Napoleon always said he liked lucky generals. He would have loved Barack Obama. The president is so lucky that he now has the South Koreans doing the dirty work of saving him from committing political suicide by signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would likely further increase both the U.S. trade deficit and the U.S. unemployment rate.
Reports from Seoul yesterday said the deal was essentially done and that Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak would meet their self-imposed deadline by inking the deal today (Thursday). But no, the Koreans, who have been relentlessly promoting this deal as essential to both Korea's future economic well-being and its national security, suddenly said they couldn't agree to a small increase in imports of U.S. beef or a slight relaxation of emissions rules for imports of small numbers of foreign auto imports.
Since, like China, South Korea already manipulates its currency and imposes a myriad of subtle bureaucratic regulations and informal agreements that make the Korean market one of the most closed in the world, one might wonder why Seoul couldn't agree to these two U.S. requests which would in no way result in any significant increase in Korean imports from the United States. But Obama should really thank his lucky stars for South Korea's economic paranoia because it may save him from his administration's own worst instincts.
I know we're all supposed to be free traders and that opposition to anything labeled free trade is strictly taboo. But really, does anyone truly believe that we have anything like free trade with South Korea? This is a country that, as a matter of policy encourages the infringement of foreign intellectual property, and whose courts routinely annul the Korean patents of foreign based companies.
Yes, the proposed deal would significantly reduce Korean tariffs and facilitate foreign investment in Korea and contains strong language on the protection of intellectual property. But if the courts won't enforce the language what is the point? And tariffs are not the real barriers to foreign penetration of the Korean market, especially since the Korean government can and does manipulate its currency to offset the effect of any tariff reductions. As for facilitating foreign investment in Korea, why do we especially want to do that when we need investment in the United States? Moreover, the proposed deal on investment as presently constituted actually allows the U.S. branches of Korean companies to take disputes over U.S. regulatory rulings and impacts out of the American legal system by appealing to the World Bank and the International Court.
Isn't that something? The United States has consistently refused to join the International Criminal Court on grounds of protecting national sovereignty, but was just on the verge of signing a trade deal that would enable foreign companies to evade the sovereignty of the U.S. legal system in certain disputes. I wonder if the Republicans who have been promoting the deal understand that.
But sovereignty is not really the main point; that would be jobs. Here, the deal fails utterly. Of course, there are lots of studies by the various think tanks around Washington. Not surprisingly they only prove that while figures don't lie, liars figure.
If you are for the deal, you can easily find a computer model that will confirm your view and vice versa. So let me put it in the words of one of the Korean negotiators whom I know and to whom I posed the question of whether, honestly between friends, he thought the deal would significantly increase U.S. exports to Korea or U.S. employment. His answer was an immediate "no." And no one who knows anything about doing business in Korea believes otherwise.
So let's hope Obama's lucky streak keeps holding, at least until he gets out of South Korea.
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of The Betrayal of American Prosperity.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Image
China's authoritarianism is at times ruthless and at times, well… confused. A case in point is the decision to put Ai Weiwei, arguably China's best known artist (a co-designer of the "Bird's Nest" Olympic Stadium who also has current exhibit at the Tate Modern in London) under house arrest. Ai has been a longtime critic of the Chinese government, and he is increasingly in the international spotlight. If the authorities had wanted to merely silence him, they have their ways. If they had wanted to allow him to speak his mind -- perhaps as an example to the world that China is more open than its critics charge -- they could have done so.
Instead, here is what happened, as Christian Science Monitor's Peter Ford reports:
In what he described as a farcical series of visits by the police, Mr. Ai was told he would not be allowed to host a mass party he had planned to hold in Shanghai on Sunday as a protest against the authorities.
"They came at half past midnight and told me they did not wish me to go to Shanghai," Ai said by telephone from his walled compound home on the outskirts of Beijing. "I said that I had already announced the party and that I could not not go.
"They suggested I should announce that I was under house arrest," Ai said. "I told them I could not say that unless I was under house arrest."
After three more visits and continued discussion on Friday morning, Ai recounted, "they told me at 1:30 this afternoon that I was under house arrest."
The backstory is that Ai, who lives in Beijing, had planned a party of sorts to commemorate the destruction of his studio in Shanghai. The local government had declared the studio, not a dissident hotbed, but an "illegal structure" and so slated it for demolition.
The fact of the government taking action to restrict the movements of such a prominent figure is troubling, and in this case a bit surprising. The manner in which Ai is being supressed is rather wobbly. It is "farcical," as Ford says Ai put it, and reveals something of the government's confusion or indecisivness (should we or shouldn't we arrest him?), also worth taking note of.
Last week we listed some items that are growing in popularity among China's increasingly wealthy middle class, along with some of the impacts of these recent obsessions, including jade. One major consequence not included in the list is the fact that China's passion for jade has been criticized by both human rights groups and the U.S. government for financing Burma's military dictatorship.
Brian Leber, a Chicago-based jeweler involved in efforts for an industry-wide boycott of jewels from Burma, wrote in to remind us that the Southeast Asian country is not only home to one of the world's most repressive regimes, it also has millions of kilograms of jadeite -- the most expensive and most sought after jade in China.
U.S. trade sanctions on Myanmar that specifically targeted the military junta's trade of jadeite have apparently done little to quell the Chinese appetite for the fine gem: According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, jadeite from Myanmar has, unlike other gems, continued to be "primarily purchased, processed, and consumed by China."
In a surprise move after it looked like the recent spat between Tokyo and Beijing was quieting down, China has just canceled a planned meeting between its premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Hanoi.
