Internet death rumors have (falsely) claimed the lives of everyone from teen hearthrob Justin Bieber to poor Jeff Goldblum (who was reported to have fallen off a cliff in New Zealand).
Given that less-than-stellar track record, the press is taking a very cautious approach to the latest rumors that former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin has died.
The Internet rumors spread after the 84-year-old Jiang Zemin-- who held power for 12 years before handing control to President Hu Jintao in 2002 -- didn't appear last Friday at a celebration marking the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party's founding. According to the Daily Telegraph, TV stations and newspapers in Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea all reported his death, but most outlets are being more careful.
Today, China's Xinhua News Agency quoted officials calling the reports "pure rumor." Interestingly, they didn't say he hadn't died, said David Lampton, director of the China Studies Program at Johns Hopkins University.
Lampton, who made clear he didn't know whether Jiang Zemin was alive or dead -- and didn't want to speculate -- called China's response a "non-denial denial."
"It could be he is close to death and so they don't want to say anything," Lampton said.
Minxin Pei, director of the Keck Center for International and Strategic Studies at Claremont McKenna College, agreed. "There must be something to the rumors, he must be ill, but I don't think he's dead yet," he told Foreign Policy. "The Chinese government has never made up lies of that magnitude -- saying someone is alive when they are actually dead."
So if it's true he passed away, why wouldn't they come out and say it?
Lampton said there are a number of possible reasons.
"The regime may be trying to orchestrate how to play his role to the populace," he said. "Because he was in power so long, there are lots of policy issues they need to work through."
"The media systems are less controllable than in the past," said Lampton. "They may want to get their propaganda ducks in a row before making an announcement."
Whatever the case, Chinese Internet censors have gone into overdrive, the Telegraph reports.
"Searches for ‘Jiang Zemin' in Chinese or simply ‘Jiang' ... drew warnings on Sina Corp.'s popular Twitter-like service that said the search was illegal," according to the paper.
Lampton pointed out that the party is also in the midst of planning for Hu Jintao's succession (presumably to Vice President Xi Jinping) and there could be a debate within the party about how to burnish Jiang Zemin's legacy.
"Each generational leader is always fearful of being overshadowed by his predecessor. They don't want to be diminished while you're praising their predecessor."
AFP/ Getty Images
Whoa, Nellie. Some international press outlets appear to have mistakenly reported that Google+, Google's new social networking site released yesterday, has already been blocked in China. But a handful of major blog websites in China have since debunked that story. According to their reports, it seems that Google+ is being not blocked, but "throttled." In other words, you can access it, but it's painfully slow. The Chinese have used this strategy before, and to great effect, says tech website Penn Olson's Steven Millward:
Web throttling is a tactic new to China's Great Firewall, and has been seriously slowing pretty much all overseas internet speeds all year. Gmail particularly has been horribly throttled, to the point were it can take five or ten minutes or more to go from the login page to your inbox. It's a very underhanded tactic by Net Nanny: being seen not to block the service, whilst actually rendering it nearly useless to its users.
Shanghaiist isn't impressed with the research techniques behind the mistaken reports:
Washington Post, and others, are only citing GFW [Great Firewall, the nickname for China's internet censorship firewall] check-up sites like Great Firewall of China and Ping. To give you an idea of how unreliable those tests are, we just tried Google+ again on both, and got an "OKAY" from Ping and a "fail" from Great Firewall.
Sadly, when it comes to censorship, Western news outlets have something of a track record with overzealous reporting. This spring, the lede of a New York Times piece purported to expose Chinese propaganda agents cutting off phone calls at the mention of the word "protest." Shanghai-based journalist (and FP contributor) Adam Minter tested the Times' claims and found them overblown, as did Shanghaiist's Kenneth Tan. Later that day, Times researcher Jonathan Ansfield, who was involved with the piece, left a damning comment on Minter's post:
for the record, the contributing reporter's own tests comport with yours. regrettably his input on the story made little difference.
The next day, the Times published a correction saying that the recipients of the calls cited in the article, who were left anonymous in the article, were both Times reporters in the Beijing bureau, adding:
Because scrutiny of press communications could easily be higher than for those of the public at large, the calls could not be assumed to represent a broader trend; therefore, those examples should not have been given such prominence in the article.
A lesson learned, we hope.
Franko Lee/AFP/Getty Images
The Danish daily newspaper Information has obtained classified documents about propaganda strategy from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) that would have been approved by top party leaders like President Hu Jintao and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao. It's rare for foreign outlets to get a leak of this scale, with documents approved by figures of this importance within the party. The 60 pages of documents lay out a strategy of pretending to allow greater access to information while actually clamping down more harshly at home. From the article:
Among other things, the regime has insisted that it does not exercise any censorship. However, the official document outlines several instances of how the Chinese authorities should prevent people from getting in touch with "politically sensitive information". Such information must be either "blocked", "destroyed" or "cleansed" from the Internet, media and books, the order from the Central Committee to the lower levels of the state apparatus makes clear.…
The same line is repeated in other documents, including the one from the Party leadership in Beijing, which declares that "all illegal and harmful information on Chinese and foreign web sites should be completely blocked." And that people who disseminate such information should be "indicted and prosecuted quickly before a judge and be quickly convicted."
The contents of the leaks aren't themselves all that surprising; the crackdowns following the Jasmine Revolution made it clear that China wasn't liberalizing anytime soon. What is noteworthy is the fact that these were leaked at all, by someone who would be privy to very high-level Politburo decision-making. The takeover of the party by hard-liners hasn't been welcomed by everyone within the CCP. The People's Daily, the party's official paper, made waves in April and May with a spate of editorials with a remarkably liberal bent. Consider these passages, translated from the original editorials by University of Hong Kong's China Media Project (CMP):
Only in the midst of competition will the value of ideas be shown, and only through practice can they be tested. "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." This [quote from Voltaire] expresses a kind of openness, and even more a sense of confidence. The hurling of epithets and the yanking of pigtails, this way of thinking is fundamentally is a sign of weakness and narrow-mindedness, and it does not benefit the construction of social harmony or the creation of a healthy temperament. (People's Daily, April 28)
We are ushering in a "golden age" of expression, but there are still many voices that have not been heard. On the one hand, some voices have been submerged in the vastness of the field of voices, so that it is difficult for them to find the surface. On the other hand, there are some voices that only "speak, but in vain," that make their wishes known but find their problems unresolved. These can all be thought of as null expression, and some have called them "sunken voices." (People's Daily, May 26)
One might dismiss these editorials as empty propaganda. However, the CMP points out that the People's Daily has a long history as a forum for intraparty debates and that a number of liberal Chinese journalists commenting on Twitter were taking these editorials seriously.
