Posts tagged ‘West’

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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Monday, May 2, 2016

Beijing: Foreign Experts wanted to avert more PR(C) Disasters

Life’s hasn’t been nice to China Radio International (CRI). The propaganda juggernaut hasn’t been mentioned in the nation’s chairman’s new year addresses in recent years (as had been a time-honored custom during previous decades), it had been described as a bottomless pit of waste by Keith Perron (a former CRI presenter himself), and the international broadcaster’s borrowed-boats strategy probably caused some chuckles in the industry, too. Other “international” media outlets from the Middle Kingdom aren’t really effective either. Whenever they catch attention, it’s for anchors losing it, or similar not so-work-related reasons – at least in Western countries.

CRI’s German service is a brilliant example of how propaganda on a foreign audience simply can’t work. On the past two Sundays, they broadcast the same edition of their “listeners forum”, with just one listener quoted there (maybe he was the only one who wrote in), and later on, a “report” on electrical power supply in Tibet (also the second time on two consecutive Sundays). That doesn’t mean that there aren’t any listeners – some actually appear to be listening religiously, and Beijing’s propaganda is in no position to abandon these early Christians. But it appears to be a small flock. And given the truthful (and therefore highly unpleasant) representation of Beijing’s attitude towards Tibet, for example, it can’t be a big audience.

If you, as a government or collective dictatorship, can’t bring yourself to destroy some quarters of the state-owned industrial sector (as prescribed by the neo-liberal foreign press), you certainly cannot break an unsinkable aircraft carrier with thousands of jobs up, either. But you can still do two things. Measure number one is to keep the ineffective bathing tub*) in your coastal waters, while venturing into international waters with some international expertise. That, at least, appears to be on Xi Jinping‘s mind – Xi is the guy who hasn’t mentioned CRI in his new-year addresses.

And while the foreign expertise is going to work for you, you can kick all those foreign correspondents out who treat China unfairly. That would be measure number two. In fact, measure number two has been practiced for ages.

(On a private note, I’m not sure if putting lipstick on the pig will really make the pig look nicer, or more convincing. But then, the pig has little to lose – and I’m going to watch the experiment with some curiosity.)

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Note

*) Given the wide range of languages and target areas, there may be CRI brances which are a success story, in terms of feedback from the audience, etc.. But I haven’t heard of them yet.

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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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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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Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Korean Peninsula: no Pain, no Denuclearization

North Korea’s “Historical Moment”

On February 7, North Korea launched a missile. Pyongyang referred ot it as a satellite launch, and that’s how they had registered it with the International Maritime Office in London, a few days earlier.

But the world appeared to be in disbelief. One month earlier, on January 6, North Korea had conducted a nuclear test, and given that space rockets’ and ballistic missiles’ technological platforms are quite similar to each other, it is believed that Pyongyang chose the space option (a three-stufen rocket) rather than a (two-stufen) missile so as to circumvent UN Security Council restrictions on its missile program.

Beijing, too, expressed disbelief and “regretted” the satellite launch which, as the foreign ministry spokesperson emphasized, had been based on ballistic-missile technology.

Pyongyang’s claim that it had tested a hydrogen bomb was met with skepticism in the West, in Japan, and South Korea, and at least semi-officially – via the world of Chinese science, as usual – Beijing expressed doubt, too.

He wouldn’t rule out that North Korea mastered a bit of hydrogen-bomb technology already, PLA Academy of Military Science researcher Du Wenlong told CCTV, but the available data “didn’t support a ‘hydrogen-bomb test’”.

There were no such doubts about North Korean television’s wonderweapon: “Heaven and earth are shaking because of the historical moment”, announced Ri Chun-hee, a veteran presenter, re-emerged from retirement for the festive occasion.

