Posts tagged ‘Russia’

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, November 28, 2016

A few Thoughts about Castro

Fidel Castro, in the course of about half a century, became an icon for people who would have liked to challenge America’s leading global role. And he was hated by many Americans. When I asked an otherwise friendly American friend (by letter, back then) in the early 1990s why the embargo was still in place, I got a long and angry answer, as if I had I had trespassed. And when I made some not-too-critical, but not really reverent remarks about Castro the other day, I got an angry answer, too. What you get in a conversation about Castro really depends on your interlocutor (and, of course, on your diplomatic skills).

What is frequently ignored however, is the Cuban people. It is true that fear, intimidation and human rights violations has helped to keep the Cuban Communist Party in power. so have state and party propaganda. Decades of getting the same stories told over and over and over again, in school, the media, and  arguably by Grandpa at home, won’t fail to leave  traces on most human harddisks.

Few political leaders of the 20th and – so far – 21st century trigger as strong emotions as Fidel Castro does. Castro is idolized, and demonized. And more frequently than not, peoples’ reactions to his memory depend on where they belong, or who they side with: America, China, or Russia, for example.

It would take biographic research to judge Castro and his rule. It would require reading one or two biographies, at least. The information that daily mass media offer won’t provide insights into how Cuba has endured, or profitted from, Castro rule since early 1959.

But you wouldn’t run into too many people without clear-cut opinions about Castro.

That’s why countries and civilizations can be surprising to outsiders (and even to insiders). Things happen, and they may appear to be unlogical or bizarre. But they happen for reasons – good or bad -, and the driving forces behind them aren’t necessarily idiocy.

To understand Castro’s rise to power, and the reasons as to why the Cuban Communist Party has been able to cement its dictatorship to this days, we would need to walk the Cuban streets of the 1940s and 1950s, not those of the 2010s.

Research – scientific or journalistic – needs to take us there.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

People’s Daily: “Little NATO” drawing nearer as Japan and South Korea initial Intelligence Sharing

South Korean parliamentary opposition leader Woo Sang-ho of the main oppositional Minjoo Party said on Monday that they would impeach or dismiss the defense minister if the government went ahead with plans to sign a General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA).

Chinese Communist Party organ People’s Daily wrote on Wednesday or Thursday that if signed, this would be the first military cooperation agreement between the two countries after World War 2, and criticized the tw0 governments’ moves indirectly, by quoting a military expert.

→Link

On November 14, South Korea’s and Japan’s initialled a “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement”. If officially signed, this would be the first military cooperation agreement after the second world war. Military expert Zhang Junshe said in an interview with People’s Daily online that if the agreement in question was signed, the two countries would bypass America and exchange intelligence directly. This was significant good news for Japan and America, but for South Korea, this was like drinking Zhen poison to quench its thirst, or to allow the wolf into the house. The agreement could damage peace and stability on the Korean peninsula, and negatively affect peace and stability in the entire North-East Asian region.

14日,韩国和日本政府草签了《军事情报保护协定》。如该协定正式签署,这将是两国自第二次世界大战结束后签署的首份军事合作协定。军事专家张军社在接受人民网采访时表示,若该协定正式签署,日韩两国将绕过美国直接共享情报,这对日美两国是重大利好消息,但对韩国而言则如同饮鸩止渴、引狼入室。该协定可能破坏朝鲜半岛的和平稳定,对整个东北亚地区的和平稳定也会带来不利影响。

According to a report by South Korea’s “JoongAng Ilbo” on November 15, South Korea hopes to use Japan’s reonnaissance satellites, radar, and other advanced equipment to gather intelligence, while Japan could make use of intelligence gathered by traditional Korean manpower.

据韩国《中央日报》15日报道,韩国希望利用日本的侦察卫星和雷达等尖端装备获取情报;而对日本来说,则可利用韩国传统人工收集的情报。

Currently, there are separate “Military Intelligence Protection Agreements” between South Korea and the US and Japan and the US respectively, but the exchange of military intelligence between South Korea and Japan needs to go through America as a “connecting airport”, with no “direct flight”.

目前,韩美、日美之间分别缔结有《军事情报保护协定》,不过韩日两国交换军事情报需要通过美国这个“中转站”,双方之间并无“直航”。

Zhang Junshe pointed out that Japan had advanced military technology at its disposal and could rely on advanced reconaissance satellites, radar, and other first-class equipment to gather information concerning North Korea’s nuclear tests, missile launches etc., while South Korea, owing to its geographical advantage, could gather first-hand intelligence gathered by agents and spies. If Japan and South Korea signed the “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement”, the two sides could bypass America and exchange intelligence directly.

张军社指出,日本具有先进的军事科技,可凭借其先进的侦察卫星和雷达等尖端装备获得朝鲜核试验和导弹发射等情报信息,而韩国凭借地理优势,可获得更多由特工、间谍人员等获得的第一手人工情报。日本和韩国一旦签署《军事情报保护协定》,双方将可以绕过美国直接交换军事情报。

Some media reports point out that military cooperation between South Korea and Japan was a sensitive issue, because of the history of Japanese colonial rule over South Korea from 1910 to 1945 on the one hand, and also because of territorial disputes between the two sides. With historical and territorial issues unresolved, the South Korean government has always faced continuous resistance. On June 29, 2012, the South Korean government even brought a signing to an “emergency halt”, right on the scheduled day of signing.

