Posts tagged ‘Ronald Reagan’

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.

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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.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

“Optimizing Something”: Russia centralizes Propaganda, scraps Shortwave Broadcaster and other traditional Institutions

As the end of March drew nearer, central Europeans could still hear the station from afar, a muted signal behind some gentle, steady noise. The “Voice of Russia” targeted Australia and New Zealand with an English-language program of four hours daily, from the transmission site of Angarsk, near Irkutsk. Those appear to have been the last programs in English. Chances are that some programs in Japanese were also still aired at the time. A shortwave listener in Taipei kept listening to VoR’s Chinese programs on shortwave, right to the end on March 31 (his post contains some recordings).

Listeners who wrote inquiries to VoR got a reaction. But overall, very little, if anything, was mentioned in the programs on shortwave, about the nearing end of the service. For sure, no words of respect were lost about the medium’s use during some eighty-five years of Russian external broadcasting. Maybe they hadn’t been of much use after all, as the message never seemed to sink in in the target areas? In that case, you could hardly blame shortwave.

On April 1, all of VoR’s shortwave transmissions had become history.

APN-Verlag, via Radio Moscow

The old-fashioned way: propaganda booklet by mail, Ria Novosti via Radio Moscow, March 31, 1987.

The “Voice of Russia” (VoR), formerly known as Radio Moscow or Radio Moscow World Service, only exists as a brand now, within the media empire of Russia Today, which also swallowed Ria Novosti. “We will use the old brand for the time being, but leading international specialists are already working on the new brands and they will be ready soon, the “Voice of Russia” and/or Interfax quoted Russia Today’s editor-in-chief, Margarita Simonyan. A renewed English newswire would be launched on April 1, and it would be available round-the-clock on June 1.

No additional funding would be needed, the editor-in-chief was quoted as saying: “We are not asking additional money for all that, which means we will have to optimize something to get resources for the creation of something more modern. We will stop using obsolete radio broadcasting models, when the signal is transmitted without any control and when it is impossible to calculate who listens to it and where.”

Indeed, this had been the message of Vladimir Putin‘s presidential decree in December, on certain measures to raise the operational effectiveness of state-owned mass media.

Radio Moscow QSL, apparently featuring the Lenin Mausoleum, 1980s.

Radio Moscow QSL, Lenin Mausoleum, 1980s.

On the same day, December 9, Ria Novosti offered a comparatively candid interpretation of the decree: The move is the latest in a series of shifts in Russia’s news landscape that appear to point toward a tightening of state control in the already heavily regulated media sector,

Ria Novosti wrote, and added that

In a separate decree published Monday, the Kremlin appointed Dmitry Kiselyov, a prominent Russian television presenter and media manager recently embroiled in a scandal over anti-gay remarks, to head Rossiya Segodnya.

Russia Today is the English translation for the actual Russian name, Rossiya Segodnya. Rossiya Segodnya, however, is apparently not related to the English-language television channel whose name had also been “Russia Today”, Ria Novosti wrote.

Ria Novosti then added some more information, beyond its own dissolution:

RIA Novosti was set up in 1941, two days after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, as the Soviet Information Bureau, and now has reporters in over 45 countries providing news in 14 languages.

Last month Gazprom-Media, which is closely linked to state-run gas giant Gazprom, bought control of Russian media company Profmedia from Russian billionaire Vladimir Potanin. In October, Mikhail Lesin, a former Kremlin advisor, was appointed to head Gazprom-Media.

Reuters also reported the Gazprom-Media story, in November last year.

Radio Moscow, the “Voice of Russia’s” predecessor as the Russian (or Soviet) foreign broadcasting service, was a superpower on the air, during the 1980s. 2094 program hours per week are said to have been produced in that decade,  compared with 1901 hours per week by their American competitors at the Voice of America (VoA).

The discrepancy was even greater when it came to transmitters and kilowatts,according to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel at the time: while Radio Moscow had threehundred transmission sites at their disposal, it was only 110 on the American side – and VoA only had one-twentieth the budget of Radio Moscow.