South Korea’s Reaction

And South Korea’s leadership was steaming with anger. If it was up to the South’s foreign minister, Yun Byung-he, the North Korean leadership would be entering a world of pain:

“I believe it is time for the international community to show zero tolerance to North Korea’s uncontrolled provocations”, he told the Munich Security Conference in Munich on Thursday, and: “it is time now to inflict unbearable pain on Pyongyang, to make them take the right strategic decision, as Iran has done.”

South Korea sees itself affected by Pyongyang’s nuclear test more immediately as other neighbors or opponents taking part in the six-party talks on the Korean peninsula’s denuclearization. Different from the world outside the peninsula, reunification of the two Koreas is on the agenda, even if outside the South Korean government, considerable doubts are expressed concerning the use and feasibility of such unification.

There was a special relationship between South Korea and Germany, because of the painful experience of division, South Korean president Park Geun-hye said during a visit to Berlin, in March 2014.

Her demand that “meticulous preparations” should be made for making Korean unity happen was probably meant seriously then, and still is. Basically, the situation on the Korean peninsula isn’t that different after the North’s fourth nuclear test, anyway: America and China can agree to a common denominator concerning sanctions against Pyongyang, but no sanctions that would call the continuation of the North Korean regime into question.

Besides, flashes of official Korean anger – northern or southern – might be considered a ritual. As German sinologist Oskar Weggel observed decades ago, student protests in [South] Korean cities always took the same shape and followed the same script, while life continued as normal just next to where young people were battling it out with the police. 1)

But for some South Korean companies, life may be anything but normal now. An industrial park jointly run in Kaesong, by North and South Korea, has ceased operation last week. On Thursday, Pyongyang deported all the South Korean employees to the South, after South Korea had stopped production. The South Koreans’ apparent attempt to take their assets and stock across the border to the South reportedly didn’t succeed: according to Radio Japn news on Friday, the North Korean committee for reunification announced that South Korean assets in Kaesong would be frozen, and also on Friday, China Radio International’s Mandarin service reported that the South Koreans had only been allowed to take personal belongings with them. The industrial park had been sealed off as a military zone – chances are that this halt will last longer than a previous one in 2013.

Valued more than 500 million USD in 2015, inter-Korean production in Kaesong may be considered less than decisive, in macro-economic terms. However, according to South Korean broadcaster KBS’ German service, South Korean opposition criticized the production halt in Kaesong as the governing party’s “strategy” for the upcoming parliamentary elections in April. Also according to KBS, Seoul feels compelled to take relief measures for companies invested in Kaesong. All companies residing in the industrial park are granted a moratorium on loan repayments, and companies who took loans from an inter-Korean cooperation fund may also suspend interest payment.

Chinese-North Korean Relations

China had “total control” of North Korea, Donald Trump claimed in a CNN interview – there would be nothing to eat in North Korea without China. If you go by statistics, Trump appears to have a point.

From 2009 to 2011, North Korean exports (imports) to (from) China rose from 348 mn (1.47 bn) USD to 2.5 bn (3.7 bn) USD. In total, North Korea’s exports (imports) reached a value of 3.7 bn (4.3 bn) USD.2) Even after a contraction of North Koran-Chinese trade in 2014 and 2015 to 2.3 bn (2.6 bn) USD by 2015, there’s hardly a way to reject the notion of North Korean dependence on China.

North Korea also depends on China in military terms. An American-led attack on Pyongyang – be it to occupy the North, be it for the sake of “regime change”, is hardly conceivable – directly or indirectly, Beijing’s nuclear umbrella protects the regime.

All the same, it is wrong to believe that Beijing wielded substantial influence over Pyongyang’s behavior. Neither economic nor military support from Beijing has been able to satisfy Pyongyang. Given Chinese reform and opening up “to the West”, or to international markets, since 1978, China’s leaders are considered weaklings by North Korean peers, despite some private-economy tries of their own. To consider oneself an economic or military dwarf, but a giant of ideological purity vis-à-vis China has some tradition in Korea.

That China has joined several initiatives – resolutions and sanctions – against North Korea hasn’t been a confidence-building measure for the neighbor and ally either.