有媒体报道指出,军事合作在韩日两国合作中属敏感范畴,一方面缘于日本1910年至1945年在朝鲜半岛推行殖民统治的历史,另一方面缘于双方现在的领土争议。在历史和领土问题均未解决的情况下,韩国政府推动签署军事情报方面协定一直面临重重阻力。2012年6月29日,韩国政府甚至在原定协定签署日当天“紧急叫停”。

This time, South Korea and Japan have signed the “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement” at tremendous speed, and South Korea said that it had only taken about a dozen days to conduct and intitial the agreement. Reportedly, the two sides will also work hard to sign the agreement by the end of November, after completing domestic procedures.

此次日韩两国“火速”草签《军事情报保护协定》,从韩方宣布重启有关协定谈判到协定草签仅用了十几天。据称,双方还将力争在完成国内手续后,于11月底前正式签署协定。

How could a agreement that had been stalled for years be settled in a dozen days? The background factors are providing food for thought.

一个多年无法的协定如今为何在短短十几天便得以尘埃落定?背后缘由耐人寻味。

According to Zhang Junshe, Japan has, after the end of World War 2, never profoundly reflected on the crimes it committed to the countries of North-East Asia. While America and Japan had made efforts all along to facilitate the signing of the “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement”, the opposing domestic voices in South Korea had always been very strong. The South Korean masses fear Japanese militarism’s rise from the ashes, so as to trample over the Korean peninsula once again. There are various reasons for Japan and South Korea to rush the initialling of the “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement”. From South Korea’s perspective, with president Park Geun-hye’s “Choigate” scandal almost inescapable for the government, the country is facing a serious domestic crisis. By signing military cooperation with Japan, domestic sight can be shifted and passed on to the crisis, thus easing the pressure on Park Geun-hye’s government because of “Choigate”. Also, as South Korea’s agreement to the American deoployment of the “THAAD” anti-missile system had led to a deepening of contradictions with China, Russia, and other neighboring countries, South Korea’s choice to deepen previous cooperation with Japan can also, to a certain degree, ease pressure from neighboring countries. In addition, America is very positive about facilitating the Japanese-South Korean signing of the “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement”. America has always hoped to strengthen military cooperation between its two Asia-Pacific allies, but for historical reasons, Japan and South Korea have, for a long time, given an appearance of unity while being divided in fact. If Japan and South Korea officially sign the “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement” at last, this undoubtedly spells an important result for America’s “Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific”, conducive to pulling Japan and South Korea together for the formation of a “small NATO” concept.

据张军社介绍,二战结束以来,日本从未对其在二战期间对东北亚各国所犯下的罪行作出深刻反省。虽然美、日方面一直在努力促成日韩签订《军事情报保护协定》,而韩国国内的反对声音一直十分强烈。韩国民众唯恐日本军国主义死灰复燃,再次践踏朝鲜半岛。此次日韩“火速”草签《军事情报保护协定》,原因是多方面的。从韩国方面看,目前朴槿惠政府深陷“闺蜜门”事件难以自拔,韩国内部面临着严重的政治危机。韩国此时与日本签署军事合作,可以转移国内视线,转嫁危机,减轻“闺蜜门”事件给朴槿惠政府带来的压力。此外,由于韩国同意美国在韩部署“萨德”反导系统,导致韩国与中国、俄罗斯等邻国矛盾加深,所以韩国选择加强与日本之前的合作,某种程度上也能减轻周边国家对其造成的压力。另外,美国对促成日韩签署《军事情报保护协定》非常积极。美国一直希望它的两个亚太盟友加强军事合作,但日韩两国因为历史问题长期貌合神离。若日韩最终正式签署《军事情报保护协定》,无疑是美国“亚太再平衡”战略的重要成果,有利于实现美国拉日韩两国构建东北亚“小北约”的构想。

Ma Yao, special researcher with the School of International Relations and Public Affairs at Shanghai International Studies University, told media that for a long time, the main obstacle for building trilateral US-Japanese-South Korean military cooperation had been in South Korea, and the progress in South-Korean-Japanese military cooperation meant that the obstacle for trilateral military cooperation was reduced and might never return. This was a “watershed” in South-Korean-Japanese cooperation in the military field.

上海外国语大学国际关系与公共事务学院特约研究员马尧在接受媒体采访时表示,长期以来,美国构建美日韩三边军事合作的主要障碍在韩国,而韩日军事合作方面的进展意味着三边军事合作的障碍或将不复存在,这是“韩日在军事领域合作的分水岭”。

For Japan and America, it would clearly be significant good news if Japan and South Korea signed the “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement”.

日韩若签署《军事情报保护协定》,对日本和美国而言,显然都是重大利好消息。

Zhang Junshe pointed out that under the guise of the North Korea crisis, Japan could take advantage of the situation and get involved in the affairs of the Korean peninsula, broaden its right to discourse, thus increasing its influence in Northeast Asian affairs. For America, closer military cooperation between Japan and South Korea is conducive to advancing its control of the two allied countries further, to serve its “Rebalance to Asia and the Pacific” strategy, to achieve its goal of controlling North East Asia, and to advance and achieve the protection of its regional hegemony.