The leaks emerge at a critical time. Preparations for the party's 90th-anniversary celebrations, taking place on July 1, have featured a mini-revival of Mao-era traditions like party songs and revolutionary propaganda. In the background, the party elections taking place in 2012 are expected to introduce major changes in China's leadership. The next 12 months will determine much about the fate of the CCP's liberal wing over the next 10 years. No doubt they hope there's more in their future than leaks to Danish dailies.
PETER PARKS/AFP/Getty Images
Chinese state media reported today that the country has started its once-a-decade panda census, the fourth tallying of the endangered species since it first began in the 1970s. 70 panda trackers are being trained during a pilot survey in the Wanglang National Reserve, in the city of Mianyang, in Sichuan province. According to Yang Xuyu, a forestry official, that particular nature reserve is believed to have the largest number of wild pandas in the country.
Before you get so jealous of these panda trackers' jobs that you quit your own, know that much of panda tracking actually involves collecting panda droppings for DNA analysis. This allows zoologists to monitor individual pandas and then estimate the number of pandas living in the wild. According to Xinhua, the census will not only count pandas, but also determine their living conditions, age, and habitat state.
The last official census counted 1,596 wild pandas in China -- 1,206 living in Sichuan, including 230 in the Wanglang reserve and nearby areas. There are another 290 pandas living in captivity worldwide.
And yes, we'll take this excuse to post some more cute panda photos (most of these guys live at the Chengdu Giant Panda Research and Conservation Center):
Getty Images, LILIAN WU/AFP/Getty Images, STR/AFP/Getty Images
While Ai Weiwei's surprising release dominated the headlines yesterday, the Chinese government took the chance to detain one of China's most important civil rights lawyers, Xu Zhiyong. Rumors of his disappearance on Wednesday were confirmed first on Twitter and then in a Financial Times article today. However, a post on his Twitter feed suggests that he has since been released. A rough translation:
Thanks everyone for your concern. I've returned home. Last night I was taken away in order to prevent me from taking non-registered permanent residence parents in Beijing to the Ministry of Education to petition for the 12th time.
The last sentence refers to his recent efforts to push for reforms in China's hukou (residency permit) system, which makes it extremely difficult for children of migrant workers to attend schools in the cities to which their parents have moved.
Xu first gained fame as a legal reformer in 2003, when he successfully pushed to end China's extrajudicial system of "black jails." As the head of the Open Constitution Initiative, his clients have included the families of the victims of the China's recent tainted-milk scandal. This spring, he has also been providing legal assistance to the independent candidates' movement gathering steam in China. He himself mounted successful runs in 2003 and 2006 as an independent candidate for a seat in the People's Congress of his home district in Beijing.
Two down, 130 to go.
As China gears up for celebrations of the Chinese Communist Party's 90th anniversary, officials are scrambling to stifle public discourse over endemic corruption within the party. On June 11, Beijing public relations consultant Chen Hong created a website where tipsters could report bribes anonymously, based on a popular Indian anti-graft site established in August 2010. Over the last two weeks, ibribery.com drew 200,000 unique visitors and spawned a raft of imitators, but government pressure has forced Chen and the webmasters of the other report-a-bribe sites to shut down their sites. News reports capture bribe stories galore from the deceased sites, such as this:
On another new Chinese confess-a-bribe website (www.522phone.com), one businessman said he had paid 3 million yuan (283,648 pounds) to officials to win contracts, including taking a planning official on a 10-day tour of Europe.
Other postings on the sites included stories of kickbacks for permission to sell medicine, underhand sell-offs of state-owned mines to cronies, payments of money and cigarettes to pass driving school, and "red envelopes" of cash to doctors to ensure expectant mothers were well treated.
[The website's] anonymous posts wrote about bribing everybody: officials who demanded luxury cars and villas to police officers who needed inducements not to issue traffic tickets. Some outed doctors receiving cash under the table to ensure safe surgical procedures.
In addition to Chen's efforts, officials have had to contend with public reaction to reports that emerged last week accusing government officials of taking 800 billion yuan worth of state assets overseas since the mid-1990s (the official response: The reports' numbers are incorrect). Meanwhile, state media outlets have acted aggressively to assuage public dissatisfaction. A flurry of articles published today publicize anti-graft efforts within the party, fulfilling the time-honored principle of state media agencies worldwide: writing more articles makes you more right.
TEH ENG KOON/AFP/Getty Images
Pop quiz: what do you do if you're Chinese and you want to see a picturesque Austrian village? Go to Austria? Ha.
China-based developer China Minmetals Ltd. has a better idea: go to that famous font of German tradition, Guangdong Province. Der Spiegel reports:
An idyllic Austrian village has apparently impressed Chinese architects so much that they have decided to copy it in their own country. But the townspeople living in the UNESCO World Heritage site are unhappy about the plans.
Residents of the Austrian mountain town of Hallstatt, population 800, are scandalized. A Chinese firm has plans to replicate the village -- including its famous lake -- in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, Austrian media reported this week.
The construction of Hallstatt comes at a time when outbound Chinese tourism is skyrocketing, reshaping the landscape of global tourism. Tourism didn't become legal in China until 1978, after Mao's death. Nonetheless, the World Tourism Organization estimates that the total number of Chinese tourists traveling internationally could hit 130 million by 2020. A recent surge in Chinese tourists traveling to Europe has carved out a sort of Chinese "Grand Tour" with non-traditional destinations like Luxembourg and Metzingen, home of German suitmaker Hugo Boss. Still, Chinese citizens continue to travel plenty within their own country, making 2.1 billion domestic trips in 2010 alone.
China Minmetals' ploy is only the latest instance of Chinese architects recreating European cities and towns at home. Shanghai has mini-replicas of Barcelona and Venice, while Chengdu has its own British Town modeled on Dorchester, a market town near the south coast of England. Guess those 40 Chinese UNESCO World Heritage sites (including the Kaiping villages in Guangdong, 120 miles from the proposed site for the Austrian transplants) just won't cut it.
Jon Huntsman, the former Republican governor of Utah who crossed party lines to serve as President Barack Obama's ambassador to China, will stand in front of the Statue of Liberty tomorrow and announce he is running for president. Huntsman tends to get both foreign policy types and the cable news political punditocracy fired up -- He's moderate! He's friendly! He speaks Chinese! He worked for Obama! But is he an attractive candidate to anyone else-and most importantly, actual Republican voters?
The poll numbers would seem to suggest Huntsman has a long way to go. He finished dead last in the most recent Rasmussen poll of potential Republican candidates, with only 2 percent of likely voters saying they were inclined to cast their ballot for him. To put that into perspective, Mitt Romney got 33 percent of the vote. Herman Cain -- the pizza guy!-- got 10 percent. Even the option of "some other candidate" scored higher than Huntsman (8 percent).
