Sharing the Seas

Since more than a few distinguished readers of this blog have expertise in matters dealing with fish and clean oceans in the Far East, and because environmental issues in East Asia are set to take center stage this year (Mount Paektu eruption, anyone?), I thought I might call your attention to an upcoming event:

Environmental Cooperation in Northeast Asia:Challenges and Prospects // A Conference at George Washington University, March 4, 2011

Rationale: In Northeast Asia, environmental degradation and competition over scarce resources have the potential to contribute to political tension in a region that still has many remaining territorial disputes and where distrust among neighboring countries is still an issue. Recently, the region has seen new efforts to improve inter-regional cooperation between states, such as Russia, China and Japan. Joint monitoring, cooperative research, and harmonization of standards and processes can serve the dual function of resolving common environmental problems and improving relations among states. On the other hand, it is pointed out that in most issue areas, the states of Northeast Asia have not yet developed a shared understanding of common environmental problems. They will discuss how we can evaluate the emerging environmental cooperation in the region, what is needed to promote further regional cooperation among states of the region on environmental issues.

Presentations include:

 

“Frenemies? Russia-China Interactions on Energy and Environmental Issues”// Dr. Elizabeth Wishnick, Montclair State University

 

Governing Russia’s Forests: When Are Transnational Initiatives Effective? //Dr. Laura A. Henry, Bowdoin College

 

Environmental Conservation of the Amur River and the Sea of Okhotsk: Regional Cooperation between China, Japan and Russia? //Dr. Yasunori Hanamatsu, George Washington University

Seattle, Washington, gateway to the Russian Far East

Keep your eyes peeled for future appearances and interviews on this blog with specialists on the above issues.  After all, in the process of enjoying life in Seattle this spring, I am fortunate to have the opportunity to be smacked upside the head by interactions with some-high voltage scholars whose writings, thoughts, models, and way of life calls our attention again to the sea, and environmental impacts (and thus, again, politics!) of transnational maritime East Asia.

The Sigur Center for Asian Studies


and

The Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies (IERES)

at the Elliott School of International Affairs, George Washington University

and

The Slavic Research Center, Hokkaido University

are pleased to invite you to:

Environmental Cooperation in Northeast Asia:

Challenges and Prospects

A Round-table discussion

Frenemies? Russia-China Interactions on Energy and Environmental Issues

Dr. Elizabeth Wishnick

Associate Professor of Political Science and Law, Montclair State University

Governing Russia’s Forests: When Are Transnational Initiatives Effective?

Dr. Laura A. Henry

Associate Professor of Government and Legal Studies, Bowdoin College

Environmental Conservation of the Amur River and the Sea of Okhotsk: Regional Cooperation between China, Japan and Russia?

Dr. Yasunori Hanamatsu

Visiting Scholar, IERES, George Washington University

Moderated by Dr. Henry E. Hale

Director, IERES, George Washington University

In Northeast Asia, environmental degradation and competition over scarce resources have the potential to contribute to political tension in a region that still has many remaining territorial disputes and where distrust among neighboring countries is still an issue. Recently, the region has seen new efforts to improve inter-regional cooperation between states, such as Russia, China and Japan. Joint monitoring, cooperative research, and harmonization of standards and processes can serve the dual function of resolving common environmental problems and improving relations among states. On the other hand, it is pointed out that in most issue areas, the states of Northeast Asia have not yet developed a shared understanding of common environmental problems. They will discuss how we can evaluate the emerging environmental cooperation in the region, what is needed to promote further regional cooperation among states of the region on environmental issues.

If China Did Something Right, Would Anyone Notice?

Ever since the Amercian press corps wandered into dusty Yanan in the rumpled personage of a 30-year old named Edgar Snow in 1935, it seems that Western views of the Chinese Communist Party, and of China itself, have oscillated greatly.  At times, China and the West come into convergence as to how to view politics on the mainland.  In the late 1930s, both China and the non-Axis West (including the Soviet Union) viewed China as an embattled, noble, and besieged bulwark against Japanese expansionism.   A united front of news!  For proof, just read Edgar Snow’s unjustly neglected piece of war reportage/propaganda written on the eve of Pearl Harbor, The War for Asia.

