Monday, May 26, 2008

Memorial Day Rumination

Having just come back from a vacation in the Balkans, where reminders of the devastation of war remained everywhere, a reflection on Memorial Day of those that gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country seemed particularly poignant.

In Dubrovnik, a stark white cross stood on top of the bluff that looked down at the medieval old town, a reminder of the times when missiles rained down on the World Heritage site and pinned its hapless denizens underground for months before world opinion intervened. Inside the old town, the first thing to greet visiting tourists was a brass map showing where the bombs and fragmentation grenades fell. From the city wall, one can easily distinguish the new red tile roofs from the ancient yellow and black tiles—and there were precious few of the latter.

Tourists go to Mostar in Bosnia/Herzegovina to see the strikingly beautiful arch bridge, originally built by the Turks and now rebuilt after the internal conflict between the Croat Catholic and the Moslem population that destroyed it. The park in the city center is now a converted cemetery because of those times. Even after more than 15 years, fresh flowers still cover the rows of graves of young Muslim men, born of different dates, even different decades, but died around the same month in 1993. Listless survivors can still be seen sitting around sidewalk stalls with resigned vacant stares, seemingly unable to stir from their personal daze.

From Dubrovnik, we drove north along the famed Dalmatian coast. North of Split, we wound through the countryside to see the aftereffects of some of the worst fighting that took place between Serbs and Croats, folks that used to live as neighbors. The Croatian villages have been largely rebuilt. The Serbian villages that could be just across the road have been abandoned. Farm houses with fallen roofs and blown out walls stood to remind visitors of the fighting that turned neighbors and friends into mortal enemies. Barbed wired fields, with warning signs that the land mines have not yet been cleared, served as grim reminders that the prospects of death and injury still awaited the unwary.
Even though Split is the second largest city in Croatia and boost of a world class tourist attraction in the palace Roman Emperor Diocletian built in the 4th century AD, the city has no decent tourist accommodations. How come? For seven long years, all the hotels were used to house refugees from the war until they could return to their homes to rebuild their lives. The city has yet to recover from that experience and funds needed to restore those facilities suitable for providing hospitality to the foreign visitor have not been forthcoming.

It has been more than a decade since the end of the war that led to the disintegration of Yugoslavia and the reconstituted republics of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia. People there don’t seem interested in talking about the past, to analyze the causes of conflict and to excoriate those responsible for the tragic bloodshed. There was no perceptible joy in having won the outcome. They seemed only interested in getting on with their lives and look to a future without strife.

As I observed what war did to Yugoslavia, I couldn’t help wonder how the people in Iraq will one day react when the conflict is finally ended and the last American soldier has left. Will the Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds be able to live alongside again? Will they be able to rebuild or will they leave certain devastations to remain as reminders of the American incursion? Most important, will Iraqis remember and thank Americans for liberating them so that in future Memorial Days as we mourn for those that gave their lives in Iraq, we find consolation in the Iraqi gratitude?

I wonder but I am not hopeful.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Is the backlash here yet?: Chinese Americans — and all Asian Americans — Better Be Ready

This thoughtful article by Roger Dong appeared in April 30, 2008 issue of Asian Week. The comments added in italics are mine.

China is now America’s number 3 Enemy. A February 2008 Gallup Poll found that Americans declared that China had replaced North Korea as our number 3 enemy. Is anyone surprised that China is perceived to be a greater threat than the long time trouble maker North Korea? It seems that every day our fellow Americans are feeling more and more threatened by China’s growing economic power, in addition to China’s growing international influence in Asia, Australia, South America, Africa and the Middle East.
Is it really because China's increasing influence in the world or is it merely a reflection of the constant harrangue by the opinion leaders of the West? Not a day goes by without our politicians and our mainstream media spewing negative criticism about China based on false premises and erroneous information.

Job Losses in America. The millions of jobs lost to globalization is blamed primarily on low Chinese wages in China. Anyone who has lost his/her manufacturing or service job is not a happy camper, and the logical scapegoat is usually China. We have lost 5 to 6 million manufacturing jobs, and most (but not all) were lost to competition with Chinese workers. Never mind that once our workers were laid off, their bosses quickly open plants making the same (and more competitive) products in China or somewhere else in Asia. Even service jobs are lost today, and that number is not transparent as many such jobs are filled overseas and never competed in the United States. Most of these jobs are filled in India, but the number of service jobs filled in China is growing.

China does not play fair. In the economic realm we have very valid complaints about Chinese intellectual property violations, the cheap yuan, huge foreign reserves ($1.5 trillion and growing), and the potential to wreak havoc with our interest rates if China stops buying our treasury notes, or dumps a lot of the T-bills they now own. This is not simply paranoia; the declining value of our dollar makes it less attractive to invest in US bank notes.
But most of the "jobs lost" were lost decades ago when the manufacturing of textiles, shoes, toys and other low valued products were transferred to Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere in Asia. China lost more than 30 million jobs during the hard period of economic reform (the '90s decade), but the Chinese leaders recognized that they had to swallow the pain in order to realize the long term gain. Similarly, America needs to realize that to protect the jobs where we can no longer compete is to give up being the global leader and condemn future generations to second class.

