Friday, November 12, 2004

A Personal Lament: Remembering Iris Chang

When death claims someone young, already accomplished and clearly on a trajectory that promises much more, we feel a sense of irreconcilable regret. When the end of life is self inflicted, we are overcome by unbearable sorrow and ponder questions that have no answers. This is how I feel about the passing of Iris Chang.

I regret I didn’t know her better. Our paths crossed at Committee of 100 conferences and at the book signing I organized for her. I saw in her a person driven and passionate about rectifying social injustices that really bothered her.

I had not met Iris when she wrote her first book, Thread of the Silkworm, the story about Qian Xue Sen. Qian is the brilliant physicist, a founder of the Jet Propulsion Lab, who was hounded and persecuted by the hysteria of McCarthyism in the ‘50’s. I never asked her why she wrote the book, but I suspect she was motivated to tell the story of the injustice done to Qian.

The Rape of Nanking was an international bestseller for Iris. The contents were too intense and disturbing for me, but I was gratified that she so effectively brought this atrocity, a forgotten chapter of World War II, to the world’s attention. Her indignation resonated with the resentment all Asians share towards Japan.

Perhaps her crusade to persuade the Japanese government to finally and officially apologize for the many atrocities the Imperial Army committed against humanity in WWII drove her to her next project, the treatment of prisoners of war in Philippines at the hands of their Japanese captors. The victims of the Bataan death march were American soldiers. By the retelling and enlarging her inquiry beyond Nanking, it is as if Iris is saying to the world, “See, the Chinese may have bored the brunt of Japanese barbarism but the Japanese behaved with universal cruelty.”

I learned so much from her last book, The Chinese in America. Reading her chronicle of more than 150 years of history of Chinese Americans, one can see her reason for the deliberate choice of the book’s title. Our lives in America have its ups and downs but to this day we are still treated as foreigners living in a foreign land. I was delighted and proud when Iris selected an excerpt of my review for the jacket of her soft cover edition.

Those of us who have never suffered from the illness of depression can never appreciate the depth of irrational hopelessness the patient experiences. My father had bouts of depression so that I have some inkling of its potential to destroy. I wish I could have told Iris how grateful we are to have had her as our spokesperson, our literary standard bearer.

Despite her short life, she has left us a more meaningful and more lasting legacy than most of us could ever hope to achieve. Dear Iris, may you rest in peace.

Monday, November 8, 2004

Bush's Re-election May Improve U.S.-China Ties

Pacific News Service, Commentary, George Koo, Posted: Nov 08, 2004

Editor's Note: The economies of the U.S. and China are simply too intertwined for the United States to support Taiwanese calls for independence, the writer says.

The re-election of George W. Bush, bodes well for the future of the bilateral U.S.-China relations. This is not because Bush finds in Hu Jintao, China's leader, a bosom buddy like he has in Russian leader Vladmir Putin.

Rather, part of the reason for closer ties is the increasing U.S. dependence on China to resolve the impasse with North Korea. Even though the United States and the North Koreans still talk pass each other and not at each other, at least the six-country talks, hosted by China, give the parties an opportunity to find resolution.

Secondly, China is now the second-largest holder, next to Japan, of U.S. national debt. A recent offering of treasury notes, when met with lack of foreign participation, sent a distinct chill down the spine of intermediaries that handle such transactions.

From the U.S. perspective, deliberate belligerence toward a major financier of the American government would not seem prudent nor in our national interest.

Deterioration of the dollar is also contrary to China's national interest, and thus China is constrained to prop up the U.S. economy by continuing to buy U.S. treasuries. Mutually assured destruction of the two major economies is not a prospect anyone could contemplate with equanimity.

The bilateral relation could have been in for a much tougher sledding had John Kerry been elected, not because John Kerry is a dedicated China basher but because the China bashers from the Republican right wing would have been unleashed.

As they did in the Clinton years, the China bashers in Congress used real and imagined grievances against China to find fault with the administration in power. With Bush returning to power, the right wing will stay tethered. The left wing bashers will find China bashing, without the connivance of the right, like firing duds.

Just before the election, Secretary of State Colin Powell, went to Beijing. He surprised everyone by declaring, "There is only one China. Taiwan is not independent. It does not enjoy sovereignty as a nation, and that remains our policy, our firm policy."

Needless to say, this caused a great deal of consternation and anguish in Taiwan Chen Shui-bian's government. The senior American official in Taipei, Douglas Paal, tried to assuage Chen's anxiety by clarifying that Powell really meant "peaceful resolution" and not "peaceful unification."

Actually according to the transcript released by the State Department of an interview with CNN International Powell used "reunification," which is the first time ever an American official has directly suggested such an outcome.

Is the Bush administration giving a signal that it is ready to depart from its past position of "strategic ambiguity"? Or is Colin Powell seeking to leave a personal legacy? Most observers do not expect Powell to serve a second term.

After Powell's return to the United States, the administration seemed to have reverted to ambiguity as various spokesmen tried to overlay different spins on what Powell really meant.

China is not above practicing some ambiguity of its own. Just before Election Day, former vice premier and minister of foreign affairs, Qian Qichen blasted Bush's "doctrine of unilateralism" on the front page of China Daily.

Since Qian, now retired, is a private citizen, his views are not supposed to reflect Beijing's official position. Officially, President Hu Jintao congratulated Bush on his re-election and expressed desire for even closer cooperation.

Of course, no one is as masterful at conveying ambiguity as President Chen Shui-bian of Taiwan. In his recent national day speech, he again expressed the desire to hold dialogue across the strait.

His speech did not surprise the White House since Chen was thoughtful enough to send an advanced copy to Bush for review -- action not exactly becoming of someone claiming to be head of a sovereign state. Chen, it seems, understood the limits of his independent stance.

Naturally, the White House and Powell applaud Chen's overture to the mainland. Unfortunately, Beijing flatly rejects Chen's gesture as lacking in sincerity. Beijing's distrust is grounded in Chen's insistence that Taiwan is an independent nation.

The solution to the cross-strait tension is really quite simple. The White House need only to tell Chen to behave and that any talk of independence is inflammatory and not in the U.S. national interest.

The threat of withdrawal of American support will help Chen focus on the benefits of discussing cross-strait integration rather than continuing the rhetoric for independence, which can only lead to tragedy.