That was to change, at least in relative terms: the Reagan administration had convinced Congress to provide considerable funding. But as the Cold War came to an end, government interest on all sides in foreign broadcasting faded.

As far as Russia’s external broadcasters, now named “The Voice of Russia”, was concerned, not only the financial or technical equipment weakened, but so, apparently, did their self-image. Religious and esoteric organizations populated many last quarters of the Voice’s – still numerous – broadcasting hours in German, and at least among German-language broadcasters, there seemed to be different concepts of what would be successful or professional coverage of Russian affairs, a feature by German broadcaster DLF suggested.

The broadcasting house certainly no longer came across as the elites’ jumping board, as a place where Egon Erwin Kisch or Bertolt Brecht once worked.

The Kremlin, apparently, saw neither glory and soft power, nor a sufficient degree of checkability in VoR and put an end to the station. It’s hardly conceivable that it could still be revived as a mere “brand”, without actual radio whose signals would reach beyond a few square miles.

But “daily Russian life” – something Russia Today is supposed to cover – may still look different from the ideas of the “new generation” of media planners. On ham radio bands with wide reaches, Russian operators are active above average. And even if Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of Russia’s new propaganda mega-medium, may be unaware of ham radio or finds it uncool, her boss, Dmitry Kiselyov, should still like it: a ham radio contest commemorating Yuri Gagarin’s 80th birthday.

After all, the internet is a rather non-traditional form of propaganda.

Will Putin’s message sink in, where Stalin’s, Khrushchev’s, or Brezhnev’s mostly failed? If not, don’t blame shortwave – and don’t blame the internet, for that matter.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Gatekeepers of Information: When Democracy begins to Rot

Aaron Swartz, the American coder, hacker, and internet activist who took his own life last week after two years of – possibly political – prosecution – would have needed critical solidarity. There is no need to believe in people like him, but there is a need to see their rights, and to see the infringements on their rights. There are many of Mr. Swartz’ kind, and most of them go unnoticed. When I wrote about Deutsche Welle‘s Chinese service, and published this interview, I kept in mind that while the judicial system doesn’t always amount to justice, the main problem – probably – is general apathy.

I see a parallel between Mr. Swartz’ case, and China – and I think I can afford to point this out without being considered a CCP apologist. Obvious abuse of state power (if in a legal sense, remains to be seen, but clearly abuse in an ethical sense) leads to flaring tempers both in America and in China. It is a universal experience – most people can relate to it in one way or another. But those moments are rare.

One news agency in Germany – an agency with an official church background – published a long report, with a lot of verification in favor of the four Deutsche-Welle journalists that had been sacked. Apparently, not one single paper or broadcaster in Germany cared to air it. One regional radio station had it on their website for a limited period – they announced in advance that it was only temporarily online. I haven’t seen it anywhere else. I’m imagining how news-and-analysis people put their eggheads together and write smart articles when things like these go on in China. In a democratic country? No, never! News that is in the public interest will always see the light of day! Truth does not burn in the fire or drown in the water!

Noone seemed to demand coverage about the four sacked journalists, either. The report was apparently available to all the German press, in a common database. So there is no reason to believe that the press people were unaware of the story. Unfortunately, the newsagency didn’t put the story online. Maybe that would have helped. Maybe.

Their problem there at the press, as I interpret it: their industrial-relations and journalist issues ware a sensitive issue all over the commercial (and publicly-owned) media. Hence no interest in covering it.

As long as the big papers don’t cover a story, it won’t have happened. The traditional media are still the gate-keepers for politically relevant information. That’s where questions about the “4th estate” need to be asked. They may address many issues and flaws, but to address ones own doesn’t come easily.

There are a few “beacons” in public awareness, like Julian Assange or Bradley Manning. Their merits – and mistakes, in my view -, would need to be debated extensively, rather than simply be praised or condemned. People like them seem to serve as some post-modern kinds of Jesuses-on-the-cross. People pay their respects to them as they do to Brian, as he hangs on the cross in that great Monty-Python movie, and then go back to their routines.