Then things took a divergent turn in the late 1940s, during which time the maelstrom of Chinese domestic politics wrenched Western views out of their idealistic mode and towards criticism, while Chiang Kai-shek nevertheless tried to build himself up as some warrior-cum-Confucian scholar with such ghost-written tracts as China’s Destiny.  (Chiang’s text, I might add, was no less pretentious, and arguably more useless, than Jiang Zemin’s opus of the 1990s, the collected essays of the Three Represents, whose absolutely numbing prose at least had the purpose of getting capitalists back into the CCP.)

In the early 1950s, another vast disconnect opened up between how the Chinese people view themselves and the way they were viewed from the West.  A savage portrait emerged from without, replete with references to Genghis Khan and tales of  Christian torture and expulsion.  But no sooner had the Korean War finished than the European left revived their idealizations of the Middle Kingdom as if lifting the weight of the pillars of the Yuanmingyuan, reconstructing mental edifices of China as an industrious harbinger of a gender-equal, egalitarian, progressive utopia.  Social philosophers like Simone de Beauvoir went to China, spreading great tracts upon their return, arguing for a fundamental congruity with China’s positive and rising self-image in the years of the first five-year plan (1953-1958).  Even influential French journalists like Robert Guillain evinced a grudging respect for the ardent, if unthinking, nature of Chinese development in those years by calling the Chinese people “blue ants,” borrowing from a French idiom for “diligent.”  (Unfortunately it picked up in the West with all the exterminationist and mind-control connotations in George Horvath’s Mao Tse-tung: Emepror of the Blue Ants, about the worst example of a published mixed metaphor that one could hope to find.)

And so to today: If China did something right, would anyone notice?  In today’s Shijie Ribao [世界日报], page A2, we get basically a whole page of coverage about how actively the Chinese government is focusing on environmental issues with the American leadership, both current and former.  Hu Jintao had a talk with Obama about this issue and the Copenhaugen Forum on October 20, and yesterday, former Vice President Al Gore was in Zhongnanhai, the Chinese leadership compound in Beijing adjacent to the Forbidden City and the Egg.

Gore’s visit in particular was worth noting.  He met with Wen Jiabao in Diaoyutai guest house (where I believe Mao first met with Nixon), but then he was also given a podium from which to speak directly and at length to the Chinese assembled there to discuss global warming.   None of this seems to be available on the Anglophone internet.  (All my Chinese sources for the images, other than the kick-ass print version of the paper which I bought this morning in San Francisco which shows Gore lecturing like a champion, are on Flash players and I can’t save them on this deadly Stanford machine I’m blogging on tonight — sorry!).

The Chinese take this kind of thing quite seriously.  A former vice-president, in Chinese terms, is usually considered to be still a part of the power circles.  Hosting Gore in Diaoyutai is therefore a very significant gesture of Beijing’s willingness to engage with Washington on the environmental front.

I still believe the U.S. can outflank the North Koreans and the Chinese by insisting that environmental issues be part and parcel of any revived Six-Party Talks!  After all, if the Japanese are allowed to bring in an abduction case from 1977 as a central part of their own strategy, I think the future of environmental catastrophe can also be considered.  That, and the North Koreans have been amenable in the past to overtures on environmental conservation from the U.S. and UN.

What depresses me is the total lack of coverage of this issue in the major American news outlets.  Exactly nothing in the New York Times.  Ditto on the Los Angeles Times.  Although we do learn from the L.A. paper that Current TV is back with a vengeance in the wake of their North Korean debacle!

Fortunately we have China Daily to tell us that Hu Jintao is focused on a climate accord.  Damned if it isn’t a useful and important article.

