China National Petroleum in Iraq

[Update: Nearly four years later, there is very similar talk about China filling the vacuum in Afghanistan, via the Washington Times. This trend is confirmed by ICG's Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt in Beijing as having gone on "in the context of US]withdrawal” since the tenure (or possibly the untimely demise)  of Richard Holbrooke. – October 13, 2012]

New York Times just posted a story about Iraqis chafing under the terms of a deal for China National Petroleum as it develops oil infrastructure in Iraq.  The article is well written and seems to confirm many of the same discussions going on about Chinese strategies in Africa.

In interests of adding original content to the Internet as opposed to just passing unchecked information along a giant conveyor belt of paranoia, I had a personal experience that touches briefly, but, in my mind, significantly, on this topic.

Ryan Crocker was in Seattle last spring, having finally stepped down from his position as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq.   (He is presently retired in Spokane, Washington.)  Crocker gave a wide-ranging talk, entitled “Middle East Briefing: Current Conditions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan” to a packed house.  Fortunately my handsome Chinese blazer made me stand out in the crowd, and I was able to ask him a question about the very topic at hand.

To my recollection, our dialogue went something like this:

Cathcart: Given that media outlets like the New York Times are beating the drum about the dangers of Chinese economic expansion into Africa and the Middle East, could you comment on the role that Chinese oil companies have played, and will continue to play, in the future of Iraq?  I recall that President Talabani in particular has had close relations with the PRC and I’m wondering what the attitude is toward those relations.

Crocker: I’m glad you asked this, because this is a hugely important question.  Frankly, well, we are simply glad to have anyone come and invest in Iraq   If it is the Chinese who can help the Iraqis to develop their infrastructure, we would be delighted.  The gap between the amount of foreign investment that Iraq needs and the amount of foreign investment Iraq is receiving is immense, and so we welcome China, Russia, France — whoever can help, should help.  We certainly aren’t barring the door to China and we are glad to see their engagement with the Iraqi government.

Not that the above exchange completely mitigates the issues that Iraqis are having with Chinese companies today, but I think it is an important caveat when we read the Times report.  And, from a pragmatic perspective, having China take some of the heat for being an arrogant foreign power in Iraq, maybe, just maybe, gives the U.S. a bit of a breather from that exhausting and carbon-infested role.

Kurdish City, July 2009 (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Unidentified Kurdish City, July 2009 (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Nuclear plant in northern Iraq, July 2009 (photo by Adam Cathcart)

U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker and U.S. Secretary of State C Condoleezza Rice led a U.S. delegation to Kirkuk, Iraq, Dec. 18 to speak with the governing leadership representing the Kurdish, Arab, and Turkman political parties. The meeting held at the Kirkuk Government Building in downtown Kirkuk centered around Referendum 140 and political reconciliation. (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Margaret C. Nelson, 115th MPAD)

Rino Nakasone Lives in L.A.

The genius Seattleite/New Yorker Merce Cunningham may be dead, but new dance continues to spring from the mind of creative folk.  The following story, courtesy Chosun Ilbo, reminds us of that tricky issue of Japanese soft power, and the positive role played by pop culture in Japan’s otherwise antagonistic relations with its neighbors.

It’s also worth thinking about North Korean perceptions of Japanese popular culture.  There doesn’t seem to be much data on this question, but it probably isn’t too far away.  My friend Chiho Sawada at Stanford is probably one of the scholars to watch.

Here’s the story:

The Japanese Woman Behind K-Pop Bands’ Moves

Rino Nakasone Rino Nakasone

Behind the powerful performance and dance skills of many manufactured K-pop bands, there is a woman: Rino Nakasone, a Japanese dancer and choreographer. She is best known for choreographing several songs of popular Korean music bands SHINee and Girls’ Generation but also recently choreographed one of songs of SM Entertainment’s new girl group f(x).

Nakasone was first recognized by Korean music fans in June 2008, when she gave SHINee dancing lessons for their debut with “Replay.” At the time, she had been a backup dancer for the Harajuku Girls and featured in stage shows and music videos for Gwen Stefani in the States, earning some attention for her brilliant performance.

Born in Okinawa, she moved to the U.S. when she was 19. “I am a huge fan of Michael Jackson and Janet Jackson,” she says. “They’re like my teachers. I never took any dance classes when I was in Japan, I just watched them and started copying what they do. And I knew I had to move to America, so I did in 1999. I had to be close to Michael Jackson and all the inspiration was in the U.S. I got to meet, learn, and work with people that I was fan of and respect, so it really has been a dream come true being here in Los Angeles.”

She says becoming a dancer or choreographer was a “natural step.” “It didn’t happen overnight. I just kept doing what I love to do, which was taking classes, going auditions, or teaching my own class. Then many opportunities came to me.”

