Wednesday, October 26, 2005

China perspective on Pacific Time, KQED Public Radio

“Never in the history of mankind have so many been lifted out of poverty in so short of time. This accolade about today’s China has been said so often that I‘ve lost track of who said it first. No matter who said it first, much of the credit for China’s accomplishment should go to America’s consistent policy toward China.

For more than 30 years, America’s worked to cajole China out of isolation and into the world community. Tentative at first, China has since adopted some of the principles that have made America great--principles such as freeing trade, opening markets, welcoming of foreign investments, and unleashing entrepreneurialism. China’s undeniable success should be a cause of celebration because China is a confirmation that the principles we hold dear really do work. China’s success should not be a cause of anxiety nor rueful envy.

Through its productive and low cost labor, China has become the factory for the world. The benefit to American consumers is consistent quality goods at low and constant prices. China has taken most of its trade surplus and invested in U.S. treasury bills. Both factors keep inflation at bay in America.
China can’t be blamed for not buying from America. Even as China’s global trade increases by leaps and bounds, its imports and exports are in relative overall balance. China buys roughly twice as much from Japan and from EU than they buy from America. The question should be why are we not selling more, not why are they not buying from us.

China should not be blamed for our deficit either. Year in and year out, China has accounted for roughly 25% of our total trade deficit. Sure, our trade deficit with China has been growing at a phenomenal rate, but so has our total national deficit. Again, we should be asking what is wrong with our national policy, not what China is doing to us.

The accusation that makes no sense whatsoever is currency manipulation. China pegged their renminbi to the dollar about a decade ago. The dollar was strong then. Surely the critics are not suggesting that China could have looked long into the future and anticipated the downward slide of the dollar. Today, even if China were to float its currency, the cost differential is so large that it’s not going to bring back jobs that have long gone offshore.

On a recent public television program about China, the spokesman from Wal-mart said that only in China does he see the possibility of replicating their success of another U.S. China’s economy is doubling every 7 to 10 years and there is ample opportunity for the two major powers to develop a win-win relationship. To denigrate China, to accuse China of evil intentions and to drive China toward to a lose-lose arrangement is a tragic outcome we all should avoid. For Pacific Time, this is George Koo.

Monday, October 17, 2005

What globalization means in China

This summer, Beijing celebrated the opening of the newest restoration of a section of the Great Wall, Juyongguan, to tourism by inviting a world champion skateboarder from the West to soar over the wall for a first unveiling of its kind.

I arrived in Beijing a couple of days too late to witness the daredevil stunt but the huge U-shaped ramps were still in place. I was in Beijing to attend the 2nd annual international education exposition and some of the discussion sessions were staged at the scenic setting.

The expo was organized by Beijing city education department as a convenient way for high school students to become acquainted with various colleges and universities at one setting. I was told that among the 600 some booths at the expo, about 160 represented schools from outside of China. Major U.S. institutions such as Berkeley and Yale were present, as well as schools from Australia, Canada and U.K. I even saw schools from Russia and South Korea represented at the expo.

Despite China’s increasing public and private investment to take in more students, now at 4.5 million a year, the average chance of any high school graduate getting accepted to college is still a paltry 1 in 5. The less fortunate either wait to apply again or forego further education or go abroad.

Most come from single child families and many of those parents are willing to invest their entire savings to send their one child overseas for a quality education. One of the foreign educators I talked to volunteered that recruiting students from China has become an increasingly important source of revenue which explains why so many schools were at the expo.

However, the flow of human capital is increasingly bi-directional. First wave flowing into China consisted of ethnic Chinese Hong Kong and Taiwan that opened factories and settled inside China since the early 1990’s. Next were the “returnees” originally from China returning from the West to start high tech companies, a trend becoming pronounced since the turn of this century.

On my recent trip, I began to see China as a magnet for professionals from around the world, where ethnicity is irrelevant. A young Norwegian wanted to follow his girl friend from Oslo to Beijing and asked me about his prospects of employment. He had a degree in computer science from an American university and quickly found a job after he arrived.

