Saturday, June 6, 2020

US and HK, a study of two protest movements

First posted in Asia Times.

Last summer when the peaceful protest in Hong Kong morphed into violence and protesters turned into rioters setting metro and police stations on fire, the U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi gushed that it was a beautiful landscape, a fight for democracy and freedom.

Now the beautiful sight has been exported to America so that Ms. Pelosi can enjoy watching police precinct buildings set on fire closer to home. Of course, America is the home of democracy and freedom, so the looting and burning can’t be for that. 

And, the Republican Party will need to revise their campaign handbook and find a creative way to add race riots in American cities to the compilation of grievances to blame China.

"The riots in America are nothing like Hong Kong and comparing the two is bloody disgraceful.” Said Jimmy Lai in his Donald Trump inspired tweet. Indeed, he should know, since he was one of the leaders and prime movers of the protest movement in Hong Kong.

Perhaps in response to Mr. Lai’s observation, it would be timely and appropriate to compare the two protest movements while the images and disturbances are still relatively fresh and to find where if there were any commonalities and where the differences lie.

When the Hong Kong government attempted to rectify a missing part of its internal security by enacting an extradition regulation to prevent criminals from escaping justice by jumping jurisdiction, it became a cause for the protest. 

HK government withdraws, protesters advance

The protest began ostensibly peacefully. When the government agreed to review the statue, which they subsequently withdrew, the protestors rather than subsiding felt that they had gained the upper hand and turned violent to increasing their list of demands.

In America, a horrified nationwide audience watched as a burly white policeman in Minneapolis slowly squeezed the life out of George Floyd, a black man lying on the street with his neck under the pressing knee of the cop. Three other cops watched and became accessory to murder.

Spontaneous protests took place in America’s major cities under the banner of “Black Lives Matter” and the victim’s last words, “I can’t breathe” became a marching slogan. Looting and arson quickly ensued.

By and large, America’s finest upheld its duty to protect law and order with clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets. In three days of peaceful marches and not so peaceful riots, more were arrested than the total arrested in Hong Kong after more than three months of disturbances and mayhem. By the end of the week, thirteen people had been killed.

Members of the media in the U.S. cities covering the protests became deliberate targets of police harassment with tear gas and rubber bullets. One female photojournalist lost her left eye to a direct hit by a rubber bullet. She expressed being “thankful” that it was not her camera shooting eye, which would have been career ending.

In Hong Kong, the western media were free to roam, run interference for and select the protest scenes that met their needs to report on police brutality while ignoring the rioters and arsonists doing the destruction.

While looters in American cities were indiscriminate and included the random destruction of shops owned by ethnic minorities, the looters in Hong Kong were careful and selective and targeted stores with mainland owners. 

The rioters in Hong Kong seem to have been professionally trained. They know how to make Molotov cocktails to deadly effect and use the umbrella to fend off tear gas.

The rioters in Hong Kong were led by experienced advisors that knew how to create mass disturbances. The protests that led to riots in the U.S. were spontaneous and driven by rage.

Since Hong Kong was handed to China in 1997 and the formal name became Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, there was a strong undercurrent of discontent and agitation undergirded by a smug white superiority that presume that Hong Kong can only go downhill after becoming part of China.

To their chagrin, Hong Kong did not collapse but found economic synergy with the mainland by becoming a real property and service economy.  Thus, a movement began to undermine the Hong Kong story. 

When a young couple from Hong Kong visited Taiwan and the young man murdered his girlfriend and returned to Hong Kong free as a bird, that ironically became the seed to sow discontent.

Extradition to prevent cross border crime

To prevent future criminal acts, the Hong Kong SAR government responded to a popular petition for justice by proposing a carefully crafted, duly vetted, safeguard loaded extradition provision. The anti-government and anti-China faction saw the proposal as the opportunity to histrionically allege a threat to their freedom and an excuse to restart a movement calling for “democracy.”

The anti-government forces were helped by a Hong Kong government that has not been particularly effective or ruthless, by the residual influence of colonial mindsets in Hong Kong, and by the generous financial support from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.

