Cold War Analysis of Chinese History

Includes interviews with Pearl S. Buck and Theodore White, plenty of Orientalism (the music score is a treatise itself in stereotypes and aural affects) and such gems as describing Shanxi warlord Yan Hsi-shan as “the treacherous opium addict” and the precursor of the notion of China as dominated by “the poet and the executioner.”

Regarding an American “Objectivist Foreign Policy”: Rand, Romney, Feigenbaum, Huntsman, and US-China Relations

In the aftermath of events in Benghazi (the background of which Professor Juan Cole pins down like a butterfly, and the interpretation of which is covered ably by Diplopundit), and considering the rise of a certain strand of Objectivism in Republican foreign policy, Jordan Bloom’s extensive essay on Ayn Rand and imperialism merits more than a glance.

Given all the 1979 references floating around, a discussion between none other than Phil Donahue and Ayn Rand (fiesty, worth a thousand diseased Krauthammers) in that horrible year seems apropos:

Linking all strands together, as usual, is Rand’s interlocutor Alan Greenspan, who apparently should have labelled China a “currency manipulator,” as this new China-focused Romney advertisement appears to assert.

All of the above would have a great deal more heft if Romney’s East Asia policy advisor, Evan Feigenbaum, would start knocking out a few working papers or shadow drafts for his presumptive boss about what Romney’s “vision” for East Asia really is.  According to his CFR site, Feigenbaum doesn’t appear to have produced anything public since April.  Can a guy at least give a comment about something inconsequential, like how Romney would handle China policy in the event of a major Politburo shakeup in Beijing?  Given Romney’s blithe (though hardly irrevocable) dismissal of Japan as a legitimate partner in the region, Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy wonders if Romney even has such a vision.

It would be nice to see a slightly more aggressive debate going on about East Asia, and Feigenbaum would appear to be the ideal vehicle.  Not that Feigenbaum should be as rabidly irresponsible or as visible as the slick yet tightly-wound bundle of faux-Arabist mendacity known as Dan Senor, but East Asia (and the whole Ayn Rand thing, given Paul Ryan’s entrance as potential chief executive) deserves a fuller airing in this campaign.

Meanwhile, Jon Huntsman (no Henry Kissinger, but far stronger than, say, Condi Rice when it comes to China) did not even attend the Republican Convention.  

All things considered, maybe “Ayn Rand” is the best answer the presumably leading figures of the Republican Party can presently come up with in articulating a vision of the world.  On the plus side, East Asia is no longer being blocked by Hermain Cain’s entrepreneurial jowls.

Huntsman in Global Times Terrain, and Republican Foreign Policy

Mainly for the hell of it, I recently spent $4 (about 26 RMB) on a big red “Jon Huntsman for President 2012″ bumper sticker.  It arrived in my mailbox, and I promptly stuck it on my South Korean automobile, which I park in the guts of an old Japanese bathhouse in Seattle’s Chinatown and mainly drive up and down the I-5.  I’m an American, and I can vote for whomever the hell I please, especially in the primaries.  Even though I was questioning the shenanigan he pulled at the end of his tenure as U.S. Ambassador to China, I felt just a little more modern in supporting Huntsman’s primary bid: he has a better grasp of East Asia — by leagues — than his Republican counterparts, and he seemed to be setting an intelligent and measured tone, cooling down the “eternal war in the broader Middle East” meme which has been such a present part of our public discourse for so many years.  Moreover, he talks about China, regularly, occasionally in Chinese (which, if nobody noticed, is kind of difficult to learn), and seemed to be saying something that was rare in the GOP, the traditional locus of the “China Lobby”: the United States should not take any interest in overthrowing the Chinese state, and that good commercial relations with China were going to help the US economy.

When you compare him to the shambling wreck of an intellect that is Herman Cain, Huntsman looks like a Nobel laureate, and he also goes toe-to-toe on foreign policy fairly well with his fellow Latter-Day Saints believer and former governor, Mitt Romney.  (Like Obama and Romney, Huntsman supports expanded unmanned aerial drone attacks, but he also wants to move faster in drawing down from Afghanistan.)  I also thought that a series of Huntsman-Obama debates in October 2012 would be genuinely good for the country: two intelligent leaders behaving civilly toward one another, cooling the passions and laying out the issues more in accord with a kind of global realism.

It appears that is not what we will get.

So I was somewhat disappointed to learn, last night in a Taiwan bubble tea joint across from Hing Hay Park in Seattle, at the time of night when the dim sum starts to dwindle and the crackheads emerge to exchange their crushed pills, that Huntsman made a gaffe which has led to his excoriation among Chinese netizens and young people.  Huntsman seems to have implied that by using the internet and ties with millions of young Chinese, we, the United States, could some how “bring China down.”  How does that make sense?

