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China's State Press Calls U.S. Exceptionalism a Museum Relic

Stop being a bully, and start respecting the rules of the global village. That's the takeaway from a Nov. 1 editorial in Communist Party mouthpiece The People's Daily, which castigates the United States in the wake of revelations that the NSA has tapped the phones of 35 foreign leaders, a development severe enough to prompt U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to aver the United States has gone "too far."

The editorial's tone and choice of metaphors is enough to make a U.S. policymaker blush -- or boil with anger. Called "The United States Also Must Respect the Village Contract," the piece is signed by Zhong Sheng, a pen name for the international desk of the People's Daily. The Chinese-language editorial warns that the recent NSA wiretapping revelations are a "political tsunami" that should prompt the United States to "truly awaken to a few things." In particular, the editorial argues, the concept of "exceptionalism" should "have already been relegated to the museum exhibits." With the "global village" becoming ever smaller, erstwhile bullies who "rely on force to snatch position in the village" are becoming "obsolete."

The editorial is full of advice that would likely strike U.S. policymakers as patronizing -- for example, the reminder that "turning a negative into a positive is a kind of wisdom." There's also the counsel that whether the current "sensitive period of transition" -- one leading, the editorial implies, to a world where the United States is no longer the most powerful country -- is "smooth" and "sufficiently speedy" depends "on the United States' character and ability." That does not imply, however, that "the United States can do whatever it wants, like a spoiled child." 

The People's Daily doesn't want readers to take their word for it. For evidence of its claims, the article relies instead on U.S. voices. These include President Obama's April 2009 statement, "I believe in American exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism," which the editorial takes to imply the United States was "not that special." The piece also cites Georgetown University law professor Rosa Brooks, who in an Aug. 29 FP article referred to the United States as "a wounded giant" that is "steadily weakening," still capable of hurting people when it "flail[s] around." The article expands on the metaphor: Those hurt by the giant "have become furious, and the 'wounded giant' suffers even more pain in the midst of this anger." (Brooks, in a phone interview, called the article's mention of her idea "fair enough.")

It's unlikely that U.S. policymakers will take this particular editorial to heart. For one, it doesn't contain much actionable advice. In Chinese, the village contract -- cungui minyue -- refers to a mode of governance sanctioned by the party and enshrined in Chinese law, hardly something the United States could follow even if it wanted to. It also appears the article has not been reproduced in English, even though publishing English-language barbs aimed across the Pacific is a frequent practice of Chinese state media. 

Instead, the editorial appears to be speaking to Chinese readers, not U.S. policymakers. With NSA revelations stirring up mistrust toward the United States even among staunch allies, Chinese state media may sense a ripe opportunity to tell its people something like: "Don't worry. We've got this governance thing figured out."  

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India Swears Its Redundant, Mega-Priced Mars Probe Is Totally Worth It

India's space scientists must be tired, by now, of defending their cosmic ambitions. Though the nation has made a valiant effort to recast itself as a pioneer of space exploration in recent years, it can't seem to get around criticisms of how it spends its money.

The concerns, which India's space agency has often addressed but to no one's satisfaction, is newly relevant in the lead-up to its first Mars mission. As the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) prepares to launch a spacecraft bound for the red planet on Tuesday, many are wondering: How does a country with one of the lowest development levels in the world justify spending on a space program? Most assume that India's space program is fueled by competition with China's, and that India's dream of becoming the first Asian nation to the reach the red planet has more to do with establishing regional dominance than with scientific inquiry.

There may be something to that argument, given that the goal of this Mars-bound spacecraft is to orbit the planet in search of methane -- the presence of which would indicate potential for life. It would be a worthwhile scientific endeavor, if NASA's Curiosity rover hadn't already accomplished it.

Given the perceived redundancy of the mission, many have wondered whether the government should divert funding from its space programs to human development efforts.

Last year, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered a justification of the nation's oft-critcized investment in speace exploration. "Questions are sometimes asked about whether a poor country like India can afford a space program and whether the funds spent on space exploration, albeit modest, could be better utilised elsewhere," he said. "This misses the point that a nation's state of development is finally a product of its technological prowess."

The space agency's website, meanwhile, bears the same longstanding defense of its programs:

"There are some who question the relevance of space activities in a developing nation," it read. "To us, there is no ambiguity of purpose. We do not have the fantasy of competing with the economically advanced nations in the exploration of the moon or the planets or manned space-flight. But we are convinced that if we are to play a meaningful role nationally, and in the comity of nations, we must be second to none in the application of advanced technologies to the real problems of man and society."

Perhaps critics do make too much of the agency's funding priorities. As the Economist drolly points out, India spends 10 times more money on Diwali fireworks than it did building its Mars-bound rocket.

Regardless of objective or cost, a successful Mars mission would be an astounding feat, as no nation has successfully reached the planet on the first try -- and only the U.S. and Russia have succeeded on subsequent attempts. The AP notes that 23 of 40 total missions to Mars have failed, including those by China in 2011 and Japan in 2003.  

K. Radhakrishnan, the chairman of India's space agency has accordingly characterized this mission as a "technology demonstration" -- dismissing the notion that it is in competition with China, or anyone else.

Until recently, India's space program tended to focus more on terrestrial problems:  developing satellites to predict natural disasters, measure soil erosion and even help fisherman locate fish. In 2009, scientists successfully sent a lunar orbiter to the moon where it discovered evidence of water.

If this mission is a success, India will still trail far behind the U.S., Russia and Europe in the global space race, but it will nevertheless be a giant leap forward for Asia.    

 

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