The falling US dollar. As the US dollar continues its downward plunge, the time will soon come when it will not be in China’s (or Saudi Arabia’s or Japan’s) best interest to invest so heavily in our bank notes. With all the problems in our economy today, we should be very concerned about what China might do if it wants to make our economic woes worse. The brake that restrains this from happening is China’s dependency on our buying of their products. However, the US market is gradually diminishing as a percentage of the world market for Chinese goods and has dropped in the past five years from 47 percent to 27 percent.
To deliberately wreck the U.S. economy by China is highly unlikely because that would be a certain lose-lose scenario. China is holding hundreds of billions of U.S. dollars and no rational reason why would China want to see the dollars worth less every day. There is no one to blame on the weakening of the dollar except the policy makers in Washington.

China Deals with our number 1 enemy, Iran. In the Middle East, China is doing a lot of business with Iran, our number 1 enemy. China is believed to have sold arms to Iran and has signed contracts worth $70 billion to buy oil and liquefied natural gas and is funding infrastructure to pipe oil and liquefied natural gas out of Iran. He who is friendly with our enemy is assumed to be our enemy as well. With our preoccupation with Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East, we have left a vacuum in many foreign countries, and China has stepped in and made friends with many countries who used to be our good friends.
The axis of evil is the brilliant creation of the American neoconpoops. China has shown to the world that it knows how to exercise soft power. The U.S. has forgotten how.

Old Friends are now dependent on China. The Australians, for example, are now very dependent on exports of liquefied natural gas, oil and many minerals to China. A total of 43 minerals are exported to China. Two-way trade between Australia and China is around $100 billion. With such hefty trade relations, our normally reliable military ally has quietly warned us that if a war breaks out between China and the US over Taiwan, we should not depend on their assistance.
To quote one of our smartest presidents, "It's the economy, stupid." China has been playing the win-win game. Why should any one object to that approach?

China has also been doing big business with Venezuela, whose leader is Hugo Chavez, and anyone who is a friend of our political nemesis Chavez is an enemy of ours. Selling “our” oil in Venezuela to China also gets some Americans really mad.
Where does it say that China should do business only with the "approved list" certified by America?

Aiming at our satellites. Then there’s the People’s Liberation Army, which in January 2008 practiced shooting down satellites by destroying their own satellite. Now whose satellites might China want to shoot down in the future? In the military threat arena, China has been buying state of the art Kilo submarines and Sovremenny class destroyers armed with the deadly anti-ship missiles designed by the top Russian engineers to sink to our nuclear aircraft carriers. These Chinese actions are rightly perceived as threatening gestures to our military.
China has no troops or military bases outside its territories, and threatened no one. However, China is interested in developing a credible retaliatory, second strike capability so that anyone thinking of giving China the "shock and awe" treatment would think twice. There is no evidence that China would play the arms race game and bankrupt itself a la the former Soviet Union.

Cyber-threats. And you’ve heard those stories about Chinese hackers attacking our computers in the Pentagon. No wonder our military feels they must prepare for a battle with China. It should be noted that the United Kingdom, France and Germany have all alleged that their government computer centers have been hacked with cyber-trails traced back to China.
Any geek of malice can become a hacker from anywhere in the world. Individual actions ought not be attributed to deliberate act of a hostile nation unless such accusations can be proven.

And what about all those spies? It seems that a month does not go by that someone is accused of trying to steal military or industrial secrets and pass them to China. And it is usually, but not always, someone who looks like a Chinese who is involved. Many espionage cases fall apart in court. Nevertheless, the perception of the general public is that China is really trying to screw the United States. It is not just paranoia. If spying by China concerns you, there are plenty of recent spy cases to justify your fears.
Many of the cases against Chinese Americans are the worst examples of racial profiling as analyzed elsewhere on this blog.

Unfortunately, it seems that matters will continue to get worse, and tensions will continue to grow between our Country and China. Anyone familiar with Chinese American history should be very concerned about how we will be treated when the heat gets hotter. That affects not just Chinese Americans, but any Asian face. We all know how Vincent Chin was murdered in cold blood because he was mistaken for Japanese by laid-off auto workers. When the heat gets hot, our young people, many of whom have never tasted the dark side of racism, are in for a rude awakening.
For a recent historical reminder, Iris Chang in her book “The Chinese in America” reported that after the 2001 mid-air collision between our Air Force reconnaissance plane and a PLA jet fighter, some Chinese Americans living in the Midwest were told to go home to China by Americans impatient with the negotiations to free the aircrew. While this may not be mainstream, we know that in a conflict with China, Chinese Americans will be under the gun, and our loyalty to America will be again be questioned. It has consistently been this way ever since we arrived in America 160 years ago.

