Monday, March 17, 2014

The More Things Changed, the More the World Stays the Same

"We are, perforce, one world, mutually dependent upon complex trade patterns and the distribution of diminishing resources."

Does the above quotation seem particularly relevant to today's world? It was actually an excerpt from a novel, Harlequin, written by Morris West. The copyright for this book of fiction was 1974. That's 40 years ago.

The arch villain in this book was someone who ran computer services for large corporations. They didn't have the Internet then. Today, the analogous villain would be running the cloud services.

As they say, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Egad, what will the world look like forty years from now?

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

When is Terrorism Not?

The item below has been posted on New America Media.

Eight assailants dressed in black wielding knives and daggers plowed through the crowd at China’s Kunming train station, slashing and thrusting at random human targets on the night of March 01, 2014. By the time the carnage ended, 29 civilians died and over 140 injured.

By any civilized measure of humanity, the random killing of innocent people, elderly and children included, qualified as an act of terrorism. Indeed, China’s official newswire promptly reported the incident as a terrorist attack and held the Xinjiang separatist movement responsible for the massacre. 

Western mainstream media such as AP, CNN, New York Times et al. re-reported the story as they learned from Xinhua and other Chinese sources. Since no one from the western media was on the scene, their reports attributed the news to Chinese sources and put quotation marks around the word terrorist to indicate that they were quoting from Chinese reports.

China's People's Daily promptly took umbrage about the use of quotation marks and accused the Western media for harboring double standards. China claimed that when acts of violence took place in the West such as 9-11, the perpetrators were ipso facto terrorists. When victims were Chinese in China such as the slaughter at the Kunming train station, there was a wink and nod intimating that the attackers were freedom fighters.

Indeed when the White House spokesperson were first asked about what occurred in Kunming, she grudgingly allowed that it was an act of terrorism, but only after much prompting from the press corp.

China’s thin-skinned reaction can be explained by a history of one story, two interpretations, i.e., China’s official version and a western version tinged with a dose of anti-China bias. 

In the case of Xinjiang, one clear example of the bias was what happened to the Uighurs rounded up in Afghanistan as suspected members of Al Qaeda. After years of internment in Guantanamo, they were not handed over to China at China’s request but released to some willing eastern European host nation. Apparently the mere possibility of their fighting for the non-existing East Turkestan state was enough to render them less than full-blown terrorists and should not fall into the clutches of Beijing.

Seven days after the massacre, the American consulate general from Chengdu went to the Kunming train station to lay a wreath expressing condolences to the victims of terrorism. Subsequent official statements from the US government also acknowledged that it was an act of terrorism-- without equivocating quotation marks.

China side seemed mollified by the subsequent US response. They seemed ready to turn their attention to the unofficial, informal visit of the First Lady, Michelle Obama, and her daughters to China taking place later this month.

Nonetheless, the world has come to expect the rule of double standards in American diplomacy.

For example, the US is persistent in criticizing China for their record on human rights and for one party rule rather than rule by free election. Democracy is the only acceptable form of government so far as Washington is concerned, notwithstanding the many democracies that have failed or are failing.

Further, the US has not been true to its own pro-democracy stance but has made exceptions when the exceptions were more conveniently aligned to its national interest. Past examples that come to mind: The CIA orchestrated collapse of the freely elected government in Iran and later in Chile because the elected leaders were not to Washington’s liking.

Egypt is a more recent example of American exceptionalism. Mohamed Morsi was the rightfully elected leader until deposed by street protesters which led to Egypt’s military strongman, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to take over. Since Morsi’s support base is the Moslem Brotherhood, not exactly on the White House favorite guest list, Washington is not complaining or interfering.

Ukraine is an even more blatant example. By most accounts, Yanukovych is a corrupt leader and he does not like the West but is pro-Russia and in Putin’s pocket. But he has not been vacated as the elected leader of Ukraine by any legitimate due process. Even so the U.S. couldn’t act fast enough to support the ad hoc opposition in Kiev.

Washington needs to get off the holier than thou, ideology based high horse and work to develop pragmatic relationships based on shared interests. China has to deal with terrorist organizations and so does the US. In a globalized world, terrorists can move to anywhere. Being the two major powers most susceptible to attack, the US and China need to cooperate to more effectively deter terrorism.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Gary Locke's China Legacy is for all Americans

There were strong murmurs of dissatisfaction within the Chinese American community over Gary Locke's performance as ambassador to China. Their disappointment seemed similar to Beijing's official criticism upon his departure--namely too much harping on human rights according to official party line from Washington and not enough effort on being a friend of China.

Expecting Locke to be more empathetic to China's position was unfortunately based on the wrong assumption. He was appointed by the U.S. to represent the official position of the Obama Administration. That was his mandate which he carried out as best as he could. It's certainly debatable whether he is even qualified to represent Chinese Americans point of view steeped in Chinese culture and history. As an American born Chinese, he did not have the necessary background and exposure to Chinese values and he probably did not have the personal inclination to become a bridge to both sides.

Even so, he played a vital albeit unwitting role in the Wang Lijun affair which led to the downfall of Bo Xilai. The drama is not yet over but we may yet find out that in ensuring the safe delivery of Wang to the central authorities, Locke thwarted an attempt to overthrow the current regime and be replaced by a rogue and corrupt cabal. When (and if) all the sordid details of the attempted coup are ever revealed, Beijing may yet acknowledge the positive contribution by Locke and the U.S. government.

As I had anticipated in my blog, written when he was first nominated, Locke's task as the ambassador was more challenging than just any plain old white guy because of expectations associated with his ethnicity that he cannot fulfill. Sadly for him, based on the official lambasting farewell sendoff that he received, he may not even be welcome in the future as a "friend of China." Unlike his predecessor ambassadors, he may have difficulty developing a lucrative advisory practice based on his rolodex built during his Beijing stay.

Ironically, there was even some speculation in Washington circles that Locke could never be counted as a member of the U.S. establishment because there were always some doubt as to "which side he is on." (It happened to the late Matt Fong during his Senate confirmation hearings when he was asked hypothetically as to which side of the Pacific his loyalty lay.)

This won't be a problem for Max Baucus. He is white with many years of service in Congress. Few can claim his kind of inner circle credentials. He will be able to talk to any members of Congress and perhaps alter some deeply ingrained China bashing attitude. He should find receptive listeners in Secretary of State Kerry and President Obama, both former colleagues in the Senate. He has the real potential to construct and strengthen the communications link between Beijing and Washington. 

Chinese Americans should take pride in Gary Locke becoming the first Chinese American governor of a state and first cabinet secretary. He made history by being the ambassador to China, though not quite on par with Anson Burlingame becoming the ambassador from China. Instead, Locke is a role model for all Americans, not just Chinese Americans.