And it did so in spectacularly undiplomatic language, with Assistant Foreign Minister Hu Zhengyue (in remarks paraphrased by Xinhua, Beijing’s state-run news agency) accusing Japanese diplomats of “violating China's sovereignty and territorial integrity through statements to the media” and making “untrue statements about the content of a meeting between Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers held earlier in the day.”
Xinhua also said Hu accused “the diplomatic authority of Japan, in cahoots with other nations,” of trying to “create noises on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in the lead-up to the summits between ASEAN and its partners.”
It’s no secret that China doesn’t much like Seiji Maehara, Japan’s new, unabashedly pro-American foreign minister, who after a 2005 speech characterizing China’s rise as a “threat” was all but declared persona non grata in Beijing. U.S. diplomats describe Maehara in glowing terms, a welcome breath of fresh air after a year of confused relations. Earlier this month, when Maehara described China’s reaction to the recent fishing trawler incident near the disputed Senkaku/Diaoyu island chain as “hysterical,” he drew a harsh rebuke from Beijing. (To be fair, he also recently complemented Chinese president-to-be Xi Jinping on his “very gentle-looking appearance.”)
Japan’s Mainichi News sees the cancelation of the Wen-Kan meeting as “aiming to deal a blow” at Maehara, who pissed off the Chinese again Wednesday by reiterating Japan’s claim of sovereignty over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands during a press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. In their remarks, the two diplomats pointedly emphasized the security aspects of the U.S.-Japan relationship, and Clinton also drew China’s ire by bluntly saying the Senkakus “fall within the scope of Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security” -- though she was only reiterating what Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen had already made clear.
Clinton’s speech Thursday, billed as a major statement of U.S. policy in 21st century Asia, was nuanced, but noticeably chilly toward China -- making it clear that the United States is going to remain a player in Asia for the indefinite future, and that it isn’t going to let Beijing push around America’s allies in the region.
Things are about to get chillier. The Diplomat’s Andy Sharp notes:
Another element that could pour oil on the territorial squabbling is that video footage of the collision between the Chinese trawler and two Japanese patrol boats will be shown to a restricted number of Japanese lawmakers in the Diet on Monday. While the content of the video won’t be made public (opposition Diet members are demanding its full disclosure – and surely its only a matter of time before it finds its way onto the Internet), the reaction of lawmakers on both sides of the house will likely be a hot topic in the coming weeks.
UPDATE: It looks like U.S. diplomats are assiduously trying to calm things down between China and Japan, and Kan and Wen apparently did meet briefly on the sidelines of the summit. But it's not clear to what extent that meeting was Wen freelancing, or whether it was a conscious attempt by China to lower the temperature. One good sign: The People's Daily reports that Clinton and Dai Bingguo, the top Chinese official on foreign affairs, had a good meeting.
I don't advise anyone to willingly dive into the fever swamps of the opinion pages of the Chinese state-run press, but sometimes it's good fun.
Take, for instance, this recent offering by People's Daily columnist Li Hongmei, who writes like a computer-generated parody of a Chinese hard-liner:
You do not need to toil at work, and bend on dizzily complicated formula or spend months in the Lab, but Nobel Prize is still like the beautiful passing clouds, just hard to touch. It takes no more efforts but a fatal bite to one's own Mother, he will be awarded the top honor, and catapulted to "the international stardom" overnight. People with human conscience must despise the idea, but Liu Xiaobo and the like will pounce on the chance to win a quick success.
Ms. Li was last seen ripping "Uncle Sam" as "too senile to lead Asia" and, my personal favorite, dissing Norway as "a Kart-like country with a tiny population of 4 million." Please weigh in below if you can figure out that last one.
(Hat tip: @TomLasseter)
China's latest film exports will not be on display at the 23rd annual Tokyo film festival thanks to a spat over Taiwan sovereignty:
The head of the Chinese delegation, Jiang Ping, told festival organizers that the Taiwanese delegation must not attend the festival under the name Taiwan, but as "Chinese Taipei," which Taiwan used while participating in the Olympic Games, shortly before celebrities began to walk down a green carpet to mark the start of the festival.
Jiang, also deputy director-general of the Film Bureau of the State Administration of Radio, Film and TV (SARFT), told reporters, "We protested against the organizers introducing the two delegations as 'China and Taiwan.' And our request to introduce Taiwan as "Chinese Taipei or China's Taiwan" was rejected by the organizers."
Of course, this will be seen as part of a larger issue than what Ang Lee's homeland gets to call itself. Anti-Japanese protests broke out in half a dozen Chinese cities over the weekend and the Japanese government has formally protested the presence of Chinese military patrol boats near disputed islands in the East China Sea.
As anti-Japanese protests flare across China, the Japanese media is reporting that the government may have unwittingly violated a secret pact with China over the disputed Senkaku islands, leading to the current round of tension:
Aera magazine reported that under Japan's conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which ruled for half a century until last year, Tokyo and Beijing had made "secret promises" to each other over the territorial issue.
"Under the secret promises, Japan was in principle to prevent landings (of Chinese nationals) on the islets and not to detain them unless it develops into a case of grave concerns," the magazine said, citing unnamed government sources.
"The Chinese side promised to block (anti-Japanese) protesters' boats from sailing off to reach the islands," the weekly added.
In an illustrative case, Japan in 2004 immediately deported seven Chinese activists who had landed on one of the rocky islands, Aera said.
When power changed in Japan last summer, the earlier promises may not have been mentioned to the new centre-left Democratic Party of Japan government, an unnamed government source was quoted as saying by Aera.