That kills every issue. When “Jesus” is in charge, you don’t need to do anything. When Assange and Manning are saints, you can’t live up to their example anyway. Only a society that is prepared to look into the shades of grey, to judge, and to decide what to do, can become a more fair society.

It is right to mourn Mr. Swartz. But the main question is: how to handle the issue? It’s a question to society. To get either careerist or politicized prosecutors fired – guys who were apparently not obliged to prosecute, but did it anyway -, would be a beginning. It wouldn’t only be an achievement for those who make it into the headlines, but also for the many who go unnoticed, in their neighborhoods, and nationwide. Power needs to learn to respect the “common people”.

That’s why I maintain that the main difference between China and most Western country isn’t about human rights. It is about totalitarianism. Our press isn’t controlled centrally, but business (and, at times, political) principles control it anyway. We can speak out, provided that what we say is backed by evidence, but too many people who matter won’t speak out. That’s when things start going into the wrong direction, even in democratic countries. Democracy is nothing static. It can rot, if it isn’t defended against adversaries from within (who frequently like to present themselves as democracy’s greatest champions).

Here is another problem: networking. It’s another field where Western countries are becoming more similar to China. The law is becoming unpredictable here, given the technicalities. You can twist every paragraph – or any well-paid lawyer can – until it fits the interests of the powerful. Much will depend on your connections. Not only in China.

Still too vague? OK – let’s talk Turkey: when torture becomes something a public intellectual can advocate in a European paper without becoming a pariah in his own established network, things are going wrong.

If our fundamental rights matter as much to us as our economic prospects do, it’s time to go from mourning to action, however small. Just as meditation is a skill one needs to learn, awareness for the small, but important things one can do in the real world, can be learned, too.

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Related

» Shredding a Principle, Aug 16, 2012
» When your Employer suspects…, Feb 18, 2012

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mitt Romney has no China Strategy

When it comes to China, it becomes obvious to me that Mitt Romney has a problem. Heard on the radio this morning, and found on a transcript of the debate.

Barack Obama:

And that’s the reason why I set up a trade task force to go after cheaters when it came to international trade. That’s the reason why we have brought more cases against China for violating trade rules than the other — the previous administration had done in two terms. And we’ve won just about every case that we’ve filed, that — that has been decided. In fact, just recently, steelworkers in Ohio and throughout the Midwest, Pennsylvania, are in a position now to sell steel to China because we won that case.

We had a tire case in which they were flooding us with cheap domestic tires — or — or — or cheap Chinese tires. And we put a stop to it and, as a consequence, saved jobs throughout America. I have to say that Governor Romney criticized me for being too tough in that tire case, said this wouldn’t be good for American workers and that it would be protectionist. But I tell you, those workers don’t feel that way. They feel as if they had finally an administration who was going to take this issue seriously.

Over the long term, in order for us to compete with China, we’ve also got to make sure, though, that we’re taking — taking care of business here at home. If we don’t have the best education system in the world, if we don’t continue to put money into research and technology that will allow us to — to create great businesses here in the United States, that’s how we lose the competition. And unfortunately, Governor Romney’s budget and his proposals would not allow us to make those investments.

Mitt Romney:

Well, first of all, it’s not government that makes business successful. It’s not government investments that make businesses grow and hire people.

Let me also note that the greatest threat that the world faces, the greatest national security threat, is a nuclear Iran.

Let’s talk about China. China has an interest that’s very much like ours in one respect, and that is they want a stable world. They don’t want war. They don’t want to see protectionism. They don’t want to see the — the world break out into — into various forms of chaos, because they have to — they have to manufacture goods and put people to work. And they have about 20,000 — 20 million, rather, people coming out of the farms every year, coming into the cities, needing jobs. So they want the economy to work and the world to be free and open.

And so we can be a partner with China. We don’t have to be an adversary in any way, shape or form. We can work with them. We can collaborate with them if they’re willing to be responsible.

Now, they look at us and say, is it a good idea to be with America?

How strong are we going to be? How strong is our economy?

