Posts tagged ‘Singapore’

Friday, August 11, 2017

Trump Rhetoric against North Korea reveals Need for modernized US Foreign Policy

Donald Trump was born rich. That’s why he’s qualified to serve as US President. You only have to look the other way when he’s making decisions. To talk bullshit to the press (or on Twitter) is a decision, too. This is what he told the press in New Jersey, on Tuesday:

Q: Any comment on the reports about North Korea’s nuclear capabilities?

A: North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury, and, frankly, power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.

Thank you.

Senator John McCain stated the obvious, still on Tuesday, in a radio interview: “You got to be sure you can do what you say you’re going to do.”

If that’s logical, it’s too logical for President Trump – and for some of his supporters, who refer to McCain as a “traitor” who “sabotaged” their idol. Because, who knows, if everyone would have kept his  mouth shut, Pyongyang might have been very afraid.

Trump is either a madman, or a bigmouth. We may be hopeful, for now, that he’s a bigmouth first. But that doesn’t mean that he can’t do damage. In fact, Washington is heading into a loss of face like the world has never seen. George W. Bush was the first wrecker’s ball operator against American credibility, and Trump is his worthy successor.

But sometimes, when an idiot is running the farm, his operations reveal structural weaknesses that began long before his reign.

It has been said countless times by now that there are “no good options” when it comes to North Korea. That’s easy to say, and when it’s said frequently enough, it begins to sound like an inevitable truth.

But the debate if there are “good” options, or only more or less lousy options, has little to do with North Korea. Instead, it has a lot to do with America. Whenever there’s a debate about foreign policy, it sounds as if America was in full control, and just needed to decide if they want to “take out” this or that dictator.

There would be a fairly good option, concerning North Korea – the only question is if Trump is the president who can do it. Maybe he can – after all, he has no face, and therefore can’t lose face.

Either way: what is the fuss about the impossibility to recognize North Korea as an equal in international relations? Not as an equal in ethical terms, obviously, but as an equal member of the United Nations?

The problem is that both America and China follow the Yang Jiechi doctrine: that [your country] is a big country and other countries are small countries, and that’s just a fact.

America is a hegemon in decline. That means that, to maintain its international influence, it will have to modernize its foreign and military policies. It needs to find partners, rather than junior partners. And it needs to understand what constitutes a problem, and what doesn’t. America can no longer afford to exhaust all other options before doing the right thing.

If America can do business with China – a totalitarian country -, there is no plausible reason as to why it shouldn’t do business with North Korea, too. North Korea’s neighbors would hardly object. A policy – or mere rhetoric – that suggests a war on their territory is not popular there. And Pyongyang would be only to happy to reduce its dependence on Beijing.

Therefore, the first step should be to accept North Korea’s status as a nuclear power. If China should have any concerns about that, let it be Beijing’s problem. America may offer some inexpensive assistance, if deemed auspicious, but why should they tackle the main responsibility for a nuclear-free Korean peninsula if Beijing considers North Korea a bargaining chip against Taiwan?

Let’s face it: there is nothing any power on earth can do when Beijing protects the regime in Pyongyang. But there is a lot that can be done to defend South Korea, Japan, and – not least – Taiwan.

Therefore, Washington should reach out to Pyongyang.

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Updates/Related

Moon: Peace a national interest, BBC, Aug 14, 2017

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Friday, July 14, 2017

Liu Xiaobo, 1955 – 2017

It won’t be long before Liu Xiaobo‘s first post-mortem biography will be published. But it won’t have the last word. There will be further biographies, and each of them will be contested. That’s because of the man himself, and because of his country. He was a man with a conscience, and his country has been a totalitarian dictatorship for nearly seven decades – if you count the KMT’s martial law in, it’s been a dictatorship for much longer than that.

Liu Xiaobo’s political lifespan lasted for three or four decades. That doesn’t count as long in China. The Communist Party’s propaganda works tirelessly to create and sustain the “People’s Republic’s” population’s imagination of a civilizational history of five or more millenia. And at the same time, the party needs to sustain the notion that the most recent seven decades had been the best in China’s history. Not only the past fourty, after the leadership’s decision to “reform and to open up”, but the past seven decades, including Maoism. CCP propaganda’s aim is to build an image of its rule where the pre- and post-1978 decades are one political unit, without substantial contradictions within.