If true, this would be the second revelation this year about a secret foreign policy pact made by the LDP government. In March, it came out that under an undisclosed passage of a 1960 treaty with the United States, Japan had been allowing nuclear-armed U.S. vessels to use its ports in violation of longstanding anti-nuclear principles.
Obviously, secret agreements between countries are hardly unheard of. But it's certainly starting to seem like the LDP had been trying to avoid public outcry on some of Japan's most contentious foreign-policy issues and that after decades of unquestioned rule, didn't anticipate having to let the opposition in on the secret.
JASON LEE/AFP/Getty Images
Before he became Barack Obama's running mate, Joe Biden famously ripped his then opponent's lack of experience. "The presidency is not something that lends itself to on-the-job training," he said.
Nowhere is this more true than in China, where would-be leaders spend years toiling in the Communist Party's lower ranks, clawing their way to the top in a dog-eat-dog political culture that rewards loyalty, economic performance, and savvy backroom maneuvering.
Today, China announced that Xi Jinping has been named the vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission, an important sign that he's successfully navigated this gauntlet and is destined to take over in Beijing once Hu Jintao retires in 2012. He'll have two years to learn the ropes as a civilian overseer of the world's second most powerful military, essential training for any Chinese leader.
Xi's ascent is probably a good thing as far as the West is concerned. Here's how China analyst Cheng Li described him few years back:
Xi has leadership experience in economic administration and favors pro-market reforms. In the provinces that he ran, Xi was particularly noted for his promotion of the private sector. His likely policy priorities lie in enhancing economic efficiency and promoting market liberalization, continuing China's high rates of GDP growth, and expanding China's integration into the world economy.
The rap on Xi is that he's a "princeling" -- a Chinese politician who owes his career to family connections (guanxi ) rather than hard work (his father was a top party official). Many in China are critical of this youngish group of party leaders, but Xi seems to have acquited himself well thus far. In 2008, he oversaw the successful Olympic Games, and last year he headed China's 60-year celebrations. He has a law degree and a master's in chemical engineering, and has styled himself as tough on corruption. His wife is a famous folk singer.
At a meeting last week with Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, Xi pledged to work toward closer bilateral ties with the United States, though he's made undiplomatic remarks in the past. On a tour of Latin America in 2009, Xi seemed to catch a bit of the region's anti-yanqui fervor, telling a gathering of Chinese expats, "There are some foreigners who have eaten their fill and have nothing better to do than point their fingers at our affairs. China does not, first, export revolution; second, export poverty and hunger; or third, cause unnecessary trouble for them. What else is there to say?"
Though most analysts think Xi will succeed Hu, the appointment probably won't end the speculation over his putative rival Li Keqiang, a close protégé of Hu's with deep ties to the powerful Communist Youth League. Li's faction doesn't think much of the princelings, though there doesn't appear to be any rift between Xi and Li -- at least not one that has spilled into public view. Li is widely thought to be in line to succeed Wen Jiabao as premier, the No. 2 job in China's political system.
President Obama has gone beyond any simple congratulatory message for 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, he's called for the Chinese to free him:
I welcome the Nobel Committee's decision to award the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Liu Xiaobo... By granting the prize to Mr. Liu, the Nobel Committee has chosen someone who has been an eloquent and courageous spokesman for the advance of universal values through peaceful and non-violent means, including his support for democracy, human rights, and the rule of law...
Over the last 30 years, China has made dramatic progress in economic reform and improving the lives of its people, lifting hundreds of millions out of poverty. But this award reminds us that political reform has not kept pace, and that the basic human rights of every man, woman and child must be respected. We call on the Chinese government to release Mr. Liu as soon as possible.
Surely, this won't go down well with the Chinese, who were
already quite unhappy
about the first Chinese winner being
imprisoned for his pro-democracy work
a criminal while also facing other U.S. pressures.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Fourteen Chinese dissidents and the Chinese Communist Party have finally agreed on something: Liu Xiaobo should not get the Nobel Peace Prize. While Chinese authorities have found his pro-democracy work worthy of 11 years of prison time and have made it clear to Norway that his victory would not be in its best interests, a group of overseas Chinese dissidents found Liu to be "unsuitable" for the award because they believed he has not adopted a strong enough line against the ruling Communist Party:
In a letter, the signatories accused Mr. Liu...of maligning fellow activists, abandoning persecuted members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement and going soft on China's leaders.
"His open praise in the last 20 years for the Chinese Communist Party, which has never stopped trampling on human rights, has been extremely misleading and influential," they wrote.
Chinese dissidents against Chinese dissidents? The New York Times accurately notes that the letter is symptomatic of the Chinese dissident community throughout the world, a "fractured group beset by squabbling and competing claims of anti-authoritarian righteousness." Well, it wouldn't be the first time exiled dissidents haven't gotten along.
ANTONY DICKSON/AFP/Getty Images
It's a not-very-well-known fact that China, the world's second largest economy which holds $2.5 trillion in foreign reserves, still gets about $2.5 billion in foreign government aid every year. (Jack Chow recently explored how this plays out that the Global Fund for AIDS in an FP piece.)
What's even more surprising, given this month's events, is who the biggest source of that aid -- accounting for nearly half -- is:
Today's aid adds up to $1.2 billion a year from Japan, followed by Germany at about half that amount, then France and Britain. ...
Japan's generosity has historically been driven at least in part by a desire to make amends for its invasion of China in the 1930s. But in recent years Japanese lawmakers and officials have repeatedly questioned whether the money flow should continue, pointing to China's emergence as a donor to African countries.