Of course, this could all change once he's actively campaigning and participating in debates. But the rush to anoint him as a major candidate seems a bit premature. It doesn't help that the White House seems to be trying to kill him with kindness. Over the weekend Obama advisor David Axelrod told CNN "I think he's a very bright, fluent person." He said Huntsman's criticisms of the president were surprising because "he was very effusive about what the president was doing" when they talked in the past.
While Huntsman's ability to run the conservative gauntlet and seize the Republican nomination is still up for debate, China hands who have dealt with him and studied his tenure as U.S. envoy to Beijing give him high marks -- both diplomatically and politically.
"In terms of knowledge and diplomatic skills, I'd regard him as one of the best ambassadors we had," said Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution who met with Huntsman on several occasions in Beijing. "I thought he was very good. He related effectively to Chinese audiences. Part of that is he speaks Chinese well, but he also had a cultural sensitivity. I saw him when I made trips there. He was always on top of key issues."
Orville Schell, the director of the Center on U.S.-China relations at the Asia Society, said he was also well-liked by the embassy staff.
"He is a very smart guy, quick on his feet, and he has a certain candor," he said. "We'll see if that remains when he starts campaigning."
Schell confirmed that his ability to speak Chinese opened doors for him in the country.
"He would go out in front of Chinese audiences-- he was a bit of a trained bear act. The Chinese adore anyone who can speak Chinese," he said.
If there was one discordant note to Huntsman's tenure as ambassador, it occurred when he got embroiled in a controversy about democratic reform in China near the end of his tour. There was a small pro-democracy demonstration outside a McDonalds in Beijing back in February and Huntsman showed up. He denied he was there to observe the demonstration, saying he was just in the wrong placed at the wrong time, but it caused some ripples in the Chinese government, which always suspected the United States was pushing a pro-democracy agenda, Lieberthal said.
His last public talk as ambassador in April on the topic of U.S.-China relations also caused some controversy due to his specific criticisms of China human rights cases. He referenced imprisoned artist Ai Weiwei and Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo and said, "The United States will never stop supporting human rights because we believe in the fundamental struggle for human dignity and justice wherever it may occur."
Could he have been setting himself up for a White House run by burnishing his bona fides on human rights issues and pushing a get-tough message? White House aides now say despite his past denials that he was considering a campaign in 2012, they suspect he had not always been straight with them about his political aspirations, according to the New York Times.
Beyond that, some critics say he has also already begun backpedaling on issues he once promoted, like climate change policy.
"My impression is he is an honorable man," said Schell. "We'll see whether the campaign will allow him to continue being an honorable man."
He does have one major thing going for him. In a sea of political bores, he is exciting. And people who have met with him say he has political skills that might surprise many.
"One time I brought a group of [Americans] to the embassy to meet with him,' said Lieberthal, who previously served in the Clinton administration. "There were seven people there besides me. He went around the table. It took him less than 30 seconds literally to establish some direct connection with each person. It reminded me of Clinton's skill on that level. He's the kind of politician who never forgets a name, never forgets a face."
A little Clinton magic couldn't hurt when you're at 2 percent in the polls.
China and its neighbors have been engaged in tit-for-tat muscle-flexing maneuvers in recent weeks over who controls areas of the strategically important and resource-rich South China Sea, causing headaches in the region and elsewhere, and raising fears of a more serious flare-up.
What's the fight about?
It's a territorial dispute that goes back decades, but has grown more heated as China has become bolder on the world stage. China claims it has the right to just about the entire South China Sea. Its neighbors, not surprisingly, dispute that claim and say China is using its power to bully them. Vietnam has been the most vocal in recent weeks, holding live-fire drills on the water and urging international mediation led by the United States.
Vietnamese leaders have been bolstered by popular outrage domestically at China's actions. But they are not alone. The Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Brunei have all claimed a part of the territory.
"It would be as if [the United States] just declared the entire Atlantic Ocean was our territorial waters, and anyone else who tried to explore it, we could do what we want to them -- cut their cables, sink their ships," Joshua Kurlantzick of the Council on Foreign Relations told Passport. "They are not just going to let China take it over. China's claim is so enormous it would take up the entire sea. Their claims are absurd."
What's so significant about the territory?
For starters, it's one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. But more importantly, it's loaded with oil. No one knows quite how much, though, since exploration has been so difficult given the political climate surrounding it. China estimates there could be as many as 213 billion barrels of oil reserves, which would place it second in the world behind only Saudi Arabia. That might be vastly overstated; American scientists estimate it's closer to 28 billion barrels. The sea could also possess large quantities of natural gas reserves.
How tense is it in the region right now?
Kurlantzick and other experts are quick to point out that this is not the first time tensions have spiked in recent years. In 1995, after China built structures on the Spratly Islands, the Philippines was able to convince the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to issue a rare statement denouncing China's action. But this feels different, experts say, not least because China has grown so much more powerful and confident. And other countries are acting less restrained as well. On June 13, Vietnam staged live-fire naval exercises, and the Philippines announced late last week it would soon send its biggest warship to a disputed part of the sea.
Meanwhile, China has been stepping up its confrontational posture, and not just rhetorically. On May 26 and June 9, its boats cut the cables of Vietnamese oil exploration ships. In response to Vietnam's naval exercises, it sent one of its largest vessels to "patrol" the waters, and it promised to send hundreds more in the coming years, meaning the water dispute will become increasingly militarized.
What's Washington's position?
Vietnam has urged the United States to get involved and mediate a resolution. How likely is that? The United States has given no indication it wants a leading role, though Secretary of State Hillary Clinton angered Beijing last July at an ASEAN regional forum in Hanoi when she said, "The United States has a national interest in freedom of navigation, open access to Asia's maritime commons, and respect for international law in the South China Sea," and she urged a binding code of conduct for the states involved in the dispute. But other American officials have played down her comments, according to Kurlantzick.
Last week, Sen. Jim Webb, a key congressional voice on Asia issues, said he would introduce a resolution pushing for China to enter multilateral talks over the disputed territory.
China's response came in the form of an editorial in its main military paper: "China resolutely opposes any country unrelated to the South China Sea issue meddling in disputes, and it opposes the internationalization of" the issue, it read.
How likely is this to escalate out of control?
Beijing has promised it won't use force against its neighbors over the dispute, and it would be an incredibly risky move for it to do so. Given that China relies so heavily on imported fuel from the Middle East -- most of which makes its way through the South China Sea -- a conflagration that shuts down that transit area would have devastating repercussions for the emerging world power. But, analysts say, all sides are acting aggressively. And the dispute is happening at sea, with ships that are increasingly less restrained. A small spark could set off a chain of events that leads to a real showdown, or worse.