They look at the fact that we owe them a trillion dollars and owe other people 16 trillion (dollars) in total, including them. They — they look at our — our decision to — to cut back on our military capabilities — a trillion dollars. The secretary of defense called these trillion dollars of cuts to our military devastating. It’s not my term. It’s the president’s own secretary of defense called them devastating. They look at America’s commitments around the world and they see what’s happening and they say, well, OK, is America going to be strong? And the answer is yes. If I’m president, America will be very strong.

We’ll also make sure that we have trade relations with China that work for us. I’ve watched year in and year out as companies have shut down and people have lost their jobs because China has not played by the same rules, in part by holding down artificially the value of their currency. It holds down the prices of their goods. It means our goods aren’t as competitive and we lose jobs. That’s got to end.

They’re making some progress; they need to make more. That’s why on day one I will label them a currency manipulator which allows us to apply tariffs where they’re taking jobs. They’re stealing our intellectual property, our patents, our designs, our technology, hacking into our computers, counterfeiting our goods. They have to understand, we want to trade with them, we want a world that’s stable, we like free enterprise, but you got to play by the rules.

Ezra Klein explained ahead of the debate why this is unlikely to impress Beijing, and why it shouldn’t impress the Chinese leadership. The New York Times adds some more points.

If Romney uses this one argument when it comes to U.S.-chinese trade relations (it’s been his leitmotif throughout his campaign), it only shows that he has no comprehensive strategy – other than doing business with China, and that would be that. What he refuses to see – ostensibly, anyway – is that as a president, he wouldn’t be in a position to talk to Xi Jinping the way Ronald Reagan talked to Zhao Ziyang. This is 2012, not 1988. There have been many crackdowns and many years of Chinese economic and political growth in between. And mind you, Reagan had come to office promising that he would seek to restore normal diplomatic relations with Taiwan. We know where that promise ended.

Obama on the other hand hasn’t talked tough, but he has been tough in defending his country’s industrial base. Basically, the choice between Obama and Romney boils down to a choice between these concepts.

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Related

» Can China Handle America’s Return, The Diplomat, Dec 14, 2011

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Recommended Links: Tibet, Senkakus, and Revolutionary Opera

Woeser posted her observations about a propaganda film apparently produced by CCTV, and available in Chinese and English on YouTube. High Peaks Pure Earth translated Woeser’s blogpost, which had previously been broadcast on Radio Free Asia (RFA):

How CCTV’s Propaganda Film Depicts the Tibetan Self-Immolators.

Another East-Western beauty contest has been going on there on the Peking Duck. The threads are often very helpful for me to reflect on my own views – as a German, my country’s past is similar to Japan’s. The difference is that the whole world seems to believe that in Germany, we have done “a much better job” at addressing the crimes of the past. That’s certainly true when it comes to history books, but few people seem to remember then U.S. president Ronald Reagan‘s visit to the Bitburg Cemetary, where members of the SS are buried, along with Wehrmacht soldiers – at the insistence of then German chancellor Helmut Kohl. I’m not going explain my views here; they can be found there, among many others.

But there’s one thing I’d like to note here. Too many people like to make fun of – frequently rather brainless, I agree – Chinese protesters, or about fenqings who show up there in the threads. I suspect that to make fun of them serves at least two purposes: to laugh away worries about a possible war, and to feel morally superior.

If “we” – the West, or the Western alliances – were “superior”, our governments would send a clear message to Beijing, even if only behind the scenes. If the CCP leaders intend to use our countries and their people – i. e. us – as bugaboos to increase “social cohesion” at home, we can’t look at China as a friendly country. If the CCP – a totalitarian regime, after all – discretionarily uses economic means to “punish” Japan, no other country’s companies should be allowed to profit from gaps provided by such boycotts and sanctions.

I’m not suggesting that no business should be done with China. But when we do business with a state-capitalist country, we’ll need a state-capitalist approach ourselves – unless we want to allow a totalitarian regime to play one country off against the other. As long as we allow this to happen, we have no reason to make fun of useful Chinese idiots.

Last but not least, the DPRK Sea of Blood Opera Troupe is or (probably) was on tour in China. If you are a revolutionary-opera connoisseur, and intend not to miss their next time in China (or elsewhere in the world), feed your anticipation with this review on Sino-NK. It starts with Act II, and contains links to two previous instalments of the review.

