Sunday, July 21, 2019

BBC called HK bomb makers "pro Democracy" protesters

Nathan Rich, an American living in China, regularly post his comments on YouTube. He just commented on BBC's report on the HK protesters.

BBC reported that HK protesters were found to possess a cache of Molotov cocktails. BBC continue to call the protesters as "pro Democracy." Shouldn't they be called terrorists, Rich asked?

See Nathan Rich at

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Nathan Rich Tore New York Times Apart

Nathan Rich, an American living in China, takes a strong exception to the video presentation produced by New York Times. The NYT "exposè" is supposed to be on China's health care systems.

His issues with this piece include not understanding China, deliberate distortions by calculated omissions and failure to provide balance by comparing health care in China with the US.

Please go on the YouTube link and see what Rich is saying. Please circulate this until we get a response from the New York Times. This is the kind of nonsense that gives verification to Trump's accusation of fake news.

Tuesday, July 9, 2019

Gordon G. Chang, America's Saddest Clown

Nathan Rich aka 火锅大王 never fails to entertain and amuse. Here is his commentary on Gordon Chang, 

Give him a listen and pass this YouTube link around. Nathan Rich is an American, who just love living in China. He has a lot to say about a lot of subjects and has taken great joy to dissect major media's (such as CNN and NYT) coverage on China and Hong Kong.


Monday, June 10, 2019

U.S. will regret persecuting Chinese American scientists

This was first posted in Asia Times.

In February 2018, Senator Marco Rubio asked FBI Director Christopher Wray to comment on the counterintelligence risk posed by Chinese students in the US. Wray basically said China’s threat is not just a whole-of-government threat but a whole-of-society threat. 

In other words, every Chinese, foreign or American, is a potential spy. Since then Wray has consistently hewed to that point of view in his public speeches and testimony.

What Wray said was nothing new but merely a reflection of institutional racial bias that has characterized the FBI since inception. J. Edgar Hoover, the first director and known for his homophobic bias, saw a commie under every bed and every minority person a security threat.

But it could be said that the exchange at the Congressional hearing with the smirking Rubio marked the beginning of turning on the surveillance screws on Chinese in America be they visitors from China or permanent residents in the US.

The consequent collateral damage from the clampdown has been on prominent Chinese American scientists and on the long-term interest of America. For certain, these developments won’t make America great again.

Emory dismissals latest in a series against Chinese Americans

The most recent victims of apparent xenophobia were a husband and wife team doing work at the medical school of Emory University. Professor Li Xiaojiang has been a tenured professor since 2005. He and his co-director wife, Li Shihua, contributed breakthrough research on Huntington’s disease through genetic engineering, as one of their notable contributions.

Their abrupt dismissal and shutdown of their laboratory was a shock and surprise. The explanation points to White House pressure on National Institutes of Health to crackdown on the possibility of sharing of research results with China. 

Last August, NIH director Francis Collins sent a letter to more than 10,000 American institutes warning about “foreign entities interfering in funding, research and peer review of NIH projects.”

Even though Li’s laboratory received $1.7 million from NIH as recently as fiscal 2018, it would appear that holding dual academic appointments in China and Emory has suddenly became unacceptable and qualified as interference defined by Collins. 

The Li’s have been visiting and teaching in China since 2007 and they claimed that they have always reported their activities in China to Emory. Under the traditions of normal international academic exchange, it was not a problem but is now a problem because of xenophobic policies instituted by the Trump administration.

According to the university, “Emory also takes very seriously its obligation to be a good steward of federal research dollars and to ensure compliance with all funding disclosures and other requirements.” Apparently to the Emory leadership, the threat of agencies withholding federal funding outweighs the importance of academic freedom and human decency.

Prior to Emory’s dismissal of the Li’s, MD Anderson Cancer Center also responded to the NIH letter and began to take action against three Chinese American scientists, two of whom elected to resign rather than endure the review process. 

These are medical research projects whose objectives are to benefit the human race, for heaven’s sake.

Climate change scientist was another

Perhaps one of the most sensational cases recently was Wang Chunzai, another naturalized American citizen. A one-time much published and decorated climate scientist and long-time employee of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, he was arrested and charged with accepting payment from China, apparently for about $2000 expense reimbursement that he failed or forgot to report.

By the time, his case came to trial, Wang told his attorney that he wanted to cop a plea to one felony charge and move on with his life. His defense counsel and the prosecuting attorney settled on dismissing all other charges in exchange for guilty plea to one count for time already served, which amounted to the one night when he was arrested. 