It's pretty hard to see how this will continue to be tenable in the current Japanese political climate, particularly with China arresting Japanese workers sent to clean up World War II sites.
In an inspired bit of YouTube surfing, Gawker has assembled a compilation of military recruitment commercials from around the world. There are a few clunkers -- three minutes is an awful long time to watch a Russian paratrooper sort of rapping in front of an obstacle course -- and I have my doubts that this Japanese ad is not an elaborate sophomoric hoax, but on the whole they make for pretty fascinating viewing.
Watching these as an American, the most immediately noticeable thing is how little time most of the ads spend overtly appealing to patriotism. There's Estonia, which does it cheekily, and Lebanon, which does it with a slow-motion sentimentality that would be cloying under other circumstances but is actually quite poignant in the context of a country that is eternally trying to keep things together. France and India, meanwhile, both hearken back to the U.S. military ads of the pre-9/11 era, in which we mostly see the life-advancing stuff that enlistment is supposed to get you, with a minimum of actual warfighting. (A career in the Indian army evidently prepares you for a lifetime of golfing and competitive diving.)
The Ukrainian army opts for an admirably straightforward "you'll get girls" approach. Singapore features a naval vessel transforming into a giant robot, presumably developed to contain the same giant lava monsters that have long plagued the U.S. Marines. Britain's jarring entry -- which a student of post-colonialism would have a field day with -- looks like it was directed by Fernando Meirelles. (This kind of "I dare you" approach to recruiting must work in the U.K. -- back in the '90s, when the U.S. Army was mostly promoting itself as a way to pay for college, the Brits ran magazine ads showing a Royal Marine eating worms as part of a survival training course.)
But the real winner here, I think, is Sweden, which is promoting military service to young women as a means of avoiding working as an au pair for awful Americans:
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
The more time one spends in China, and the more one travels within the country, the harder it is to describe "China" as a single entity. The country is far more geographically, culturally, linguistically and economically diverse -- and confusing -- than is evident from the photos we now often see of gleaming new shopping malls in its wealthier eastern cities. There is not one China story, but countless.
From the windblown deserts of Gansu province to the fertile rice paddies of Hunan, from impoverished Tibetan shepherds to shopaholic Shanghaiese, from the glitzy coordination of mass events, like the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony, to the chaotic hodgepodge of daily life (orderly queues are entirely unknown), there is no single narrative or argument that encapsulates the nation. (The Atlantic's James Fallows and others return often to this point.)
What all these aspects of China do have in common, however, is that they're changing. Rapidly. Over the next 20 years, some 400 million people -- more than the entire population of the United States -- will move from the countryside to China's fast growing cities. Imagine the many stages of American history over the last century and a half condensed into a single generation. Then you have a glimpse of the transformation underway in China.
In Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, there are only two cities with a population of more than 1 million; in the United States, there are just 10 such cities. But already in China, there are 43 cities of more than 1 million, and by 2030 there will be 221, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts.
What is life like in China's booming megacities? To begin to answer that question, this spring I visited the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing -- once a relative backwater in mountainous western China, and today place where land is converted from countryside to apartment blocks and parking lots faster than anywhere else on the planet. A dynamic inland port city, and gateway to what Beijing considers China's still Wild West, think of it as "Chicago on the Yangtze" (check out the article here -- and Matthew Niederhauser's superb photo essay here.)
During World War II, the city was known to westerners as Chungking, when it was briefly the Nationalist capital of China. Many turns of history later, it is today a place where it is possible to drive through the northern New District for more than a half hour, past block upon block of new apartment highrises, where five years ago there were only fields. Its celebrity Party boss, Bo Xiali, is already making international headlines for his storied crackdown on Chinese mobsters and wrenching political ambitions.
For all the international attention paid to decisions made in Beijing, I have come to believe that the role that China, now the world's second largest economy, will come to play in the 21st century will depend not firstly on the wiles of its diplomats, the size of its navy, or even the next appointments to the Politburo, but on how well China manages the largest mass urbanization in history. The municipality of Chongqing, absorbing roughly 1 million new urban dwellers each year, is at the spear tip of this experiment.
UPDATE: Chicago fires back! Writing for the Chicago Reader, Lauri Apple takes issue with the comparison, and explains why Chicago is not the Chongqing of the United States:
Chongqing's skyline has jillions of tall buildings; we've got our fair share of skyscrapers, but nothing approaching Chongqing’s concrete horizon. Chongqing continues to build communist-style housing developments; Chicago is tearing them down.
Chongqing is mountainous, and its main body of water, the Yangtze, looks like a river of Yoo Hoo. Chicago has no mountains, and its water is blue (and green, on Saint Patrick's Day). In Chongqing, people play badminton in the public areas; Chicagoans play public cornhole.
Fair enough, there's no analogy that truly explains a Chinese megacity. But hopefully the article and photos will help a bit to demystify the abstraction.
In an event seemingly designed specifically to guarantee a write-up on Passport, 10,276 people in China's city of Ordos, in Inner Mongolia, formed the world's largest human domino chain yesterday, besting the previous record of 9,234 Singaporeans desperate for a Passport mention.
The event just gets better: Chinese basketball icon and former NBA center Mengke Bateer, who ESPN informs me averaged 3.4 points per game over his career, kicked off the chain by passing a basketball to the first "domino."
The volunteers, mostly high school students, spelled out "Beautiful Ordos." If they spell out "Passport" next time, I think I can get them on the front page.
China may be surpassing the United States in energy use and is catching up in the race for the world's biggest economy, but there's one superlative Beijing is trying to avoid: world's fattest country.