The Global Times vents its anger at Huntsman here, having already whipped him for showing up at an aborted “Jasmine Revolution” demonstration in Beijing last February.

Some contextualization for the statement and its reception in China can be found on Shanghailist and Ministry of Tofu.

And a bit of relevant background, courtesy Al Jazeera:

Prior to this particular statement, Huntsman was on the record as being the one GOP candidate who spoke regularly about human rights in China, doing so in a way that probably didn’t ruffle too many feathers in Beijing, but did give primary voters the idea that he could — in a nice redux on a major campaign theme of Obama’s in 2008 — stand up and best represent American values abroad when it comes to human rights.

Is he also talking about Ai Weiwei? Is it also just the case now that the German Chancellor is always going to be a stronger advocate for human rights in China than any given American president?

Now, I don’t know what I’m going to do about that Huntsman bumper sticker; it sure looks good on my Hyundai.  The I-5 beckons.  We’ll give the old ambassador a few weeks to recover.  And  I think I will be watching New Hampshire primary results from Shanghai in any event.


By way of context, and because it is related, here is my slightly acidic short commentary Republican debate last night, written in present tense:

The Republican debate on foreign policy conveniently skips the subject of IRAQ altogether. Fortunately, a man with a sense of history and a large jaw, Mitt Romney, decides to don the Bush codpiece, intoning that we “can’t cut and run” from Afghanistan and that he “hates evil.” His Iraq advisers, whose hands are still tingling at the thought of recovering power, like the lost limb of Hemingway’s Italian major, grow giddy. Facing Romney’s “moderate” stance are the questions at the debate, 80% of which float up from the forked tongues of documented Iraq War hawks (Fred Kagan, the Jabba the Hut of neo-cons, and Paul Wolfowitz, who would be publicly hanged by the crowd if his name were Timothy Geithner) associated with hawkish think tanks.

Yes, these are our experts, men who represent “consensus” even as they lap up the largesse pooling down at the foot of the bunkers of the Heritage Foundation and the (as) American (as an unmanned aerial drone strike ‘reaping’ an extrajudicial killing) Enterprise Institute. These are men with authority and confidence. With with ideas, with publications.

Take Kenneth Pollack, who wrote an influential book in 2002 pounding the war drums for Iraq, and who subsequently got a promotion at the Brookings Institution. Today, Pollack gives Congress advice with a straight face about “turning the screws” on Iran. Why, when I turn on C-SPAN, is he pounding the table? With a Ph.D. in this economy, with his track record, shouldn’t he be working at Wendy’s, or trying with desperation to get a one-year gig at a place like Antioch? But that won’t happen: he’s an establishment defense intellectual who, after shaking off the repressed memories of Saddam’s execution (not quite what he had in mind), probably has dreams about a cybernetic presidency (Romney 2012, or Cheney 2016), with himself — finally — as National Security Adviser, calling in a thrilling air strike on Tehran, flying into Islamabad with tan boots like Jerry Bremer and suitcases full of cash and nuclear codes, the war as a vehicle to the greatness he knows he can achieve.  But I speculate, and he still has an office in Washington, D.C., and a secretary, and an immense megaphone. Men and women with degrees in Soviet foreign policy (Condi and Kagan in particular) do love to denounce the mullahs. Meanwhile, “fringe” candidates get applause for advocating religious profiling in America and strengthening the “PATRIOT” surveillance act.

Clearly this Party has changed, because there are “new” robots on the stage: Mitt Romney evokes collective sacrifice of higher oil prices so that we can take on Iran, and Newt “I’m a corrupt pig wallowing in proofs of my latest Reagan animation for kids and $37 million in HMO fees” Gingrich advocates a land invasion of the Islamic Republic. Nary a word about North Korea, but the demented Texan reminds us that Red China loves abortion and hates Jesus. And this is all happening as we, the people, their presumptive auditioners who would actually like to listen to a man like Eisenhower describe how things might be different, wail and gnash teeth over massive debt and high oil prices. I don’t want to mimic the rhetorical style of (Skeletor’s unholy minion and the spawn of Scylla’s groin) Ann Coulter and tell this barbed cabal to simply shut up, but, really, have they no shame? Have they no shame at all? As farcical as their gyrations are (with Herman Cain as the ultimate sideshow, the play within a play) this shadow government is absolutely primed to return, and they know EXACTLY what they want to do.