The presiding judge was reluctant to make Wang a convicted felon, but Wang explained that once he was arrested, he knew his future in the US was cooked, and he had already lined up a job in China. He couldn’t risk losing his appointment in China because of a lengthy trial. 

Wang is now a member of China’s Academy of Sciences and leading a group doing climate research. This is the kind of work he loves and will be doing it in a country that believes in the need to understand climate change. This is far more important to him than being labeled a convicted felon in the US.

Before Trump’s administration, it was accepted practice that Chinese American scientists—and non-ethnic Chinese as well--can collaborate with counterparts in China, consistent with the tradition of open academic exchange. Many prominent professors from the US held dual appointments. To encourage more visiting scientists, Beijing even instituted a “thousand talents” program. 

Thousand talents program a lightning rod for persecution

The Trump China team considers the thousand talents program as a means for China to gain access to US technology and knowledge. Thus, known participants in the program are targeted for investigation and subsequent prosecution. Ironically, profiling those on the talents program actually facilitates China’s recruitment.

For example, no sooner than when the Li’s were dismissed by Emory, the university in southern China, where Li’s regularly visited, immediately extended employment offer for the two of them to continue their work. The offer came with fully equipped laboratory and even employment for every member of their research team left stranded by Emory.

It would appear that history is repeating itself all over again. In the 1950’s during the hysteria of McCarthyism, the American government hounded the brilliant rocket scientist, Qian Xuesen, a Chinese American and founder of Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. His plan was always to stay in the US but the federal government basically gift wrapped him and sent him to Beijing where he led China’s missile and rocket development.

If America now considers China a military threat, the US has the late Senator Joe McCarthy to thank.

Seeing that the US continue to push the best and brightest out of the US, the next generation of best and brightest from China are losing interest in coming to the US to study. This trend hurts America in at least two ways. 

Discouraging Chinese students from coming will hurt the US more

China has been the source of around one-third of all the international students entering the US, and more Chinese students major in science, technology, engineering or math, so called STEM, than any other country. If they stop coming, many research labs will dry up for lack of graduate students to do the work. Lower tiered schools will also face budget constraint as they are deprived of the full tuition fees that foreign students pay.

China with the four times the population of the US generates more than ten times of university graduates in STEM than the US. Rather than discouraging Chinese students from coming, the US should be devising ways to skim off the best and brightest and entice them to come. 

It’s possible the Luddites in the Trump administration do not understand that students do not come to steal but to work on furthering the knowledge of STEM. They probably also assume that America continue to hold the keys to all scientific advances, even those developed by immigrants from all over. 

In reality, the work by graduates and post-doctoral fellows benefits the school they attend and the country they reside in. 

Consistent with their ignorance, the Trump administration is making it more difficult for students from China to obtain their visas in a timely manner and perhaps not at all after unexplained delay. 

Cao Yuan is the latest victim. He is a prodigy from China now pursuing a doctorate at MIT. He was voted by the prestigious Nature as the first of the ten people who mattered (in science) in 2018. 

Cao discovered that he can achieve superconductivity at room temperature with twisted graphene sheets. In China for a home visit, the visa office at the American consulate is apparently holding up his visa that would enable his return to the US.

It’s not as if Chinese graduate students have to study in the US as a necessary precondition to success. Pan Jianwei did his graduate work in physics in Vienna. He helped China launched the world’s first quantum science satellite to established hack-proof communication between China and Europe. 

His advisor in Vienna was his collaborator. They named the satellite Micius after a 5thcentury BC scientist, a subtle reminder that China was doing science long before there was a United States of America.

What matters is that having to deal with the capricious nature of the American visa offices, Chinese students are increasingly favoring elsewhere over the US. Someday the US may come to realize that they needed the students from China more than the students needed to study in the US.

Liu Yuanli is the Dean of Peking Union Medical College, School of Public Health and one time first dean of Harvard’s School of Public Health. He said, “The restriction on Chinese scholars and students are irrational and go against the very core value that makes US a great nation.” 

Superconductivity that does not require near absolute zero cooling would be a breakthrough on the level of cold fusion and the magic bullet for tumor cells. Just think, whether commercial application of room temperature superconductivity would be first introduced in China or in the US could depend on the whim of some American visa granting clerk. 

That visa clerk may not understand the significance of Cao’s discovery any better than the White House. Sad.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Help. the American imbeciles are coming!

First posted in Asia Times.

