Friday, December 12, 2008

Steven Chu—Smart Policy, Not Politics

President-elect Barack Obama’s appointment of Steven Chu as Energy Secretary reaffirms his commitment to change our national energy policy and make the development of alternative energy sources a top priority.

Since taking over the leadership of Lawrence Laboratory, the Nobel laureate physicist Chu has been busy promoting the need to combat global warming by shifting away from dependence on fossil fuel. His laboratory has become an active center of research on alternative energy. He has been prominent in various local and national forums stressing the urgent nature of global warming.

Chu has the technical expertise, personal charisma and passion to help Obama change the way we consume energy and heat up the atmosphere. Obama’s decision not to select a Washington insider, but someone with a firm grasp of the relevant technological issues, suggests that he is serious about finding the right person to deal with the threat of global warming.

To even remotely suggest that the appointment of Chu is in some way a response to the growing objection to incoming Commerce Secretary Bill Richardson – who was Secretary of Energy during the Wen Ho Lee case – is to discredit Obama’s intention to recruit the best and most qualified, not to mention discounting Chu’s sterling credentials.

Certainly, Richardson’s credentials could also be considered those of a heavyweight – except, ironically, for his record as the Energy Secretary under the Clinton administration.

In late 1998 and early 1999, right-wing opponents were attacking Bill Clinton from multiple fronts, including the accusation that military secrets were being leaked to China. To relieve the pressure of these attacks, Richardson made Wen Ho Lee, then employed at the Los Alamos Laboratory, a convenient scapegoat. He fired Dr. Lee two days after an article from the New York Times indicated that secrets had been leaked from Los Alamos.

Lee was fired without due process. He didn’t know what he did wrong. It took months after his dismissal for prosecutors and the FBI to come up with 59 counts against him, all but one of which was thrown out by the court. Lee had to plead guilty to one count of downloading sensitive data from a secured central computer in order to justify the nine months he had already spent in solitary confinement. (At about the same time, CIA Director John Deutsch took his own secured laptop home against regulations and he didn’t even spend a day in jail.)

The presiding judge apologized to Lee. The New York Times and other major members of the media published mea culpas. Even the FBI admitted falsifying evidence against Lee. Only Richardson to this day will not admit that he had done anything wrong. His inability to admit a mistake and apologize continues to be a heavy blot on his credentials.

The appointment of Chu should be a welcomed fresh breeze to erase the stench of a past national disgrace. As a native-born American, Chu presumably will not be subject to racial profiling. By serving as the director of an agency that less than a decade ago was so riddled with racial bias is to indicate that the Obama administration truly signifies a new beginning.

With an Asian American serving as the energy czar, national laboratories should begin to see increasing numbers of Asian Americans with a renewed interest in working there. It has been no secret that scientists and engineers of Asian ancestry represent one of our most valuable national resources.

This commentary first appeared in New America Media.
Dr. Robert Vrooman was the counterintelligence director at Los Alamos National Laboratory who fiercely objected WHL's arrest. Vrooman himself was reprimanded by Bill Richardson for continuing to oppose the charges and actions against WHL. He supported the campaign to free WHL through many speeches and the media. See his statement opposing Richardson's appointment in the Obama administration.

Reasons why Obama needs a new start with China-part 5 of 5: End to Racial Profiling

The Obama Administration takes office on the promise of change and one of the most critical changes he can make is to reboot our relations with China based on mutual respect and shared interests. A strong and positive alliance with China is more important now than ever.

By treating China as an equal partner, the Obama Administration would not only recognize the reality of China’s position in the new world order but would gain an ally that could reduce America’s military expenditures, provide diplomatic cover in certain parts of the world essential to world stability and help rescue America’s foundering economy.

Another change though not directly connected to relations with China is stopping the practice of racial profiling by law enforcement agencies. In the case of Chinese Americans, it is the idea that somehow their feelings about their ancestral land, a natural feeling with any first generation immigrants, are somehow unnatural and a cause of disloyalty.

Ethnic bias runs deep in certain parts of the American government. Broad and ambiguous export control policy provides cover for justifying racial profiling by the enforcement agencies. Sometimes the bewildered target of the FBI investigation was tripped up by the idea that a civilian use could have military implications. Other times, they didn’t do anything but were harassed anyway for merely being ethnic Chinese.