The NED was spun off from U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to bring down governments that displease Washington. Having “democracy” in its organizational name was a cover for regime change. However, it’s by no means certain that NED would succeed in Hong Kong.

The roots of racial unrest in America go back centuries, not just decades as is the case with Hong Kong, derived as they were from the violent assertion of supremacy by whites over the blacks and all other ethnic minorities of color.

A long history of random lynching, Jim Crow and being brutalized for the slightest provocation were supposedly rectified by civil rights and hate crime laws enacted by Congress. Nevertheless, even today blacks continue to be much more likely to be arrested and killed by police. 

A NED like organization in America would not have helped. Police brutality against persons of color is deeply ingrained. The most recent incident in Minneapolis is just the latest of a long series of atrocities that Americans can expect. There is no need for outside agitators. 

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive, like all her predecessors is not made of the stuff of “when looting starts, shooting starts.” Her failure to implement an extradition statute reflects the flaw in her leadership.

Hong Kong needed legal framework for national security

One of key missing elements of the Basic Law, in effect Hong Kong’s constitution, hammered out by Beijing and London was to deal with national security. In the end, both parties agreed to leave writing the provisions for national security to the SAR government. 

Henry Litton, a retired judge of the SAR Court of Final Appeal, described various attempts to write the laws subsequent to 1997 that were stymied by a series of circumstances and obstructions. Now, he observed that the disruption has reached the point where no laws can be passed in Hong Kong.

“In the meanwhile, internal security has worsened, with increasing evidence of terrorist activities aimed at bringing the HK police to its knees and overthrowing the government. The anti-government movement seems well-funded and this raises the question as to the source of funds,” he said.

Thus, it was by default that the draft of the national security laws was submitted to the National People’s Congress for enactment. As Greenville Cross, former Director of Public Prosecution for the SAR government, pointed out a full set of laws in place is needed to prosecute sedition and agitator for secession.

The negotiated handover in 1997 was to return Hong Kong as a rightful part of China. Nothing in the “one country, two systems,” implicitly or explicitly commits a right to autonomy or independence for the people of Hong Kong. State Secretary Mike Pompeo by withdrawing Hong Kong’s special status will facilitate enforcement of Hong Kong’s security and ejection of the likes of NED by the SAR government.

Hong Kong has been consistently ranked among the top three freest places in the world. The 2020 ranking by World Population Review places HK number 3 while UK came in no. 8 and the US no. 17. If Jimmy Lai and his fellow protesters in Hong Kong would rather enjoy the peace and quiet of London or Washington, they should be allowed, nay encouraged, to move there. 

Boris Johnson supposedly commit to welcoming 3 million Hong Kong people to live and work in the U.K. He can’t be serious. Johnson needs to find a way to give the depressed UK economy a real boost. Playing host to young professional protesters with no real employable skills would add to his problems. Those thinking of taking advantage of generous Boris, better read the fine print carefully before flying to the U.K.

At least Johnson can look back to the negotiations between Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping as a basis for his butting in. The United States has no such justification to claim a say on the future of Hong Kong. 

As of June 1, more than 50% of eligible voters in Hong Kong have signed the petition in support of the national security legislation. Anyone hoping to invite in the U.S. Marines to “liberate” Hong Kong is smoking a pipe dream and faces the reality that Hong Kong will no longer tolerate traitors or acts of treason.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Trump's war on Huawei is self defeating

First posted on Asia Times.

When the U.S. Trump Administration’s recently attempted to slam the door on Huawei, China’s leading telecommunication and technology loaded company, he and his China advisors broke the heretofore gold standard in international collaboration; and that has been the world’s semiconductor industry.

The U.S. Department of Commerce recently announced that henceforth, any semiconductor chips made with equipment built by American companies cannot be sold to Huawei without prior approval and license from the DOC.

This new regulation is unprecedented and in violation of normal sales contract between the buyer and seller of the equipment. And difficult to know if the DOC has any legal ground to stand on.

Depending on the complexity of integrated circuit, the manufacturing process could easily take a dozen steps or more. Many of the critical steps use high precision equipment designed and manufactured by American companies. In effect by requiring a license in order to sell to Huawei is to threaten the supply of semiconductors to Huawei. 

Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area gave birth to the semiconductor and American companies continue to dominate the manufacturing of equipment needed to fabricate the increasingly complex semiconductor devices. There are five major semiconductor manufacturing equipment (SME) companies in the world and three of them are American.

The mantra of the semiconductor industry is to make successive generations of integrated circuits that are faster, smaller, cheaper and more powerful, doubling in performance roughly every 18 to 24 months. To keep this trend going, the fabrication equipment has to become more intricate and more powerful and therefore more expensive.

Writing off an obsolete fabrication line and investing in the next generation technology became a hurdle only highly capitalized multinational companies can play. Along came Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company with a new and unique business proposition.

TSMC revolutionized the semiconductor business

They announced that they will invest and keep investing in the state-of-the-art equipment to make the semiconductor chips as a “foundry” service to anyone that wishes to take advantage of such “toll” fabrication.

Thus, TSMC irrevocably altered the business model for the industry. No longer having to invest in a “fab” (industry lingo for a production line), companies can concentrate on designing new chips to perform new functions and tasks. A million dollars for computerized design tools can now launch a startup with an idea to meet a market opportunity; whereas to own a semiconductor fab, the company would be looking at minimum investment well north of $1 billion around a decade ago to now north of $10 billion.

For the last 30 years, “fabless” companies proliferated. Some, such as Nvidia, concentrated on proprietary chip designs to be sold on the market. Others, such as Huawei, can afford to design specialized chips for their own internal use. 

With no exaggeration, the independent foundry model enabled the recent boom in the economy driven by high technology companies.

The entire world benefitted from the virtuous circle made up of innovative chip designs by fabless companies, to be made by independent foundries and then sold to gadget makers such as Apple and Huawei. 

Advances in chip design take advantage of advances in the semiconductor manufacturing equipment which are then incorporated into new end-uses and novel applications. Each step on the chain goads the next to stretch and attain the next level of technological advances.

Digital currency, autonomous driving and applications on the drawing board based on artificial intelligence are all waiting for the introduction of the next generation of semiconductor devices. 

That is, until the Trump administration abruptly changed the rules of the game. Suddenly, American made SME cannot be used to make semiconductor chips for Huawei.

In the process, TSMC became an unwitting victim caught in the squeeze play between the Trump White House and Huawei. Huawei has been one of the most important clients for TSMC accounting for as much as 20% of its annual revenue. 

TSMC may have decided to finally yield to the White House pressure and agree to locate a fab in Arizona to help Trump look good and hopefully in exchange for the good will that would allow the company to protect its business with Huawei. 

TSMC outsmarted by Trump?

Surprise, surprise. Just the day after TSMC signed the agreement to invest $12 billion and build a fab in Arizona, the DOC made the announcement that could force TSMC to stop selling to Huawei.

Less than two weeks earlier, the DOC also gave Huawei a head fake by signaling that American companies will be allowed to participate in organizations along with Huawei to set industry standards for 5G, the latest wireless technology. 

This action suggested that DOC had finally recognized how far Huawei has come to dominate the development of 5G. By agreeing to work with Huawei would seem to hint that some sort of peace agreement was in air.

Not so. It seems double dealing and in bad faith has become the hallmark of the Trump Administration.

Of course, the estrangement with Huawei will materially impact sales of all semiconductors to China. America has remained the world’s leader and biggest supplier of semiconductors and China has been America’s largest customer. Before the pandemic in 2018, US sold $75 billion worth of semiconductor chips to China or about 36% of the U.S. output.

When China retaliates by buying less from the U.S., the generous trade surplus enjoyed by the American side will shrink. Lower sales mean less profit and less funds to spend on R&D and that will erode America’s leadership in this high-tech sector. 

Chips suppliers from Japan and Korea will be happy to fill the void left by the U.S. and China will be more determined than ever to invest in the development of semiconductor technology that will break the dependence from the U.S.

The short-term outcome is lose-lose, but the long-term consequences will be disastrous for both sides. The virtuous circle where everybody gains will be replaced by vicious competition and market fragmentation. 