Xenophobia coupling with paranoia breeds imbeciles that are capable of only silly and petty actions. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York is the latest case in point.

China Railway Rolling Stock Corporation (CRRC) has offered to put up $50 million to help New York City develop and design state-of-the-art subway cars to replace dilapidated rolling stock in America’s largest subway system, a system that’s more than a century old. 

Schumer immediately demanded that the US Federal government fully vet this proposal based on the fear that China could use the cars to spy on America.

Horrors to Betsy, imagine millions employed in Beijing to listen in on daily commuter conversation on the IRT (Interborough Rapid Transit) and IND (Independent Subway System) lines. “Hi Joe, how’s the family? Think the Yankees will win the pennant this year?” Blah, blah, blah.

The next thing you know, by piecing the tidbits together, the Chinese would have stolen the top-secret design of the multi-headed missile! Ludicrous? Yes, but there is precedent for this line of illogic.

Twenty years ago, during the height of hysteria around Los Alamos scientist, Dr. Wen Ho Lee, an in-house FBI expert on China publicly claimed that China conducted espionage differently by relying on “grains of sand” approach.

At the time, Paul Moore, one-time head of counter intelligence claimed that Beijing rely on random bits of information collected by ethnic Chinese living in America (each a grain of sand), which when assembled in Beijing became America’s top-secret weapon designs.

Schumer may have been influenced by Moore’s idea of Chinese way of spying, when he asked Department of Commerce to check out CRRC. He probably didn’t know that Moore used to car pool with Robert Hanssen and did not have a clue that he was sitting next to the deadliest Soviet double agent inside the FBI.

Moore could see three Chinese talking to each other at a party to be in the process of passing secrets to China but never saw his buddy, Hanssen, as a spy for the Soviet Union. His racial bias against ethnic Chinese was not that of an isolated individual but reflected an institutional bias of the FBI as an organization.

Last year, FBI Director Christopher Wray testified in Congress saying that Chinese spies are everywhere, that China uses non-traditional collectors of intelligence and poses a whole-of-society threat. Words that slightly differ from Moore but rooted in the same racial prejudice unchanged for at least two decades.

In case you’re wondering, CRRC is the world’s largest manufacturer of railroad cars. As one measure of the advanced technology they owns, CRRC recently announced that they have developed a magnetic levitation train that will go as fast as 600 km/hour.

In the US, CRRC has already won contracts to build replacement subway cars for Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. The business arrangement is basically similar for the four cities.

CRRC would ship the outer shells of the cars to the US for assembly, in Springfield Mass for Boston and outside of Chicago for the other three cities. All the components that go inside the car would either be manufactured or sourced from within the US. Thus, the local content would exceed 60%. Each of the two assembly plants would employ 150 or more workers.

The tangible outcome out of the two deals is that the four cities would get state-of-the-art subway cars that are lighter, quieter, safer and at least 20% cheaper than competing bids. The savings for each of the cities would be worth well north of $100 million when the orders are finished.

Since Pullman went out of business decades ago, the US hasn’t had any manufacturers capable of making the rolling stock for passengers. Now with the cooperation of CRRC, the US will have two operations in different parts of the US.

The CRRC deals in the US involve technology transfer from China to the US—none stolen from the US since the US didn’t have any. Even so, there remains parties that object to a Chinese presence in the US rail system. 

One of these is the Rail Security Alliance, self-described as a coalition of rail freight car manufacturers. Ostensibly this organization fear for the safety and security of passengers that ride on cars made by CRRC. Their real agenda is the fear that CRRC will move on to their turf next and take over box car manufacturing as well.

Can’t blame the freight car makers for wanting to protect their livelihood but what about New York, Washington and other metropolitan transit systems that run on annual deficits. If they can’t buy from CRRC, the next largest rail rolling stock manufacturers in the world are Siemens and Alstom. Unfortunately, the American cities can’t afford the prices these “Caucasian” companies charge. 

Easy for Washington politicians to say don’t buy from China but where are the supplemental funds to give to the transit authorities so that they could afford to buy “white” subway cars?

Senator Schumer as Senate’s minority leader is very much part of the dysfunctional establishment in Washington. This group of people knows how to snipe, bicker and even lie as the occasion demands but they do not know how to get anything done.

Schumer among them understands that repairing and rebuilding America’s infrastructure is the highest national priority. But they don’t have a clue on how to get started; they just know that they don’t want Chinese companies such as CRRC to lend a helping hand.

How idiotic is that?