In all likelihood, Liu Xiaobo had foreseen that trend. Many Chinese dissidents, no matter if opponents of China’s cultural restauration, or opponents of the KMT’s military dictatorship on Taiwan, saw a Chinese complacency at work, considering itself the center of the universe.

Cultural criticism is rarely a rewarding trade, but in China, it can be lethal, as shown in Liu Xiaobo’s case.

Liu’s last camp and prison term, which began in 2009 and ended with his relase on medical parole, with cancer in its final stage, had been based on the accusation that he had “incited subversion of state power”. But the Beijing First Intermediate People’s Court’s verdict – passed on Christmas day of 2009, probably to keep the level of international attention as low as possible –  only reflected the CCP’s fear of Liu, not the likely divide between the dissident and his people. A likely divide only, because in a totalitarian dictatorship, these things are more uncertain than in an open society. Hu Jia, himself a dissident who spent more than three years in prison from 2007 to 2011, noted during Liu’s dying days that only about one out of a hundred Beijingers knew who Liu Xiaobo was. Michael Bristow, the BBC’s China correspondent  in 2011, made a similar observation back then.

The 1980s mostly came across as a period of economic optimism, but accompanied by phenomena that were viewed negatively – particularly corruption, which was one of the factors that propelled the June-4 movement at its beginning.

Liu’s answer to what was frequently seen as China’s ailments was “westernization”. Stays in Western countries seem to have intensified his idea, just as Deng Xiaoping is said to have had his own cultural shock when visiting Singapore, in 1978.

But there lies a difference between the great statesman, and the great dissident. Singapore, a highly developed city state led by a family clan, is a model not only for authoritarian Chinese nationals – Taiwanese law-and-order-minded people tend to prefer Singapore as a holiday destination, rather than “messy” Hong Kong.

Liu Xiaobo’s model of development was Hong Kong of the 1980s. It was also the crown colony that provided the intellectual in his early thirties with some public resonance. In one of the interviews, given by Liu to a magazine named Kaifang at the time, Liu made statements that astonished the interviewer:

Q. Under what circumstances can China carry out a genuine historical transformation?
A. Three hundred years of colonialism.  Hong Kong became like this after one hundred years of colonialism.  China is so much larger, so obviously it will take three hundred years of colonialism.  I am still doubtful whether three hundred years of colonialism will be enough to turn China into Hong Kong today.

Q. This is 100% “treason.”
A. I will cite one sentence from Marx’s Manifesto of the Communist Party: “Workers do not have motherlands.  You cannot take away what they don’t have.”  I care about neither patriotism nor treason.  If you say that I betray my country, I will go along!  I admit that I am an impious son who dug up his ancestors’ graves and I am proud of it.

Both the “insults” and Liu’s expressly stated pessimism probably made for a divide between him and many Chinese (as far as they got to know his story). Or, as Roland Soong, a blogger from Hong Kong, noted next to his translation of the 1988 interview, as of 2010, “I suggest that unless Charter 08 (or any other message) can connect with many people in other social strata, it will remain a mental exercise among ‘public intellectuals.'”

And nothing works in the modern middle kingdom, unless it comes with a festive up-with-people sound. (In that sense, China is globalizing indeed.)

When Soong translated the interview quoted from above, and added his assessment of the Charter 08, the global financial crisis had been wreaking havoc on Western economies for about two years, and at least one of the Charter’s demands had fallen from the tree since: #14 called for

Protection of Private Property. We should establish and protect the right to private property and promote an economic system of free and fair markets. We should do away with government monopolies in commerce and industry and guarantee the freedom to start new enterprises. We should establish a Committee on State-Owned Property, reporting to the national legislature, that will monitor the transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner. We should institute a land reform that promotes private ownership of land, guarantees the right to buy and sell land, and allows the true value of private property to be adequately reflected in the market.

There wasn’t necessarily a conflict on this matter, between the party leadership and the authors of the Charter – time will show how the CCP is going to handle the remaining state sector of the economy. But among everyday Chinese people, this demand would hardly strike a chord. Besides, who can imagine a transfer of state-owned enterprises to private ownership “in a fair, competitive, and orderly manner”?

In the Charter’s preface, the authors wrote:

The Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles across these same years, now include many who see clearly that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values.

It was a cautious description of the status quo: Liu and his co-authors understood that only a critical minority would side with them. And indeed, there was more to endure in the pipeline. The educational dictatorship China is now entering encourages anticipatory obedience rather than awareness, and it is likely to succeed. When you keep beating people up long enough – and provide them with a hopeful perspective for the future -, there is little that can help people of conscience to counter the propaganda.