张军社指出,日本未来可以以朝鲜危机为幌子,趁机介入朝鲜半岛事务,扩大其在朝鲜半岛事务中的话语权,进而提升其在东北亚局势中的影响力。对美国而言,日韩两国更紧密的军事合作有利于其进一步控制这两个盟国,为其“亚太再平衡”战略服务,实现其控制东亚的目标,进而实现维护其地区霸权的目的。

The next paragraph translation is a stub (or whatever). It apparently refers to undoing the limits put on Japan’s military power after WW2, and the Shinzo Abe government’s goal to “normalize” Japan’s military policies.

You can contribute to a translation.

In March 2016, Japan’s new military legislation was officially implemented, allowing Japan to go from ordinary times to “有事”时, from its own ground to freely using force abroad.

2016年3月,日本新安保法正式实施,使日本获得了从平时到“有事”时、从本土到周边再到全球自由对外使用武力的权限,从而使日本绕过和平宪法束缚,初步实现长期追求的“军事正常化”目标。

If Japan and South Korea sign the “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement”, this will open a channel for Japan to get involved in matters of the Korean peninsula. For South Korea, this undoubtedly means  drinking Zhen poison as a thirst quencher and allowing the wolf into the house, turning South Korea into the biggest victim. Zhang Junshe says that South Korea’s government, in order to shift the pressure from “Choigate” and to respond to America’s call, to resist China’s and Russia’s resistance against the “THAAD” deployment in South Korea, and to involve Japan, presents itself, on the surface, as retaliation against North Korea, it actually helps America to form a military alliance system in the Asia-Pacific region, and provides the conditions for Japan to step into the Korean peninsula.

若日韩签订《军事情报保护协定》,“则为日本介入朝鲜半岛事务打开了一个通道,这对韩国而言无异于饮鸩止渴、引狼入室,韩国将成为最大的受害者。”张军社如是说,韩国政府为了转移“闺蜜门”事件的压力,同时响应美国的号召,抵抗中国和俄罗斯对“萨德”入韩的反对,将日本拉拢过来,表面看是为了对付朝鲜,实际上是在帮助美国在亚太构建军事同盟体系,为日本插足朝鲜半岛提供条件。

Zhang Junshe also said that the main goal of the Japanese-South Korean “Military Intelligence Protection Agreement” was to strengthen shared intelligence about North Korea, and that this kind of military alliance directed against third countries was an expression of cold-war mentality that would cause fierce reactions from North Korea. It could damage peace and stability on the Korean peninsula and negatively affect peace and stability in the entire North East Asian region. As North Korea’s closest neighbor, China could therefore also face more security threats.

张军社还说,日韩《军事情报保护协定》主要目的就是要加强有关朝鲜情报的共享,这种针对第三国的军事同盟是冷战思维的表现,必然引起朝鲜方面的激烈反应,可能破坏朝鲜半岛的和平稳定,对整个东北亚地区的和平稳定也会带来不利影响。中国作为朝鲜半岛的近邻,也可能因此面临更多安全威胁。

South Korean Arriang News TV reported on Friday that the agreement could become effective without parliamentary approval in South Korea (where the government lost its majority in April this year). However, 59 percent of the public disapproved of the agreement.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Huanqiu Shibao: Will Turkey turn East?

Chinese media provide relatively very little opinion on the coup attempt in Turkey and its aftermath, and prefer to quote foreign media. However, the choice of information sources may indicate where Chinese media pay special attention, and the article translated here ends with a bit of expertise from Chinese academia.

The following is a translation of a press review of sorts, originally from Huanqiu Shibao, and republished by china.com, a news portal in a number of languages (including Mandarin), that is apparently operated by Global Broadcasting Media Group, which in turn is operated by China Radio International (CRI). Global Broadcasting Media Group, as CRI’s investment vehicle, is also known as “Guoguang”. The following article – or my translation of it, for that matter – may or may not reflect the quoted sources accurately.

Links within blockquotes added during translation.

The BBC reported on July 20 that the purge of so many people had led to concern among international observers, and that the United Nations were working on making sure that Turkey maintained the essence of the rule of law, and protected human rights. Germany, on July 20, condemned the growing purges by the Turkish government even more directly. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said, “we see actions almost daily that damage the rule of law, with measures whose force exceeds the seriousness of the problems.” Some of the measures were deeply disturbing, and unconstitutional.

英国广播公司20日报道称,如此众多的人员被清洗已经引起国际观察家的关注,联合国在努力确保土耳其坚持法治精神和维护人权。德国20日则更为直接地对土耳其政府升级整肃行动表示谴责。德国政府发言人斯特芬·塞伯特说,“我们几乎每天都看到破坏法治的新举动,措施力度超出了问题的严重性”,有些措施是令人深感不安、违背宪法的做法。

Associated Press quoted EU Parliament speaker Martin Schulz as saying that Turkey was now carrying out “retaliation” against opponents and critics, and the debate about the reintroduction of the death penalty was “absolutely worrying”. The EU has warned that such a move would spell the end of EU accession negotiations with Turkey.

美联社援引欧洲议会议长舒尔茨的话说,土耳其正在对反对者和批评者实施“报复”,围绕恢复死刑展开的争论“非常令人担忧”。欧盟已经警告,这样做将意味着土耳其加入欧盟谈判的终结。

A White House statement on Tuesday said that President Barack Obama, during a telephone conversation with Erdogan, “had urged respect for the law while investigating those involved in the coup, in a way that would strengthen public trust in the democratic system.” However, the problem US-Turkish relations were facing go far beyond the protection of rule of law and of democracy.