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Trump has started a trade war that he can’t win

The edited version first posted on Asia Times.

Anyone with a decent education and a dollop of sophistication knows: Nobody wins in a trade war. Specifically, there is no way Donald Trump can win the war he initiated with China.

He thinks tariffs levied on imports from China is “free” money going into the US Treasury. Even his closest advisers know that’s delusional thinking and wrong.

Tariffs are paid by the importer and to the best of his/her ability passes on the added tax to the ultimate buyer. In the case of daily use items, it’s the consumer that adsorbs the increased cost. The exporter of consumer goods from China also loses because at the higher effective price, less is sold.

Same goes the other way. Tariffs imposed by China on imports from the US limit the amount American exporter can sell to China. For instance, China was going to be a huge market for natural gas from Texas. With the added tariff, LNG from the US was priced out of the market.

In theory, tariffs imposed on goods from China would be more painful to China because China sells much more to the US than the other way.

However, the two-way trade is not zero sum. China is not as dependent on buying from the US the US needs to buy from China.

China can buy from alternate sources, e.g., lobsters from Canada instead of from Maine, soybeans from Brazil instead of Iowa, wine from France instead of California.

On the other hand, goods imported from China are usually at the lowest prices. By slapping import duties on these goods, the net effect is to raise the cost for the American consumer, and the cost of living goes up for the Americans. 

Free money

Furthermore, around half of the imports from China are made by American companies in China. Thus, the American company will be paying the tariff for importing their own products. So much for Trump’s free money.

In any event, both parties to the tariff war will feel the pain. It will simply be a matter of which party can withstand the pain better. So far Wall Street has not reacted strongly to the prospect of increasing tariffs, but it’s a matter of time.

Of course, there are more imports from China that Trump has yet to impose a tariff, but the Trump administration has already indicated that they have much more than trade in mind. Trump wants to stop China in every which way.

The Trump team seems to think that they can impose their will and insist that China needs to desist from stealing American intellectual property and codify their agreement in writing. 

No nation would dignify a response to such an insulting request. Did America pledge in writing not to steal industrial technology from England, or Japan from the US, or South Korea from Japan?

In Silicon Valley, companies infringe and steal from each other. It’s up to the owner to safeguard and protect its IP from theft and go after the offender as a matter of mano a mano. It has never been a matter of one nation accusing another.

Yet, in the heated trade war negotiations, the American side accuses China of practicing IP theft as a matter of national sponsorship. The presumption is that Chinese companies steal according to a national policy.

Huawei has IP that the US covets

Overlooked in all this, is that soon if not already China will own IP that American companies will wish to pilfer. High speed mobile communications readily come to mind.

It’s hard to know if anyone is looking to steal Huawei’s advance 5G technology, but the Trump approach is to suppress and deny Huawei market access. Trump may deter American companies from buying Huawei but it’s not working elsewhere.

Other than vigorously badmouthing Huawei, American emissaries such as Pompeo, Bolton et al can’t offer any hard evidence that Huawei equipment represents security risk. They simply insist that others should not buy from Huawei because the Whitehouse said so. 

What’s obvious is that Huawei offers technological advances here and now that no others can. Washington can’t even put a finger on which aspects of the Huawei package are based on stolen IP.

The rest of the world is ignoring Washington and buying Huawei because of its superior technology at an irresistibly low price. Soon the telecommunications world will be divided into the haves with Huawei technology and the pitiful few countries with slow internet speeds clinging to Uncle Sam’s trousers.

Common economic interests

Same situation is evolving geopolitically. Pompeohas been visiting national capitols warning the leaders to stay away from China’s Belt and Road Initiative, BRI. Why? Because he accuses China of practicing predatory financing when China offers to finance the infrastructures for third world countries.

Yet at the just concluded Belt and Road Forum in Beijing last month, attended by 37 heads of state and 130 some countries represented, the reaction couldn’t be more positive, a clear refutation of what Trump’s China team has been saying.

These countries love the idea that China is willing to help them build crucial infrastructure projects. Infrastructure, they know, is necessary for economic growth. Infrastructure as part of China’s trade corridor from Asia to Europe means member states sitting on the corridor will get rich from global trade.

Along with the 130+ countries with shared economic interest with China, there is also the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. AIIB was independently established to finance infrastructure projects in Asia.

AIIB has 70 members with 27 more waiting in line to join. Apart from some participants in the BRI, major shareholders include every major European country. Only ones conspicuous by their absence are Japan and the US—not taking part in AIIB was Obama’s missed opportunity.