This may be the main difference between Liu and his enemies (and many of his admirers, too): in the eyes of many, only hard power – no matter if you refer to it as “the people’s power” or as the “authorities” -, creates reality. If the realities are good, you don’t need to get involved. If they are evil, you can’t get involved. And when realities come in many shades of grey, you either needn’t or can’t get involved. The power of the powerless is no reality in these peoples’ world – unless they begin to tilt, so that re-orientation appears advisable.

That’s a stabilizing factor, so long as realities remain what they appear to be.  But appearances can be deceiving, often until the very last hour. Who of the Egyptians who ditched their longtime president in 2011, in colossal demonstrations, had known weeks before that he wanted to get rid of him? A mood had capsized. It wasn’t about awareness.

A manipulated and intimidated public tends to be unpredictable, and that can turn factors around that were originally meant to add to “stability”.

China’s leaders feared Liu Xiaobo. They feared him to the extent that they wouldn’t let him leave the country, as long as he could still speak a word. But in all likelihood, they fear China’s widespread, politically tinged, religious sects even more, which have a tradition at least as long as Chinese scholarship. Falun Gong is only one of its latest manifestations.

By suppressing public intellectuals not only before 1978, but after that, too, they provided space for nervous moodiness. The Communists themselves want to “guide” (i. e. control) public awareness, without leaving anything to chance.

But chance is inevitable. Totalitarian routine may be able to cope for some time, but is likely to fail in the long run, with disastrous consequences.

In that light, the CCP missed opportunities to reform and modernize the country. But then, the party’s totalitarian skeleton made sure that they could only see the risks, and no opportunities, in an opening society.

What remains from Charter 08 – for now – is the courage shown by its authors nine years ago, and by the citizens who affirmed it with their signatures.

Each of them paid a price, to varying degrees, and often, their families and loved ones did so, too: like Liu Xia, who had hoped that her husband would not get involved in drafting the Charter, but who would never dissociate herself from him.

Nobody is obligated to show the same degree of courage, unless solidarity or conscience prescribe it. In most cases, making such demands on oneself would be excessive. But those who hate the Lius for their courage – and for lacking this courage themselves – should understand that their hatred is wrong. One may keep still as a citizen – but there is an inevitable human duty to understand the difference between right and wrong. By denying our tolerance toward despotism and by repressing awareness of our own acquiescence, we deny ourselves even the small steps into the right direction, that could be taken without much trouble, or economic hardship.

May Liu Xiaobo never be forgotten – and may Liu Xia find comfort and recovery.

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Updates/Related

再生:致刘晓波, Woeser, July 13, 2017
Rebirth, Woeser/Boyden, July 16, 2017
Wiedergeburt, Woeser/Forster, July 27, 2017
The abuse hasn’t stopped, Wu Gan, July 25, 2017

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Thursday, December 24, 2015

2015 Review (3): “People’s Daily” lauds Xi Jinping, the People Person

Those with common aspirations can’t be separated by mountains or seas (志合者,不以山海为远), People’s Daily wrote in an editorial on Thursday, adding that State Chairman Xi Jinping went on travels abroad eight times in 2015, visiting fourteen countries on four continents and attending nine international conferences, meeting 62 state leaders and telling the gospel, or writing articles about, new-type international relations (新型国际关系), the building of one-belt-one-road, maintenance of world peace and development, and other important issues. All that by telling the “China story” (讲述“中国故事”), explaining the “China opportunity” (阐明“中国机遇”), stating the “China Program” (提出“中国方案”), and expressing “China’s attitude” (表达“中国态度”), thus leaving a deep impression on the international community. People’s Daily mentions the Bao’ao Asia Forum in March, the APEC summit in November, the G20 summit, and, also in November, Xi’s visit to Singapore in November.

Obviously, the Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) also features prominently in the People’s Daily’s review.

This the-Chairman-and-the World series also included a review – one day earlier, on Wednesday – of how Xi Jinping told China’s story and how he let the world understand China, how he “told China’s story well, and well disseminated China’s voice” (讲好中国故事,传播好中国声音). This review included quotes from how Xi recognized the role of two-hundred Soviet pilots who had died on the Chinese battlefield, how he published an article in Vietnamese media about how the story of Tu Yoyo’s detection of artesemin and Sino-Vietnamese relations were connected, how the U.S. and China had fought together in World War 2, how, during his visit to Britain, Xi interlinked the lives of Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu, and how, generally speaking, Xi Jinping was good at giving friendly, trust-enhancing talks or speeches or writing articles of the same successful kind.