I recently met an investment banker, formerly from the San Francisco based Robertson Stephens, who decided to join an American founded merchant bank in Shanghai. He is white and doesn’t speak Chinese but is locating in Shanghai by virtue of the demand for his skill set.

I told him that his story reminded me a new French fusion restaurant just opened in Xintiandi, the upscale district of Shanghai. The chef previously worked in a well known restaurant in San Francisco. He is white as is the partner managing the restaurant and the maitre d’. I asked the three of them what they were doing in Shanghai with no Chinese in their background. Their reply was that they saw a better future for their careers in Shanghai than San Francisco.

The investment banker surprised me by expressing concern over the future of the new restaurant, which he frequented. When pressed to explain, he said the fengshui of the place is terrible! Fengshui is a traditional Chinese “science” of geomancy. Most Chinese business people would not fail to consult a fengshui expert when they move but is hardly a concept I would expect a non-Asian to understand.

These anecdotal stories reflect the remarkable degree China has integrated into the world economy. No one could have imagined how far today’s China has changed from the days of the closed society behind the bamboo curtain under Mao’s regime that persisted until 1976.

The latest issue of Foreign Affairs, America’s most influential magazine of its kind, contained two thoughtful articles written by two influential thinkers from Beijing. One by Zheng Bijian sought to explain the peaceful intentions of China’s rise to prominence. The other by Wang Jisi examined the U.S. China bilateral relations and pointed out that China economic development is not a zero sum game and comes not at the expense of the U.S.

For advisers of Beijing’s central government to participate directly in America’s most influential forum on international relations is unprecedented, somewhat akin to Karl Rove writing for the People’s Daily. It would behoove the U.S. to respond in kind. The U.S. Congress should be at the forefront in building a positive bilateral relationship. So far the body seems to understand less about today’s China than even the general public.

Rumor has it that Senator Chuck Schumer will attempt to resurrect the threat of levying a duty on Chinese made goods in the current Congressional session. Such a move ignores the interdependence of the two economies and seeks to impose a lose-lose regimen on the bilateral relationship. I hope his colleagues and the American public will treat his proposal with the disdain it richly deserves.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Book Review: “For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism under Fire” by James Yee

Captain James Yee, Denise Woo and Dr. Wen Ho Lee have some things in common but also bear some essential differences. They are all American citizens that suffered egregious injustice at the hands of their own government. That much they have in common.

From Dr. Lee’s case, we learned that the government as represented by the FBI agent in charge will lie in court in order to indict an innocent person. Denise Woo, a former FBI agent with her case still pending, stood accused of abetting an enemy agent under investigation when her real offense was to tell her superiors that they were investigating an innocent person.

From his recently published book, “For God and Country: Faith and Patriotism under Fire,” Yee’s personal ordeal at the hands of his government was similar but different. According to his own account, Yee grew up in the all-American tradition. He loved baseball and collected baseball cards. He went from being a casual Lutheran to being a casual Muslim before studying the religion intensively. He studied in Damascus, became fluent in Arabic and a scholar of the Qur’an. When he returned to the U.S., he rejoined the Army to serve as a Muslim chaplain and serving with distinction. As a West Point graduate who previously served as an officer, he was given the rank of captain.

Yee’s misfortune began after September 11, 2001 and the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. He was sent to the Guantanamo base on Cuba and the commanding officer there did not take kindly to even implied disapproval of the inhumane treatment of prisoners on Guantanamo. The commanding general Geoffrey Miller became suspicious of Yee, the only Muslim chaplain on the base, as he carried out his duties including ministering to the 600 some prisoners being held on the base. To Miller, Yee’s ability to communicate with the prisoners and offer some words of comfort seemed conspiratorial.

Even at the end of Yee’s ordeal when all charges of treason and consorting with enemy combatants were dropped, General Miller leveled last minute accusations of adultery and pornography on Captain Yee. In the end, Miller’s commanding officer, General James Hill, bowing to public opinion, dismissed all the charges against Yee. Even then Hill offered the spurious reasoning that Yee had suffered enough and not because Miller acted incorrectly. Yee never got due process and never had his day in court to clear his name. Even when he was supposedly reinstated and returned to active duty, the Army made it clear that he was tainted goods and would never get a fair shake.