In 2008, Yu Keping, the head of China's Central Compilation and Translation Bureau and a professor at Peking University, published an attention-grabbing collection of essays called Democracy is a Good Thing. Coming from a Chinese Communist Party official said to be close to President Hu Jintao, Yu's bold assertion that "democracy is the best political system for humankind" was striking. But so was the fine print: Yu argued in the book that while "it is the inevitable trend for all nations of the world to move towards democracy ... the timing and speed of the development of democracy and the choice of the form and system of democracy are conditional." Among other things, he has resisted the idea that a multi-party political system would be appropriate for China. All of which is to say that Yu is something of a sphinx: As a New York Times profile observed last year, "Even China experts have a hard time determining whether Mr. Yu is a brave voice for change or simply a well-placed shill."
Which makes Yu -- who is in Washington this week -- a particularly interesting person to ask about the current moment in Chinese politics, in which the Communist Party is managing the transition from Hu to his presumed presidential successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, while watching the sudden explosion of anti-government, pro-democratic sentiment in the Arab world with palpable unease. The Chinese government began cracking down on human rights activists, artists, and writers in March, and barred another prominent writer from leaving the country this week.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
Michael Anti, the Chinese journalist and political blogger, had his Facebook account suspended in January because, as representatives of the company told him, "Facebook has a strict policy against pseudonyms and that he must use the name issued on his government ID." So Anti was more than a little miffed to learn that Beast -- the Hungarian sheepdog puppy just purchased by Mark Zuckerberg and his girlfriend -- now has his own profile:
Anti, a former journalist who has won fellowships at both Cambridge University and Harvard University, said he set up his Facebook account in 2007. By locking him out of his account, Facebook has cut him off from a network of more than 1,000 academic and professional contacts who know him as Anti, he said.
"I'm really, really angry. I can't function using my Chinese name. Today, I found out that Zuckerberg's dog has a Facebook account. My journalistic work and academic work is more real than a dog," he said.
Zuckerberg recently set up a Facebook page for "Beast," complete with photos and a profile. Unlike Anti's, however, the page for the puppy doesn't violate Facebook's policies because it's not meant to be a personal profile page. Rather, it's a type of page reserved for businesses and public figures that fans can "like" and receive updates from on their own Facebook pages.
Facebook said it does not comment on individual accounts, but added that it believes a "real name culture" leads to more accountability and a safer and more trusted environment for people who use Facebook.
Cute puppies aside, Facebook's explanation seems bogus. In just my list of Facebook friends I can find at least a dozen people using pseudonyms, nicknames, or variations on their names. Moreover, Anti is a relatively well known public figure under that name. He's been writing articles under that name for years and his Twitter account has nearly 36,000 followers.
The timing of Anti's suspension, coming just a month after Zuckerberg's "vacation" tour of Chinese Internet companies, is equally unfortunate.
Hat tip: China Digital Times
As part of its ongoing expansion, has the People's Liberation Army signed up Goose and Maverick? Chinese bloggers are accusing state broadcaster CCTV of using repurposed footage from the 1986 film Top Gun for a story on a recent air force drill. "Ministry of Tofu" explains:
In the newscast, the way a target was hit by the air-to-air missile fired by a J-10 fighter aircraft and exploded looks almost identical to a cinema scene from the Hollywood film Top Gun.
A net user who went by the name “??” (Liu Yi) pointed out that the jet that the J-10 “hit” is an F-5, a US fighter jet. In Top Gun, what the leading actor Tom Cruise pilots an F-14 to bring down is exactly an F-5. Looking at the screenshots juxtaposition, one cannot fail to find that even flame, smoke and the way the splinters fly look the same.
Assuming the above screen shots are genuine, the rip-off seems pretty clear. In related news, CCTV recently aired footage of the Chinese Olympic volleyball team at their secret training facility.
The most interesting moment in an otherwise subdued -- dare I say dull -- press conference by U.S. President Barack Obama and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao came when a Bloomberg reporter insisted that Hu answer a fellow journalist's question about human rights.
Hu, blaming the translation, claimed he hadn't heard the question (to audible titters among the assembled press corps). He went on to give China's standard answer on human rights, which is basically, "Blah blah we've always respected human rights (yet we're also improving), China faces unique circumstances as a developing country, we favor dialogue, etc."
He also said that "China recognizes and also respects the universality of human rights," which caught the ear of New York Times reporter Michael Wines, who sees the remark as "a palpable shift for a government that has staged a two-year crackdown on internal dissent and imprisoned a Nobel laureate."
"Until Wednesday," Wines continues, "recognizing credos like democracy and human rights as 'universal values' had been all but taboo in Chinese political discourse, although China has signed theconvention that enshrines the principle of universal human rights."
"China respects the principle of the universality of human rights," the document states. But it adds: "Given differences in political systems, levels of development and historical and cultural backgrounds, it is natural for countries to have different views on the question of human rights."
That's almost exactly what Hu said. I suppose it's different when the president himself says so with all the eyes of the world upon him, but let's not kid ourselves about whether China has made some profound new commitment to human rights and democracy. For all its very real successes in promoting development, the Chinese Communist Party has no intention of relinquishing its stranglehold on political power anytime soon, if ever. Wake me up when they stop throwing political prisoners in jail, beating people in the streets, censoring the press, and generally evincing little regard for the Chinese people's ability to chart their own future.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
Chinese President Hu Jintao's arrival in Washington yesterday was accompanied by the announcement of the imminent signing of a major joint venture between General Electric and China's state owned Avic to produce sophisticated avionics (airplane electronics) in China for sale to Chinese and other airplane producers.
No doubt intended as a way of pouring oil on the troubled waters of U.S.-China trade relations by demonstrating mutually beneficial cooperation between U.S. and Chinese industry, the announcement instead demonstrated precisely why the waters are troubled.
Let's start with GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt. About a year ago, in the course of a dinner he thought was private, Immelt complained that China is a miserable place in which to do business. It was bent on expropriating GE technology and made selling in China very difficult if not impossible unless a company also produced in and transferred technology to China, he opined. A few months later, Immelt spoke of having an epiphany about the dangers of off-shoring too much GE production. In the GE annual report, he wrote of the need for and his intent to put more investment in the United States and to bring some of GE's foreign production back to America.
But the announced deal will take things in the opposite direction. The investment and production will be in China and the technology (much of it initially paid for by U.S. tax payers and the Defense Department) will be transferred from the United States to China, thereby enabling China's aviation industry to move more quickly toward its goal of overtaking the U.S. and Europe in commercial and military jet production.
So what's going on? GE's Vice Chairman John G. Rice put it bluntly in commenting on the fact that China is expected to buy $400 billion of airplanes over the next twenty years: "We can participate in that or sit on the sidelines. We're not about sitting on the sidelines." Rice added that: "This venture is a strategic move that we made after some thought and consideration with a company we know. This isn't something we were forced into by the Chinese government."
