdered. Millions of prisoners of war for whose care the German Wehrmacht was responsible under the law of war and international agreements.

Saying that was laudable, especially as most Germans I know aren’t even aware of this chapter in their history. But there is a catch: to say something only once hardly changes anything. Only regular repetition – as anyone with just a faint idea of how propaganda works can tell you – will make sink inconvenient truths like these sink in. Most Germans I know aren’t actually aware of the scale of German warcrimes against Soviet war prisoners. And to make the warprisoner story sink in isn’t deemed desirable: neither by most of Germany’s media, nor by the German population in general, many of whom would like to see a Schlußstrich, a “final stroke” underneath the complete chapter of Nazism.

Some time in the early 1980s – prior to Gorbachev’s tenure as Soviet party secretary -, the West German foreign office published a booklet for use in school classes. Our school was a rather conservative environment, but the booklet made it into our classroom anyway. Titled “Aufrüsten-Abrüsten” (Armament-Disarmament), it was a try to educate us in foreign politics, and I don’t remember much of it. But there was a remarkable line in it which basically said that, no matter to which conclusions we, as school students, might come concerning the Soviet Union’s role in Europe, we should develop some sympathy – even if not necessarily acquiescence – in the light of the past.

I guess that this booklet had much to do with the man at the helm of the foreign office at the time – Hans-Dietrich Genscher, German foreign minister from 1974 to 1992, who died on Thursday. As phobic as West German feelings against the “East” might have been back then, there seemed to be an understanding, at least in some substantial quarters of the political class, that you can’t have peace without trying to understand those who may (or may not) become your foes, and that your own decisions may matter in the process.

This understanding may no longer be here, and I’m wondering how much misery it may take before we will regain some common sense.

____________

Notes

*) Max Frisch, in his novel “Homo Faber”, raised a modest monument for German anti-Russian sentiment, in the shape of an, as it turns out later, otherwise/actually/mostly quite likeable German philistine:

No German desired re-armament, but the Russian forced America into it, tragically, which I, as a Swissman […], couldn’t judge, because I hadn’t been to the Caucasus, he [the German] had been in the Caucasus, he knew the Ivan, who could only be taught a lesson with weapons. He knew the Ivan! He said that several times. Only possible lesson through weapons!, he said, because nothing else would impress him, the Ivan —

I peeled my apple.

Distinction between Herrenmenschen and Untermenschen, as advocated by the good Hitler, was, of course, nonsense; but Asians remained Asians —

I ate my apple.

Kein  Deutscher  wünsche  Wiederbewaffnung,  aber  der  Russe zwinge  Amerika  dazu,  Tragik,  ich  als  Schweizer   (Schwyzzer, wie  er mit Vorliebe sagte)  könne  alldies  nicht   beurteilen,  weil  nie im Kaukasus gewesen,  er sei  im  Kaukasus gewesen,  er  kenne den Iwan, der nur durch Waffen zu belehren sei. Er kenne den Iwan!
Das  sagte  er mehrmals. Nur durch Waffen zu  belehren!  sagte  er, denn alles andere  mache  ihm keinen Eindruck,  dem  Iwan   –

Ich  schälte meinen Apfel.

Unterscheidung   nach  Herrenmenschen   und   Untermenschen, wie’s  der  gute  Hitler  meinte, sei  natürlich  Unsinn;  aber  Asiaten bleiben Asiaten –
Ich  aß meinen Apfel.

____________

Friday, March 4, 2016

On the Eve of NPC Session: a Public Opinion Workforce that puts the Party’s Mind at Ease

The “two sessions” season is upon Beijing: both the “Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference” (CPPCC) and the “National People’s Congress” (NPC, China’s “parliament”) are holding plenary sessions this month. The CPPCC opened on Thursday, and the NPC is scheduled to begin tomorrow.

The Herald, a paper from Zimbabwe, published an online article today that reads as if it had come from the CCP central office by fax and had been published without any changes made to it.