Starting this week, the city of Beijing has resumed mandatory daily workplace calisthenics, after a three-year break. Radio broadcast exercise regimens first began in 1951, but were suspended in 2007 so broadcasters could spend more time reporting on the 2008 Summer Olympics, held in Beijing. According to the media blog Danwei, Radio Exercise Set #8 will be broadcast on FM 102.5 every day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Four million workers in the city are participating.
The Guardian interviewed several Beijing residents who supported the move, claiming it will benefit the city's younger workers:
"They are not lazy, they are just too busy. They have a lot of pressure at work and don't have time to exercise otherwise," said retired engineer Yang Jinrong, 55, as she took a break from playing badminton with her husband in a city centre park.
"Of course, the radio exercises will do young people good. Like they say on TV, 'Life lies in movement'," said Li Zhigang, 50, dropping to the ground to demonstrate the lotus yoga position.
Mr Sun, a 30-year-old who works in marketing, said he hoped private sector firms would adopt the drills. "I think this [resumption] is really necessary, because people's living habits are very bad now. They sit in the office the whole day," he said.
"I have my own exercise plan, but I never put it into practice because I am too busy."
Each exercise session is only 8 minutes long, meaning Chinese citizens might still need to hit the gym in order to offset the calories consumed at the country's 3,000 Kentucky Fried Chicken branches (apparently, Yum Brands opens one new KFC in mainland China nearly every day). How do you say Double Down in Mandarin?
In a move that counter-proliferation experts have called a step backward, the Wall Street Journal reports that the Obama administration is in "advanced negotiations" with Hanoi to share nuclear fuel and technology. Furthermore, in going against the model that the Obama administration used for other nuclear deals -- requiring the country to not enrich uranium -- the new agreement also reportedly allows Hanoi todo just that. Although signatories of the UN's Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty have the right to enrich uranium, the United States has previously required countries interested in civilian nuclear cooperation to renounce that right.
The WSJ found that many aren't too excited for the State Department-led negotiations that are expected to continue in the fall:
Congressional staff and nonproliferation experts briefed on the negotiations have been quick to criticize the State Department's position as a rollback of a key Obama administration nonproliferation platform. They also say Washington's position exposes it to criticism from Arab and developing countries that the U.S. is employing a double standard in pursuing its nuclear policies. […]
"It's ironic...as nonproliferation is one of the president's top goals that the U.A.E. model is not being endorsed here," said a senior Arab official whose government is pursuing nuclear power. "People will start to see a double standard, and it will be a difficult policy to defend in the future.
To make this even more interesting, China was completely uninvolved in the negotiations about the potential for uranium enrichment on its southern border. This comes after China criticized Secretary Clinton for supporting Hanoi's position on territorial disputes in the South China Sea…territorial disputes that seem to be ongoing.
The Chinese government has instituted a new anti-crime measure dubbed "sealed management." In less euphemistic terms, it's a handy new policy of effectively putting migrants on nighttime lockdown in their already decrepit villages. Though the targets of the policy are themselves Chinese, it's enforcement is reminiscent of some of the world's harshest immigration laws.
How has it worked in practice? Beijing officials have installed gates around migrant communities and forcibly locked the residents in from 11pm to 6am, all with the goal of reducing the city's hike in crime rates -- which the officials conveniently attribute to low-income civilians. Lest the padlocks and security cameras provide insufficient protection from the artificial enemy, the government has taken an additional cue from Jan Brewer: police patrol the gated neighborhoods at all hours to check the migrants' identification papers. Now there's xenophobia at its finest.
Only sixteen neighborhoods have been enclosed and locked down so far, but local officials are campaigning ardently to expand the system throughout the city. The ruling Communist Party has disseminated propaganda to portray the neighborhood compounds as a mutually beneficial social program (rather than, say, a thinly veiled quarantine of the poor):
"Closing up the village benefits everyone," read one banner which was put up when the first, permanent gated village was introduced in April.
"Eighty percent of the permanent residents applauded the practice," said Guo Ruifeng, deputy director of Laosanyu's village committee. He didn't say how many migrants approved, though they outnumber the locals by 7,000 to 700.
"Anyway, they should understand that it is all for their safety," he said. Guards only check papers if they see anything suspicious, he said.
"If they see anything suspicious?" But the assumption underlying the creation of the gated communities is that the migrants themselves are inherently suspicious -- and the police aren't likely to deviate from that deeply flawed rationale when choosing who to hassle. We've watched the descent down this slippery slope before, and it isn't pretty.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Apparently, gambling and organized crime have become as entrenched in sumo wrestling culture as topknots and obesity.
Taking a page from the Gambino crime family, dozens of sumo wrestlers and their managers have admitted to betting on baseball games, mah jong, cards, and golf through gambling rings organized by the Yakuza -- the Japanese mafia. The Yakuza allegedly take a even more hands-on approach: sponsoring wrestlers and even positioning themselves in front-row seats at matches to communicate with their members in prison.
But this most recent scandal is especially embarrassing for the sumo industry -- the wrestlers are held to high moral and ethical standards, representing traditional values. The ancient sport which is believed to be at least 1500 years old, is part of the country's founding myth. (Imagine the shock when Americans discovered that Washington never actually chopped down the Cherry tree!)
And, in an unprecedented act of repentance, Hiroshi Murayama, the acting chief of sumo, stood among wrestlers inside the ring at this year's Grand Tournament in Nagoya, and apologized for the gambling scandals.
