Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Racial profiling of Chinese American scientists never ends

This piece originally appeared in Asia Times and reposted on New America Media. (See also Congressman Ted Lieu's letter to Attorney General Lynch demanding a full investigation.)

It simply boggles the mind that with an African American in the White House and an African American as the Attorney General, persecution of Chinese American scientists based on racial profiling not only has not abated but actually intensified.

Professor Xiaoxing Xi, former head of the physics department at Temple University, was the latest of a bumper crop of Chinese Americans that became victims of racial profiling.

Joyce Xi reminded us of this development recently when she gave a series of presentations at Stanford, UC Berkeley and Hastings Law School describing how her father and family were brutalized by the FBI.

Early dawn in May, the agents broke into their home with guns drawn, manhandled Professor Xi, handcuffed him behind his back and took him away without any explanation on reasons for his arrest. The agents insisted on keeping Mrs. Xi in another room and interrogated her for hours. Joyce happened to be home from college and could see that her 12-year old sister was traumatized.

According to Peter Zeidenberg, legal counsel for Xi and the family, the government accused Xi of wire fraud based on his having borrowed a piece of test equipment, a so-called pocket heater, in 2006. Zeidenberg went to the inventor of the heater who confirmed that none of the “evidence” Xi was accused of sending to China was related to the design of his invention.

Furthermore, the invention was patented but never commercialized so that even if Xi had sent the drawings to China, the government would not have a case that economic damage was done.

The government investigators could have just as easily verified the findings as Ziedenberg did, but the Obama Administration has been so obsessed by the idea that China is out to steal everything, hysteria and paranoia have replaced rational thinking.

In lieu of a professional investigation, the government leaps to prosecution. If the suspect is a Chinese American, he is ipso facto guilty.

Xi’s case harkens back to the celebrated case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, then a scientist working at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Lee was accused of leaking the design of multi-head missile to China and incarcerated in solitary confinement for 10 months.

Eventually, the presiding judge apologized to Lee for gross government misconduct before releasing him, but even then Lee had to plead guilty to one charge in exchange for time already served.

Preserving the reputation of the American judiciary system that the government is never wrong is far more important than any damage done to the civil rights of its citizens.

If the government couldn’t get Lee to accept one guilt plea, the government would have no justification for having kept him in jail and that meant the government made a mistake.

No different from the governments under Nazi Germany or Stalin’s Soviet Union, our government does not make mistakes—none that they could admit. For the U.S. government to apologize is out of the question.

Professor Ling-chi Wang, then head of Asian American studies at UC Berkeley, was outraged by the injustice Lee suffered in the hands of the government. He organized a national boycott of the national laboratories and urge Asian American scientists to stop applying for jobs at the laboratories.

Whether it was because of the sobering effect of Lee’s treatment or the subsequent boycott, new applicants to the national labs did drop off significantly and senior staff were leaving for non-government sector or taking early retirement.

Because Asian Americans make up 5% of the U.S. population but 25% of PhDs in the technical disciplines, the management of the national laboratories was rightly alarmed and concerned.

What to do with unfilled vacancies in the labs? Fill them with the best-trained lawyers and politicians and let them conduct weaponry development?

A typical response attributed to a Nobel laureate and scientific advisor to Congress: "Every physics, engineering and life sciences department has brilliant young scientists born in Asia and the Pacific Rim, and we'd be in deep trouble if we didn't have them here."

It was true fifteen years ago and even more so today.  When Professor Xi came to the U.S., he was already a recognized world authority in his field of superconductive thin film. How he has been treated will surely give pause to others considering their career options.

In recent years there were other cases of Chinese Americans that were targeted and arrested. They were charged with espionage or committing economic crimes against American interest on behalf of China.

Unlike Xi’s case, some of the victims spent years in mental suspension, not to mention the constant financial drain in legal bills, before the government abruptly dropped the charges. Invariably there would be no explanation and, of course, no apology. Not all the victims would want to relive their agony by going public with their taste of American justice.