At the so-called Rose Garden press conference on Friday, Trump read a statement on his position on China, World Health Organization (WHO) and Hong Kong. He didn’t specifically threaten to tear up the phase one trade agreement signed in January with China, but it would be difficult not to conclude that the bilateral relations are heading toward decoupling.

Painful future awaits both parties

Once Beijing gets weary of continuing to be conciliatory and hope for reconciliation, their retaliation will be nasty and directed to where it would cause most pain. It won’t just be not buying soybeans and Boeing aircrafts. 

As Macau News Agencypoints out, gaming licenses are up for renewal over the next two years. By merely starting rumors that the renewal for Sands China is problematic and it would devastate majority owner, Sheldon Adelson’s net worth.

Adelson has been Trump’s most important underwriter of his political fortune, to the tune of over $100 million for each election cycle. Trump will feel the sting of Adelson’s pain.

What will the world look like, when the bilateral relations split into an American sphere of influence and a Chinese sphere of influence?

The U.S. sphere is best represented by the “charm” of smooth-talking top diplomat, State Secretary Mike Pompeo. He struts around the world offering no carrot, just the threat of sanctions if the hapless country doesn’t go along with whatever is in American interest that he dictates. 

Some small nations do get intimidated and fall in line because they fear the might of U.S. sanctions. Under Trump, these sanctions can be arbitrary and at the whim of Trump.

Others fall in line because they feel the need for the security promised by the presence of American military, as for example the case for Taiwan. Despite the feckless nature of the Trump Administration, the Taipei government willingly submit to being violated by letting Washington coerce TSMC and their crown jewel to Arizona.

However, there is no reward to be an economic ally with the U.S. If you, such as Vietnam for example, sell more to us than buy from America, we get upset and put a tariff on your goods. If you happen to have a comparative advantage that we don’t have, we will ask Congress to enact a regulation to erase your advantage. We are the hegemon and we can do whatever we want.

Trump’s majority of one not looking great

But America’s presumption as the leader of the world is starting to breakdown, brick by brick. Whether the issue is climate change, weapon non-proliferation, open sky inspection, covenants with Iran and others, European Union nations resent having no say in America’s decision. They are expected to abide by whatever Washington decides as in America’s best self-interest, sometimes without so much as a courtesy consultation. 

Doesn’t matter to Pompeo if the interests of EU and the U.S. are not aligned. But with increasing regularity, when Pompeo makes a declaration, the EU members pretend to be hard of hearing.

As Asia Timespointed out, China and the Asian countries are far ahead of the West in recovering from the coronavirus epidemic and well on to economic recovery. China’s trade with Asian countries is three times what China has with the U.S. The writer goes on to say that the long-term driver of Asian growth is China’s emergence as a tech superpower. 

Certain members of Congress along with Trump seem to think that China desperately needs to send students to the U.S. to steal American technology. They probably don’t know that China is already first in the world in supercomputing, quantum computing, 5G telecommunications, hypersonic weaponry, civil engineering, high speed rail, electric vehicles, self-drive cars and buses, along with a myriad of other disciplines.

At the Friday press conference, Trump announced that he will sever the relationship and stop funding the WHO because, he claimed, WHO is in China’s pocket. He was not fooling anyone, of course. He has to double down on blaming WHO so that he doesn’t have to explain why more than 100,000 Americans have died from Covid-19.

At the World Health Assemblywith representatives from 194 nations that convened just 10 days earlier, every member expressed support for the WHO as essential to safeguard world’s health, except the U.S. 

China’s President Xi addressed the assembly. He didn’t know at the time that the U.S. was going to withhold more than $400 million per year of financial support to the WHO. He announced that China would contribute $1 billion per year for two years to help WHO fight the pandemic.

Xi also reported that China has five potential vaccines undergoing clinical testing. Should any emerge as a safe and effective vaccine, then he pledged that China will make the vaccine available to everybody. 

The U.S. also has vaccines under development. However, their position is that the owner of the intellectual property for that vaccine will decide. Asia Times has an excellent analysis of the vaccine “war” here.

If you are one of the 190+ nations having to decide which sphere of influence to become a part of, which would you choose?