JIJI PRESS/AFP/Getty Images
International condemnation for the sinking of the Cheonan and the disgraceful 0-7 World Cup defeat at the hands of Portugal seem to have unleashed a Pandora's Box of Kim Jong-Il wrath. Citing costs induced by six decades of American hostility, Jong-Il has rummaged up his calculator, revived his old grudges, and delivered a tab to the U.S. to the tune of $65 trillion -- plus tax.
KCNA, North Korea's official state-run news agency, has asserted North Korea's "justifiable right" to collect financial compensation from the U.S. for an alleged six decades worth of antagonism -- one trillion dollars for every year since the Korean peninsula was divided in 1945. North Korea ascribes most of the demands to U.S. war crimes committed in the Korean War. Though most peg the war's outbreak to a North Korean invasion of the south in 1950, Jong Il's regime maintains that capitalist South Korea and its U.S. and U.N. allies are to blame for the military conflict's onset.
KCNA broke down the aggregate cost as follows: 26.1 trillion from U.S. "atrocities," about 20 trillion from sixty years of economic sanctions, compensation for civilians killed, and a variety of smaller claims. And according to North Korea, these restitutions are not even as severe as they could be: they say the toppling sum ignores money lost as a result of the U.S. sanctions enacted in 2006, targeted at the communist country's developing nuclear program.
The real question is: if the world were flipped upside-down and North Korea were awarded this colossal fortune, what would Kim Jong-Il do with it? It's pretty safe to say that even with that kind of money in the bank, his first priority would not be converting those gulag-like labor camps into more humane jails, or supplying something other than potatoes to his 9 million starving countrymen. I wonder if he has already tabulated how many pairs of thick-rimmed, triangular sunglasses and ego-boosting elevator platforms-- I mean, "heightening loafers" -- $65 trillion could buy...
Single and ready to mingle in Taiwan? Then meet your new matchmaker: your government.
With a 2009 birth rate falling below half the replacement rate, the island's conspicuous lack of baby-making threatens to devastate the economy -- and officials have recently gotten creative about the problem-solving. They have previously launched an advertising campaign to entice "unattached" peoples to have children and subsidized fertility treatments for couples struggling to conceive. The health ministry, meanwhile, has begun occasionally closing their doors early to urge civil servants to go home and focus on populating that shrinking workforce of theirs.
Now, the Ministry of Interior (IOM) is taking direct action to make their citizenry be fruitful and multiply, subjecting its own dateless employees to mandatory fraternization. For starters, they will attempt to match up the female workers at the ministry with the high number of single male bachelors in the National Police Administration. They will also require each of its agencies to have an annual date night, featuring activities about which I can only speculate -- government-sponsored speed-dating, coed Taipei dance workshops, romantic comedy screenings in Taijiang national park?
What remains to be seen is if any of these devised aphrodisiac-inducing
affairs can precipitate the 1.5-million baby boost needed to rejuvenate a populace that seems increasingly inclined to opt for celibacy -- or if the Taiwanese are merely too attached to their current personal preferences, too weary of concieving in the Year of the Tiger, or too terrified of that Hello Kitty-themed hospital to remedy the population decline.
PATRICK LIN/AFP/Getty Images
A heartwarming scene from The Red Balloon it was not: when South Korean schoolchildren launched fifty balloons into the sky on Thursday, no one stopped to oh and ah. The man who spotted the air-borne rubber fleet twenty miles outside the capital city Seoul mistook the colorful orbs for parachutes and instantly raised the alarm. A military and police investigation was quickly mounted, only to conclude that the would-be North Korean invaders were in fact the steadily deflating remains of a local school celebration.
The incident is one more laugh for international observers -- and one more sign of just how high tensions are running in South Korea in the wake of the March 26 explosion of the Cheonan. (This isn't the first false alarm on the Peninsula in recent weeks: the discovery of an abandoned diving suit on the heels of an unexplained coastal explosion set police on high alert. Thankfully -- or just embarrassingly -- investigators concluded nothing was awry.)
But for South Korean security officials, it's better safe than sorry: facing strong criticism within the country for their mishandling of the Cheonan incident, top military leaders stepped down, and remaining forces pledged to improve their level of responsiveness.
(Balloons have been the source of Korean controversy before: read about this defector's helium-powered propaganda.)
JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
In the wake of the sinking of the South Korean ship the Cheonan, Lee Myung-bak's government in Seoul threatened to resume propaganda broadcasts into North Korea, setting up loudspeakers along the demilitarized zone.
When the North reacted with fury, threatening to shell the speakers, many in the South had second thoughts, and the move was reportedly put on hold.
Now, some in the South Korean Defense Ministry are said to be proposing using "songs and music videos by manufactured girl bands such as Girls' Generation, Wonder Girls, After School, Kara and 4minute in so-called psychological warfare against North Korea," according to the Chosun Ilbo, a right-leaning South Korean newspaper.
It's clear from the official quoted in the story that no decision has been made, and in any case the girl groups would be just one of many measures directed across the border. But that didn't stop the paper from speculating that "the revealing outfits worn by the performers and their provocative dances could have a considerable impact on North Korean soldiers."
Maybe they should broadcast South Korea's World Cup matches, too?
China's Xinjiang province is known mostly for being a hotbed of separatist violence and government crackdowns on free speech. But not all the news coming from Western China is bad: just days after Beijing ended a controversial 10-month Internet blackout there, President Hu Jintao announced an ambitious aid package to bring the region's per-capita GDP up to the national average. The goal is to complete the project in as little as 10 years, and to help meet the deadline, provincial governments are getting involved:
More specifically, 19 relatively affluent regions including coastal and
central provinces and big cities like Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen,
will pipe support into different areas of Xinjiang during the next 10
years. In addition to financial aid, efforts will also be made to
improve employment, education and housing conditions for the poor in the
If your knowledge of Chinese geography is as rusty as mine, check out this neat color-coded map that highlights the participating provinces and breaks down their expected contributions.