The Sherry Chen case became public because of reports by New York Times. She was also arrested, handcuffed and taken away in front of her co-workers. She was accused of unauthorized access to certain data about dams. Zeidenberg was also her attorney and he pointed out that the person that gave her the password for computer access was not Chinese and was recently promoted.

After federal prosecutor dropped all charges, her employer the Department of Commerce, apparently suffering from the embarrassment of bringing the charges against her, is not going to re-hire her--again, inconceivable that the government erred.

In Xi’s case, to add insult to injury, Joyce explained that the government’s case against her father was dropped “without prejudice,” meaning that the case is technically live and the government has the right to re-open the case in the future—consistent with the government’s inability to face up to admitting a mistake.

Thus in addition to the legal expense Xi incurred to prove his innocence, the cloud of suspicion will continue to dog him for the rest of his life in the U.S.

One of the advantages of working in academia as opposed to a national lab is the freedom to collaborate with anyone in the world. Such collaboration can take the form of joint research, sharing of ideas and papers and in Xi’s case sharing of samples. Other experts consider Xi’s sample films wonderfully pure and excellent for testing their ideas and experiments.

Academic collaboration and exchanges benefit all parties that participate in them. It is a principle fundamental to the advancement of science and knowledge. Putting Xi under surveillance and suspicion is equivalent to restricting his ability to do unfettered research.

To ultimate loser in this xenophobia will be the United States.

At Hastings Law School, the San Francisco based Asian Law Caucus handed out a 6 point advice under “Know Your Rights,” as briefly summarized below.

Rule 1 – If FBI or law enforcement come calling, you have the right to say, “I want to speak to a lawyer before speaking with you.”
Rule 2 – It’s a crime to lie. An honest mistake such as mixed up on dates could be held against you. That’s why you need a lawyer by your side.
Rule 3 – Asking for a lawyer won’t make you more suspicious and talking to lawman without one could get you in trouble.
Rule 4 – Just because FBI contacts you do not mean you’ve done anything wrong or that you are under investigation.
Rule 5 – FBI has no right to ask you about your political or religious beliefs, such as how you feel about U.S. China relations.
Rule 6 – If you think you are being discriminated by your employer, consult an attorney immediately

The contact at Asian Law Caucus is Yaman Salahi, yamans@advancingjustice-alc.org for a copy of the handout.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Cross Strait Relations Going Back to Bad Old Days

This is the second of two commentaries on Taiwan, written before but in anticipation of KMT's midstream change in candidate for the president--originally posted in China-U.S. Focus.

Despite warming relations between the mainland and Taiwan under seven years of Ma Ying-jeou’s administration, around the corner, the cross-straits relationship could be in for a period of deep freeze. Ma’s ineffective leadership is one obvious reason but there are many other contributory causes for the gloomy overcast on the Taiwan Straits.

When Ma won the presidential election in 2008 by a landslide, Taiwan was a mess. Eight years under Chen Shui-bian saw Taiwan’s economy stagnating and news of scandal and accusation of wrongdoing pelted one after another.

Chen Shui-bian established many firsts in Taiwan’s history. He was the first from Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) to wrestle the presidency from the then ruling Kuomintang (KMT), and he was the first to win the seat with less than 40% of the popular vote. He was the first to “survive” a last minute assassination attempt of doubtful authenticity but garnered enough voter sympathy to be re-elected by the thinnest of margins. He was also the first to go directly to prison for corruption after he left office.

Over a million of Taiwan’s best and brightest left Taiwan to establish residence on the mainland, to invest and begin their businesses and to make their fortunes there. Chen did not stop the investments across the straits but he also did not take advantage of economic synergy with the mainland.

So long as the Taishang (Taiwan businessmen) going back and forth did not try to influence the politics on Taiwan, i.e., did not publicly extoll the virtues of cooperating with the mainland, Chen left them alone. Instead Chen concentrated on every opportunity to line his pockets.