While the US rings the world with military bases and asserts its leadership by projecting its might, China promotes economic collaboration with countries around the world. 

The two strategic paths need not converge leading to conflict, but if conflict breaks out, countries standing by the US would be based on fear and intimidation. Those standing by China are bound by common economic interests. As the world turns, increasing numbers will quit the former for the latter.

Shared military assets

Russia has become an important partner to China because of intertwined and complementary economic interests. The two countries are also key players in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, established more than two decades ago. SCO includes Central Asia countries, Pakistan and India and soon to include Iran.

Aside from economic and cultural cooperation, the alliance also holds joint military exercises to combat terrorism and ensure stability. In the event of US military intervention, SCO will stand with China. The organization represents half of the world’s population and 80% of the Euro-Asia landmass.

While it’s been said in Washington circles that Bolton and Pompeo hanker for effecting regime change in Iran, Trump is not totally without common sense. Even though waging a proxy war on Iran with American lives would please his client states, Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well his super wealthy support base as home, he knows Iran is no mere Iraq.

Furthermore, as reported in Asia Times, Russia and China are on the same page in their foreign policy and stand firmly behind Iran. Enough to give any of the hot-blooded hawks in the Whitehouse pause. Even pundit Pat Buchananthinks war on Iran would be the end of Trump presidency.

Not just Iran, Russia and China’s position on Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Afghanistan and Venezuela is very different from the US, and in some cases even diametrically opposed to Washington. If Pompeo and Bolton believe they can dictate terms to these hotspots without the support of China or Russia, they are hallucinating.

A fork in the road

Thus, if Iran is unlikely to trigger a calamitous war, Trump can turn his full attention to resolving the China challenge, a dilemma sitting at the fork of the road. He can back off as he has in the past and seek a non zero-sum approach that would enable both sides to win. Or he can double down and impose tariffs on $300 billions of Chinese imports currently entering the US duty free.

If Trump decides to raise the stakes of the trade war, China will not be able to retaliate in kind since China imports much less than the US imports from China. But they have other ways to raise the stakes.

China can stop exporting rare earth minerals and compounds to the US.  Rare earths are essential to a host of industries including electronics and defense. Without access to rare earths, American industries would grind to a halt and it would take years to develop alternate supplies from known deposits within the US.

China can also greatly diminish their support for the US national debt by buying fewer treasury bills. China currently holds around $1 trillion of American IOUs. If China were to stop buying or even divesting some of the treasuries from their holding, it would shake the confidence in the dollar and create instability in the US financial market.

China has become the largest and most profitable car market for American auto makers. Profits earned from China often make up the major part of the company’s total earnings. Another retaliation in the trade war is to close the market to American companies.

Another strike with surgical precision is for Macau government to suggest to the media that the renewal of the gaming licenses in Macau for the three American operators is in doubt. Las Vegas Sands is the largest of the three and a little over 60% of its revenue and profit come from Macau.

Sheldon Adelson is the majority owner of LVS and a heavy financial contributor to Trump’s presidency. Any hint that LVS is in trouble in Macau would be a direct hit to Adelson’s net worth and sure to put a crimp on his enthusiasm for Trump’s China policy.

Retaliation would ensure both sides lose

From the inception of this trade war, Trump and his team assert that the war “was easy to win.” What I have listed above are just some of the tools China can use to ensure a lose-lose outcome. Any of the retaliatory moves would destabilize the global economy and severely erode Trump’s core supporters. 

The outcome would be a classic LOSE-LOSE and debatable as to who would lose more.

As a senior official at the State Department recently declared, the war between the US and China is between “civilizations.” Knowing that China is coming from a different culture and background, the Trump Administration should know better.

Up to now Trump’s China team has been projecting American values and thinking on to the Chinese. Just because “we lie, we cheat, we steal,” doesn’t mean China will act the same way.

Unlike the US, China does not interfere with the internal affairs of another state, does not wish to dominate and occupy someone else’s territory and does not impose their way of government on anyone else. 

If the US could stop waging an unwinnable trade war and stop demanding that China must be more like the US, it would be possible for the two sides to come to an understanding. They can reach an amicable win-win resolution wherein each party can feel that they have won.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Book Review: Pomfret's Bias Views of US China Relations

This book review was posted on Amazon on Pomfret's Book, "The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom"

From a scholarship point of view, the first part of his book deserves 4 stars for the many interesting and obscured bits and factoids that he found and skillfully woven into his narrative. Unfortunately, when we come to the second part of his book where he surveys the recent history of the bilateral relationship between the US and China, his coverage is appallingly one sided and biased. The latter section is totally unbefitting of someone alleged to be a first-rate journalist. Pomfret undoubtedly decided that he needed to cater to the deeply ingrained bias of his reading public in order to sell more books rather than taking the opportunity to educate his readers of facts that they probably do not know. For this the author deserves a minus 3 stars for a net rating of one star.