Okay, but why can't GE sell to that big market without a joint venture with a state owned Chinese company? Why can't it just make the avionics in the United States and export them to the Chinese aircraft makers and airlines? After all, China doesn't have this technology right now. So GE is a lower cost and infinitely more sophisticated producer than Avic.
Well, one reason might be that if GE doesn't do this deal, another avionics maker might. But hold it. That has to mean that the Chinese are effectively making access to this big market conditional on producing in and transferring technology to China. So who is Rice trying to kid. Maybe the Chinese government didn't call him up and shout directly over the phone that "Mr. Rice we command you to do a joint venture with Avic and to transfer your technology and production to China." But Rice is not as dumb as he thinks we are. He was afraid that if he didn't produce in China, he wouldn't have a chance at the business.
And Immelt did say that he had cleared all this with the U.S. Departments of Commerce, Defense and State.
But that raises an even more interesting question. Will we be hearing of any joint ventures between U.S. and Chinese companies that will transfer Chinese technology and Chinese based production to the United States? I'm sure your guess was "no." And you're right. But why don't Obama and his Commerce, Defense, and State Departments make it clear to the Chinese that if they want to sell in the U.S. market they need to produce something here and transfer some technology here? China is way ahead of the U.S. in the production of solar panels for example. This is a technology being fostered by the Obama administration. Why not get the Chinese to help us in solar panels just as Immelt and GE (with the apparent approval of the Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense - and the White House) are helping them with avionics?
After all, isn't what's good for the Chinese goose also good for the American gander?
Just in time for Hu Jintao's visit to Washington next week, economist Arvind Subramanian of the Peterson Institute for International Economics is coming out with a new set of GDP estimates showing that the Chinese economy may have actually surpassed the United States some time in 2010.
Subramanian's estimates rely on purchasing power parity (PPP) estimates, which take differing labor costs in rich and poor countries into account. While the IMF also produces PPP estimates, Subramanian believes these are flawed, overstating price increases between 2005 and 2010 to the detriment of China. Therefore:
The latest version of the Penn World Tables (version 7 to be released in early February 2011) have corrected these biases, which result in an upward revision for China’s PPP-based GDP by about 27 percent and for India by about 13 percent for the year 2005. I use the new PWT corrections as the starting point for computing new estimates for PPP-based GDP and GDP per capita.
A second correction relates to developments between 2005 and 2010. For this period, if the IMF data are taken at face value, they suggest an increase in the real cost of living in China relative to that in the United States (which is equivalent to a real appreciation of the Chinese currency) of about 35 percent. This seems implausible because three alternative ways of assessing currency changes point to a much smaller appreciation.[…]
These two adjustments increase China’s GDP from the current estimate of $10.1 trillion to $14.8 trillion (an increase of 47 percent, of which 27 percent is due to the revision in the 2005 estimate, and the rest due to smaller-than-assumed increases in the cost of living between 2005 and 2010). This $14.8 trillion figure exceeds US GDP of $14.6 trillion. It must be emphasized, of course, that the difference is small enough to be within the margin of error.
Applying the same adjustments to GDP per capita increases the estimate for China from $7,518 (the current estimate in the IMF’s World Economic Outlook) to $11,047. The GDP per capita (the average standard of living) is now about 4.3 times greater in the US than in China compared with a multiple of 6.3 without my corrections (and compared with a multiple of 11 if GDP is computed using market exchange rates).
Subramanian argued for FP in June that by discouraging high-skilled immigration from countries like India, the United States was only taxing its own international competitiveness. These new numbers should serve as a stark reinforcement for that point.
According to official government figures, China's economy is still the second largest, having overtaken Japan in the second quarter of last year.
Hat tip: Chris Blattman
PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/Getty Images
Tajikistan has agreed to give up a chunk of its territory to neighboring China:
Parliament voted Wednesday in favor of giving up around 1,000 square kilometers of land in the Central Asian nation's sparsely populated Pamir Mountains region. There was no immediate information on how many people live in the territory to be ceded.
Opposition leader Mukhiddin Kabiri said the land transfer is unconstitutional and represents a defeat for Tajik diplomacy. But Foreign Minister Khamrokon Zarifi portrayed it as a victory, saying China had initially claimed more than 11,000 square miles (28,000 square kilometers).
The dispute dates to the 19th Century, when Tajikistan was part of Czarist Russia.
It seems a little bit petty of China to be engaging in a land dispute with a country that could fit inside it 67 times, but every little bit helps I suppose. The Pamirs are in quite an interesting spot geopolitically, running from eastern Afghanistan and straddling the Tajikistan-Pakistan border all the way to China.
This has been a week of expansionism for China, which was accused by India of sending troops into a disputed region of Kashmir earlier this week, although Beijing denies it.
When U.S. President Barack Obama visited China last December, he and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao issued a joint statement promising "the initiation of a joint dialogue on human spaceflight and space exploration, based on the principles of transparency, reciprocity and mutual benefit." But don't expect space to be on the agenda when Hu comes to Washington this month, according to Reuters' Jim Wolf:
Hu's state visit will highlight the importance of expanding cooperation on "bilateral, regional and global issues," the White House said.
But space appears to be a frontier too far for now, partly due to U.S. fears of an inadvertent technology transfer. China may no longer be much interested in any event, reckoning it does not need U.S. expertise for its space program.
New obstacles to cooperation have come from the Republicans capturing control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the November 2 congressional elections from Obama's Democrats.
Representative Frank Wolf, for instance, is set to take over as chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the U.S. space agency in the House. A China critic and human rights firebrand, the Republican congressman has faulted NASA's chief for meeting leaders of China's Manned Space Engineering Office in October.
"As you know, we have serious concerns about the nature and goals of China's space program and strongly oppose any cooperation between NASA and China," Wolf and three fellow Republicans wrote NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on October 15 as he left for China.
It's hard to look at space and not see an example of American decline. While China has launched two moon orbiters and conducted a space walk in recent years and plans for a moon rover by 2012, the U.S. is now forced to hitch a ride on Soviet-era Soyuz rockets in order to maintain the international space station.
Taking a page from L'Académie française, China's state press and publishing body has banned the use of foreign words and acronyms - especially English - in newspapers, periodicals, books, and on the Internet.
The General Administration of Press and Publication (GAPP) noted that the use of foreign languages, most notably the mix of English and Chinese known as Chinglish, has "seriously damaged the purity of the Chinese language and resulted in adverse social impacts to the harmonious and healthy cultural environment," according to the People's Daily.
While highly amusing to some, the Communist Party-run paper notes that "coined half-English, half-Chinese terms ... are intelligible to nobody." If words must be written in a foreign language, they must be accompanied by an explanation in Chinese.