She says it’s fun to work with Korean artists. “When I was in Seoul working with SHINee, I was very impressed how hard they worked. I love them. Not because I choreographed for them, but because they sing great songs. They were great at picking up choreography fast and were able to do anything that I taught them.”

She also created the choreography for Girls’ Generation’s popular song, “Tell Me Your Wish” in collaboration with SM Entertainment’s dance team. “They learned off the video tape that I dance in and we all went over it together later. Soo-young of the band speaks Japanese and Jessica speaks English, so I had no problem communicating with them, but I just listened to the song first and the move came up. Music tells me what to do. When I look back, it could look like tango or salsa inspired. That’s what I do. I see some dance movement that I like and I tweak it and change to make it my own.”

China-Korea News/Resource Links

Global Times China comes down hard on “soft violence” “meant to create terror” in Urumuqi.  Hu Jintao’s visit is only a couple of weeks in the rear view mirror, but the struggle continues.  When you see a Chinese headline that says “Situation in Urumuqi Basically Under Control,” you sit up a bit.  Qualifying adjectives in Xinhua headlines?

It is quite probable that China is simply trying to manage the North Korean problem while the big dogs in the Central Committee chew out provincial leaders in Xinjiang.

Or go to Cuba.

Wu Bangguo recently met in Cuba with Fidel Castro. The two men shared a warm embrace, perhaps recollecting their experiences at socialist youth conferences between the time Chinese-Cuban diplomatic relations were established in 1960 and China pulled out of all the Soviet-led organizations in 1963.

Wu Bangguo and Castro in Cuba, Sept. 3, 2009, courtesy Global Times

Wu Bangguo and Castro in Cuba, Sept. 3, 2009, courtesy Global Times

For some reason the Fox News team failed to make a connection between the above meeting and the growing outcry against the most vaguely defined specter of “Obama socialism” in the United States.  C’mon, Fox News, get with the program!  Can’t you find some way to bring William Ayers into this?  Or talk about black nationalism in a very scary way?  Or give us the heebie-jeebies that Wu Bangguo is going to reprise Khruschchev and give Fidel a nuclear present which he conveys from Pyongyong?  Where is your sense of paranoia, Fox News?  We crave it in the Homeland!

Wu will continue on to the Bahamas and then Washington, D.C.

The Global Times reports that China is demurring from accepting U.S.-Australian invitations to do joint military exercises.  Here again, although China is giving all kinds of lip service to Australia’s importance, we have a North Korean angle.  China has fastidiously in public rejected any notion of pre-invasion/contingency/Korean War II planning with the United States.

This August 3 editorial (“Allowing North Korean Collapse Unacceptable: Experts“) , in English, is a rather fascinating breakdown on why.

The editorial points to one of the more interesting things which has happened this year in China: the increasingly open discussion about a North Korean collapse, and the pragmatic acknowledgment that China could not afford to see it happen.  Socialist solidarity, Korean War brotherhood, whatever, says Xinhua, we don’t need a basket case occupied state next door.

North Korean trade delegations in Changchun this past Tuesday floated the idea of the DPRK abandoning the dollar for the Euro and the Renminbi in international dealings.

Kim Jong-il is reported to have made a visit yesterday to North Hamgyong province.  It’s all about the fish, but note that the Xinhua caption doesn’t provide North Korea the benefit of the doubt on when the visit actually took place, just that the photos were released yesterday.

Photo released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 4, 2009 shows Kim Jong Il (3rd R), top leader of the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), inspects the kimchaek Taehung marine products company in north hamgyong-do, DPRK. (Xinhua/KCNA)

Photo released by Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 4, 2009 shows Kim Jong Il (3rd R), top leader of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), inspects the kimch'aek Taehung marine products company in north hamgyong-do, DPRK. (Xinhua/KCNA)

Unfortunately he did not appear to meet with constituents for whom protein is a complete fantasy.  Perhaps if he were to eat corn porridge with boiled tree bark for a few days like local old folks do, or have to forage for food in local communities like even officers in the KPA need to do, in North Hamgyong, he might develop a certain sense of urgency in changing his country’s structure of trade and balance of expenditures.   Or, perhaps he was just there to collect the requisite thanks for a few thousand calories which his birthday occasioned in the province this past February.

In a follow-up to recent active discussion regarding PRC Foreign Ministry statements on Joshua Stanton’s indispensible blog, Chinese press releases about the Q. and A. with Jiang Yu focus on the possibility of a U.S.-North Korean rapproachment, leaving out entirely anything whatsoever about questions regarding Laura Ling and Euna Lee’s assertion that they were taken by North Korean border guards while on Chinese soil.   Instead, China seems eager to push ahead with a new round of the Six Party Talks.