When he was finally put on trial for massive corruption, he blamed the wrongdoings on his wife. And then, in exchange for dismissing all the charges against him, he offered to repatriate millions from off shore bank accounts back to Taiwan. The court merely sent him to prison.

While being president, Chen promoted his predecessor’s (Lee Teng-hui) policy of moving the people’s sentiments away from China toward a native Taiwan identity. The textbooks deleted mention of Taiwan’s common root in history and culture with China and emphasized the Taiwan dialect as if it sprang from native soil, ignoring its origin from southern Fujian. Chen even issued a new Taiwan passport without any reference to “Republic of China.”

When Ma won the election and returned the KMT to power, he promptly reversed many of Chen’s policy. He began the cross-straits dialogue in earnest, leading to the signing of the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA) and 23 agreements related to economic cooperation.

Ma began to welcome tourists from the mainland. Today, Taiwan is becoming one of the more popular destinations for China’s outbound tourists and China’s tourist spending represents roughly a ten billion dollar benefit to Taiwan’s annual economy.

Despite Ma having won terms favorable to Taiwan under ECFA and returned Taiwan to economic health, he failed to influence the attitudes of the people on Taiwan that ranged from being skeptical to hostile to the mainland. He was timid and unwilling to emphasize the obvious to the Taiwan public, namely Taiwan’s economy was going to be better off tied to China than not.

In 2013, Ma accused Wang Jin-pyng of influence peddling and stripped Wang of his membership in the KMT. Wang sued and regained his membership. Without his KMT membership, Wang would no longer remain the speaker of the Legislative Yuan. The end result was an irrevocably divided KMT.

Led by students, the Sunflower movement in 2014 seemed to have discombobulated the KMT and exposed Ma as a weak and indecisive leader. The efficient and highly organized protesters stormed and occupied the Legislative Yuan and then the Executive Yuan. They energetically objected to the passing of additional trade agreements with China.

The student ideologues claimed to worry more about losing their native identity because of closer integration with China than jobs and economic wellbeing that the trade accord promised. Wang promptly and unilaterally declared the intention not to act on the pending trade pact and Ma was sidelined and remained silent.

Later in the year, the KMT lost major municipal elections and Ma resigned his chairmanship of KMT. Eric Chu, mayor of New Taipei City, was elected to replace Ma as the new chairman.

Out of the disarray emerged an old face, Tsai Ing-wen, from the DPP to become the new favorite to win the presidential election in 2016.  Tsai ran for the mayor of New Taipei City and lost to Chu in 2010 and ran for president in 2012 and lost to Ma. But thanks to KMT’s implosion, Tsai suddenly became the odds on favorite.

Self-inflicted damage is nothing new to the KMT. The party split into two camps in the run up for the 2000 election, which enabled Chen Shui-bian to eke out a win with barely 39% of the votes.

KMT’s proclivity for self-destruction continues. First they nominated Hung Hsiu-chu to run against Tsai because no one else wanted the nomination. Now the KMT is about to de-nominate Hung and put Chu in her place because the party leaders suddenly realized that they couldn’t afford to be routed by the DPP.

For obvious reasons, Beijing can do even less to influence Taiwan’s drift away from unification than they can with Hong Kong. To complicate matters further and not often discussed is the presence of ethnic Japanese living in Taiwan but identified as Taiwanese.

As Taiwan’s first elected president, Lee Teng-hui, has proudly proclaimed, he prefers to be known by his Japanese name, Iwasato Masao, and his first language is Japanese. He has even stated that Japan is Taiwan’s motherland.

Lee could be a tip of the iceberg that could seed the coming freeze. After WWII, faced with returning to an uncertain future in a devastated Japan, around 300,000 Japanese elected to remain in Taiwan. They took on Chinese surnames and merged into the local community.

My friend in Taiwan tells me that this group of ethnic Japanese has multiplied into an estimated group of 2 million descendants. It would be natural to assume that most of the nearly 10% of Taiwan’s population would not share any feeling of fealty to being a Chinese. Harder to know is the actual fraction that has actually become anti China/ pro Japan/ pro Taiwan independence agitators following Lee’s lead.