The editorial’s summary:

Interaction between countries depends on peoples‘ attachment to each other, and the peoples‘ attachment to each other depends on communication from heart to heart. Xi Jinping makes use of vivid stories, catches foreign audiences‘ interest, and sparks strong sympathetic responses. At the same time, he unobtrusively and imperceptibly changes listeners‘ stereotypes about China, dispels some existing misunderstandings, showing brilliant diplomatic wisdom.

国之交在于民相亲,民相亲在于心相通。习近平用生动的故事,抓住了国外听众的兴趣点,引发强烈的共鸣。同时,他使国外听众在潜移默化中,改变了对中国的刻板印象,消除了一些曾经的误解,展现出卓越的外交智慧。

An unobtrusive and imperceptible (潜移默化, see quote above) moral influence had been an issue close to Xi Jinping’s heart since January 2012 – if not much earlier.

There can be no other summary concerning Xi Jinping’s communicative skills, than the stuff composed by People’s Daily this week – it’s a long-term script. It would seem that the outgoing and incoming politburos, during summer and fall 2012, agreed that the CCP’s grip on power in China needed some of the personality cult that had accompanied Mao Zedong, but – for different reasons – Deng Xiaoping, too.

The good story of Xi Jinping’s people-person virtues probably started around winter 2012/13, with stories the party’s secretary-general (but not yet state chairman) Xi Jinping sat cross-legged on the farming family’s kang, how he blessed rural China in the 1970s, whereever he went as a young cadre, and how villagers were in tears when he left from there.

And once Xi was “elected” state chairman in March 2013,

Wearing a dark-blue suit and a red tie, the membership [badge] hanging on his chest, Xi Jinping, tall of stature, stood smiling, calmly and self-confident. His voice clear, bright and vigorous, looking frank and honest, resolute and steadfast, he revealed the power of stirring people to action.

身着深色西装,佩带红色领带,胸挂出席证,身材高大的习近平微笑站立,从容自信。清朗而浑厚的声音,坦诚而刚毅的目光,透出激奋人心的力量。


“The Xi Factor”, BBC short documentary

Stay tuned for more great deeds in 2016. The CCP script is demanding it.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Must-Ask Question: China’s Missiles targeting Taiwan

Radio Taiwan International (RTI) quotes Taiwanese president Ma Ying-jeou as saying in a press conference after his meeting with Chinese state chairman Xi Jinping that he brought up the issue of Chinese missiles aiming at Taiwan. According to Ma, Xi said that the missile deployments were a comprehensive arrangement and not targeted at the people of Taiwan [「部署是整體性,不是針對台灣人民」].

RTI also quotes from a Central News Agency (CNA) interview with the founder of a Canadian military magazine, Kanwa (漢和防務評論), Andrei Pinkov (平可夫). Pinkov reportedly said that clearly, China’s missiles, and land and naval forces were targeting Taiwan.

To expect Beijing to remove these deployments would be difficult:

[Pinkov] said, if you want the removal of missiles be implemented, the mainland will certainly demand the building of mutual military trust. “If there’s no trust built, how can the missiles be removed?” Also, where to store the removed stuff? Just a while ago, the mainland has announced to cut 300,000 military staff. That needs to be digested. If you make more cuts, how should they deploy the staff?

他說,撤飛彈的事情若要實際落實,大陸一定會要求建立雙方軍事互信,「互信沒建立,怎麼撤飛彈?」此外,撤除的東西要往哪擺?大陸先前宣布裁軍30萬人,人員都可能還在消化,若又再撤,人員要怎麼安排?

Pinkov said that although most of the international community viewed the Ma-Xi meeting favorably, but, he concluded, if this was really followed by the two sides establishing some military interaction, America might increase its restrictions on arms sales to Taiwan, and Japan, too, could become more vigilant about Taiwan. All these were problem Taiwan could face [under such circumstances].