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Related

» Good Ganbu’s Friday Nights, Nov 29, 2009

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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Ups and Downs: Who’s Afraid of Jon Huntsman?

[Links within blockquotes added during editing / translation]

When Ronald Reagan ran for the American presidency in 1980, he announced that he would switch diplomatic relations back to Taiwan: “no more Taiwans, no more Vietnams, no more betrayals of friends and allies.”

Imagine there had been the internet, back then. During a debate in Spartanburg, South Carolina on November 12, and in reply to other Republican candidates for the presidential nomination who addressed China’s trade policies as a major challenge for America, Jon Huntsman, until recently America’s ambassador in Beijing, apparently tried to come across as both China-savvy, and hawkish enough to strike a chord with his potential supporters. America needed no trade war with China. It would only “hurt our small businesses in South Carolina”:

[…] We don’t need that at a time when China is about to embark on a generational transition. So what should we be doing? So what should we be doing?We should be reaching out to our allies and constituencies within China. They’re called the young people. They’re called the Internet generation. There are 500 million Internet users…

Moderator: And Governor…

Huntsman: — in China…

Moderator: — we’re going to have to…

Huntsman: — now 80 million bloggers and they are bringing about change the likes of which is going to take China down.

doooown

Doooown! (Click picture for video)

Moderator: We’re going to have to leave it there.

Huntsman: — while we have an opportunity to go up and win back our economic…

Up!

Up!

Moderator: Governor…

Huntsman: — manufacturing muscle.

Moderator: That’s time.

Huntsman: That’s all I want to do as president.

Moderator: I thank you very much.

I’m not searching for angry Huanqiu Shibao comments this time – they will be in tune with what you’ll usually find there in similar contexts. But the Ministry of Toufu has translated some comments from Weibo, plus  some context as the Ministry see it.

Anyway, let’s get back to Ronald Reagan. Supreme communications have always found their way into the enemy’s media, even three decades ago. You may remember that one:

My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you today that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.

That was in August, 1984 – and Reagan wasn’t seeking the Republican nomination. He was the president of the United States.

It was a monumental political scandal, Yuri Zhukov of the Pravda editorial board wrote in his reaction. Reagan had

only trumpeted what is constantly on his mind, anyway.

But only few people in China can see the progressive strides the Republican party has made since. Why should anyone in China be angry? Huntsman just wanted to keep his electorate happy, without spoiling business with China. He doesn’t even want to argue about exchange rates. And if he really believes that he is the right man to “reach out” to Chinese netizens, he should be feared for his ignorance, but not for his “criminal energy”. Huanqiu readers at least have long understood that to make China great, they will have to remain slaves.

Lang Xianping (郎咸平) however does seem to see the headway GOP-totalitarian relations have made. A Chinese financial expert (according to chinaspeech.com) who popularizes economic issues, he appears to be much more concerned about Barack Obama than about any Republican candidate. America had abandoned Bush jr‘s unilateralism (放弃了单边主义), Lang wrote in a blogpost on Wednesday, but that didn’t mean that America had changed its hostile view of China (绝不可能改变对中国的敌视). Nobody should harbor illusions about Obama. Lang paints the picture of a president with unusual self-restraint who shows no emotions, who doesn’t play differences down (using the Jeremiah-Wright controversy as an example), and who doesn’t back down where others would.

Flexibility and “smart power” (or skillful power, 巧实力), rather than uniltateralism:

America has a president with such a strong image – what will be his influence on global trends? Obama’s constant claims on protection for the American economy – what does that mean for China?
那么,全球超级大国形象的美国再加上这样一位强势形象的总统,对于世界局势将产生怎样的影响?奥巴马一直宣称的保护美国经济,对于中国又意味着什么呢?

China was a nation which wanted face more than substance (or entrails, 里子), argues Lang.

Therefore, I believe, Obama will give us face on the surface, but they [America, apparently] will seek benefits [for themselves] in substance.
由于我们中国就是个要面子不要里子的民族,所以我认为奥巴马表面上会给足我们面子,而他们则尽量取得里子的实惠。

I’m not sure if Lang wasted any time on thinking about Huntsman.