Early this month, Tsai made a visit to Japan to meet with cabinet members and other leaders of Japan’s LDP. She and Japan’s Prime Minister Abe are old friends and around lunchtime they were seen entering and leaving the same Tokyo hotel separately. When questioned by the media, they both denied that a clandestine meeting took place.

Assuming that Tsai wins the expected landslide election and sweep the DPP into majority control of the legislature, she is likely to take more independent actions, including meeting openly with Japan’s Abe. Her mentor, Chen, has been released from prison earlier this year. He was given a medical parole based on his being mentally unbalanced. With a warm DPP embrace, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chen is suddenly no longer psychologically disturbed and become active in politics again.

Beijing could be facing a Taiwan with fewer options. Military threats have not had the desired effect and economic incentives have not made many friends, especially among the youth. Japan could join the U.S. and decide to actively interfere with the cross-straits relationship.

Sadly, a long winter of discontent looms ahead. The one glimmer of light is that the vast majority in Taiwan still prefers the “status quo,” meaning no unification and no independence. As is usually the case, the voice of the silent majority cannot rise above the din of a noisy minority. But, if this majority understands the implications of letting the protesters have their way, perhaps they will vote against ice in favor of sunshine.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Tension Across the Taiwan Straits About to Go Sky High

This first of two commentaries on the Taiwan situation I have written recently. This one appeared in Asia Times.

Taiwan is about to elect its fourth president since the first open election in 1996. With less than 100 days before Election Day, the chairman of Kuomintang (KMT), Eric Chu, is calling for extraordinary party congress for the purpose of making the rumor swirling around Taiwan’s political circles come true. Namely, he will replace KMT’s duly nominated presidential candidate, Hung Hsiu-chu, with himself.

At the regular nominating party convention in July, Hung was the only one to declare her candidacy for the presidency. By then, Tsai Ing-wen, the candidate for the opposition party, Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), had become such an overwhelming favorite to win in a cakewalk that none of the KMT stalwarts were willing to run against her.

Hung’s credentials were less than stellar compared to her more seasoned colleagues in the KMT camp but she was willing and her straight talking, no nonsense style woke up some of the comatose rank and file. Her one China, one interpretation and pro-unification position certainly caught the attention of the Chinese diaspora in America, at least the part of the community that have always regarded Taiwan as part of China.

Unfortunately for Hung, her one China message was not what the Taiwan populace wanted to hear. Starting from a low base to begin with, the gap in the polls between Hung and Tsai widened. The KMT elders became alarmed. They were resigned to losing the presidency but now Hung presented a real danger of having a toxic coattail on those running for the legislature on the same ticket.

Previously even when the KMT lost the office of the president, they maintained a controlling grip on the legislative body. They now face the real prospect of losing both. Thus the call for the unprecedented extraordinary party congress on October 17 is to change jockey in the middle of the race. The KMT leaders do not foresee victory in the presidential election but they hope to salvage seats in the Legislative Yuan.

When Ma Ying-jeou won the presidency in 2008, the office returned to KMT control and the people in Taiwan along with leaders in Beijing and Washington expelled a collective breath of relief. His record was untainted by corruption, he promised economic reform and regular dialogue with Beijing and he won by a landslide against his DPP opponent. He was a popular and welcomed change from the two corrupt regimes that preceded him. So what happened? How have the KMT fallen so far?

To truly understand the devolution of the KMT to the current sorry state, we need to review its history since Taiwan reverted to the Nationalist government after WWII. In the early 1970’s Chiang Ching-kuo became the strongman of Taiwan gradually assuming increasing power from his father, Chiang Kai-shek, the Nationalist leader that lost the mainland to the Chinese Communist Party.

CCK’s position became official when he was elected President of the Republic of China by the rubber stamp legislature in 1978. He introduced measures to stimulate Taiwan’s economy and he also began political reform by allowing the formation of an opposition party, the DPP, and he picked Lee Teng-hui to be his second in command.