Media consolidation and the dropping of Western newspapers like, well, hornets from a wasp nest hit with a blast of DDT, may be having an effect on the question of media outlets that drop big stories.  If the New York Times is lacking a vigorous bureau in Beijing, the danger becomes that stories about dissidents aren’t balanced by other political news of the day.  Like, what did Hu Jintao do today?  With which American officials did Wen Jiabao meet?  Is it up to Danwei.org or bloggers to cover the Premier’s every move instead?  Do we all just need therefore to read the China Daily instead of the New York Times?  I’m as interested as anyone else in Ribiya Khadeer, seizures of Uighurs in Xinjiang, and I am delighted to get another perspective on the tangled goings-on at the Frankfurt Book Fair.  But when there is an insubstantial difference between the Epoch and the New York Times on the Frankfurt story and JustRecently covers it nearly as well, can the New York Times be considered an essential source on Chinese news?

I would argue that it is, but a paper that just shed another 10% of its staff (even with the generosity of a new non-Sulzberger patron) is lacking the resources to put on an all-out blitz at the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is what it deserves.  Germans get that in spades with Die Zeit, with in-depth coverage on the literary and political fronts.  And my august mentor Donald Jordan, of whom I need to be particularly mindful when in the shadow of the Hoover Institute and his documents on the Northern Expedition, always maintained that the Wall Street Journal was a better Asia paper.  For some reason I can’t bear to read more than a few hawkish, rollback-style articles every year by Gordon Chang and John Bolton that read like they could have been written by John Foster Dulles.

Al Gore’s interesting blog, with a crease in a print photo, says it all: nothing about the trip to China.  Has this man been so castrated through the years by chicken hawk Orange County Republicans like Christopher Cox that he lacks the cajones to publicize his own trip to promote the most important bilateral relationship this country has got?  Is it really back to the future (e.g. 1996) here?  Has he been reading giant-print-for-morons tract The Year of the Rat and hoping no one ever again photographs him with a Chinese man?  This makes no sense, Al.  Promote your own damned trip, and get people agitated.

Or are you still peeved you couldn’t go to Pyongyang yourself?  Don’t worry, with the environmental catastrophes sure to follow, you’ll be in demand.

Peter Pace, Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Beijing, March 2007 -- now imagine the soldiers are trees, and Pace is the valiant Chinese-American physicist and EPA head Peter Chu

新华:3月22日,中央军委委员、中国人民解放军总参谋长梁光烈在北京举行仪式,欢迎美军参谋长联席会议主席彼得·佩斯访华 === 本博客:Peter Pace, Head of Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Beijing, March 2007 -- now imagine the soldiers are trees, and Pace is the valiant Chinese-American physicist and EPA head Peter Chu== 我们应该热烈建设两国环保保护体制,创造新世界绿色建筑等,从轻枪弹造草花!

Tree: Policy; Farmer: Revive Policy -- August 6, Xinhua

Tree: "New Resource Production"; Farmer: "Policy of Revival" -- August 6, Xinhua

Environmental Movements and the DPRK [II]

In an earlier post I went off the handle in Beat style and demanded that the U.S. and China get serious about both engaging and pressuring the North Koreans by focusing on environmental issues:

Send Stephen Chu to pound on the table at the Six-Party Talks!

Blast down the tunnels at the DMZ for joint seismic research!  Tag the tigers endangered and let them leap over the Tumen like ice-clawing journalists!

Study roots in glass jars, trajectories of smog-plumes, hail the ghosts of heroic engineers past!  Let North Korea make new children’s stories of labor heroes who stop those voracious Chinese from blowing up whole mountaintops to extract their concrete for Changchun’s burly girders!

etc.

The DPRK’s release of hundreds of tons of water down the Imjin River and into South Korea, where the North Korean water caused a flood on Sunday and killed six people, puts this issue into sharper relief.  (See Stanton and Marmot for further gnashing of teeth.)