That Pyongyang, under these circumstances, keeps striving for nuclear arms, come what may, is only logical – at least by the regime’s own interest –, and not negotiable, unless the regime falls. There are no conceivable guarantees – be it from Beijing, be it from Washington – that could make the North Korean political class abandon their nuclear goal.

American-Chinese Relations

No matter if there ever was or wasn’t a Western “guarantee” to the former USSR not to expand NATO eastward: a precondition for any feasible arrangement of that kind – in east or west – would be a situation where all parties involved would see themselves in a position to enter a non-aligned status, or to maintain one. There is no way that this could currently be done in East Asia. Even as there is no structure comparable to NATO in East Asia – and South-East Asia, for that matter -, none of China’s neighbors will discard the option to play America and China off against one another, thus increasing its own leeway – neither North Korea as China’s current “ally”, nor any other state within the former Chinese imperial state’s range of influence. And neither America nor China – strategic rivals of one another – would abandon the option to establish or to maintain alliances in Asia, based on partnership or on hegemony.

If the North Korean regime collapsed, there would be no guarantees for China that a North Korean power vacuum wouldn’t be filled by South Korea and the United States. And if China invaded Korea’s north preemptively, it wouldn’t only violate its own attitude of non-interference, but it would risk war, or at least a crash in its economic relations with America and many other countries. Not least, a Chinese invasion would harden an antagonism against China that already exists among former tributary states.

From China’s perspective, there is therefore no convincing alternative to the incumbent North Korean regime. The status quo costs less than any conceivable alternative scenario.

America knows that, too, and a newly lected president Trump would get real very quickly, or America would lose a great deal of influence in the region.

Frustrations

Last week’s developments will be most frustrating for the South Korean government, particularly for president Park. Her public-support rate will hardly depend on national reunification drawing closer, but it will depend on a reasonably relaxed co-existence with the North, including at least a few fields of cooperation, as has been the case in the Kaesong Industrial Park. The South Korean opposition’s accusations against the government to have stopped production carelessly or intentionally, it’s exactly because levelling such accusations can damage the government’s reputation with the electorate.

A phone call between Park and Chinese party and state leader Xi Jinping didn’t provide Park with good news either, let alone progress in her efforts to influence the North through international channels. China was still “not prepared” to change its …. Toward North Korea, an editorialist for South Korea’s Yonhap newsagency stated cautiously, adding a quote from Jonathan Pollack who had emphasized how Park had made efforts for good relations with Beijing, even by attending the Chinese military parade in September, commemorating the end of World War 2.

Pyongyang is hardly at risk to suffer from unbearable pains, as demanded by South Korea’s foreign minister in Munich.

But Beijing, too, can’t be happy with the situation. It offends face-conscious Chinese people to be fooled, on the world stage, by a gang – that’s how many Chinese view North Korea’s “elites”. The effects of North Korea’s behavior also strengthen the hand of the US in the region. Just as Pyongyang helps itself to a Chinese military umbrella without much cost (if any), most other neighbors afford themselves, to varying degrees, an American umbrella. Even Japan and South Korea, facing North Korean nuclear armament, might work to defuse mutual antagonism, as feared by Chinese military professor Zhang Zhaozhong, in 2010. Preparedness to improve Japanese-South Korean relations appears to be on the increase.

Besides the – aggressive indeed – role played by China in the South China sea, North Korea’s attitude remains another strong anchor point for America’s military and political presence in the Far East.

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Notes

1) Oskar Weggel: “Die Asiaten”, Munich 1989, 1994, 1997 p. 148
2) FAO/WFP Group and Security Assessment Mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Rome, Nov 28, 2013, p. 7

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Is Britain a “Gateway” to Europe? And whose Gateway?

As noted there in the footnotes, on November 1, Xi Jinping is no less an advocate of British EU membership than what Barack Obama is:

Xi Jinping emphasized that the European Union was China’s partner in a comprehensive strategic partnership. China hoped for a prospering Europe, a united Europe, and for an important EU member country, Great Britain, playing an active and constructive role in promoting and deepening Chinese-European relations.