Lee was selected because he was not a follower of Chiang Kai-shek’s retreat from the mainland but a native born Taiwanese. CCK wanted to broadened government participation to include more native Taiwanese.

A member of CCK’s inner circle told me that LTH was considered a safe choice. A PhD agriculture economist by training, he was respectful bordering on being obsequious in the presence of his superiors and demonstrated all the attributes of a reliable and pliable official loyal to the KMT.

No one knew at the time about his having twice joined the Chinese Communist Party shortly after the end of the WWII. And it was much later that the people of Taiwan became aware that LTH was given an elite education and groomed for being part of a puppet administration by the Japanese government during their occupation of Taiwan.

CCK died suddenly in 1988 and Lee became the President of Taiwan. Gradually his true colors began to show, as his background became known. He skillfully formed “rotating” alliances with members of the old guards to gang up on others and remove them from power, one by one.

Lee began to publicly refer Japan as Taiwan’s true motherland and that Taiwan has never been part of China but was a sovereign state. He skillfully ratcheted up the tension across the straits. In 1996 as Taiwan was about to stage the first popular election for the president, Beijing made a foolish mistake of firing missiles over Taiwan’s airspace. The threat did not intimidate the people of Taiwan but gave Lee the margin necessary to become the first elected president of Taiwan.

In 2000, Lee was termed out and Taiwan people prepared to vote for the next president. Lee cleverly split the KMT majority into two camps headed by James Soong and Lien Chan, both were one time Lee’s lieutenant in his administration. Thus, Lee made it possible for Chen Shui-bian of the DPP to win the election with just over 39% of the vote.

Once out of the office, Lee openly identified himself as Iwasato Masao and confessed that Japanese was his first language. He formed a splinter party called Taiwan Solidarity Union to promote Taiwan independence. He was accused of shipping illicit funds out of Taiwan but escaped conviction on charges associated with the “black gold” scandal.

He was promptly drummed out of the KMT but Lee succeeded in getting a pro-independence candidate elected president. That candidate, Chen Shui-bian, ran on a platform of clean government and strong economy. He turned out to be more corrupt than his predecessor and had no clue as to how Taiwan can get out of its economic stagnation.

During Chen Shui-bian’s eight years in the presidential palace, everything was for sale for a price, if not directly into his pockets, it went to offshore bank accounts handled by his wife. After he left the government and tried for corruption, he even had the gall to negotiate with the presiding judge in court. He offered to repatriate millions of dollars from offshore accounts in exchange for dismissal of charges against him.

Chen answered his critics on his mismanagement of Taiwan’s economy by blaming everybody but his administration. During this period about one million of Taiwan’s best and brightest have taken up residence on the mainland, built factories and made their fortunes in China. Those remaining in Taiwan faced unemployment and dimmed career prospects and Chen channeled their frustration into antagonism against the mainland.

By the 2008 election, Chen Shui-bian had totally destroyed the credibility of DPP. Ma Ying-jeou ran as the KMT candidate and won by a landslide margin of 17%. He immediately began a dialogue with Beijing on economic cooperation and two-way tourism. He was to sign 23 agreements with the PRC and by 2010 Taiwan’s economy grew by more than 10%.

Under Chen, Taiwan tried to develop tourism. Even Chen recognized that tourism would stimulate the economy but he refused to look across the strait for tourists from the mainland. Ma did the obvious and opened Taiwan to Chinese tourists. China has become the world’s biggest source of outbound tourists and biggest per person spender and is by far the largest source of tourists to visit Taiwan representing approximately 10 billion dollar infusion to Taiwan’s economy.

Despite economic integration and closer cooperation, the feelings of the Taiwan people grew no closer to China but drifted farther apart under the seven years under Ma’s administration. I have not seen any analysis to explain this counter-intuitive trend but I have my own conclusions.