The first part of Yee’s book did not tell us anything new. We already know that the U.S. government called the prisoners “enemy combatants” so that the U.S. did not have to abide by the Geneva Convention, since technically they were not considered as prisoners of war. Guantanamo on Cuba selected for the holding pens was leased to the U.S. into perpetuity. Technically, it was not part of U.S. soil and therefore U.S. laws did not need to apply.

Most of us did not know that the Army built an air conditioned hospital for cosmetic effect to show visiting reporters the supposed level of humane treatment being rendered to these prisoners. The visitors did not see prisoners actually housed in furnace-like 8 foot by 6 foot open pens enclosed by wire mesh and a tin roof. We did not know that young boys as young as 12 were held as enemy combatants and regarded as threats to the security of the U.S.

Yee’s narrative can be deceptively placid typical of a religious person virtually free of rancor and bitterness. He had gone through solitary confinement, chained and shackled in the manner of Wen Ho Lee. His family went through hell not knowing where he was, what he had done and what would become of him. His reputation devastated and his marriage damaged by deliberate government slanders leaked to the press from which he had no means to defend himself. Yet, the strongest condemnation he can say of his chief tormentor was: “It is hard to imagine that General Miller did not realize I had suffered seventy-six days of solitary confinement, as well as enormous harm to my reputation, for no reason.”

From the book, the reader will see that General Geoffrey Miller personifies everything that has gone wrong with the so-called “war on terror.” At Guantanamo, Miller approved and/or utilized physical, mental and psychological torture in order to extract information and confessions from the prisoners. Desecration of the Qur’an, physical exposure and touching by female interrogators, provocations by guards that led to brutal quelling of prisoner riots and other techniques later applied in Iraq were first practiced at Guantanamo. In Miller’s view, all Muslims are potential enemy combatants who are some lower form of life that deserve no measure of decency and respect.

Even though as chaplain Yee was not allowed to participate in the interrogation of the prisoners, he nonetheless formed the impression that most of the hapless prisoners arrested or captured in the war in Afghanistan had no idea why they were taken, were never informed of any formal charges, what they were doing in Guantanamo or when, if ever, they could hope to be released. After being in the state of indefinite limbo, most became severely depressed and some became suicidal.

There are still some 550 prisoners remaining captive at Guantanamo today and most of them have been there for over three years. This is going to be a thorny problem for the U.S. Only four prisoners have been charged with crimes. Someday, the Bush administration will have to find a face saving way to let the rest go. Who is going to vouch that these originally labeled enemy combatants upon gaining their freedom won’t become real combatants and try to even the score? The same General Miller is put in charge of the prisons in Iraq. How can we be sure that he is not, through his abusive approach, graduating more future terrorists that will target America?

Captain Yee received officer evaluation report from his direct commanding officers at Guantanamo that was the best ever in his military career. This was just two days before his arrest ordered by General Miller. Yee was not the only member of his staff that was unjustly treated.

Ahmad al-Halabi was a young American from the Air Force assigned to assist Yee. Yee considered Ahmad the “most skilled and dedicated translator” who worked at Guantanamo. He was arrested upon his return to the mainland and charged with 30 counts including espionage and terrorism. After nine months in prison, 26 charges were dismissed and he pleaded guilty to four minor offenses for time already served, reminiscent of how Dr. Lee was treated.

Ahmed Mehalba who served as a civilian linguist on Guantanamo was imprisoned for almost two years before his release. His only offense turned out to be possessing classified information. At around the same time, a white non-Muslim officer at Guantanamo charged with mishandling classified information was given an administrative reprimand and spent no time in prison. This too mirrors the disparate treatment Dr. Lee received vs. the slap on the wrist on John Deutch, former CIA director, for taking secret information home.

The lesson is painfully clear. The very ethnic minority Americans that the U.S. needs in its armed services and intelligence agencies are going to be increasingly hesitant about entering into such service. While there are fair minded officers in most branches of service, it would take running into just one like Miller to have his or her life turned upside down. It is also clear that so long as the likes of General Miller are running the war on terror, the U.S. will be fighting a losing battle, creating more enemies even as we try to curb terrorists and insurgents.