China’s press and broadcasting services will be full of opium info smoothies for the people anyway: Xi Jinping made sure of that in February, inspecting the “People’s Daily”, Xinhua newsagency, and CCTV. And not only CCTV – who had actually been visited by Xi -, but China Radio International (CRI) staff, too, did what good journalists or reporters in the land of socialism with Chinese characteristics have to do: they held meetings, summarizing the spirit of the important talk given by Xi on a party conference concerning news and public opinion work, and drafting roadmaps for their own work.

Indeed, propaganda for audiences abroad appear to matter more than during the Hu Jintao era – or maybe it’s simply that propaganda in general matters more than during the pre-Xi decade. Xi, as quoted by a SARFT online article, republished by Xinhua on February 25:

Under the new historical circumstances, it is the duty and obligation of the party’s news and public opinion work to uphold the banner, to keep to a hopeful lookout, to revolve around the center, to serve the general situation,to unite the people, to encourage the morale and to strengthen moral attitude, to strengthen cohesion and integration, to clarify errors, to discern right and wrong, to link China and the world abroad, and to connect the world.

在新的时代条件下,党的新闻舆论工作的职责和使命是:高举旗帜、引领导向,围绕中心、服务大局,团结人民、鼓舞士气,成风化人、凝心聚力,澄清谬误、明辨是非,联接中外、沟通世界。

[…]

The key for competition among the media is the competition of talents, and at the core of media superiority is the superiority of talents. With greater acceleration [than so far], a workforce for news and public opinion work must be trained whose political determination, routine and methodology can put the party’s and the people’s mind at ease.

媒体竞争关键是人才竞争,媒体优势核心是人才优势。要加快培养造就一支政治坚定、业务精湛、作风优良、党和人民放心的新闻舆论工作队伍。

Beautiful tomorrow. What could possibly go wrong under such auspicious arrangements?

Friday, February 26, 2016

Korean Peninsula: Deploy THAAD if you have to, but provide China with an Explanation

The prospect of a North Korean nuclear arsenal can’t be promising in Beijing’s view – but appears to be preferrable to a scenario where the regime in Pyongyang would collapse and give way to South Korea’s political system, with US military close on its heels.

Given that, it is no great surprise that China doesn’t agree to sanctions that could endanger the very survival of the North Korean regime. And given that, the sanctions Beijing agreed to anyway, in negotiations with Washington’s mission to the UN that were concluded on Thursday, look as if they were unusually biting after all, even if stopping short of causing Pyongyang fatal or near-fatal calamities. After all, the sanctions’ effect depends not only on what the Security Council agrees to, but also on how far North Korea’s trading partners, including China, are prepared to go in implementing them.

What made Beijing agree to the resolution draft that should be voted on shortly? Not least fear of a regional arms race.

A Foreign Ministry official confirmed that China’s Vice Foreign Minister Liu Zhenmin requested a meeting with South Korea’s Ambassador to Beijing Kim Jang-soo,

KBS World Radio, South Korea’s foreign broadcasting service, reported on Febuary 9.

The official told Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency that China conveyed its stance on the launch of the THAAD negotiations during that meeting. Asked about what stance China had expressed, the official said it is not appropriate to reveal content from consultations held via diplomatic channels,

the KBS report continued.

The confirmation came as China’s Foreign Ministry announced on Monday that Liu urgently summoned the South Korean ambassador and protested the launch of South Korea-U.S. negotiations on deploying the U.S. THAAD system on the Korean Peninsula.

In her speech to parliament, South Korean president Park Geun-hye also conjured THAAD:

The Government is making sure our military readiness posture is solid and is also making thorough preparations for nonmilitary provocations including cyber- attacks and acts of terrorism in public places.

To maintain robust deterrence against the North, the Government is enhancing the Korea-U.S. combined defense capability and engaging in consultations with the United States to improve our alliance’s missile defense posture. The start of formal consultations to deploy the THAAD system to US Forces Korea, as announced on February 7, is also part of these efforts.