Does this mean English speakers won't continue to find "fried enema" on Chinese restaurant menus? We'll just have to see how strictly this policy is actually enforced.
On Monday, the U.S. Senate, followed by the House on Tuesday, passed a groundbreaking shark conservation bill banning the practice of shark finning in the Pacific. The bill closes a loophole in earlier legislation that had banned shark finning off the coast of the Atlantic and in the Gulf of Mexico. The bill also empowers federal authorities to identify and list which fishing vessels come from countries with different shark conservation rules than the United States.
Shark finning is a brutal practice where sharks are captured, their dorsal fins are sliced off, and they are thrown back into the water to bleed to death. According to some estimates, shark finning alone is responsible for the deaths of up to 73 million sharks annually, resulting in shark populations that have been depleted by as much as 90 percent in the past few decades. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service reports that 1.2 million pounds of sharks were caught in 2009 in the Pacific, although it doesn't specify what portion were fins. Many species of sharks are highly endangered -- there are only about 3,500 great white sharks left in the world.
Shark fins are used in shark fin soup, a (not particularly tasty, in this blogger's opinion) delicacy across much of East Asia, used by upper classes to demonstrate wealth, taste, and prestige at wedding banquets and corporate feasts. With China's growing middle and upper classes eating more and more of this soup each year, activists and scientists worry that shark populations are being depleted beyond sustainable levels.
"Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," Sen. John Kerry, the bill's author, said in a statement. "Finally we've come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life."
While any effort to regulate this $1 billion a year industry is laudable, the trade in shark fins is extremely difficult to monitor and much of it happens outside U.S. waters. For example, the World Wildlife Fund estimates that 50 to 80 percent of the global market for shark fins is centered in Hong Kong. While many Americans are aware of the environmental implications of shark finning, that same consciousness has yet to hit the market that really matters -- China. Last year, for example, a Chinese wedding industry group survey found that only about 5 percent of couples choose shark-free menus at their weddings.
ANDREW ROSS/AFP/Getty Images
Last week, I had the opportunity to moderate a panel titled "The World Economy in the Next Ten Years," sponsored by the Chazen Institute at Columbia Business School. The discussion, a whirlwind tour of the world economic system, was great fun -- and provided useful economic evidence to back up Foreign Policy's own Nov. 30 event, which focused on the political "rise of the rest." The Chazen Institute has posted the videos of each speaker online, but let me give a quick rundown of what caught my attention as the most important and attention-grabbing points of the discussion.
FP contributor Arvind Panagariya reminded the audience that -- despite the debate over whether India or China will be Asia's preeminent economic giant - India is still an extremely poor country. It currently ranks in 165th place in the GDP per capita among countries worldwide, just above Mongolia and below countries such as Iraq and the Republic of Congo. But that's about to change rapidly: India could grow at a 10 percent clip over the next 15 years. This rapid growth means that, by 2025, the combined size of the Chinese and Indian economies could equal the U.S. economy.
Shang-Jin Wei, the director of the Chazen Institute, argued that China's unique demography might hold the key to the country maintaining its torrid growth rates for the next decade. He pointed out that there are now 115 men in China for every 100 women, meaning that approximately one out of every nine Chinese men is unable to find a spouse (excluding the possibility of gay marriage or polygamy, presumably). He proposed that this competition for China's scarce supply of brides encouraged men to accumulating the wealth necessary to attract a mate. That's not just pop sociology: Wei cited data that showed workers in regions with skewed sex ratios were more likely to take dangerous or unpleasant jobs, and more likely to launch privately owned businesses.
But while the future is rosy in South and East Asia, it looks less bright in Europe. Charles Calomiris, a professor of financial institutions at Columbia University, predicted that the current economic crisis would cause "the end of the Eurozone as we know it." He painted a scenario where Europe's weak economies, starting with Greece, were unable to repair their dismal fiscal situation without abandoning the euro.
John Coatsworth, the dean of Columbia's School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), discussed Latin America, which he suggested was essentially poised to split in two. The South American countries, which have successfully diversified their trading partners by establishing new relationships in Europe and Asia, would witness "the retreat of American leverage and capacity" to the levels that existed in the late 1800s. These countries, he argued, will enjoy rapid growth and exhibit growing independence from the United States on the international stage. Meanwhile, the countries of Central America and the Caribbean would be unable to break from their dependency on the United States -- and consequently experience slower growth rates as the U.S. economy limps along.
The attempt by a group of patriotic Chinese scholars to create a Chinese alternative to the Nobel Prize appears to have backfired disastrously today, with the recipient a no-show and the Chinese government distancing itself from their efforts.
The first ever Confucius Peace Prize was awarded to former Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan, who worked for closer ties between Taiwan and the People's Republic of China. But Tien wasn't in attendance, largely because no one from the committee had bothered to inform him about it. Instead, the award was given to a young girl described as an "angel of peace."
Who exactly is behind the prize remains a bit of a mystery. The existence of the prize was first announced three weeks ago, though bizarrely, the organizers also claimed they had been preparing for it since 1988 and had been seeking "Confucian wisdom." The organizers at first claimed to have worked closely with the Chinese culture ministry, but the government claims to have nothing to do with the prize and it has received little coverage in state media.
Other nominees for the prize reportedly included Bill Gates, Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Mahmoud Abbas, and the Panchen Lama. (The Beijing-approved one, of course.)
The jurors refused to acknowledge that the prize had anything to do with imprisoned activist Liu Xiaobo, who will receive the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia tomorrow, or even mention his name. But the official prize announcement did take some gratuitous shots at puny little Norway:
China is a symbol of peace, meanwhile it owns the absolute power to uphold peace. With over 1 billion people, it should have a greater voice on the issue of world peace. In essence, Norway is only a small country with scarce land area and population, but it must be in the minority in terms of other relatively large numbers concerning the conception of freedom and democracy. Hence, the selection of the "Nobel Peace Prize" should open [sic] to the people in the world instead of engaging in "minority" type of the [sic] so-called presumption. Because it is unable to stand on the highest point of the whole human being, but also difficult to represent the viewpoint of most people, which could be inevitably biased and fallacious.
As usual, the good folks at Next Media Animation had the last laugh.
LIU JIN/AFP/Getty Images
Is China through with North Korea? That's the Guardian's takeaway from the exchanges between American diplomats and their Chinese and South Korean counterparts in the first batches of State Department cables released by Wikileaks on Sunday and Monday. "China has signalled its readiness to accept Korean reunification and is privately distancing itself from the North Korean regime," Simon Tisdall writes, and goes on to note evidence of "China's shift:" Nods of approval from Chinese officials for a single Korea governed from Seoul, expressions of alarm from Beijing about Pyongyang's 2009 missile tests, and a Chinese official's complaint that Kim Jong-il's regime is behaving like a "spoiled child."