习近平强调,欧盟是中国的全面战略伙伴和最大贸易伙伴。中国希望看到一个繁荣的欧洲、团结的欧盟,希望英方作为欧盟重要成员国为推动中欧关系深入发展发挥更加积极和建设性的作用。

That was from Xinhua, on October 23.

Now, Yu Jie, a Dahrendorf senior research associate at the London School of Economcis, explains how a Brexit could halt the historic Sino-British strategic partnership in the making.

Maybe the Cameron government should take their time before calling the referendum – after all, if the strategic partnership crashes in the making, or if it becomes historic indeed, remains to be seen. Then again, maybe David Cameron wants to use the honeymoon with the dictators in Beijing – while it lasts – as a point against leaving the EU.

The “Gateway to Europe” term used by Yu in her article is apparently ascribed to Dean Acheson. But it’s a concept that goes far beyond British-Chinese relations. Two weeks ago, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi was only the latest global leader to talk up the merits of Britain’s membership of the European Union before a referendum (Reuters). He’s currently calling on India’s springboard to the world and gateway to the East.

All that said, how you play your role matters, too. The way Cameron and Osborne chummed up to Beijing has done British prestige some damage. And while people in Europe tend to forget very quickly*) – one of Europe’s best-known “China experts” doesn’t even know a great deal about history -, Chinese peoples’ memory is much better.

(We’ll probably find out if this holds true for memorandums of understanding, too.)

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*) Talking about history, and the fuzz that has been made about Xi sitting in a golden carriage with the Queen, things could have been worse. They have been, as shown in the video underneath, dating back to 1978:


The Embarrassment-tested Monarch
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Updates


Taken from Bucharest Life

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

CRI’s “Journalism” Talent Show: no Belief in Facts

The innovation experience described at the lianghui seminar in March 2014 wasn’t exactly new: one of the borrowed-boat reporters mentioned on the seminar by China Radio International‘s (CRI) Zhang Hui, “Andrea Yu”, apparently had an earlier appearance at a CCP-conducted press conference, in November 2012, on the last day of the 18th National Congress. A Guardian article published online on November 14, 2012, contains a link to a soundfile where an Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) correspondent interviewed Yu.

Sina, apparently quoting or republishing a post from the Chinese Herald (澳洲日报) from March 2014, i. e. also from the 2014 two-sessions season, listed a question from “Louise”, also from CAMG, who asked a question to Zhou Xiaochuan (周小川), governor of China’s central bank.

A foreign correspondent apparently lost patience with the silly theater, and shouted: “Give foreign journalists a chance” (给外国媒体一个机会!)  As he was allowed to ask his question, he hastened to make it clear that he was a real foreign journalist. (Which is confirmed by the article.)

The Sina-published article also mentioned a sham reporter from a Hong Kong TV station, but of course, opportunities to speculate become endless under circumstances like these.

Maybe it’s just China Radio International’s talent show. Journalism it is not. But if you have little else to show for, cynicism may be the attitude of choice – and even a mould for “innovative” propaganda.

It’s not necessarily limited to China. According to the Kyiv Post in September this year, Ukraine-born journalist Peter Pomerantsev described the Kremlin’s propaganda as a truthless narrative:

“The Kremlin narrative,” he says, “now is that ‘there is no truth out there, and you’ll never find it; but go with us because our emotional content is more vital.” That promotes cynicism and “cynicism breaks down critical thinking” because at its root “is something quite medieval and emotional – a world of myths and storytelling.”

“When you don’t believe in facts,” Pomerantsev concludes, “you are just left with that.”