美国白宫在周二的声明中说,总统奥巴马在与埃尔多安的电话中“敦促对参与政变者的调查应该遵守法律,并以增强公众对民主体系信心的方式进行”。但对美国来说,美土关系需要面对的问题远不止维护法治和民主。

According to a “New York Times” report, Turkish officials, including the foreign minister, demanded on July 19 that America extradite Fethullah Gülen. On that day, the White House confirmed it had received electronic documents from Turkey that was meant to serve as evidence. However, it was not clear if a formal request for extradition had already been made. “The ministry of justice will examine this material in accordance with the extradition treaty between our two countries,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. CNN said that according to the extradition treaty between America and Turkey, treason [as a reason for extradition] did not apply, but Turkey had given exactly that reason for its request. When asked if the Turkish government had any evidence for this, Turkish deputy prime minister Kurtulmus said that Turkey knew clearly that Gülen was the manipulator behind the scene, just as America knew that bin Laden had been the conspirator of “9-11”.

据美国《纽约时报》报道,包括外长在内的土耳其官员19日要求美国交出居伦。当天,白宫证实已经收到土耳其提供的作为证据的电子文档。但不清楚土方 是否已经正式提出引渡要求。“司法部和国务院将根据两国之间的引渡条约审视这些材料。”白宫发言人厄内斯特说。美国有线电视新闻网(CNN)说,根据美土 达成的引渡协议,叛国罪并不适用,但土耳其正是以此提出引渡居伦。在被问及土政府对此有何证据时,土副总理库尔图尔穆说,土耳其明确知道居伦在幕后操纵, 就像当年美国知道拉登是“9·11”主谋一样。

David Ignatius, a “Washington Post” columnist, writes that within the clamor of the coup aftermath, the US-Turkish relations, which had already been tense, could get into new difficulties, with the demand of extraditing Gülen as the most immediate test. Given the US and EU concern about the Erdogan government’s human rights record, this issue would be complicated. There were serious differences between the two sides about strategies of strikes against IS in Syria. During the past few years, the American-Turkish relations had come across as those between friends who were breaking up.

美国《华盛顿邮报》专栏作家大卫·伊格拉蒂尔斯撰文说,在政变之后的喧嚣中,华盛顿和安卡拉之间业已紧张的关系将陷入新困境,要求遣返居伦是最直接 的考验。考虑到美欧此前对埃尔多安政府人权记录的批评,此事将相当复杂。在叙利亚打击IS的战略上,双方已经分歧严重。近几年的美土关系向外界展示了一对 朋友如何一拍两散。

Could Turkey become an ally of Russia? Russia’s [online paper] Vzglyad writes in an editorial that Turkish prime minister [Yildirim] had already said, Ankara could review Turkish-US relations if America refused to extradite Gülen. Russia’s Izvestia quoted the Russian Academy of Sciences Oriental Institute’s Gadzhiev as believing that while it was premature to say that Turkey would completely turn to Russia, there could be some change. German Global News Network*) commented that a coup was now changing Turkey, and possibly the Middle East. Turkey didn’t trust America any longer, and the Middle East’s future could become more complicated.

土耳其可能因此成为俄罗斯的战略盟友吗?俄罗斯《观点报》以此为题评论说,土耳其总理已经表示,安卡拉或因美拒绝交出居伦而重新审视与美国的关系。 俄罗斯《消息报》20日援引俄东方学研究所专家加日耶夫认为,虽然说土耳其的对外政策将全面转向俄罗斯为时尚早,但会有所变化。德国全球新闻网评论说,一 场政变正在改变土耳其,也将改变中东。土耳其不再信任美国,中东的未来将更加复杂。

But Li Weijian [apparently a researcher from Shanghai International Issues Research Institute – not previously mentioned in the article] thinks that Erdogan’s intention is to broaden his presidential powers and pave the way for the implementation of domestic policies and of diplomacy, and this wouldn’t necessarily constitute fundamental regional or global change. In an interview with “Huanqiu Shibao” he said, Erdogan had always maintained [an approach of] benefitting from West and East alike, and would keep to this strategy.

但李伟建认为,埃尔多安的意图在于扩大其总统权力,为内政外交政策的实施铺平道路,这未必会对地区关系和世界格局构成彻底改变。他在接受《环球时报》记者采访时说,埃尔多安一直以来秉持在西方与中东间左右逢源,这一战略会继续。

(Huanqiu Shibao special correspondents from Turkey, Germany, Egypt – Ji Shuangcheng, Qing Mu, Wang Yunsong and Huanqiu Shibao reporter Bai Yunyi, Ren Zhong, Zhen Xiang, Liu Yupeng]

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*) Not known to me, or not under this name – JR

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Monday, May 30, 2016

Neighborhood: No Vietnamese Communist Party without the Chinese Communist Party?

U.S. President Barack Obama visited Vietnam from May 22 to 25. In news coverage, TTP and the complete lifting of an arms embargo that had been in place since 1984, topped the American-Vietnamese agenda.

On May 23, Xinhua‘s English-language website quoted a Russian official, Anatoly Punchuk, as saying that the lifting of a decades-old U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam wouldn’t affect Russia’s weapons sales to Vietnam.

Also on May 23, Xinhua quoted foreign-ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying (华春莹) as saying that China was glad to see Vietnam develop normal cooperative relations with all other countries, including the United States. China hoped the lifting of the arms embargo was a product of the Cold War and should not continue to exist.