Eleven days earlier, Park had been on the phone, talking to Chinese party and state leader Xi Jinping. The conversation didn’t appear to bear fruit, and certainly not the way Park had hoped for. China was “still unprepared” to “think about this in larger strategic terms”, Yonhap newsagency quoted Jonathan Pollack of the Brookings Institution. Pollack was also quoted as pointing out

how much effort Park has put in to strengthen relations with China and build personal ties with Xi, including her attendance at a massive Chinese military parade in September that was shunned by Western leaders.

“President Park’s expectation, I think legitimate expectation, was that she wanted a different answer from China. She’s made a lot of commitment to China,” the expert said, noting that Park risked domestic and international criticism to attend the September parade.

“She expected something in return, and so far, she has not received that,” he said.

Broadly speaking, Seoul’s plans for tough sanctions against Pyongyang had been frustrated. But there was a pressure point on Beijing. While Seoul had reportedly long been reluctant – or ambiguous – about the idea of deploying THAAD as part of American military defense, the South Korean leadership quickly warmed up to it during the past six or seven weeks.

And Beijing – not terribly successfully, it seems – tried to find an effective line in its communications with South Korea. In a meeting with Kim Jong-in, leader of South Korea’s largest opposition party, Chinese ambassador Qiu Guohong (邱国洪) – quoted by Chosun Ilbo as in turn quoted by Huanqiu Shibao

[…] emphasized that Sino-South Korean relations could thus be negatively affected, as mentioned at the beginning of this [Huanqiu, that is] article. The [Chosun Ilbo] report says that Qiu Guohong had expressed the Chinese position in three points. Firstly, the South Korean government says it would limit the radar reach and lower the performance of ‘THAAD’, but the Chinese government cannot possibly believe that. As a friend, China can believe South Korea’s promises, but the problem is that America has all powers in the deployment, the upgrades, and adjustments made to ‘THAAD’. In the end, China and Russia would become target objects, too.” Secondly, this [THAAD] issue would destroy the regional strategic balance, cause an arms race, and fire up nervousness and disquiet.” Ambassador Qiu reminded the South Korean side of the question of how South Korea’s seucrity should, under such circumstances, be guaranteed? His last point was that “the South-Korean-American consultations concerning ‘THAAD’ had, to some extent, dispersed the international community’s unanimous reaction concerning sanctions against North Korea. Without this issue, maybe there would be a new, passed, UN resolution already.”

[…..] 强调,中韩关系可能因此受到负面影响,这就出现了本文开头的一席话。报道称,邱国洪就中方立场大致说明了3点:首先,“韩国政府虽然声称会缩短预警雷达的探测距离,降低‘萨德’性能,但中国政府无法相信。作为好朋友,中国可以相信韩国的承诺,但问题是美国拥有部署、升级、调整‘萨德’的所有权利,最终中国和俄罗斯也会成为瞄准对象”;其次,该问题会“打破地区的战略均衡,引发地区军备竞赛,助长紧张和不安”。邱大使提醒韩方,如果出现这样的局面,韩国的安全是否能得到保障?最后一点是,“韩美协商‘萨德’问题相当于分散了国际社会对朝鲜制裁的一致应对。如果没有该问题,新的联合国决议案可能已经获得通过”。

The South Korean government wasn’t amused and summoned Qiu to the foreign ministry on Wednesday to discuss his comments during his talks with the country’s opposition leader. This was no dramatic response to a questionable Chinese move, but an unusually strong reaction by South Korean standards, in its relations with Beijing. And there is no indication that Seoul will drop the idea of THAAD deployment again, after what appears to have been a successful game of hardball with Beijing, forced upon the clestial kingdom by three unruly barbarians: America, South Korea, and – not least – the North Korean “ally”.

On Thursday, the day when Beijing’s and Washington’s missions to the UN agreed to the resolution draft on sanctions against North Korea, Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi apparently struck a more conciliatory tone, saying that the decision was ultimately up to South Korea, and China understood the desire of the United States and South Korea to ensure the defense of their own countries. However, China’s legitimate security concerns also needed to be taken into account, Reuters quoted Wang as saying – an explanation must be provided to China.

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