One example should suffice. In his book, p562-3, he talks about Danny Stillman, whose mission was to gather intelligence on China's nuclear weapon development. Stillman made 9 separate trips into China to visit China's nuclear weapon development and test centers. Stillman then assembled the information and his notes into a book. The "crown jewel" according to Pomfret was a compilation of all of China's nuclear weapon tests. The Chinese "pleaded" with Stillman not to publish the list of tests. Stillman did so anyway. End of Story.

Except what Pomfret reported was hardly the full story. Reading his book, the readers would not know that Chinese scientists INVITED Stillman to visit China and opened the doors to him. The readers would be unaware that when Stillman first tried to publish his book, the Clinton Administration would not release the book for publication because they were in middle of the Wen Ho Lee fiasco and would have been doubly embarrassing to tell the American public that not only the Chinese didn't steal secrets from Los Alamos, they were giving secrets to the US.

Wouldn't a complete description of the incident, awkward though for the American side, be much more intriguing? I asked Pomfret in person about this matter, and he merely shrugged his should indicating the omission was of no consequence. It's not as if this incident was largely unknown. Any competent researcher would find the article written by Thomas Reed who described the entire matter in full. (Reed, former Secretary of Airforce, became Stillman's co-author.)

Pomfret considers himself to be a Sinologist, having lived in China and married a Chinese. He should have understood that the Chinese in letting Stillman see their nuclear weapon development was acting in line with the logic from Sun Tzu's Art of War, i.e., making sure that Pentagon did not make a miscalcution by underestimating China's capability to retaliate.

Friday, May 3, 2019

New Silk Road: US is pushing a false narrative

This was first posted in Asia Times.

Globetrotting Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has been meeting heads of state in Africa and Latin America to warn them of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Watch out for predatory financing and debt trap, he tells them.

At the just concluded Belt and Road Forum, second one ever held, close to 40 heads of state showed up. As Asia Times reported, the “BRI is now supported by no less than 126 states and territories, plus a host of international organizations (including the World Bank and the IMF)--way bigger, diversified and more representative than the G20.”

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, gave a keynoteat the Forum. He spoke of Pakistan’s longstanding friendship with China and the benefits of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor. He was proud that CPEC, the economic consequences already a “blessing” for Pakistan, was one of the first major projects of BRI.

Khan noted that China has taken more than 800 million people out of poverty and can help Pakistan do the same. With young people making up half of Pakistan’s population, Khan looked forward to Pakistani people learning and benefiting from China’s technological advances so as to maximize his country’s potential. 

Khan concluded his remarks by proposing five initiatives: plant billions of trees to combat climate change, develop tourism to promote people to people exchange and culture understanding, establish office dedicated to combat corruption, learn from China to fight poverty, and move to further liberalize world trade.

He pledged that Pakistan will work with China and fellow members of BRI for a common future of hope and happiness. BRI is obviously no mirage to Khan. Nor to President Vladimir Putin of Russia and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, among other leaders that also attended the Forum.

In contrast to Khan’s vision of a common future, what could Pompeo possibly have said to convince third world heads of state that their future lies with the US and not with the BRI? 

China as the world’s loan shark?

Professor Deborah Braütigam of Johns Hopkins published a timely op-ed, “Is China the World’s Loan Shark?” in the New York Times to coincide with the Belt Road Forum going in Beijing. She is a world leading authority andmonitorof China’s investments in Africa.

Despite the provocative title, her analysis did not find debt traps in Africa. She found that China’s financing in Africa were within IMF debt ceiling guidelines for those countries. In fact, she concluded that“the idea that the Chinese government is doling out debt strategically, for its benefit, isn’t supported by the facts.”

Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port development, frequently cited by western media as an epitome of China’s capricious design to exploit the third world, was specifically examined by Braütigam and the accusation dismissed.

Because of its strategic geographical location, Hambantota has long been regarded, by many international experts, to have the potential of becoming another Singapore by providing service to shipping traffic from the Middle East to Asia. The economic justification for the project was always there.