Porfiriy / http://www.thenewdominion.net/1740/color-coded-guide-to-eastern-provinces-to-xinjiang-economic-aid-pairing/
It's official: Benigno (Noynoy) Aquino III will serve as the 15th president of the Republic of the Philippines. But what can we expect after his inauguration on June 30? We know he chain-smokes, he is the proud offspring of pro-democracy icons, and his name rhymes -- but what could Noynoy's presidency really mean for his country?
Noynoy has got his feet in the start tracks of a gruelingly long hurdle race. He faces a decade's worth of setbacks -- spanning from the disintegration of the middle class to the weakening of government institutions -- left over from the presidency of Gloria Arroyo. Warlords and insurgencies incite violence throughout the Philippines (most notoriously on the eastern island of Mindanao), while the police and military remain disorganized and ineffective. The government is riddled with bipartisan battles, mudslinging, and crony capitalism. Mutiny is a very real threat, as Noynoy is hemmed in on all sides by political opponents (former dictator Ferdinand Marcos has immediate family members serving as governors, senators, and congressmen, while Arroyo will continue to amass power as a prominent congresswoman) and, if the laundry list of 20th-century foiled coup attempts is any indication, storming the Malacanang Palace is practically a pastime in Manila. Natural disasters threaten an already weak infrastructure and deficient health-care system. Unemployment rates are rising, and more than one-third of the country's rapidly expanding population (estimated at over 90 million) now live on no more than one U.S. dollar per day. To top it off, the public has recently eviscerated some of the president-elect's top prospects for cabinet positions, dissuading some from seeking them and generally setting a negative tone for the incumbent presidency. Not to mention, the public -- taking issue with that whole three-packs-a-day habit -- wants to strip poor Noynoy of his one means of stress relief.
So which hurdle will Noynoy jump (or crash into) first? A top priority is helping the poor. To do so, he has unveiled a three-pronged attack on corruption, taxes, and poverty. Noynoy has said that cracking down on taxes (though he supposedly won't raise them) and eliminating corruption will work mutually to bridge the socioeconomic gap between the poor and the seemingly ambivalent wealthy class. And the fight on corruption was indeed his campaign trademark, with promises of prioritizing government transparency and accountability and even talks of investigating Arroyo for allegations of electoral fraud. But the agenda doesn't stop there. He plans to boost industry, universalize health care, fix the school system, clean up the environment, and bolster the greatly weakened judiciary. To pacify a Philippines that seems to grow increasingly lawless, he aims to eradicate unofficial armed forces, initiate and continue peace talks with insurgents (particularly the notorious Moro Islamic Liberation Front), and even pardon Senator Gregorio Honasan, who led a group of rebel soldiers that fired shrapnel -- during a coup against the administration of Noynoy's mother, former President Corazon Aquino, in 1987 -- that remains embedded in Noynoy's neck.
Sounds impressive. But there's reason to be concerned about how much this president-elect can really get done following his inauguration in June. For starters, Noynoy is a bit too reminiscent of another relatively inexperienced world leader who rode into office on a wave of popular support like the "Noynoy Phenomenon," who presented a strong agenda but could not adequately address the ever-expanding mountain of issues he faced. If Aquino does indeed follow in that particular leader's footsteps, his presidency may soon face plummeting approval ratings and maybe even a diplomatic disaster or two. But add to that the familial shadow that leaves Noynoy -- criticized for lacking his father's courage or charisma -- looking like "Mr. Vanilla of Manila," and the unrelenting tumult that has long defined Philippine politics, and it appears Noynoy may merely be the next passenger to jump aboard the Malacanang roller coaster. Sure, he may ride it through a few peaks in his six-year presidential term; but Noynoy's ability to achieve any kind of long-lasting stability in the Philippines is much less certain.
Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images
In 1990, to commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre that had taken place on June 4 one year prior, only one lone Chinese man stood in the plaza where the blood was shed, seizing a momentary opportunity to hold up a white wreath inscribed "Heroes who died for democracy and freedom" before being arrested. On the five-year anniversary in 1994, political dissidents and their families were detained and harassed, and concerts, interviews, and visas were cancelled across Beijing. And last year, for the twentieth anniversary landmark, police officers blanketed the square and threatened any reporters who approached the area.
Could today's 21st anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown be any different?
In most ways, no. The Chinese government continues to deny the Tiananmen Square massacre, framing the thousands of student protesters beaten and killed in the crackdown as "counterrevolutionary" propagandists. In Beijing and the rest of the nation (save Hong Kong), the media is still banned from mentioning the event, and left-wing activists have been monitored and put on house arrest. The government blocked Twitter yet again, preventing opponents from communicating and organizing.
Perhaps the only publicly visible, successful instance of commemorating the anniversary in mainland China was the cartoon invoking famous Tiananmen imagery, published in the Southern Metropolis Daily -- one of the nation's most provocative newspapers -- earlier this week. Though authorities promptly removed it from the website, the inflammatory cartoon is reportedly still available in a PDF version of the article, and has already united a massive online community in discussing and honoring the events of June 4, 1989.
In Hong Kong, where demonstrations and limited democracy are tolerated and the press is far less censored, the anniversary was more openly observed. Today, 150,000 Chinese residents attended candlelight vigils, where they sang, protested, and brandished signs espousing a democratic China. Student activists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong defied administrators in a thwarted attempt to erect a "Goddess of Democracy" statue near their campus.