Unfortunately the same old tropes return with this incident.  Korean Broadcasting Service reports that Lee Myung-bak, unsurprisingly at a cabinet meeting, ordered a full investigation of the incident, making demands for apology and transparency that North Korea is unlikely to meet.  And it’s a strange incident indeed, as it occurred in the midst of a short warming trend, and Pyongyang isn’t above using an incident like this to deepen ties with (sources of much-needed largesse in) Seoul.

But today’s 61st anniversary of the DPRK’s founding makes it an additional loss of face for NK if they simply admit their infrastructure is crumbling. So it’s hard to imagine either an apology or some conciliatory step which connects to the “smile diplomacy” that Victor Cha talked about recently an a solid interview with the Council on Foreign Relations.

As for journal articles about DPRK water management policies more generally, we seem to have more data from the Chinese side (as in this example from Jilin province) on account of coordination on Yalu hydro dams in particular.

Pyongyang needs to be pressured to cleave to the international environmental standards to which it has already agreed to adhere.  The agreements which it has signed include the Climate Change Convention and Biodiversity Convention.  (In the print world, p. 403 of Yonhap’s 2003 North Korea Handbook includes more detail).  North Korea’s aging factories are also contributing to global warming (see breakdown on DPRK CO2 emissions as of 1999 here.)

Along similar lines, the DPRK’s pollution of the Tumen River could morph into a situation where still-muzzled but increasingly vigorous Chinese environmental NGOs would start firing back. Because building the case within Chinese popular opinion for an anti-North Korea platform, unfortunately, can’t be justified on human rights violations alone. Building in multiple pressure points versus Pyongyang, including the use of environmental issues, would seem to require something more nimble than the blunt politics of apology into which East Asia seems to get so easily mired, notwithstanding the obvious North Korean culpability in the recent Imjin River incident.

DPRK water resource management presents us with a muted but present case of Chinese criticism of North Koreans on that front. Via Greater Tumen Initiative,dated July 10 2009:

Major sources of water pollution in the DPRK portion of the Tumen watershed include Musan Iron Mine, Undok Chemical Fertiliser Plant, Kraft Paper Mill and Hoeryong Paper. Recourses’ exploitation within the Tumen region also resulted in serious deforestation, soil erosion and other forms of environment degradation caused the Tumen River water pollution. The pollution threatens the Russian Far East Marine Reserve and Khasan wetlands, worsens life condition of the population of the region and raises costs for the regional industries. Effective protection of the Tumen River and the improvement of its water quality are urgent tasks that require the cooperation of the GTI member countries. Capacity building and information gathering are also needed in all three areas of the Tumen watershed.

Too bad, bucked up by contact with Cuban comrades, Pyongyang is blasting out recently against the forces of globalization, which maybe include environmental standards and political critiques.

In response, we find this atrociously arrogant KCNA dispatch of September 4 (entitled “Giant Edifices Mushroom in DPRK“) in which the regime brags about its ability to, yes, build dams.

In the future, I hope to connect with my friends in Fisheries, including Amanda Bradford, of the University of Washington.  Amanda is one of the foremost global experts on the western Pacific grey whale, an endangered spieces which elides with North Korean waters — another example of the boundless meeting the hard edges of geo-political conflict.  Her work with Russian researchers, and the extent to which data can be culled from North Korea, is something I’m keeping an eye on.

Finally, it should be noted that the North Koreans themselves provided an opening to include environmental issues and exchanges in our Track II interactions with them, specifically requesting more environmental cooperation, when they met with former Energy Secretary Bill Richardson last month in New Mexico, USA.   Call it tactical, but it’s an opening nevertheless.  Fortunately I have some backup on this, via ChannelNewsAsia’s  reporting on Richardson’s meeting and subsequent exchanges:

Asia Society scholar John Delury, who recently returned from a five-day trip to North Korea, said he was struck by the warm welcome that North Koreans extended to him and other US visitors.