平可夫表示,雖然國際社會對馬習會多是樂觀其成,但兩岸雙方若隨後在軍事上真的有一些互動,他推論,美國對台軍售的限制可能會更多,日本對台灣也會開始有戒心,這都是台灣可能面臨的問題。

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Related

» More sophisticated, Jamestown, April 1, 2010

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Monthly Summary: March 2015 – Death of a China Expert

Bremen, East of Central Station, March 26, 2015

Bremen, East of Central Station, March 26, 2015

1. How’s your Weibo going?

Mainland regulators say people will be able to have nicknames – they will just have to register them with website administrators first,

the South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported in January.

The rule apparently took effect on March 1, but yours truly, himself running a Sina Weibo profile, hasn’t been contacted yet.(Having said that, it’s a very low profile – I’m reading there, but I’ve never posted anything myself.)

Either way, it’s »not »the »first try by the authorities to control or to intimidate the microbloggers, and time will show how serious they are this time.

Either way, ways appear to have been found to spoil much of the interest in microblogging.

2. Rectifying Political Ideology at Universities

That blog by Fei Chang Dao was posted on February 25, but it’s probably as important in March and in future. Even if you read no other China blog, make sure you read Fei Chang Dao, and China Copyright and Media, for that matter. What they cover matters much more than the not-really-uncertain fate of Zhou Yongkang – if you want to understaaaaand China.

3. Kailash Calling

Travelling Tibet can be an easy affair, or it can be cumbersome. It might depend on who you are, and where you come from. Here’s an account of scuffproof cheerfulness and patience.

4. “Two Meetings”

The annual tale of two meetings has come to its serene conclusion again this year, with China’s new normal. Just to have mentioned that, too.

5. Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)

The Economist suggested in November that

China will use the new bank to expand its influence at the expense of America and Japan, Asia’s established powers. China’s decision to fund a new multilateral bank rather than give more to existing ones reflects its exasperation with the glacial pace of global economic governance reform. The same motivation lies behind the New Development Bank established by the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Although China is the biggest economy in Asia, the ADB is dominated by Japan; Japan’s voting share is more than twice China’s and the bank’s president has always been Japanese. Reforms to give China a little more say at the International Monetary Fund have been delayed for years, and even if they go through America will still retain far more power. China is, understandably, impatient for change. It is therefore taking matters into its own hands.

The “People’s Daily” suggests that the AIIB is intended to be complementary to top dogs like the World Bank or the Asian Development Bank (ADB). Britain, France, Germany and Italy are European countries that want to be founding members of the AIIB, the British move (which came first in Europe, it seems) angered Washington, a so far reluctant Japanese government may still be persuaded to join the Beijing-led project, and Huanqiu Shibao quotes Russian foreign multimedia platform Sputnik as quoting an analyst as saying that America, too, might still join, so as to hamper China’s influence that way.

6. In Defense of the Constitution: Are you mad?

Taiwan’s president Ma Ying-jeou appeared to question the mental faculties of a Fulbright exchange academic who had asked if the KMT couldn’t drop its claims in the South China Sea.

“Are you mad?”, asked the president – reportedly -, then adding that abandoning those claims would be unconstitutional. He’s also said to have reacted somewhat wooden in another exchange with Fulbright scholars, on the same occasion, March 19.

7. Lee Kuan Yew, 1923 – 2015

Ma’s prayers for Lee Kuan Yew‘s early recovery weren’t terribly successful either; Singapore’s elder statesman died from pneumonia after weeks in hospital. Lee had his admirers both in China and Taiwan, especially for very low levels of corruption in Singapore, and apparently, he had a admirer at the American top, too. Probably no great surprise for John McCain or the tea partisans.

According to “People’s Daily”, Lee was a China expert and a West expert. According to other sources, he appeared to be a democracy expert, too (but he denied that claim).

In an apparently rather terse statement, Benjamin Pwee (方月光), secretary general of the Democratic Progressive Party of Singapore (one of several opposition parties, but neither of them influential in Singapore’s flawed democracy) said that

all great leaders are still people, and inevitably, one can find words of praise and of contempt. But at this time of national grief, let’s remember the contributions he made for the people of Singapore, and affirm his contributions.

“所有伟大的领导人毕竟都是人,难免可褒可贬。但在这个举国哀悼之际,让我们记得他为国人做所的贡献,肯定他的贡献。”

Singapore’s authorities closed the “Speakers Corner” at Hong Lim Park on Monday, for an undefined period. Reportedly, truly “free speech” never really ruled there, anyway.

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Related

想要更多政治空間和言論自由, CNA, March 23, 2015

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