Sri Lanka asked for international assistance but only China agreed to help. After the port was built, revenue failed to materialize to service the debt due to internal political infighting that prevented the full implementation of a working harbor.

China had to take possession to relieve the debt load. Even so, the debt owed to China amounted to only 10% of Sri Lanka’s total national debt—hardly enough to qualify as a debt trap.

A major gap in the US China relations is the difference between reality on the ground and the distortion and fabrication by the western media and political leaders. Secretary Pompeo is an example of a progenitor of such a gap.

Pompeo’s glorious American experiment
On Pompeo’s return from Latin America, he stopped to talk to the students at Texas A&M and he boasted that when he was the CIA Director, “We lie, we cheat, we steal.” It was the entire training course that “reminds you of the glory of the American experiment.”

No wonder North Korea’s Kim Jong-un does not want anything to do with this American diplomat. 

A lying and cheating Pompeo is simply a personification and extension of his boss, President Donald Trump. Trump considers veracity a sucker’s play, truth inconvenient and facts just another version of fake news.

Thus, all of American’s positions on China, whether on Huawei, 5G, artificial intelligence, IP theft, cyber hacking or any other accusations, are suspect upon closer scrutiny. No one can tell as to what’s fact and what’s fiction coming from Washington.

Gradually and steadily, the rest of the world, even America’s closest allies, are wary of Trump’s single-minded America first and to hell with everything else style of international diplomacy. Unlike collaboration for mutual benefit from the BRI, dealing with the US is all one way for Trump’s benefit.

So far, among the 20 some Democrat candidates for president, none have seen through a naked Trump with no clothes, and that continuing to treat China as the next great adversary does nothing to enhance national security.

Someone with the wisdom and courage needs to step forward and admit that Obama made the mistake when he kept the US from joining the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and that we are continuing to multiply our mistake by not being part of the BRI.

The would be winning Democratic nominee should listen to PresidentCarter. Hesaid, “We have wasted $3 trillion on defense spending. If we divert $1 trillion into infrastructure, we’d have high speed railroad, we’d have bridges that aren’t collapsing and we’d have roads maintained properly and our education system would be as good as that of, say, South Korea and Hong Kong.”

America desperately needs a leader to define and seek a win-win solution in the relations with China and reverse the development toward a disastrous everybody loses outcome.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Twists and Turns of Taiwan Politics

This was first posted on Asia Times.

The twists and turns of Taiwan politics

Disarray is a frequently used description for Taiwan politics. The aftermath of the mid-term defeat of the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), the party in power, by the opposition party, Kuomintang (KMT) in just the latest case in point.

The unexpected avalanche against her ruling party just two years after her landslide victory has badly weakened Tsai Ing-wen, the sitting president. Her former number two, William Lai, was emboldened to publicly declare his candidacy to unseat Tsai in the forthcoming primary election and lead the DPP ticket for 2020.

To challenge the incumbent president of one’s own party is extraordinary and an indication of Tsai’s badly wounded position. Her response was to attempt to cancel the primary so as to give herself an automatic nomination into the general election, failing that, to delay holding the primary election in hopes of Lai running out of steam. If Lai should win, Tsai has threatened to run as a third-party candidate, thus ensuring a lose-lose outcome for the DPP.

The KMT has a dilemma of its own, namely how to pick the strongest candidate to lead the presidential ticket and maximize the party’s chance of not only to regain the presidency but also to use the coattail to capture a strong majority in the legislature.

KMT needed Han Kuo-yu to run

The party elders had been casting a covetous eye on Han Kuo-yu, the newly elected mayor of Kaohsiung. His surprising win in the heart of the DPP stronghold has thrusted him to the forefront as the most charismatic and logical candidate to lead the KMT ticket.

The KMT expectation for Han to assume the leadership has put him in an awkward position. Having just been elected as mayor, Han is expected to make good on his campaign promises for the people of Kaohsiung and can’t very well openly commit to running for president.

Even with a divided DPP, running for president won’t be a slam dunk. Han is probably also mindful of the fate of Eric Chu, who led the KMT ticket during the last presidential campaign. At the last moment, Chu was asked to replace a weak candidate at the top of the ticket in order to give the rest of the ticket a decent chance to succeed. 

At the time, Tsai was regarded as the overwhelming favorite and even though Chu as the mayor of New Taipei City was considered the strongest possible candidate to run against her, he was nevertheless regarded as a sacrificial lamb. Sure enough, the outcome was a disaster for KMT and a costly setback for Chu’s political career.