In more detail, Hua said that

As a neighbor to Vietnam, we are glad to see Vietnam develop normal relations with all countries, including the United States, and we hope that this will benefit regional peace, stability, and development.

作为越南的邻国,我们乐见越南同包括美国在内的所有国家发展正常关系,希望这有利于地区和平、稳定与发展。

Another question concerning Vietnamese-U.S. relations followed up on the topic:

Q: Vietnam is a close neighbor to China. Why has Vietnam, in recent years, kept calling for a lifting of the U.S. arms embargo? What kind of influence will America’s decision have on U.S.-Vietnamese relations?

问:越南是中国近邻,为什么越南在过去几年一直呼吁美方解除武器禁运?美方的这个决定会对美越关系有何影响?

A: I understand that you are touching on the considerations behind this issue. But you should ask Vietnam this question, not me. I said a moment ago that we are glad to see America and Vietnam develop normal relations, and hoe that this will benefit regional peace and stability.

答:我理解你提这个问题背后的考虑。这个问题你应该去问越方,而不是来问我。我刚说了,我们乐见美越发展正常关系,希望这有利于地区和平稳定。

In October last year, Hua had answered questions about the Trans-Pacific Partnership project, or TPP. Beijing believed that development levels among Asian-Pacific economic entities weren’t entirely the same, Hua said, and that on the basis of special needs, all agreements should help to advance all sides involved. And asked if the American-led TPP could have an effect on China’s promotion of RCEP, she said that

The particular diversity and pluralism of the Asia-Pacific region’s economic development are obvious, and all sides’ bilateral and mutilateral free-trade arrangements are also lively. As long as this is conducive to the Asia-Pacific regional economy’s prosperity and development, we maintain a positive and open attitude. China will continue to work together with countries in the region, based on the spirit of mutual trust, tolerance, cooperation and win-win, and will continiously promote all kinds of free-trade arrangements in the region. At the same time, we hope that both TTP and RCEP will be mutually complementary, mutually promotional, and beneficial for the strengthening of a multilateral trade system that will make a long-term contribution to the prosperity and development of the Asia-Pacific region’s economy.

亚太地区经济发展多样性、多元化的特点十分突出,各种多边、双边自由贸易安排也很活跃。只要是有利于促进亚太地区经济繁荣发展,有利于促进亚太经济一体化 的区域贸易安排,我们都持积极和开放态度。中方将继续与地区国家一道,本着互信、包容、合作、共赢的精神,推动区域内的各种自由贸易安排不断向前发展。同 时,我们也希望无论是TPP也好,RCEP也好,都能够相互补充,相互促进,有利于加强多边贸易体制,为亚太地区经济长期繁荣、发展做出贡献。

In an interview with Guanchazhe (Observer), a privately funded paper and website in Shanghai, Pan Jin’e (潘金娥), a researcher, discussed the future of Vietnam-U.S. relations.

Pan is a vice director at the Marxism Research Institute’s International Communist Movement department. The Marxism Research Institute is part of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, CASS. Her doctoral thesis, around 2012, was titled Research on Vietnam’s socialist transition period’s economic and political innovation (越南社会主义过渡时期的经济与政治革新研究).

Zhonghua Net (中华网, china.com) republished the Guanchazhe interview on May 25. It was first published by Guanchazhe, apparently one day earlier.

The first question of the Guanchazhe reporter (or reporters) contained the allegation that TPP was “anti-China” (排华的) by motivation. Pan did not comment on the allegation but said that Vietnam was the only country that America had invited on its own initiative. This had made Vietnam very proud of itself. In harder terms, TPP was seen by Vietnam as an opportunity to move its economy forward, to alter the model of economic growth, and to change the structure of the national economy. It was also seen as a way to reduce an excessive dependence on the Chinese economy.

However, bilateral Sino-Vietnamese trade amounted to more than 90 billion USD according to Chinese statistics, or over 80 billion USD according to Vietnamese statistics. Vietnam’s bilateral trade with America was only at over 40 billion USD. China was a neighbor that wouldn’t go away.

In an apparent reference to the No-New-China-without-the-Communist-Party propaganda song, Pan said that Vietnam’s Communist Party relied heavily on the Chinese Communist Party, and asked if the Vietnamese Communist Party would still exist without the CCP. No matter how important other Vietnamese considerations were, the only problem that currently existed between the two countries was territorial maritime sovereignty issues.

On the other hand, Hanoi’s political order was continiously challenged by Washington’s “so-called human-rights” issues (所谓的人权问题).

Asked about how far Vietnamese-American cooperation could go, Pan said that while it had been said that Washington had refused Hanoi a comprehensive strategic partnership and kept to a smaller-scale comprehensive partnership only, it was in fact the differences in America’s and Vietnam’s political order that had led to the omission of “strategic”:

… they [Vietnam] are aware that America continiously attacks their political system,even with human-rights issues. During his visit, Obama has, this time, also clearly stated that both sides needed to respect each others’ political systems. That’s to say, America currently respects the socialist road taken by Vietnam. But this doesn’t mean that America would abandon [the concept of] peaceful evolution towards Vietnam. This is something the Vietnamese Communist Party is well aware of.