Yuanhai Fangwei [远海防卫]: Observing China’s Navy

Back in the American defense belt of Orange County, I’m reading Kissinger and reflecting on the extensive annual report to Congress from the Pentagon regarding Chinese military capabilities.  The full text of the report is here.

One minor advantage of the financial focus of VP Biden’s public remarks in China from 17-21 August was that the normal drum-beating on the security front relented, but only slightly so; the temporary disengagement from security and military competition seems just that.

Of course, these two threads — the military and the economic — were neatly tied together in a statement by the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Republican John “Buck” McLeod:

China clearly believes that it can capitalize on the global financial crisis, using the United States’ economic uncertainty as a window of opportunity to strengthen China’s economic, diplomatic, and security interests. Therefore, security in the Pacific could be further jeopardized if our regional allies also come to believe that the United States will sacrifice the presence and capability of the U.S. military in an attempt to control spending.  This is an unacceptable outcome…

For some reason this makes me think we might be better off with an annual White Paper by a few dozen academics analyzing the whole notion in the prior year of the “China Threat.”  Goodness knows there is enough material to mine alone from such 4-times-a-week publications as 国防时报 (China Defense News).  In the meantime there are always the incongrous statements of a “what? you’re nervous about poor old us?” take on the role of combat vessels in China’s peaceful rise by or the old standby 环球时报 (Huanqiu Shibao/Global Times).

A smarter approach might be to note that in Dalian, the northeastern port city from which the carrier launched and where I spent a little under two weeks this summer, “public opinion” was far, far more enraged over a chemical spill than they were over the heralded release of the aircraft carrier.  (Do not miss these stunning photos of the Dalian protests — which I missed by a single day — from the China Media Project.)  Moreover, the Wenzhou train crash in late July, which was caught in and ultimately overcame the maelstrom of pro-aircraft carrier domestic propaganda, further indicates the domestic limits for Chinese leaders of hyping military trophies over basic necessities like product safety and corporate/environmental regulations.

Back in Washington, American observers of Chinese naval capabilities are further alarmed by Japan’s aftershocks and slumps of various kinds.  As a partner of Armitage International testified before a House Commitee in May 2011 (full text here of the hearing on “the Future of Japan“):

Again, our aspirations are for a strong Japan. We can’t have and should not be complacent about Japan looking inward. But I would also add there are a few voices who have talked about a reorienta- tion opportunity for Japan, some high-profile op-eds maybe, about looking at reorienting away from the alliance and maybe toward China.

I just want to say that while China will surely be part of the re- covery and will surely be part of Japan’s trajectory out of this cri- sis, this would not be a very wise move, in my opinion. China is not the same kind of partner that the United States will be now and looking forward; at best, an unreliable partner. We only need to look at the events of 2010 to see China’s more assertive sov- ereignty claims; vis-a`-vis Japan, their cutting off of rare earth ma- terials when Japan was in need; and in general, an attitude of sup- porting the adversaries of Japan, like North Korea. So I hope it is not an inward turn, but I also hope it is not a reorientation away from the alliance. I very much believe in the future of this alliance.

In the House Commmittee on Foreign Relations, the outlook for slightly less harsh rhetoric towards China is also not positive.  One need only recall Chair Ros-Lehtinen’s remarks of July 1, 2011, commemorating the 90th anniversary of the CCP.   Comments like hers that strip China entirely of its Dengist direction, pointing glaringly at Maoist continuities, are particularly rough.

We’re in for an interesting fall in any event.

A Little Musical Diplomacy

China is presently thundering its way into some heavily-historically-documented commemorations of the 60th anniversary of the PLA’s arrival in Tibet, while at the same time bringing the rhetorical hammer down in a headline Huanqiu op-ed unsubtly entitled “The West, Sympathizers to ‘Xinjiang Independence’ Terrorism.”  As assertive nationalism and an emphasis on “social stability” (and the threats that forces external to China pose to the country’s unity) pose he only thing the Chinese Communist Party leadership seems to commonly and fully support, it seems likely we are in for a long summer and fall of the geo-political equivalent of baseball’s “brushback pitch,” the high fastball thrown at the head of the man with the stick, not in the hopes of knocking him out — for that might end the game altogether — but in the hopes of intimidating him, and his fellow onlookers, sufficiently so as to accrue the proper healthy respect for one’s opponent.

Perhaps it would be a good time for everyone to cool their jets and listen to some music.