It's all in there -- but sifting through the Wikileaks cables, that reading strikes me as a bit breathless. It's true that there are a couple of significant nods toward the idea of reunification. One comes in a 2009 meeting between Richard E. Hoagland and Cheng Guoping, respectively the American and Chinese ambassadors to Kazakhstan, at a hotel restaurant in the capital city of Astana. (Hoagland, incidentally, is a great reporter -- his account of the meeting is some of the best reading in the Wikileaks files.) "When asked about the reunification of Korea," Hoagland writes, "Guoping said China hopes for peaceful reunification in the long-term, but he expects the two countries to remain separate in the short-term."
The other is some intelligence relayed from South Korean then-Vice Foreign Minister Chun Yung-woo, who told U.S. Ambassador Kathleen Stephens that Chinese officials "would be comfortable with a reunified Korea controlled by Seoul and anchored to the United States in a ‘benign alliance' -- as long as Korea was not hostile towards China." The breaking point, Chun reportedly told Stephens, was North Korea's 2006 nuclear test, after which Chinese officials were increasingly willing to "face the new reality" that North Korea had outlived its usefulness as a buffer between Chinese and American forces. Chun (in Stephens's paraphrase) notes that the "tremendous trade and labor-export opportunities for Chinese companies" in a newly opened North Korea might would make reunification easier to swallow, and points out that in any case, "China's strategic economic interests now lie with the United States, Japan, and South Korea -- not North Korea."
Otherwise, Beijing's sharpest words -- such as Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei's remark that the Kim regime is acting like a "spoiled child" trying to get the attention of the "adult" United States -- came mostly in the wake of Pyongyang's April 2009 missile test, in the context of Beijing's efforts to engage Washington in bilateral talks with Pyongyang, Kim Jong-il's principal diplomatic goal at the time. Beijing's emissaries mostly just seem to be trying to keep the Americans at the table.
David E. Sanger's take in the New York Times better captures the essence of the cables, which is to say their ambiguity -- based on the selective evidence here, Beijing seems only somewhat less in the dark about what exactly is going on in Pyongyang than North Korea's enemies. Other corners of the Wikileaks trove are rich in plot and detail: the Obama administration's slow disenchantment with Turkey, byzantine Azeri-Iranian money laundering schemes, Yemeni President Ali Abdallah Saleh's entanglements with the U.S. military. The North Korean cables are mostly a lot of chatter around the edges of a giant question mark. As Sanger writes, they "are long on educated guesses and short on facts, illustrating why their subject is known as the Black Hole of Asia." The dominant mood of the Chinese diplomats who appear throughout them is exhaustion -- a sense, plenty familiar in Washington and Seoul, that no one really knows what to do next.
FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
yesterday's (Nov. 25) Financial Times,
my friend Claremont College professor Minxin Pei commented
that "China may choose to do nothing (with regard to trying to rein in North
Korea) just to prove that the west cannot bash it and beg at the same time."
the question of China possibly cutting off its nose to spite its face that
caught my attention. After all, China may really not consider North Korea to be
or any danger to it at all. Rather it was the use of the term "bash" and its
ascription of bashing to the "West." Let me hasten to say that my comments here
are not at all meant as a criticism of Minxin who I am sure used the term
simply as a repetition of current usage and without giving it much thought. But
that in itself is significant as a manifestation of how extant this powerfully
loaded term has become.
what bash means or what people would be trying to say if they called you a
basher. The word suggests a vicious, even irrational and probably gratuitous or
perhaps racist, attack on someone or some group or some country. And let me say
up front that I know this and am sensitive to it, because in the 1980s and 1990s
when I was first a U.S. trade negotiator with Japan and then an analyst of
globalization at the Economic Strategy Institute, I was routinely referred to
in the press as a "Japan basher."
In the case
of yesterday's article, the comment was in relation to the fact that China has
been criticized over the past few years on a wide range of issues including its
claims of sovereignty over disputed isles in the South China Sea, the ramming
of a Japanese ship by a Chinese fishing vessel, refusal to relax its
intervention in global currency markets and to allow its currency to revalue
significantly, reluctance to accept some degree of responsibility for
rebalancing the current, massive global trade imbalances, as well as its
refusal or inability to do anything about its North Korean allies' nuclear
doubt, there are two sides to all these stories and China has a right to voice
its claims and to act or not to act as it sees fit. But surely other countries
may have grounds for their criticisms. China no more than any other country
should be immune from legitimate criticism. But this is, in effect, what
happens when we use start using the terms bash, bashing, and basher. Because
they suggest irrationality, hatred, and racism, they inhibit and obviate
serious and necessary discussion of important differences and issues. Are there
no legitimate grounds for concern about China's territorial claims in the
Pacific or about its currency and trade policies? Certainly the Federal
Reserve's monetary policies and U.S. currency policies were subjected to
withering criticism at the last G-20 meeting.
only underlines another interesting element of phenomenon. "Bashing" is
something that apparently can only be done by the West, and really only by the
United States. No one calls China a U.S. basher when it criticizes Ben Bernanke
or the U.S. banking system. No one calls Germany a U.S. basher when it levels
criticism at U.S. economic policies.
basher was first popularized by Washington
Post columnist Hobart Rowen in the 1980s when, in his passionate advocacy
of free trade, he used it to undermine the legitimacy of any U.S. response to
or even criticism of Japan's mercantilist, export led growth strategy of the
time. His tactic proved so effective that it was quickly adopted by the
officialdom and media of Japan and other countries wishing to deflect and halt
U.S. pressure on them for change.
time to stop using this term in reference to debate with or about our
international partners. We should be speaking of "criticizing" rather than of
Clyde Prestowitz is president of the Economic Strategy Institute and author of The Betrayal of American Prosperity.
OLIVIER LABAN-MATTEI/AFP/Getty Images
Of the 140 Chinese activists and dissidents invited by Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo to attend next month's cerermony in Oslo, it appears that only one is planning to attend, and he's not even in China:
Wan Yanhai, who fled to the United States in May after increasing official harassment of his AIDS advocacy group, is the only person on that list to confirm his attendance.
"I heard many people on the list were put on a blacklist and were not allowed, or their family members not even allowed, to leave China. It's a horrible situation," Yanhai told AP by phone from Philadelphia, where he lives.
"It could be like I become the only person from that list who will be there," Wan said. "That will be interesting."