Never forget sexual slavery as part of Japan's WWII history

First posted in Asia Times

By Mike Honda, Lillian Sing and Julie Tang
“Comfort Women” is a euphemistic term for the hundreds of thousands of girls and women who were kidnapped and sexually enslaved by the Imperial Japanese Army during WWII. From 1931-1945, Japanese military forced young women from over 13 countries into sexual slavery for the “comfort” of Japanese soldiers. 
For the first time in 1991, a former Korean “comfort woman” victim, Hak Soon Kim overcame a lifetime of shame to speak up publicly about her personal experience of sexual enslavement by the Japanese Imperial Armed Forces. Her testimony shocked the world.  
This is the first time in modern history that a government is accused of systematic implementation sexual violence and sex trafficking.  Many more “comfort women” victims followed Hak Soon Kim’s courageous example and told their stories and experiences to the world.  
Their testimonies helped move the world community to declare that using sexual violence as a weapon of war constitutes a crime against humanity for which governments must be held accountable.    
In 2007 the United States Congress passed House Resolution 121 which urged the Japanese government to “formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.” 
The Japanese government heavily lobbied against the resolution, arguing it was a Japan-bashing propaganda, rather than an important human rights issue of institutional sexual violence against women during wartime.  
So that the atrocity these women suffered would not be forgotten, a multi-ethnic non-profit organization consisting of more than 38 organizations called “ComfortWomen” Justice Coalition (CWJC) was established in San Francisco in 2015 with the purpose to install a “comfort women” Memorial in US and to demand Justice for the “comfort women” victims.
Lee Yong-soo, a former “comfort woman” survivor from South Korea came to give the movements in the US a tremendous boost.  Grandma Lee, as Americans fondly called her, came and personally testified before the San Francisco Board of Supervisors in 2015 in support of a resolution to allow a public memorial to be built in San Francisco as she did in 2007 before the United States Congress.  
Her testimonies were crucial in getting both the Resolutions successfully passed.  She put a real face to the issue, became the soul of the movement, and was the living testimony of what happened to the “comfort women” victims.   
Her message was that the history of the “comfort women” should not be forgotten, and the government of Japan must issue a sincere, unequivocal and legal apology and pay reparations to the “comfort women” victims.   Her goal was to educate the history of “comfort women” to the world.
On May 9th, 2020, Grandma Lee made news again.  She accused the Korean Council for Justice and Remembrance for the Issues of Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (JDH) and its former head, Yoon Mi-hyang, of financial impropriety over funds that were donated for the benefit of the “comfort women” survivors.  
She also accused the organization of straying from the goals and purposes of the movement by focusing too much on demonstrations and not on education, especially for the Korean and Japanese youth
It is never easy to speak up when one sees wrongs and injustices.  Grandma Lee is very courageous to do so.  She has nothing to gain for doing this.  We understand the prosecutors in ROK are already conducting an investigation into the allegations.  We urge the investigation be full, and thorough without any political considerations.  
However, we are also concerned that Japan under Prime Minister Abe is attempting to use this financial irregularity to dishonor our righteous fight for justice for all “comfort women” victims and survivors.  
The media in Japan is reporting on the financial scandal in Korea as if to discredit the movement and argue that the Peace Monuments around the world should be dismantled.  
Japan to this date continues to deny its role in the “comfort women” atrocity, refuses to teach their young people the history of the “comfort women” and claims the issue has been resolved. 
The victims and the peace memorial communities continue to insist on a sincere and official apology from Japan, one that necessarily needs to be ratified by the Japanese Diet. 
Instead, Japan’s official efforts to block memorials from being built and objections to inclusion of “comfort women” documents into the UNESCO registry of records is admission that Japan is not ready to face history and atone for its war crimes against the “comfort women”.  
The grandmas who started this movement urged us to pursue justice and fight sexual exploitation everywhere.  Grandma Lee reminded us the job is still unfinished.  Let’s pay attention to her message and work in solidarity to restore justice and honor for the “comfort women” victims and survivors. 
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Mike Honda is a former Congressman from California and author of HR 121, 2007. Judges Lillian Sing and Julie Tang are both retired judges from San Francisco who retired to build the San Francisco “Comfort Women” Memorial and have co-chaired the “Comfort Women” Justice Coalition since 2015