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Related

» “Huntsman gives Romney Foreign Policy Lesson”, Huntsman, Nov 14, 2011
» Netizens should tolerate Censorship, March 26, 2011
» The Adequate Adversary, August 13, 2010
» BJRB: Hegemonists should Harbor no Illusions, Febr 6, 2010

Useful links stolen from Adam Cathcart.

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Sunday, July 24, 2011

Voice of America Mandarin Budget: “Keep Shortwave, for Now”

Cut spending, don’t raise taxes, America’s Republican Party keeps arguing. Not that history suggests that Republicans would act accordingly in practise, but it sounds so beautifully housewifely. Those folks understand how thinks work in real life, the classical Sarah Palin fan (usually herself a housewife, with a hard fiber hairdo and a squinched face underneath) will feel.

America's Space Shuttle Program, featured on a VoA QSL Card of 1986

America's Space Shuttle Program, featured on a VoA QSL Card of 1986

In past budget cut deals, Ronald Reagan preferred raising taxes over budget cuts, as Economist data is showing. George Bush senior on the other hand chose a mix where cuts exceeded tax increases, but by a modest ratio, compared with both Bill Clinton‘s in 1993/97, and Barack Obama‘s proposals this year. Both the past and present Democrat incumbents presided over budget reforms where spending cuts outweighed tax increases by far.

But then, it all depends on where you cut.

Obama cuts off VoA funding for China; gives it to NPR,

Ed Lasky wrote in a post for the American Thinker, in February. The VoA’s (Voice of America) shift from shortwave radio to digital media

is wrongheaded on many levels. The internet is quite easy to filter or just cut off.  Plus, many people in remote areas lack access to the internet,

Lasky wrote. Which might be as true as it reads, if the Chinese Communist Party’s approach in pursuing their agenda was about as fiery as Ed Lasky’s in pursuing his. Internet filtering in China is effective in many cases indeed, and besides, by far not every Chinese internet user even knows the basics about “surfing”. Try and open a browser in an “illegal”, i. e. unregistered internet café, and in about every second case, the address bar’s history is going to display quite a number of rather unimaginative porn searchwords which were entered by a previous user, rather than actual urls.

But you can be pretty sure that things would need to become very serious before the Chinese government would just cut off the internet – VoA wouldn’t be “good” enough for that much trouble. China is no banana economy, and cutting off the internet would come at a cost even the CCP needs to avoid.

Either way – the VoA’s Mandarin service’s radio broadcasts may not be exactly as dead as first reported. A bill by Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (Republican) reserves US$13.76 million from the total budget for government-sponsored broadcasting next year to be strictly used for Mandarin and Cantonese radio and TV broadcasts, the Taipei Times reported on Sunday. It’s only a small step into preserving the radio and tv broadcasts, the Taipei Times’ article points out. And obviously, the VoA’s Madarin service’s future will remain part of the general budget struggles between the administration on the one hand, and the House of Representatives, and the Senate, on the other.

But this is a situation where I feel that Rohrabacher – quite a reactionary in my view – has  a point.

The Chinese people are our greatest allies, and the free flow of information is our greatest weapon,

he was quoted by the Washington Times in February. And matters of taste, style, and the (implicit, but blanket, I believe) allegation against the Obama administration aside, he also has a point in saying that

This is another alarming sign that America is cowering before China’s gangster regime.

America isn’t cowering to Beijing, but the sign was still understood that way by the Global Times at the time – there was apparently no difference in how Beijing and Rohrabacher perceived the cuts. The Global Times, an English-language CCP mouthpiece, wrote in February that cuts at the BBC‘s and VoA’s Mandarin services demonstrated

a blow to the ideological campaign that certain countries have waged for over half a century. In addition to competition from other media, they were being marginalized due to their biased and unprofessional reporting [original Global Times link apparently no longer valid – http://en.huanqiu.com/opinion/observer/2011-02/623814.html%5D.*)

Every China expert is prepared to give you lessons in how to get your message across in China, when it comes to business. But in the VoA’s case, you’d better turn to Rohrabacher for advice. The VoA has been a tradition in Chinese since 1942, and cuts in a field where China is only beginning its own efforts seem to suggest that efforts to offer the Chinese public a foreign perspective have been abandoned.