… 它也知道美国一直是攻击它的政治制度 乃至人权问题的。这一次奥巴马来访时,在发言中也明确指出要彼此尊重政治制度。也就是说,美国尊重目前越南走的社会主义道路。但是并不意味着美国放弃对越 南的和平演变,这一点越南共产党也是心知肚明的。

Concerning the complete lifting of the U.S. arms embargo on Vietnam, Pan said that this was something Voietnam had long waited for. She also touched on the U.S. economic embargo on Vietnam (in force from the 1970s to 1995).

Asked if Russian arms supplies – currently at least eighty per cent of what Vietnam imported – would undergo changes, Pan said that Hanoi was most interested in advanced military technology, not in buying old gear. Imports from Russia would continue, and only a small share of imports would come from the U.S., particularly radar and communications technology, so as to fit into military cooperation with America, Japan, or Australia. However, she didn’t expect that this could lead to a Vietnamese force that would be a match to China’s.

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Related

Even worse than TPP, eff.org, June 4, 2015
Competing or complementary, Brookings, Febr 14, 2014

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Sunday, May 22, 2016

America, Japan: a more equal Relationship?

US President Barack Obama gave NHK an exclusive interview ahead of his arrival in Japan, reports NHK, emphasizing that Obama would be the first sitting US President to visit the atomic-bombed city.

A full account of the interview doesn’t seem to be available online yet. NHK provides a video with excerpts from the interview.

News like this doesn’t make much sense without context. US-Japan relations, frequently dubbed one of the closest alliances worldwide, were contentious in 2009, according to the New York Times. At the time, Japan had just seen its first transition of power from one political party to another, and the Hatoyama government – in short – called for a more equal relationship with the United States, with a number of possible ramifications.

The departure from the usual Liberal-Democrats rule in Japan was only an interlude. And a nation’s foreign policies are usually bi-partisan, or meta-partisan – in Japan, too.

From the Middle East to Ukraine, questions are being asked about the U.S. ability and willingness to maintain peace. If it cannot or will not, who will fill the void?,

the Nikkei Asian Review asked in May 2015.

Japan sees its future more within Asia, the NYT quoted Eswar S. Prasad back then. That, however, doesn’t necessarily benefit Sino-Japanese relations, as suggested by the NYT six years earlier. Rather, Japan appears to be warming to Russia.

Japan and Russia have especially found ample opportunity to conduct a coordinated response to the most recent security crisis in North Korea. Japan and Russia have also sought to increase their economic and financial ties, which are particularly important for the development of the Russian Far East,

Anthony Rinna of the Sino-NK research group noted in March this year. The Russian pivot to the East – possibly with a lot of help from Tokyo – was hampered by two obstacles however, Rinna cautioned: the long-standing dispute over the Kuril Islands, and Japan’s alignment with the West over the Ukraine crisis.

And while

the containment of China remains the primary purpose of the Japan-U.S. defense apparatus, U.S. strategic containment of Russia also continues to be an important factor in the Japan-U.S. alliance, which comprises one key flank of the American strategic posture in Asia,

Rinna added.

But being part of an alliance doesn’t mean that Japan would forgo foreign policies of its own. When Obama (reportedly) tried to talk Japanese prime minister Abe out of a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, his appeal was unsuccessful.

It’s not only Japan who needs to take existing alliances into consideration. The same is true for Russia – but less so than Japan. Russian obligations toward China can’t be compared to Japan’s obligations toward America. That may not be a general opinion in China, but observers who watch the developments probably wouldn’t be caught by surprise if Russia and Japan were to sign a peace treaty in the not too distant future.

In December 2013, Cui Heng (崔珩) of the East China Normal University’s Russia Research Center in Shanghai, published an opinion on the China Internet Information Center (中国网) website. Titled “Russia won’t keep away from Japan because of Russia-Chinese relations”, Cui’s article pointed out that Russia’s preparedness to be considerate of China was limited, even though Sino-Russian relations were “at their best in history”.

Abe’s generation in particular had, because of their country’s economic successes, developed a sense of national greatness, and were seeking normalization for Japanese statehood. The economic revival after Abe’s taking office [there was a revival indeed, three years ago] had added to this conscience among Japanese politicians, Cui wrote. Ending the official state of war with Russia would be part of normalization. Even if hardly relevant in military terms, the status quo weighed heavily in terms of in terms of symbolism.

By coming to formally peaceful terms with Russia, Japan could also shed its status as a defeated country, Cui argued, and then addressed a factor that made Russia’s perception of Japan different from both China’s, and America’s:

Russia isn’t only prepared to develop beneficial relations with Japan for geopolitical reasons. In Russian historical memory, there isn’t much hate against Japan. During the age of the great empires, Japanese-Russian relations in the Far East were of a competitive nature. Many Russians still talk about the 1905 defeat, but the Far East wasn’t considered a place that would hit Russian nerve as hard as the crushing defeat in the Crimean war. Back then, Japan wasn’t perceived as a threat for Russia, and from another perspective, if there had been anti-Japanese feelings, there wouldn’t have been a revolution. According to perception back then, the [1905] defeat was a result of the Russian government’s incompetence, not [brought about by] a strong adversary. The outstanding achievements of the Soviet Red Army in 1945 led to a great [positive] Russian attitude, but still without considering Japan a great enemy.

By visiting Hiroshima, Obama appears to make a concession to Tokyo’s desire for “normalization”. Of course, few decisions are made for only one reason – they are part of a network, or hierarchy, of objectives. One objective was stated by Obama himself – that we should continue to strive for a world without nuclear weapons.