I’ll be appearing at the US Consulate  next week and a bunch of other venues in that great city, including the celebrated Bookworm and the Danish Foreign Ministry project known as the  Nordic International Management Institute (NIMI) , with the pianist Andreas Boelcke.  As WordPress, last time I checked, was deemed an unacceptable infringement on the information sovereignty of the PRC (the very object of our musical affections!), I may have to be a bit creative with providing all the updates from the front, but rest assured, dear readers (and possible listeners?) that I will do my best to keep you appraised of the action and, the spirit of Hu Yaobang in 1982 willing, the achievements.

Swiss technician and Sinophile gremlin at Kristof Landon Violins, Berlin, July 2011; photo by Wang Yin/王茵, Freie Uni. Berlin

Henry Kissinger “On China,” and at the Opera

The ever-prolix Henry Kissinger has a new book on U.S.-China relations forthcoming, entitled On China.  Advance copies reviewed here by the New York Times; Kissinger is interviewed by NPR here.

Since copies of the text will not be available to we mortals on the Northwest for another week or more — even those of us with Japan connections in the form of a Kinokuniya Bookstore — it might be useful to review for a moment some of the former Harvard professor, National Security Advisor, and Secretary of State in his writings on China.

And thus to musical diplomacy!

Thanks to his extensive briefing books (which are available to researchers in the Nixon Presidential Library materials currently housed in Washington, D.C., and which I have consulted), during his trip to China in October 1971, Kissinger was supremely attuned to messages intended for him in cultural shows presented to him by the Chinese Communist government.  Thus his attendance at “The White Haired Girl” by the CCP, a revolutionary ballet performed by the Central Ballet Company of China, merits a bit of analysis.

The White Haired Girl (Bai Mao Nü, 白毛努) tells the story of the suffering life of a peasant girl who is saved from a life of servitude by the revolutionary leader.  This sought after story had been portrayed in the movie before the ballet and was extremely effective in provoking hatred feelings to the old system.[1]  The government was impressed by the impact of the movie, like many others, the CCP artists sought to transform this most moving story into the other artistic sphere of ballet.  However, in his memoirs concerning this performance (White House Years, p. 779), Kissinger panned the opera:

On the evening of October 22 we were taken to the Great Hall of the People to see a ‘revolutionary’ Peking opera — an art form of truly stupefying boredom in which villains were the incarnation of evil and wore black, good guys wore red, and as far as  I could make out the girl fell in love with a tractor.

Now that is an acid pen!

Of course, at the time, he was highly complementary to the CCP leaders about the show and even described its message in some detail in his dispatches debriefing Richard Nixon about the trip.

Later, Kissinger would open the way to a trip by the Philadelphia Orchestra to China in September 1973, which itself was the result of Zhou Enlai’s victory in the internal debate with Jiang Qing, over the role that Beethoven should play in the musical and ideological life of the Chinese elites in Beijing and Shanghai.  Kissinger describes the action iduring his fifth visit to China in February 1973 in his Years of Upheaval, p. 45.

Of course, when Zhou Enlai is saying things like the following to Kissinger directly, recalling the failed attempt on the Chinese Premiere’s life in 1955 on his way to Bandung, it is hard to imagine that he also had energy to take on the cultural bureaucrats in Shanghai, but he did:

As for international hijacking, we do not approve those activities.  It’s too unreasonable.  Such adventurous acts are not a good practice, regardless of the motives behind it, whether it is revolutionary or of a saboteur nature.  I say these not as superfluous words but to explain how people of the world think of the CIA.  As for we ourselves, we are not very much excited by the CIA..[Memorandum of Conversation with Zhou Enlai, Henry Kissinger and Winston Lord, 21 October 1971, Beijing, Foreign Relations of the United States 1969-1976, Vol. XVII, pp. 503-504.]

Trashing Diplomatic Etiquette, or Just Empty Cannon Shots? Huanqiu Shibao Weighs in on Clinton’s ‘Fool’s Errand’ Comment

There has been an immense amount of action which has occurred in the U.S.-China relation in the past week, actions about which, being on several “fool’s errands” of my own, I nevertheless hope to comment upon.

At the end of a week of bilateral meetings in Washington, rather than grand strategic debates, we seem to have in hand the following tempest-in-a-teapot:

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly about democracy in the Arab world, made brief and passing — and very critical — comments about the Chinese Communist Party.

These remarks have caused something of a kerfuffle in the Beijing media.

