Saturday, August 20, 2011

Like Father, Like Son--Taiwan's Long Running Saga of Shame

Chen Shui-bian, Taiwan's first freely elected president that served two full terms, freely helped himself to any under the table gold he can grab and is now in jail serving time for his many convictions.

Throughout Chen's ordeal leading up to his final court appearance and sentencing, he fought his case publicly. Rather than covering his face from public view, he relished every public exposure into attempts to turn the proceedings against him into a farce.

He even boasted that all the tainted funds he was alleged to have in Swiss bank accounts would magically reappear in Taiwan within days of his release from detention. No shame, no slinking away for this man.

It appears that Chen Chih-chung is taking a page from his father's book. Chen junior the son has been convicted of perjury and sentenced to three months in jail. He fought the conviction all the way to Taiwan's Supreme Court and lost.

Chen Jr. promptly went public and unabashedly proclaimed that his sentence was politically motivated. He thought the Supreme Court of Taiwan should have cut him a deal where he could perform public service and pay a fine in lieu of going to jail.

According to Taiwan's law, a felon cannot hold a government post and Chen Jr. was stripped of his seat on the Kaohsiung City Council. Chen Jr. protested that said law was full of loopholes--no doubt he knows them all--and he should have received some sort of exemption.

The people of Taiwan are probably relieved to know that Chen Jr. will not run for the legislature upon his release from jail. This family does not know impropriety from their personal holes in the ground and is constant reminder of disgrace to the embarrassed people of Taiwan.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Nouveau Art is Thriving in Tibet

Most people get their information on Tibet based on declarations from Dalai Lama or his exiled followers residing in the west. Since these sources have not been to Tibet for decades, people can be expected to have at best a partial idea of what today's Tibet is like.

Those that have visited Tibet are likely to have a more well-rounded impression of what Tibet is like today. By touring various temples and souvenir shops, visitors would have been exposed to the richness of traditional Tibetan art embedded in religious objects and takeaway thangkas.

Very few, however, would know that there is such thing as modern Tibetan art and the art is dynamic and evolving in dramatic directions. My good friend, Dr. Cyrus Hui knows. A PhD economist and former banker, he became fascinated with Tibet, its culture and people, and he visits there often. He has written a historical fiction based on his Tibetan experiences.

He got to know some of the artists and had decided to help promote the new Tibetan art by opening an art gallery in Lhasa in late June 2011. See his eloquent discussion of the evolution of Tibetan art on the website of his gallery.

Many years ago, Cyrus was the first to recognize the universal appeal of paintings from Vietnam by artists trained in French impressionism. He bought the first collection of paintings back to Hongkong that became the seed for Galerie LaVong, the first gallery to launch its business exclusively on Vietnamese art.

Owned and operated by Shirley Hui, Cyrus' wife and good friend, the gallery in Lan Kwai Fong, has become the place where trendy new art is first unveiled. Prior to opening of the Lhasa gallery, a selection of Tibetan art was shown at Galerie LaVong with a gala in mid June. A selection of Tibetan art depicting its versatility and diversity can be seen at the end of the blog.

By opening an art gallery on Tibetan art, Cyrus is doing more than introducing today's Tibetan culture to the world. He is also explicitly saying: "Look, Tibet is a thriving place where its artists are free to experiment, innovate and create." Can we say the same for the residue of Tibetan culture eking out an existence in Dharamshala?

From top to bottom and left to right, the paintings are
Thousand Buddhas by Ang Sang
Story from Ruins by Penba
Deliverance by Sonlang Tsering
Longevity by Han Shuli
Shepherd Weavers by Bama Tashi

Posted with the permission of Cyrus and Shirley Hui.

Friday, August 5, 2011

non Book Review: Tiger Trap by David Wise

This is the first time I am reviewing a book I have not read. Instead my review is simply based the author's willingness to espouse the same ludicrous assertion that China conducts espionage differently from other countries by relying on the so-called grains of sand approach. This approach alleges that instead of relying on professional spies and dastardly derring-do, China collects tidbits of data from the millions of cooperative Chinese in America. Putting all the scrapes of information together and incredulously, China gets the design of the latest multihead missile system or some other equally devastating secrets.

The FBI has been claiming this theory for decades to justify their indiscriminant and racially prejudiced actions taken against Chinese Americans in America. No one has seen fit to challenge the notion that bits and pieces of information could possibly add up to the secrets the U.S. holds dear. Since J. Edgar Hoover first made this claim as a cattle prod to hit over the heads Chinese Americans, this bit of racist rant has persisted within the law enforcement community.

Whatever the merits of his book, that the author would continue to promote this myth about the Chinese way of spying calls to question as to his intelligence and integrity. Some years ago, I have written a summary of the well known bias of the FBI towards Chinese Americans.