 

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Innovative Guidance of Public Opinion: China Radio International’s “Independent Journalists”

On March 25, 2014, the Chinese Journalists Association held a seminar in the Association’s press room, according to an article published by the organization. Both the 2014 “National People’s Congress” (NPC), China’s alibi parliament, and the “Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference”,  had ended about two weeks earlier. The combination of the two is frequently referred to as lianghui (two sessions). The pattern of the seminar didn’t seem to stand out, it was about “implementing the party’s 18th National Congress’ and the 18th Central Committee’s third plenary session’s spirit”, exchanging or sharing experience made with innovative news reporting methods (交流两会新闻报道中的创新经验做法), and with new explorations in increasing the ability or skills of guiding the public (提高舆论引导能力方面所做的新探索).

The beginning was pretty ordinary indeed, if you go by the Chinese Journalists Association account. The deputy director of China Radio International‘s (CRI) central editorial office, Zhang Hui (张晖), provided the participants with lots of statistics:  the “two meetings” had been covered in 55 foreign languages, four national-minority languages, five Han dialects and in standard Chinese, with more than 620 headlines. In form of written pieces or by radio, CRI covered the meetings in 42,000 news items and in 3,800 background reports, using 7,600 photos in the process. Radio reports had been broadcast on shortwave, medium wave, and digital frequencies, covering 160 countries or regions worldwide, in more than fifty foreign languages, Han dialects, and in standard Chinese. According to yet incomplete statistics (by the time of the seminar, that is), CRI had, during the NPC and CPPCC sessions season, received more than 72,000 messages from overseas listeners in more than 160 countries or areas, by letter, telephone, fax, email, and texting.

Many interviews had been recorded, in many languages, with important people, such as the Serbian prime minister, ambassadors from Russia, Mexico, Columbia, Italy, Mongolia and sixteen more states, and foreign parliamentarians and other foreign visitors had conveyed their positive assessments of China’s achievements. A multi-medial approach had been taking all along the way, Zhang told the seminar.

So far, so traditional. And there were tons more of that. Somewhere along the way, Zhang Hui’s shared experience would have sent most foreigners to sleep. But there’s also that magical moment in a Chinese talk, somewhere, when things begin to become more important, and when a Chinese participant would wake up, heeding an intuitive sense of timing, and when he or she really starts listening, at least with one ear.

Zhang Hui  – according to the published record, anyway – had arrived at the innovative aspects of CRI’s lianghui coverage:

CRI brought foreign media forces into play, promoted the localization of production, of distribution, and interaction, put the leading role at the front into effect, and reported globally. 1. Localization leads production and broadcasting closer to the audience. During the past years, CRI has leaned on companies to increase the pace of the “go-out policy”. In the main cities of Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, South Korea, Albania, and other countries, localization in research, production, distribution and in the work processes was achieved. Overseas media clusters played a particular role. An FM broadcaster in Lisbon transmitted a special program (“An ABC of the Sessions”), hot issues, guest interviews, foreign press reviews, etc.. An FM station in Bangkok transmitted the story of the two meetings in unceremonious language.

国 际台调动海外媒体力量,推进本土化制作、发布和互动,实现两会报道阵地前移、报道全球覆盖。1.本土化内容制播贴近受众需求。 近年来,国际台依托公司化运作加快“走出去”步伐,在泰国、老挝、柬埔寨、韩国、阿尔巴尼亚等多个国家的主要城市,实现了本土化采集、制作、发布和运营。 两会报道中,海外媒体集群发挥了独特作用。葡萄牙里斯本调频台播出特别节目《两会ABC》、热点问题、嘉宾访谈、外媒评论等。泰国曼谷调频台在《缤纷世 界》栏目中,以轻松活泼的形式讲述两会故事。

In “Studio 93” and similar programs of the FM station in Vientiane, Laos, officials, experts and academics were invited to a special program, to interpret the content of the two sessions. The program “Current Affairs in Chinese”, broadcast by the Albanian FM station, offered the main issues of the day by the “hot words from the two sessions”. CRI’s broadcasting stations with the CAMG media group in Melbourne, Auckland, Bangkok, Incheon, Colomb0, Kathmandu, Ulaanbataar, and other studios, arranged the news programs about the two sessions, organized the coverage mechanisms, and gave an example of the advantages of localization. The studio in Bangkok, through local hosts, in a familiar and effective fashion, gave explanations on [how] the two meetings [work].