There is no great likelihood that Japan would shift away from the alliance with Washington. Japan’s distrust of China probably outweighs even America’s. That’s a stabilizing factor in US-Japanese relations.

But Tokyo is certainly trying to put its relations with America on a more equal footing – not just formally, but by creating diplomatic and economic facts that will help to further this aim.

Russia’s Far East is nothing to disregard, in terms of its economic potential. Japan can do business with Ukraine, and with Russia, and is likely to cooperate with both.

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Related

Shared Concern, Nov 11, 2015
Greater Contributions, April 25, 2014

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Friday, April 15, 2016

Monument Policies (1): Poland

As Poland celebrates 1,050 years of Christianity in Poland, the country’s right-wing government is pushing the country’s European heritage as the EU steps up its criticism, writes Deutsche Welle (DW), Germany’s international media platform. The news article seems to reflect the general angle of the German press on Polish current affairs quite well, although  milder than some German-language reports, even at DW itself, where a headline in February read Polen: Muslime unerwünscht (“Muslims unwelcome”, a choice of words that triggers memories of “Jews unwelcome”, a notice on many German doors, especially once the Nazis had come to power. Dirty German history at Poland’s expense, in only two words.

Coverage on Poland

DW: How ugly of you, Poland

Not all is well between Brussels and Warsaw, as an article by DW correspondent Barbara Wesel reflected in December, after the Polish government’s attack on the country’s supreme court, and its state media:

Polen is the biggest net recipient of EU funding in all of Europe. And Warsaw is wrong if only sees the European capital as the main cashier’s window. From there, obligations accrue, too. The number one obligation is to observe the rules of the club. If Jarosław Kaczyński believes he can impudently defy them, he needs to be disabused. Unfortunately, there are barely ways of imposing official financial sanctions, but maybe all sorts of mistakes can be found in future Polish project proposals… Rudeness like that of the Law-and-Justice party chief needs to be answered with rudeness.

Polen ist der größte Netto-Empfänger von EU-Fördermitteln in ganz Europa. Und Warschau irrt, wenn es in der europäischen Hauptstadt nur die Hauptkasse sieht. Daraus erwachsen auch Verpflichtungen. Erste Pflicht ist auf jeden Fall, die Regeln des Clubs einzuhalten. Wenn Jaroslaw Kaczynski glaubt, er könne sich frech darüber hinweg setzen, muss er eines Besseren belehrt werden. Leider gibt es in der EU kaum Möglichkeiten, offiziell finanzielle Sanktionen zu verhängen. Aber vielleicht finden sich ja allerhand Fehler in künftigen polnischen Projektanträgen… Auf einen so groben Klotz wie den polnischen PiS-Parteichef gehört ein grober Keil.

This kind of creative anger – probably indicative of the general mood among the political class in the City of Brussels – is a somewhat unpleasant sight, especially when Germans wield the financial club. Nothing is forgotten in Poland: no pressure, no words, which above all shouldn’t come from German mouths, will dissuade us, German news magazine Der Spiegel quoted Jarosław Kaczyński in January.

Kaczyński’s policies may be facing widespread opposition in Poland by now – but with comments like these, he may be able to reach some of his opponents, too.

Brussels and Berlin seem to understand that. While wide swathes of German press coverage is pulling Polish policies to pieces, German and EU diplomacy remain … well … diplomatic.

And the real dark clouds, from Warsaw’s point of view, are gathering in the West, from the direction of another complicated neighbor. That would be Russia. When it comes to the Katyn massacre, for years, “the blame for the killings was alternately attributed to the Germans and the Russians”, a Radio Poland continuity announcement informed the station’s listeners on Wednesday (7th minute), Poland’s official day of remembrance. The report that followed the announcement was more accurate, stating that the Soviet Union (the Soviet NKVD) had been responsible.

In the same broadcast, German journalist Boris Reitschuster is interviewed (20th minute) about his latest book (to be published on Friday, April 15) about Putin’s Secret Army. (Whatever may be said about the book (in terms of reliability or otherwise), conservative press people appear to be fans, while liberal and leftist publications don’t display nearly as much fascination.)

There was no official mention of the tragedy in Poland during the communist rule nor much was said in the West, which is also guilty of concealing evidence of the Stalinist crime,

Radio Poland said on Wednesday.

Maybe it’s this mood that defines the current mission of Polish remembrance policies: 500 monuments to the Soviet soldiers, who drove the German Wehrmacht out of Poland in 1944/1945, are scheduled to be demolished (CNBC) or removed (Newsweek).

It’s not the first action of this kind, but it is now reportedly the Polish state Institute for National Remembrance (INR) that calls on regional authorities to dismantle the monuments. It could become a comprehensive measure.

And at the same time, Polish media discuss the positive symbols that shall replace those from the communist era. A Radio Poland press review, still on April 13:

Back to Rzeczpospolita now which claims that President Lech Kaczyński, who was killed in the plane crash in Russia six years ago, deserves a dignified memorial in the Polish capital. Having in mind, however, deep divisions in Polish society surrounding the circumstances of the crash, it is not a good idea to erect such a memorial in front of the presidential palace, as is proposed by the Law and Justice Party. The Rzeczpospolita columnist thinks that hospitals, schools and libraries built from public funds and named after the late president would be a better way of remembering President Kaczyński, and of bridging the divides within Polish society.