That said, Rohrabacher’s and many other stakeholders’ or observers’ advocacy would come across as more credible if they sounded somewhat less sectarian. It is true that the Broadcasting Board of Governors’ (BBG) decision to turn the Voice digital sent the wrong signal. It is also true that it would signal weakness, given the views of the target audience. But to suggest that America  was therefore indeed cowering before China’s gangster regime doesn’t hold water.

The Taipei Times also makes a good point, but shreds some of it again, right away, with a hyperbolic assertion. The New-York based media research organization which conducted the VoA audience research in China, prior to the BGG’s decision to shut shortwave down, then relied on contractors in Beijing to conduct the survey, the paper points out. Doubts about the accuracy of research under these conditions  therefore seem to be in order – but not because of

the prospect of punishment facing anyone in China who admits to listening to VOA broadcasts.

People may get punished for a lot of things in China, even if their behavior would usually be considered completely legal, and even by Chinese authorities. But punishment for listening to the Voice of America is one of the less likely breaches of China’s own law.

In an article for the Public Diplomacy Council (PDC), Kim Andrew Elliott, an expert, if you like, recommends:

Keep shortwave, for now. The BBG is correct that shortwave radio ownership and listening rates are very small in China. Even domestic FM and AM radio has been much less popular than television in the country. Nevertheless, because of the high cost of shortwave transmission, and the unpopularity of shortwave in China, there is incentive for a premature declaration of victory in internet censorship circumvention efforts. Shortwave arguably remains the medium most resistant to interdiction. It is the only medium with a physical resistance to jamming, because radio waves at shortwave frequencies often propagate better over long than short distances. When an objective, independent assessment determines that average internet users in China can conveniently work around government censorship, the shortwave transmitters can be turned off.

I don’t agree that shortwave radio ownership and listening rates would be small in China, and I’m getting the feeling that all the assessments to this direction are based on surveying a rather well-off and well-connected Chinese middle class only. But on all other points he makes, Elliott is most probably right. And he argues in a rational, rather than in an ideology-driven way. He actually thinks about the listeners.

There is a list of twelve recommendations in his article, and each of them is in itself a recommendable read.

____________

Update / Related

» China Radio International: Confucius’ Pavilion of Acid Pleasure, Comment, July 24, 2011

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Update / Note

*) New link: Global Times now, rather than Huanqiu English: http://opinion.globaltimes.cn/observer/2011-02/623814.html

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Taiwan’s Negotiating Position: a Hyper-Inflated Debate

There seems to be a contrast between international, and Taiwanese coverage on Hu Jintao‘s state visit to America last week. German papers point out that there aren’t great changes in US-Chinese relations perceivable yet (neither for the better, nor for the worse), and that Barack Obama hadn’t forgotten the “humiliations” he suffered at the Copenhagen climate summit, or on his China visit (both events of late in 2009).  Even the National Examiner, “the inside source for everything local”, and a platform which frequently highlights Taiwan’s unresolved international status – the island being by no means an essential “part of China” -, acknowledges that Taiwan enjoys considerable Congressional support, even if the Obama administration sent “mixed signals” to Beijing about Taiwan.

Some Taiwanese media, however, cite concerns that there may be too much convergence between Washington’s and Beijing’s positions, when it comes to Taiwan’s status.

Raymond Burghardt, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT, Washington’s unofficial embassy in Taipei), was scheduled to arrive in Taiwan for a four-day visit in Taiwan during which he would meet with president Ma Ying-jeou. Taiwan’s foreign ministry reportedly said that Burghardt is there to brief Taiwan officials on the latest developments regarding Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States. Burghardt is now the AIT’s chairman, but not the actual de-facto ambassador. That would be the AIT’s director, William A. Stanton.