See the book review in the Wall Street Journal for an actual review that attempts to explain the grains of sand hypothesis. The review mentioned FBI expert Paul Moore, a prominent proponent of this hypothesis. As I have pointed out in the past, Moore is the car pool buddy of Robert Hanssen, a senior FBI official and eventually convicted for leaking secrets to the USSR. Yet Moore who never smelled a rat sitting next to a real spy can readily speculate that any two ethnic Chinese talking at a cocktail party could be passing secrets.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

America narrowly missed being a deadbeat--this time

The last time the world faced a financial tsunami in 2008, smart money looked for safe harbor and that was to buy U.S. treasury bills. Even though it was the American financial market running amuck that led to the financial collapse, everybody remained convinced that the dollar as the safest place to be. So much money piled into the U.S. that, for a while, the dollar actually rose in strength relative to other currencies.

After the latest fiasco from Washington, will the rest of the world continue to have faith and confidence in the value of the dollar? After watching Congress played politics and care not a whit about upholding the honor of United States, can the world assume that America is not about to become a deadbeat to beat all deadbeat nations in history?

Even if the US Treasury honors its obligations this time after undergoing the tortuous exercise between House, Senate and the White House, can any investor feel assured that there would be a certain outcome the next time? Who is to say that some fringe group won’t successfully hijack the government and decide to renege on the government obligations?

China holds more US federal debt than any other foreign country. What has China done about this situation other than wringing the collective hands in Beijing? Actually, quite a lot.

On the one hand, even at the outset of the financial crisis, Beijing asked Washington to keep the value of the dollar from sliding. Members of the Obama administration serially assured China that the US will uphold the integrity of the dollar, maintaining as deadpan a demeanor as possible all the while knowing that printing more money is inevitable.

Of course, no one in Beijing took the U.S. assurance to the bank. Instead, China has been actively investing declining dollars into hard assets, such as oil fields and mineral deposits in Africa, Australia and Latin America. (China would make more investments in the U.S. as well except for Washington's generally frosty reception.)

Since the activity of China’s central bank is not transparent to outsiders, we can only speculate that China has also been diversifying their foreign exchange holdings into other currencies. However, no other currency has large enough circulating volume to allow China to fully divest out of dollars by exchanging into it.

The other means of not depending on the dollar is to conduct bilateral trade based on bilateral currency swap agreements that would allow the use of Chinese yuan rather than the dollar to settle the trades. China has entered such agreements with selected countries such as Brazil, Russia and South Korea. This is considered a step towards internationalizing the Renminbi.

In May, I attended an international conference on global financial security in Beijing. All the speakers from outside of China as well from inside China expressed concern on what action the U.S. will take to stabilize the world financial market. None anticipated that the American politicians would play political chicken and brinksmanship with the U.S. national debt and throwing America’s prestige and image down the sewer.

Since America’s financial collapse that drag the world down, which China side-stepped with its own considerably more effective economic stimulus plan (one that does not require bailing out banks), China has been looking at the U.S. with skepticism. Now that China has seen America’s much touted democracy in action, China is even more certain not to follow the U.S.

China’s economic stimulus meant more superhighways and bridges as well as a high speed rail system becoming the envy of the world, recent accident notwithstanding. In contrast, America’s superhighways need repairing and bridges that threaten to fall down.

Since 2008, China has formulated a national development plan that placed reduced reliance on export, especially away from labor intensive, low cost goods but aimed for higher valued added manufacturing. Recent Wall Street Journal article reported that multinational corporations are placing their high value manufacturing investments near foreign markets where they are making profits, not in the U.S.

China has continued to invest in education and allocated more of the national budget for R&D. Hundreds of thousands of graduates, mostly in technical disciplines, have gone overseas for graduate education. Many have returned to China to found companies that are competing on the global market such as Baidu, Huawei, and Suntech.

These companies compete on their proprietary innovations. With a pipeline of well trained technologists, there will be more coming from China. The U.S. with an increasingly dilapidated education system will need a steady infusion of foreign students to keep pace.

It’s not at all certain that the eventual accord reached by Congress will create jobs and restore the dignity of the millions of Americans seeking employment. The next time the U.S. lectures China about human rights, the spokesperson should be careful lest he/she is accused of wearing no clothes.

The U.S. is mired in two wars it doesn’t know how to win. Now the dysfunction of Washington has been laid open for all to see. While China is too diplomatic to question America’s vulnerability, will the rest of the world continue to see America as the sure footed hegemonic power that can be counted on to step in as the ultimate peacemaker?

There are pundits that still insist that America remains a great power and that eventually the country will pull out of this downward spiral. I would like to know how.
A shorter version ran in New America Media. The New America Media version was also picked up by Xinhuanet and Global Times.

See interview on Russian TV.