The presidential palace in Warsaw may have to wait for its copy, but this what the presidential memorial might look like.

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Notes

纪念“卡廷惨案”受害者的橡树, CRI, April 14, 2016
Instructions Importantes, CRI, April 12, 2016
Lech Kaczyński, 1949 – 2010, April 10, 2010

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Friday, April 8, 2016

The Panama Papers: Invested, but not Koppied

You needn’t be there yourself, but should your money? Those places are beginning to look like those parties you simply have to get an invitation to, if you want to matter: the “havens” where (many of) the rich and beautiful put their money. The Virgin Islands, for example. Or Panama. Or Luxemburg? Not sure. Ask a bank.

Reportedly, some members of Vladimir Putin‘s tight-knit inner circle do it. Reportedly, Hong Kong movie star Jackie Chan (成龍) does it. So do Thais. Lots of Indians, too. And maybe many Americans, but elsewhere.

Others, also reportedly, did so in the past. One of them even says that he lost money in the game.

But not so fast. Media tend to scandalize everything, don’t they?

According to ICIJ, the documents make public the offshore accounts of 140 politicians and public officials. The documents don’t necessarily detail anything illegal, but they do shine a light on the shadowy world of offshore finances,

National Public Radio (NPR) informs its listeners.

So, let’s not jump to conclusions. The problem, either way, is that the investors’ countries’ governments can’t get a picture of what is there. And once an investor is found on a list like the “Panama Papers”, with investments or activities formerly unknown to his country’s fiscal authorities (and/or the public), he’s got something to explain.

Like Argentine president Mauricio Macri, for example.

So, it’s beautiful to have some money there.

Unless the public begins to continuously ask questions about it.

Timely Exits from Paradise

If British prime minister David Cameron is right, the money he and his wife earned from an offshore trust were taxed. His problem, then, would be the general suspicon of the business.

The Cameron couple reportedly sold their shares in question in 2010, the year he became prime minister.

“Best Effect” and “Wealth Ming” reportedly ceased operations in 2012 and/or 2013. That was when CCP secretary general and state chairman Xi Jinping took his top positions. The two companies had been run in the Virgin Islands, and Deng Jiagui (邓家贵), husband to Xi’s older sister, had been the owner, Singaporean paper Zaobao reported on Tuesday.

And then, there’s Tsai Ying-yang (蔡瀛陽), one of the 16,785 Taiwanese Mossack Fonseca customers, the law firm the “Panama Papers” were leaked from. According to his lawyer, Lien Yuen-lung (連元龍), Tsay Ying-yang terminated his Koppie Limited company as soon as in 2009, the year following its establishment, so as to cut the losses – 30 percent of the investment, according to a phone interview Lien gave Reuters, as quoted by the Straits Times.

Tsai Ing-wen hasn’t commented herself, and maybe, she won’t any time soon. It doesn’t seem that too much pressure has mounted so far. But questions are asked all the same. On Wednesday, KMT legislators William Tseng (曾銘宗), Johnny Chiang (江啟臣), and Lee Yan-hsiu (李彥秀) told a press conference that in the “many cases” where the Tsai family had encountered controversy, Tsai Ying-yangs name had emerged, and this “gave cause for doubts” (會起人疑竇).

An Emerging KMT Opposition Pattern

William Tseng may become a regular questioner, concerning the financial affairs of Tsai’s family people. One of the “controversies” he had quoted had been the issue of a press conference on March 24. There, with different KMT colleagues,  but the same kind of artwork on the wall behind the panel, showing the suspect of the day, Tseng dealt with the issue of Academica Sinica president Wong Chi-huey‘s daughter’s role as a shareholder of OBI Pharma Inc..

KMT legislators press conference artwork

KMT representations:
Mind the guys in the background

One of his fellow legislators, Alicia Wang (王育敏), raised the issue of the company’s shareholder structure (and neatly placed Tsai’s brother there, too, maybe just to make his name available for quote by Tseng on other occasions:

“President-elect Tsai Ing-wen’s (蔡英文) brother and sister-in-law are also shareholders, and so is Wong’s daughter, Wong Yu-shioh (翁郁秀). Are others involved?”

Diplomatic Relations, but no Tax Treaty

The “Panama Papers”, as far as they concern Taiwanese customers, contain not only individuals, but companies, too: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing (founding chairman Morris Chang, who served Taiwan as APEC representative in 2006), TransAsia Airways (more recently in the news for the tragic Flight 235 crash), Yang Ming Marine Transport Corporation, Wei Chuan Food Corporation (in the news since 2013), and the Executive Yuan’s National Development Fund.

The Development Fund was not a taxable organization, Taiwan’s foreign broadcaster Radio Taiwan International (RTI) quotes finance minister Chang Sheng-ford. He used the example to make the point that to suggest that some 16,000 keyword search results for Taiwan in the “Panama Papers” did not signify 16,000 cases of tax evasion. That’s just not the way to look at it.

Chang reportedly also said that while, “if necessary”, Taiwan would establish a Panama Papers working group and start investigating the most high risk people and agencies for tax evasion, the country had no tax treaty with Panama. Also, a Taiwanese anti-tax evasion law had not yet been passed.

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Related

The Panama Papers
Achselzucken schadet, Der Freitag, Apr 7, 2016
The Panama Papers, FoarP, Apr 6, 2016

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