It has been argued that the US-China joint statement of November 17, 2009, which stated that the two sides agreed that respecting each other’s core interests is extremely important to ensure steady progress in US-China relations, marked a setback for Taiwan. This is probably true, although Washington’s definition of what core interests are may differ from Beijing’s definition any time. And the only difference between the 2009 joint statement, and previous administrations’ positions seems to have been that

The United States welcomes the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait and looks forward to efforts by both sides to increase dialogues and interactions in economic, political, and other fields, and develop more positive and stable cross-Strait relations.

The last paragraph, David Huang Wei-feng (黃偉峰), formerly a member of the Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) with the Chen Shui-bian government, argues, marks a violation of the US Six Assurances (六項保證) made by then US president Ronald Reagan in 1982, which said that the U.S. would not play a mediation role between Taiwan and China. That is how Focus Taiwan renders his views. The Liberty Times quotes him as saying that the wording – the United States encourages all forms of cross-strait dialog*) (美國鼓勵兩岸各種形式的對話), and that it supports ECFA -, could become an issue in Taiwan’s internal elections and policies (這種說法容易轉化為內部選舉政治的操作).

Some punditry is in order. That the DPP dislikes explicit American statements that support the KMT’s, rather than the DPP’s China policies, is also understandable, especially given the risks for Taiwan that agreements and involvement with China may carry.

But Reagan’s Six Assurances mirrored America’s stake in Taiwan’s de-facto independence. What Huang’s criticism of the joint statement amounts to is a demand that America must put Taiwan first in every way. Not only it’s freedom, but the sanctity of its internal affairs, too. That reminds me of a  behavior more frequently seen on the other site of the Taiwan Strait.

Above all, such remarks only highlight the fact that Taiwan wouldn’t be able to defend itself against a Chinese attack, or even against non-military pressure from Beijing. In that light, of course, it will still help if the Obama administration brings itself to sell Taiwan the weapons it asks for. Military  modernization can bolster Taiwan’s negotiation position vis-a-vis China to quite an extent – and this should happen, the sooner, the better.

But even if some nervousness is understandable, Taiwanese hypersensitivities are not helpful. Taiwan’s de-facto independence depends on America’s preparedness – and ability – to defend Taiwan, if need be. And sometimes, solutions can be cheaper than the sales of military imperial regalia as constantly discussed – fighter planes, submarines, etc.. Laser weapons, for example, can’t stop Chinese invaders, but they can help to defend Taiwan against the approximately 1,100 Chinese missiles targeting the island. And laser developments come at comparatively low costs.

Chen Shui-bian, Laura Bush in Costa Rica

There's a hand, my trusty friend.

I believe that the big debate about Taiwan’s negotiating position depending on arms supplies is hyper-inflated. It matters, yes. But compared to the actual balance of power between America and China, it’s a rather small issue.

As much as Taiwan’s dignity counts (most people who belong to a country probably feel that such matters count), it isn’t only the Ma administration which sometimes puts issues of prestige on the backburner in its interaction with the outside world. Those who criticize Ma for matters of protocol or national dignity should remember how previous president Chen Shui-bian accosted, umm, greeted Laura Bush in Costa Rica, in 2006. That was kind of “high-profile”, but it was low.

Sometimes it’s almost easy to understand why Washington is quite happy with the incumbent Taiwanese president. One would wish for a higher Taiwanese international profile now – but a low profile is still better than an ugly one.

________________

Note

*) exact wording:
Both sides underscored the importance of the Taiwan issue in U.S. – China relations. The Chinese side emphasized that the Taiwan issue concerns China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and expressed the hope that the U.S. side will honor its relevant commitments and appreciate and support the Chinese side’s position on this issue. The U.S. side stated that the United States follows its one China policy and abides by the principles of the three U.S.-China Joint Communiqués. The United States applauded the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait and welcomed the new lines of communications developing between them. The United States supports the peaceful development of relations across the Taiwan Strait and looks forward to efforts by both sides to increase dialogues and interactions in economic, political, and other fields, and to develop more positive and stable cross-Strait relations.

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Related
Ma Ying-jeou – he said WHAT, May 3, 2010

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