With Han not willing to declare his candidacy in a primary election, KMT would have to draft him without his consent. At this critical juncture last Wednesday, Terry Guo, CEO of Foxconn and richest man in Taiwan, made the surprising announcement that he is a candidate in the KMT presidential primary. He further pledged his unconditional support to the winning candidate if he does not win.

Guo’s pledge to win fair and square was seismic. He is on friendly terms with all the other already announced candidates as well as non-candidate Han. If he wins the primary, Guo will not cause rancor and resentment among the other candidates and offers the best chance for a united party in the general election.

Terry Guo took pressure off Han 

Han’s public reaction was one of relief. He welcomed Guo’s entry and said having two giants to shoulder the mantle of KMT leadership was much better than just one. Now he can go back and concentrate on being the mayor he promised.

Guo’s high public profile with a clean, no preexisting political baggage works to his advantage. He already enjoys high name recognition among the public as a highly successful corporate CEO.

Analysts have identified the following positive attributes to his candidacy:

(1)After four years of economic stumble under Tsai, Taiwan is in badly need of someone who can rejuvenate the economy. Guo’s life from rags to riches is testament that he has the credentials.

(2)Guo’s personal conduct and accomplishment suggest that he can be a positive role model for Taiwan’s youth befitting the leader of his country.

(3)With his success in establishing manufacturing operations on the mainland, he understands the Beijing leadership and the PRC government. He is best positioned in maintaining a peaceful, cross-strait relations.

(4)From his past commercial activities, he has a worldview and an international stature. He is said to enjoy a personal friendship with China’s Xi Jinping and is personally acquainted with Donald Trump. 

(5)Having grown his company into a multi-billion enterprise, he has demonstrated proven management ability and is well qualified to run the Taiwan government.

In stepping forward, Guo told the audience that Mazu appeared in his dream to urge him to run. Mazu is Taiwan’s most popular deity that looks after fishermen and sailors at sea.

Divine guidance aside, Guo said that peace across the straits will on top of his agenda, that Taiwan will continue need to develop home grown innovation and that Taiwan need to address the world as its market, not just dependent on mainland China.

Furthermore, Guo said Taiwan must take control of its own fate and cannot count on the US to provide its security.

While Guo’s surprise entry has brought new energy to Taiwan’s presidential race, It’s a long way to the actual election and far from a done deal.

Assuming that Guo wins the primary and becomes the head of the KMT ticket, he will need to rally and unite the followers of contending candidates, especially persuading Han’s supporters to swing over to him. 

Taiwan’s history of twists and turns

The first time DPP came to power, Chen Shui-bian eked a thin plurality with barely 40% of the votes when the KMT self-destructed by dividing into two contending camps. Guo will have to make sure the KMT does not repeat such splintering again.

A divided voter sentiment does exist in Taiwan now. Taipei mayor, Ko Wen-ji, ostensibly an independent but considered DPP leaning, commands roughly one-quarter of popular support. A DPP ticket that includes Ko would become much more formidable opposition to the KMT. 

Taiwan also has a history of strange happenings around their election and not just divine intervention by Mazu. Chen Shui-bian was on the verge of going down to defeat in his bid for reelection, when an alleged assassination attempt on the election eve changed the voter sentiment.

Taiwan people are still scratching their heads on how an assassin bullet managed to graze Chen’s belly and turned in mid-flight to nick his running mate on her knee. Suffice it to say, the ensuing confusion allowed the DPP to squeezed out another win.

Eight years of Chen’s corrupt and ineffectual regime paved the way for eight years by Ma Ying-jeou and the KMT. Ma did a good job in rebuilding Taiwan’s economy and maintaining peaceful relations with Beijing but was a weak and ineffective political leader. He was frequently pummeled by the opposition and by factions within his own party.

The end of Ma’s administration led to a landslide victory by Tsai and the DPP in 2016. Unfortunately for Tsai, she failed to grasp that economy trumps ideology and proceeded to make hash out of the economy. Consequently, she opened the door for massive disaffection and defection from the DPP as shown by the December mid-term election. 

Guo’s announcement is the curtain raiser for a new political show in Taiwan. There will be many twists and turns yet to come in the ensuing acts before the final curtain, i.e., the actual election. It will be interesting to see how Guo will handle the inevitable mudslinging directed his way during the campaign leading to the general election in January 2020.

Taiwan is the favorite showcase to watch democracy in action for many in the American academic circles. This time around they may be in for one heck of a show.