It did suggest to me that the environment in North Korea is one where they’re getting indicators that a thaw is occurring,” said Delury, associate director of the New York-based Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations.

“I think the ball is now in the US and South Korea’s court to decide how to play this,” he said.

“There is a lot of self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Obama administration is determined to see only the negative here and mistrust any gestures, then it’s not going to strengthen those in North Korea who are saying let’s open up, let’s go back to the dialogue,” he said.

Western Pacific Grey Whale

North Korean Children's Story

North Korean Children's Story

European Press Roundup / Envisioning DPRK Environmental Movements

Matthieu Mabin, Liberation’s intrepid reporter in Islamabad, reports on atomic scientist Abdul Khan in an article cleverly titled “Dr. Khan Again Becomes a Free Electron [Khan redevient un electron libre].”  One of the more interesting things about this brief article, which breaks no new ground in terms of Khan’s connections to North Korea, is Khan’s insistence of the patriotic value of his research.  It will be very interesting to see to what extent North Korea’s nuclear weaponry becomes a Korean, nationalistic, asset when Kim Jong Il dies, or if his death will result in the tactical ability of North Korea’s new leadership to associate the nuclear research with Kim and thus have an opening to get rid of their weapons and the associated stigma.  Something tells me it will be the former, rather than the latter, approach.  But will an individual scientist or group of specific North Korean technicians be able to, like Dr. Khan, personify the program and take appropriate credit?  Dispersal of credit for nationalistic achievements is the sign of a confident leadership, one can argue.

Meanwhile, organizers estimate a demonstration of some 50,000 people gathered near the Brandenburger Tor in the Hauptstadt of Berlin, one of my personal favorite cities on earth:

Aussteigen!  Der Hauptstadt jubelt mit Gegenatommachtdemonstrationen (courtesy Liberation)

Aussteigen! Der Hauptstadt jubelt mit Gegenatommachtdemonstrationen (courtesy Liberation)

Whether or not North Korean atomic might was part of the target, I cannot say.  It is apparent, however, that the story of American misbehavior in Afghanistan among embassy employees is getting a great deal of play in Germany at the moment.  They seem to be figuring out that charismatic leader “Obama auch braucht privat Kreiger [Obama also needs private warriors].”    American morality in foreign affairs always gets more complicated when one ventures into Der Spiegel, since its editors and reporters — particularly those in China, as I have commented on in the past — are so much more attuned to human rights issues in Tibet than the stagnant American press.

As for North Korean human rights agitator-extraordinaire Norbert Vollertson, I have heard virtually nothing of late, although he apparently has a book in both German and English that I should read and would welcome input about.  Selig Harrison recently obliquely referred to Vollertson’s stunts when refuting Dana Rohrabacher’s sortie into regime change hopes for Pyongyang.  “You’re not going to get it by floating a bunch of balloons with radios from Seoul,” he basically stated.   And this is part of the interesting thing about the kind of ersatz (and hopefully durable) coalitions being formed to handle North Korean human rights issues: bleeding heart European leftists, remnants of the East German experiment, can hook up with red-blooded Reaganites.  And the two sides might also agree when it comes to non-proliferation of nuclear weapons.  Oh how wonderful is the Dao/Dow!

Paris polysci guru Jean-Marie Bouissou argues, all things considered, that working out a viable stance toward North Korea is the key issue for the new Japanese government, at least in the eyes of public opinion.

Though slightly dated at 24 August 2009, this article in Liberation, “The Ambiguous Hand of Pyongyang to Seoul,” describes the posthumous influence of Kim Dae-Jung on inter-Korean reconciliation.

And the countdown begins until 18 September, the three day Lyon forum/retrospective on “20 Years after the Fall of the Wall.”  What are we going to be talking about with regard to Korea (and for that matter, China/Taiwan) in 20 years’ time?

Ecological Diplomacy — Building a Green Wall of Defense

Jacques Trenier, a physician and civil-society advocate for environmental issues, says the time has come to return to the ecology of Epinal, citing the new “Gaia” hypothesis of British thinkers and the research of South Koreans and Japanese to increase hydropower and reduce carbon emissions.