In response to Clinton, the Huanqiu Shibao editorial of May 15 2011 noted:

  美国国务卿希拉里用破坏外交礼仪的语言批评中国人权,称中国“做蠢事”(fool’s errand),西方与中国的人权之争呈现出更多的不规则性。西方对中国的态度像是外交、舆论战,以及它们国内政策工具的大杂烩。猜西方一个激烈指责“背后”的故事是很累的,简单说起来,西方在当下的人权之争中咄咄逼人,但这场冲突究竟谁是“胜利者”,却要历史说了算。

Which translates roughly as:

American Secretary of State Hillary [Clinton recently] critiqued China’s human rights by describing China’s ‘fool’s errand.’ By using this language, [Clinton] laid wreckage to diplomatic etiquette, and brings even more unpredictability to the Sino-Western debate on human rights. The Western attitude toward China appears to be one where human rights is used as an implement in the mish-mash of domestic politics, diplomacy, and the war for public opinion. Gathering that the story of fierce Western criticism behind [China's] back is tiresome, [we can] put it simply: Western criticism of China’s human rights has presently become totally overbearing [咄咄逼人]. However, on this field of struggle, only history will say who emerges ‘the victor’.  

Huanqiu Shibao’s editorial language is far more expressive that that of the paid-to-be-sternly-taciturn Jiang Yu, the Foreign Ministry spokesman whose remarks are reported on by China Digital Times [hat tip to CDT; an earlier version of this post can be found in the comments section on the linked piece over there].

The Global Times’ English version of the May 15 editorial in question is way, way toned-down and changed around, and includes the token reference to the now-useful-to-all-parties Ai Weiwei, who is so good at disappearing that he does not make the Chinese edition at all.

The strange thing in analyzing Clinton’s comments to the Atlantic is that they came in the midst of a much longer interview focused almost entirely on the Middle East. In fact, Clinton is in the middle of a comparison of China with — get this — Saudi Arabia when the conversation turns, and then she almost immediately swivels back to the prospects of regime change in Syria.

Is it possible that Clinton’s criticism of China is quite intentional, and intended to lay down some preemptive covering fire (in the form of “empty cannon shots,” as Mao famously said to Nixon about pro forma propaganda) for the Obama administration’s domestic opponents as the administration is engaging in multiple high-level meetings with China and signing a battery of bilateral agreements?

The anguish of the artistic community, and the Tibetans in exile, the South Carolina Chamber of Commerce, and the Falun Gong notwithstanding (all of whose complaints are, like those of the American communist parties, very much separate and disconnected, united only by the object of mutual derision), is there nothing to celebrate about last week’s cooperative efforts in Washington, D.C.?

There is a ton of video footage available of Clinton’s various bilateral sessions with Chinese leaders last week, and in none that I’ve seen does Hillary Clinton appear to be lecturing Chinese leaders in tones reminiscent of the Atlantic Monthly interview as to how they need to change in order to avoid the historical dust heap.

(Stalin’s advice for avoiding said dust heap, by contrast, would have been an ice pick to the head of the regime’s opponents — effective and cheap, but in China there are not enough ice picks and too many heads for this strategy to work, and besides, this is the United States, where no problem, including the President’s national origin, can’t be solved without a little public bellyaching and a lot of transparency.  The relative clarity of ice, in other words, beats steel ice picks, and Jefferson trumps Lenin.)

At one point, Clinton happily looks on as her Chinese counterpart describes the good old days when [the Republic of] China and the U.S. got together to launch air raids on Japan.  When you’re remembering World War II and channeling Song Meiling, it’s best not to mention that China vaguely resembles Saudi Arabia, even if you think it does. (The video of this session was up on Friday on the State Dept. website and on YouTube, it now appears to have been taken down.)

The Huanqiu Shibao editorial therefore accurately notes the milieu in Washington last week.  The Secretary of State did indeed warmly greet her Chinese colleagues, the editorial states, concluding: “It makes one wonder if, when they talk about human rights to China, the leaders of some countries aren’t just going through the motions [走过场].”

Hey, if “going through the motions” gets us some real “Eco-Partnerships,” maybe it’s all in a day’s work.

Or maybe the State Department is banging on the table about the rights of American students — like the 25 I brought to Sichuan and Tibet last fall — to travel to China as part of the Hundred Thousand Initiative.

Or maybe they are busy talking about currency, trade, and our mutually dependent economies.

Fool’s errand, indeed, but then again, so was Henry Kissinger’s trip through Pakistan to Beijing in 1971, laden with briefing books by Chas Freeman and the hopes of a President burdened by a war (or two) and the hopes of a second term.  Who is writing Clinton’s briefing books and coordinating her strategy on China might even deserve a bit of begrudging support, as to both Sun Tzu and Chairman Mao (as well as their successors and their advisers in Zhongnanhai), “unpredictability” might be considered a word of praise for a premeditated but previously unseen Washington strategy.

via Le Monde