In the 1950s, in heyday of the notorious Senator Joe McCarthy, the Feds were unmerciful with Chinese Americans, and many of us had to prove we were not Communist Chinese or Communist sympathizers. This included many Chinese Americans who had served loyally in the military in World War II.

Chinese have always been an economic threat. Ever since our arrival in America, Chinese immigrants, and later Chinese Americans, have been a consistent economic threat to our fellow Americans. We worked hard, long and for low wages when we first arrived, and today, it is so ironic that we have the same problem.

This time it is different. Yes, this time, it is the Chinese, working hard and for low wages in China, who have caused several million fellow Americans to lose jobs. Few people will note, or care, that the fact is Chinese low wages have taking jobs away in every corner of the world. Many German cities that were famous for Christmas toys and handicrafts have shut down. Undeveloped countries, and also some emerging countries, that were dependent on textiles are economically flat on their backs with very little hope for recovery.

Impact of Globalization. The major issue is really globalization. When 3 billion Chinese and Indians suddenly stood up two decades ago, it flattened the world, and since that flattened wages globally, we Americans and most of the rest of the world were hit hard.
America used to be the leader in promoting the globalization trend and in fact has been the biggest beneficiary of globalization. China and India are simply following in America's footsteps. Globalization is irreversible (one can argue that the first traders to ply the Silk Road represented the beginning of globalization). In the process there will be winners and losers among the population and between nations. The basics to a winning strategy is education, a motivated populace, a stable government with a consistent set of rules, a transparent financial system that rewards the risk takers when they succeed. Protectionism is not the answer.

Chinese Americans should be feeling very uncomfortable as tensions grow between our Country and China. Historically, our fellow Americans have not clearly distinguished between the Chinese government and its citizens from Chinese Americans. Our engineers, who are disproportionately represented in our National Laboratories, all had their loyalty questioned a few years ago when American citizen Wen Ho-Lee, an engineer born in Taiwan, was under investigation. Chinese American engineers will be under suspicion again, if they are not already. Each of our engineers will have to make a personal decision to continue working under a cloud or resign. A few rotten eggs truly ruin the reputations of the rest of our loyal scientists.
Given the way Dr. Wen Ho Lee was tarred and feathered by the political climate that existed at the time, it is a small wonder, to me, that any Chinese American scientist or engineer would still want to work in the U.S. government laboratories.

Another Red Flag. America is now technically bankrupt. What? How is that possible? On December 17, 2007, David M. Walker, our Comptroller General, Government Accounting Office reported to Congress that our government’s accumulated debts and liabilities now total $53 trillion, and there is no funding allocation in the current budget to cover any of this debt. Please note that he did not say $53 billion. Walker reported a debt liability of $53 trillion, which is $53,000 billion. Both the administration and Congress are in denial. Walker resigned on March 12, 2008, as his dire report had little impact.

This is roughly equivalent to a middle class citizen owing $1 million in credit card debt and not doing anything to repay that debt, just hoping for a miracle.
Are we in denial? The Federal government seems to be hoping that another dot-com event will come along and wipe out the national debt, which did occur during the Bill Clinton administration. Since most of this money is owed to countries like China, Saudi Arabia and Japan, guess who the logical scapegoat might be?
I am betting that politicians in Washington will find a way to blame China for the scandalous financial situation that America is in.

How do Americans feel about Chinese American? In 2001 the Committee of 100 commissioned a national survey of adult Americans and the results revealed that a third of Americans feel Chinese Americans are more loyal to China than the U.S. When presented the choices of women, African Americans, Jewish Americans and Asian Americans as presidential candidates, the surveyed Americans were most reluctant to vote for an Asian American.

In 2007, polling by Zogby International disclosed that 75 percent of those surveyed believed that China is responsible for job losses in America, and 75 percent see China’s growing military power as a serious threat to the U.S.

With the confluence of the situations discussed above, if you don’t believe that a backlash is here yet, perhaps you should think again. There is more than enough fear to gush out a backlash like we have never seen. If we Chinese Americans are in denial, we will never be ready when the full backlash hits.
What should you do if you are a Chinese American, or even just an Asian American? If you are not willing to stand tall and assert your rights as a taxpaying citizen of America, and if you plan to lie low and meekly accept the suggestion that you go back to where you came from, then you better pack your belongings and get ready. There is a concentration camp waiting for you as it did to the generation of Japanese Americans during WWII.
Roger S. Dong is the chairman of Chinese American Heroes ( He has been a specialist on China for more than 35 years.