The twenty years under the control of Lee Teng-hui and Chen Shui-bian did a lot to poison the minds against China. Not often mentioned but they were abetted by the under covered Japanese living among them. After WWII about 300,000 Japanese were stranded in Taiwan and choose to remain. They adopted Chinese surnames and assimilated. They have multiplied and now number about 2 million out of Taiwan’s total population of 23 million. Certain portion of this group is likely supporter and agitator of Lee’s notion that Japan is the motherland.

Ma being a mainlander felt neither comfortable nor confident enough to exercise his leadership and explain to the people of Taiwan how their future is tied to China. Rather he was intimidated by the anti-mainland sentiments and backed away from taking any active role in explaining much less promoting the historical, cultural and traditional bond between Taiwan and China.

To make matters worse, in midst of his second term, Ma accused Wang Jin-pyng of corruption and then backed off and left the charges suspended in ether. Wang presides over the Legislative Yuan and is the leader of another major faction of the KMT. The acrimony between the two has further weakened an already divided KMT. Consequently, Ma’s leadership has floundered so badly that he had to resign his post as the chairman of KMT and to personify a true lame duck for the remainder of his term as Taiwan’s president.

In the meantime, not having any worthy challengers, Tsai Ing-wen was emboldened to take a jaunt to Tokyo and meet various leaders of the LDP. She and Japan’s Prime Minister Abe are old friends and they were seen entering and leaving the same Tokyo hotel around lunchtime. They both publicly denied that a clandestine meeting took place.

The U.S. and U.K. educated Tsai entered politics when she was appointed by Chen to head the Mainland Affairs Council, a position that gave her high visibility though she showed a total lack of enthusiasm for developing closer ties across the Taiwan Straits with the mainland.

Tsai ran for the mayor of New Taipei City (the area outside of old Taipei) in 2010 and lost the election to Eric Chu, the current chairman of KMT. She headed the DPP ticket against Ma’s re-election bid in 2012 and again lost.

Now thanks in part to the self-destruction of KMT, Tsai has emerged as the overwhelming frontrunner and poised to take control of Taiwan with a majority in the Legislative Yuan as well. Earlier this year, her mentor, Chen Shui-bian, was released from prison on medical parole on the grounds that he had become mentally unbalanced. I would not be surprised if he recovers from his psychologically disturbed state soon after DPP resumes control of Taiwan.

These ominous developments bode badly for peace and stability. For the next four years, Taiwan will once again become the conundrum for Beijing and Tsai can be expected to raise the stakes of the Great tug-of-war Game between China, Japan and the U.S.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

On Putin, Obama and Syria

This is from Asia Times.

MK Bhadrakumar’s report on Putin and Obama’s meeting at the UN nicely complements your observations on Putin and the Middle East. Again, Asia Times is presenting a perspective not seen in the American mainstream, which is sad because the American public needs to be better informed.

To any objective observer, Putin made a lot more sense than Obama did in their contrasting speech about Syria. IS is a metastasizing cancer that will only get worse unless treated and treatment will take a broad coalition of countries with vested interests in eradicating the tumor. As you indicated such a coalition will include awkward bedfellows, in particular the U.S. along with Russia and China.

Obama seems to be insisting that Assad has to be removed concurrently, maybe even before surgical removal of IS. Perhaps he has to maintain this public posture for the sake of home audience but this position is increasingly not tenable. To continue the metaphor, Assad is a boil that can be lanced, orders of magnitude easier than getting rid of fast spreading tumor cells.

We should have learned from very recent experience in Iraq and Libya that taking out the bad guy we don’t like is relatively easy. Dealing with the aftermath is not easy; IS is just such a direct aftermath.

We apparently did learn a lesson from Iraq but the result in how we dealt with Syria can’t be reassuring. The Obama Administration spent some $500 million to train a fighting force out of Assad’s moderate opposition. We have a platoon of 9 fighters to show for the effort and most the American weapons were “donated” by trained but defecting moderates to IS.

Yes, realism and pragmatism need to trump idealism. So far not enough is happening.

Yes, realism and pragmatism need to trump idealism. So far not enough is happening.