MN Chan/Getty Images
Independent analysis of government policy is rare and generally unwelcome in China; it's even rarer for such advice to be followed. But an exception that proves the rule is when the advice-giver has a direct line to decision-makers, and when there's serious state money to be saved.
While in southwest China recently, I caught up with Yong Yang, a rabble-rousing independent geologist who has previously faced death threats from businessmen and local officials for raising concerns about the feasibility of lucrative proposed projects.
One story he shared seems particularly poignant now, on the second anniversary of the May 12 Wenchuan earthquake.
At the time the earthquake struck on May 12, 2008, Yong was in the field conducting research when he received a mobile text message (voice-networks were down) from his son, a college student in the provincial capital of Chengdu: a big earthquake has struck Sichuan province -- go find a TV.
Yong hunkered down at a local restaurant to watch broadcast of the devastation. He had previously warned government officials about the vulnerability of certain buildings in the quake-vulnerable zone, but to no avail.
Now he knew that dams along the region's Minjiang River were in danger of collapsing, and if they did, several large hydropower stations along the river could be flooded and destroyed. He was already making arrangements to leave the next morning to conduct an investigation of the damage, but before he did he sent a text message to an influential friend who happens to be a former Vice General Secretary of the National People's Congress: turn off the hydro-power stations; watch for damage.
Usually following the advice of environmental watchdogs would cost the government money, putting the kabosh on various money-making projects. But in this case, Yong's advice concerned how to save 30 billion RMB in state investments.
And this time, his advice was followed. The next day, the government gave orders to release water from dams along the Minjiang River.
Yong meanwhile continued on to the quake-stricken region, where he and a small band of fellow scientists tried to make sense of what to do next. Predictably, not all of their subsequent suggestions about rebuilding and conservation have been followed. But when Yong has information useful to the government that Beijing doesn’t have, at least he has an in. His next project is a study of glacier melt on the Tibetan-Qinghai plateau.
For the next three weeks, I am traveling in China, reporting on a few larger themes, but also posting occasional dispatches when people or places that I encounter illuminate trends in the news, or how history is experienced on a personal level.
Within Beijing's upscale SoHo district -- a residential and shopping area aspiring to the chic status of its New York namesake -- sits a four-story mega-Starbucks. A dramatic winding staircase connects its four levels; the free magazine stand by the counter stocks Esquire's China edition. The tables are crowded with well-heeled laptop-users in their 20s and 30s, often working alone (not the usual work mode in China), as well small groups pouring over Powerpoint slides and spreadsheets. The coffee shop is a favorite haunt for young Beijing professionals.
The walls of the flagship Starbucks are all glass, affording a view out on a complex of identical apartment buildings with distinctive white frames and a string of upscale stores and restaurants on the ground level. Across the sidewalk is Bally Total Fitness Beijing.
As in New York, the people who come here are very interested in real estate. They have been drawn to this spot, from across the heartland of a vast country, by a mix of opportunity, wanderlust, and ambition. China's East Coast professionals tend to see Beijing and Shanghai the way the French see Paris; there is Paris, and then there is everything else.
Data rockets across South Korea's broadband network at an average clip of 14.58 megabits per second. This makes the country's network the fastest of any in the world. (In comparison, the average American broadband connection chugs along at a sluggish 3.88 megabits per second, almost four times slower than what you'd find in Seoul.)
While South Koreans have been quick to embrace the many benefits fast broadband internet connections provide, increased use of a quicker, more efficient internet has brought with it new problems for South Korean society. Chief among such problems is an addiction to internet video games. According to a Washington Post article, in 2006, approximately 2.4 percent of 9 to 39-year-olds in South Korea suffered from full-blown addiction; another 10.2 percent were classified as borderline addicts.
Apparently the situation has only gotten worse. In 2005, a South Korean man died after a marathon 50-hour video game session, and in March, 2010, a South Korean couple allowed their three-month old baby to starve to death while they were occupied playing an on-line video game. In response, the Korean government has begun experimenting with a teenage video game curfew that will block young gamers' access to 20 different popular on-line role-playing games (RPGs) for 6 hours a day, every day.
Whatever happened to the good old days of underage drinking and loitering?
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
Thailand's beleaguered prime minister is seeming increasingly isolated after the chief of the army joined the very protesters he's supposed to be disbanding in calling for the dissolution of parliament and the country's election commission recommended the disbandment of his political party over illegal campaign contributions. Without the military's support, it seems unlikely that Abhisit can continue to hold out on protesters' demands that parliament be dissolved. It's looking like we could see the second government in two weeks fall in front of the strength of an angry mob.
Don't quite know what to make of the mysterious gang of ninjas that East Timor's government claims is terrorizing the population:
The latest whispers of ninjas to transfix the nation emerged after the murders of a 15-year-old girl in the western district of Bobonaro on December 22 and a baby boy in Covalima, also in the west, on January 19.
Police chief Longuinhos Monteiro donned full military gear to lead the operation, telling reporters that "any ninjas who want to take us on, your final stop will be Santa Cruz cemetery".
As Ketta Haluha at Global voices points out, "these are not the ninja of Japanese lore." The term was used to describe the Indonesian death squads blamed for a series of disappearances and kidnappings during East Timor's war for independence.
Even that explanation might be bogus as some observers believe that the two murders are just ordinary crimes that the government is blaming on ninjas to discredit the political opposition. Indeed, 22 members of of one dissident group were arrested earlier this month on suspicion of "ninja activities."
MARIO JONNY DOS SANTOS/AFP/Getty Image
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