老挝万象调频台在《93 播放室》等栏目中开设两会专 栏,邀请老挝官员、专家学者,解读两会相关内容。阿尔巴尼亚调频台在《时事汉语》节目中,开设“两会热 词”,关注当天热点。国际台环球凯歌公司下属的墨尔本、奥克兰、曼谷、仁川、科伦坡、加德满都、乌兰巴托等节目制作室,提前制定中国两会报道方案,建立健 全报道机制,彰显本土化传播优势。泰国曼谷节目制作室通过《泰中一家亲》栏目,由泰国本土主持人向受众解读中国两会,报道贴心,实效显著。

According to a Reuters report published early this month, CAMG Media is one of three foreign joint ventures co-run by China Radio International, or rather, by a 100 percent CRI subsidiary, Guoguang Century Media. Guoguang, according to Reuters, holds sixty percent in EDI media (North America), GBTimes (Finland), and CAMG Media Group (Melbourne), respectively.

Back to the Journalist Association’s seminar article on Wang Hui’s experience account:

2. International coverage localization operations abide by the broadcasting rules. CRI’s EDI Media in North America, GBTimes in Europe, CAMG Media in Australia, Global Iberia in Portugal, and other overseas companies dispatched nine reporters, in their capacities as [Update 20151117: overseas] independent reporters, to the two sessions, where they were positively active. Louise, Andrew and Michael as well as other reporters from CAMG, IBTimes, and EDI Media respectively, asked five questions [each?], to ministers and delegates, concerning property tax, environmental protection, economic growth etc. and achieved broad attention in domestic and foreign media. The nine reporters reported short commentary, blogs, miscellaneous, hot topics on social networks and photo stories [to their respective local or regional stations] and, speaking as borrowed foreign staff, told the Chinese narrative*) well.

2. 国际化新闻运作遵循传播规律。国际台美国环球东方、欧洲环球时代、澳洲环球凯歌、葡萄牙环球伊比利亚等海外公司,派出9名记者以海外独立媒体记者身份 上会,积极活跃在两会会场内外。环球凯歌、环球时代、环球东方上会记者Louise、Andrew、Michael等分别就房产个税、环保治理、经济增长 等在记者会上向各位部长、人大代表提问达5次,受到中外媒体广泛关注。9名上会记者为海外媒体公司开设的网站和落地电台发回短评、记者博客、每日花絮、社 交媒体热议以及图片新闻等报道,实现了借用外籍员工之口和海外媒体平台讲好中国故事。[…]

The Reuters story of early this month isn’t clear about where the idea of “borrowed boats”, i. e. CRI-invested joint ventures abroad, grew first: if the overseas Chinese media entrepreneurs who partner with CRI or CRI themselves got the idea first. “Borrowed boat”, according to Reuters, is how CRI director general Wang Gengnian refers to the overseas outlets concept. Wang Hui, in her work report to the seminar, used the same term in March 2014. And at least one of CRI’s overseas partners, James Su Yantao, described on a media industry convention in 2008 in China how overseas outlets could offer China’s external propaganda advantages.  According to Reuters, EDI Media was founded in the following year, in 2009.
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Note

*) Party and state leader Xi Jinping addressed the issue of telling a good Chinese narrative (讲好中国故事) on a central committee external work meeting on November 29, 2014, i. e. eight months after the China Journalists Association seminar described above. But the term is older; Hu Xijin, chief editor of Huanqiu Shibao, discussed the zhongguo gushi in 2013, and the leadership probably picked the concept from the usual circles of public-diplomacy expertise and academia.

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Related

» Borrowed Boats hit the News, Jichang Lulu, Nov 4, 2015
» Beijing’s covert Radio Network, Reuters, Nov 2, 2015
» Rumours about China Radio International, April 13, 2015

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