Here we see a key opportunity to broaden the coalition of individuals and groups concerned  with North Korea’s future.  North Korea is in environmental meltdown.  One function of kicking out inspectors is that coal plants and mineral extraction concerns are allowed to go completely independent of global standards, and labor and environmental standards are also worse than even those evolving measurements in China.

The North Koreans threw Bill Richardson a bone in New Mexico recently (perhaps reprising Dr. Evil’s favorite phrase) and asked for some coordination on environmental issues, which is positive and should be actively followed up on.   Sure, they are trying to change the subject, you say?  Well let them!  Throw them a bone in return, and make it organic and range-fed!  This is one area of “Track II” exchanges which, as Scott Snyder wisely argues, the West can work as closely with North Korea as they will allow us to.

Shades of the Yalu - St. Croix River, Minnesota (photo by Adam Cathcart)

Shades of the Yalu - St. Croix River, Minnesota (photo by Adam Cathcart)

One of the most interesting things that happened this spring was the order by the Division of Forestries in the DPRK to plant more trees (erosion being a huge problem with all the slash-and-burn or mountain-side plot farming) and prevent the cultivation of private lands in the forests.  Here we have the convergence of environmental, food, and free-marketization concerns.  And it should be discussed more widely.  Does Greenpeace or the Sierra Club have a North Korea platform?

And, for that matter, what about my own university?  Doesn’t “going green” on the Pacific Coast mean that chemical runoff from Hamhung’s mega-fertilizer plants (you know, the ones we bombed every few months during the Korean War using the Japanese blueprints?) impacts the Puget Sound and vice-versa?  Time to connect the vicious with the viscous compassion!

Algae blooms know no boundaries and the DPRK has got international obligations here, too!  Send Stephen Chu to pound on the table at the Six-Party Talks!

Blast down the tunnels at the DMZ for joint seismic research!  Tag the tigers endangered and let them leap over the Tumen like ice-clawing journalists!

Study roots in glass jars, trajectories of smog-plumes, hail the ghosts of heroic engineers past!  Let North Korea make new children’s stories of labor heroes who stop those voracious Chinese from blowing up whole mountaintops to extract their concrete for Changchun’s burly girders!

Bring in unemployed Appalachian coal mine specialists to slap the backs of the organically-fed boys of Danchun!  Stop the drilling of senseless holes in transnational minds by the politics of disconnect!

Cultivate a new generation of North Korean hippies who export hemp tote bags to Trader Joe’s!  Let them make guitars from wood saved from pulping by the Rodong Sinmun!   And let them, their bellies full of all manner of legumes, sing songs about the coming North Korean Woodstock at the old chin Il-pae’s ranch on the plains of Hwanghae!  And let them have rock and roll and watch Prison Break with State-Department siphoned subtitles!

Whew!  Let’s get it done!  I feel like Michael Stranahan talking to a bunch of burly offensive linemen who are bobbing from side to side and nodding their heads as they prepare to get back on the field.  Just one touchdown, people!  I would add somthing like “a miracle escape from the claws of the otherwise-inevitable isn’t out of the question,” but I prefer to pound on your metaphorical shoulderpads and say “Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! 加油!”

Coda: In 1805, in a moment of Napoleonic excitement and fantastically constructive Orientalism, a city bureaucrat in Epinal built a “Chinese Tower”
in which to live and work
.  The tower was closed down with the end of the Vichy regime and the roof collapsed (il est effondremont) in the 1980s.  Now, perhaps because France is incessantly seeking cultural ways to remain close to its highly-significant trading partner, China, the tower has been restored.  An exposition runs there for another week.

On reconstruction…

Chinese Tower in Epinal, France (courtesy ville-epinal.fr)

Chinese Tower in Epinal, France (courtesy ville-epinal.fr)