FREDERIC BROWN/AFP/Getty Images
The U.S. embassy in Beijing has an air-quality monitoring station that tracks the level of certain pollutants in China's notoriously smoggy capital -- and then broadcasts results via Twitter. Most tweets from the sober-minded scientists behind @BeijingAir look like this:
11-17-2010; 10:00; PM2.5; 154.0; 204; Very Unhealthy // Ozone; 0.2; 0
But yesterday a new reading was pronounced, one not listed on the US EPA's usual air-quality index:
11-19-2010; 02:00; PM2.5; 562.0; 500; Crazy Bad
A "Crazy bad" day, apparently, is one in which the pollution reading -- a score typically from 1 to 500 reflecting measurements of ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide in the air -- is literally off the charts. That is, it exceeds the EPA's maximum score of 500, the upper bound for a "hazardous" day. The definition of a "hazardous" day is pretty ominous: "Health warnings of emergency conditions. The entire population is more likely to be affected." But what's beyond hazardous?
The new category of "crazy bad" will not be formally incorporated into the EPA's index, but will first be renamed, as the embassy later told the Associated Press. Just another record broken in China for which we have yet no name.
Hat tip: @gadyepstein
As the G-20 talks get underway, we're thrilled to have Clyde Prestowitz guest-blogging for us over the next few days. Clyde is the president of the Economic Strategy Institute here in D.C. He served as counselor to the secretary of Commerce during the Reagan administration and as vice chairman of the President's Committee on Trade and Investment in the Pacific.
Be sure to check out his most recent book, The Betrayal of American Prosperity: Free Market Delusions, America’s Decline, and How We Must Compete in the Post-Dollar Era as well as his piece, Lie of the Tiger, from the November print issue of FP. -JK
First, Barack Obama was shellacked in last week's congressional elections. Then, the U.S. president was garlanded in India and Indonesia. Now he's in Korea, where he's about to be waterboarded by the G-20.
Oh sure, the G-20 will come up with some paper-over language that will allow everyone to sign on to some vague agreement that it might be a good idea to achieve global rebalancing at some undetermined time in the next century. But this is just what the Japanese would call tatemae -- the packaging or superficial appearance of things. The honne -- the truth or actuality -- is that whether he knows it or not, the U.S. president has arrived in Seoul to preside over the end of the Flat World.
In fact, the Obama administration is demonstrating a lot of schizophrenia about this. In India, Obama couldn't stop spouting the conventional wisdom about how international trade is always a win-win proposition and how those who express concern about the offshoring of U.S. services jobs to India are just bad old protectionists.
At the same time, however, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner is calling for some kind of deal for the G-20 governments to take concrete actions to reduce their trade surpluses or deficits. To be sure, Geithner has quickly backpedaled from his original proposal that governments would set hard numerical targets for the allowable limits of surpluses and deficits at 4 percent of GDP. His first fallback position was that the numbers would be only voluntary targets or reference points. When that elicited a new round of incoming fire he retreated further to the current proposal for agreement that each country will take the measures it thinks necessary to reduce excessive surpluses and deficits. Hardly much of a deal at all.
Yet even this is a revolution. No matter how watered down, Geithner's proposal is a call for managed trade. It is an implicit admission that contrary to 50 years of the preaching of economists, trade deficits matter. Even bilateral trade deficits can matter if they are big enough because they distort capital flows and exacerbate unemployment in the deficit countries. Further, it is an admission that unfettered, laissez-faire free trade is not self-adjusting and therefore not really win-win.
This implicit admission by Geithner has been manifested even more strongly (but still implicitly) by some of our leading free-trade economists and pundits. Thus, Paul Krugman, a Nobel Prize winner and long a champion of conventional free trade has called for tariffs on imports from China. So has Washington Post columnist and eternal free trader Robert Samuelson, and even the Financial Times' economics columnist Martin Wolf has suggested that some offsetting response to China's currency manipulation might be necessary.
But Obama isn't going to get agreement to any of that in Seoul. None of the other countries want to face the fact that the United States cannot be Uncle Sugar and the buyer of last resort forever. In fact, Obama has asked both the Germans and the Chinese to help out a bit by consuming more and exporting less. The Germans told him bluntly to get lost and the Chinese told him somewhat more politely to get lost. So the honne is that the Germans, because they're Germans, and the rest of Europe, because it is in terrible financial shape and can't borrow any more, are bent on creating jobs by dint of export-led growth. Essentially, they are saying they are going to create jobs by taking U.S. jobs. The Asians are saying and doing the same thing. Neither Asia nor Europe is likely to take steps that will achieve significant rebalancing in any reasonable period of time. That, of course, means no new jobs for Americans.
The big question is whether or not Obama will respond to that refusal by taxing foreign capital inflows, imposing countervailing duties on subsidized imports, matching the tax holidays and other investment incentives used by China and others to induce off-shoring of U.S. production, and challenging the mercantilist practices of many Asian countries in the World Trade Organization (WTO). These are all measures that he could take himself in an effort unilaterally to reduce the U.S. trade and current account balances and thereby create jobs for Americans.
If he does, he is sure to be harshly criticized by the apostles of the conventional wisdom. But if he doesn't he is sure to be toast in two years.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
The Christian Science Monitor reports that France is planning hold a meeting in Brussels to develop a common European policy on whether to attend the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony for imprisoned Chinese activist Liu Xiaobo:
China's G20 negotiator Cui Tiankai last week said states that attend the award ceremony honoring Mr. Liu must be ready to "accept the consequences." Liu is currently serving an 11-year sentence in China for "subversion" in co-authoring "Charter '08," a manifesto promoting basic human rights and political reform.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told French RTL radio this morning that French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Mr. Hu discussed human rights on top of signing $20 billion in trade deals. Mr. Kouchner added that, "I hope France will be represented at the prize-giving ceremony in spite of Beijing's warnings," but said France would be "consulting its European friends for a common response."
A French Foreign Ministry official separately told the Monitor that an upcoming meeting in Brussels will center on two questions: whether it is appropriate to attend the Nobel Prize ceremony, and if so, "whether ambassadors should attend, or should it be at the level of charges d'affaires."
"We have weeks and weeks to decide this," the Foreign Ministry official said adding that a Brussels meeting is set to take place in coming days.
As countries who have hosted the Dalai Lama have learned, China is deadly serious about "the consequences" for these types of gestures. But to not attend the ceremony or to put on an awkward show of sending a lower-level official would be the definition of what Vaclav Havel referred to as "soiling one's pants prematurely." It would signal to the world that with Kouchner on his way out, Sarkozy's government has indeed given up on human rights entirely.
Update: Good news. Looks like they're going.
THIBAULT CAMUS/AFP/Getty Images
Video appearing to show a Chinese fishing boat ramming a Japanese patrol boat near disputed islands in the East China Sea in early September, an incident which set off a major diplomatic row between the two countries, leaked to YouTube yesterday. The video had previously only been seen by senior Japanese lawmakers.
There are dozens of versions of the clip floating around YouTube today. The one above shows the actual collision a little after the 2 minute mark.
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."
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.