The FBI has always espoused the idea that China uses the so-called “grains of sand” practice of espionage. Simply stated, FBI believes every ethnic Chinese in America is a potential spy for China.

The idea that China is patiently collecting tidbits of information from a million sources that add up to devastating intelligence is preposterous but this theory serves to excuse those in counter-intelligence for failing to catch anyone and justify their random arrests of Chinese Americans.

Though it hardly qualifies as espionage, exporting to China can get a person in trouble, especially if the person is ethnic Chinese.

The Obama administration should conduct an anti-ethnic cleansing of the leadership of FBI and get rid of the bigots and the racially biased culture that reside there since J. Edgar Hoover. Racial profiling under grains of sand or any other pretense is still a show of ignorance and in the case of the FBI, incompetence.

Stopping the harassment of Chinese Americans will contribute to a positive atmosphere with China and will re-direct the energies of the law enforcement bodies to issues related more directly to homeland security, a cause we all support.

Read entire 5 part article on Asia Times.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Reasons why Obama needs a new start with China-part 4 of 5: As High Tech Export Market

The Obama Administration takes office on the promise of change and one of the most critical changes he can make is to reboot our relations with China based on mutual respect and shared interests. A strong and positive alliance with China is more important now than ever.

By treating China as an equal partner, the Obama Administration would not only recognize the reality of China’s position in the new world order but would gain an ally that could reduce America’s military expenditures, provide diplomatic cover in certain parts of the world essential to world stability and help rescue America’s foundering economy.

In general, China prefers high tech equipment and machinery from the U.S. over the competitors from Western Europe, Japan or Russia. However, none of the other suppliers require the buyer to jump through the hoops that the U.S. government imposes on China for the privilege of buying from us.

The U.S. export control policy towards China needs to be revamped and hostile bias removed so that China can be accorded the same respect as with any customer. The notion that goods sold for civilian use could also find military use and therefore must be restricted when exporting to China is outdated and gratuitously insulting.

The U.S. export licensing process has been costly to administer, costly for American manufacturers to comply and costly for the Chinese buyer to follow. The policy has not made America more secure but has impeded export sales and made buying from us less attractive than buying from our competition.

The export control process was instituted during the cold war to guard against American technology falling into the Soviet hands. The efficacy of this policy was questionable then and its relevance certainly more questionable now.

China is too important a market for American high tech goods for us to continue to tolerate a policy that undermine our own competitiveness.

Read entire 5 part article on Asia Times.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Reasons why Obama needs a new start with China-part 3 of 5: As an Economic Partner

The Obama Administration takes office on the promise of change and one of the most critical changes he can make is to reboot our relations with China based on mutual respect and shared interests. A strong and positive alliance with China is more important now than ever.

By treating China as an equal partner, the Obama Administration would not only recognize the reality of China’s position in the new world order but would gain an ally that could reduce America’s military expenditures, provide diplomatic cover in certain parts of the world essential to world stability and help rescue America’s foundering economy.

China is holding on to more than one trillion of our (US) dollars and Chinese companies are potentially interested in investing in America. They would find attractive acquisitions in American markets, factories, name brands, management and technical know-how. They could come to the US to license, form alliances and joint ventures or take over shuttered plants.

Haier is one China's major appliance makers and the first to build a plant in the US. Haier's investment in South Carolina has had a ripple effect as other Chinese investments followed to the benefit of the local economy. One consequence is that the Port of Charleston has become the fourth-largest container handling port in the US, boasting the most modern cargo handling equipment - made in China. People in South Carolina know the story, but most of the people in the US do not.

Chinese companies could invest in America and create jobs in America, but our basic attitude towards China's participation in our economy has to change. The new administration and Congress need to send out a new message that dollars in Chinese hands are as welcome as anyone's.

There are a number of policy changes that the new administration should undertake in order to signal to Beijing that Washington is no longer home to hostile, knee-jerk attitude towards China. Congressional commissions that serve no purpose other than to provide a public forum for China bashing should be dissolved.

To invite direct investment from China, guidelines on permissible investment need to be transparent and clearly delineated so that Chinese companies know where they stand in advance. Case-by-case debate in Congress that follows each contemplated investment, with gratuitous rancor thrown in, would be deal killers and cause any plans for inbound investment from China to be stillborn.

China's own economic stimulus announced this month is to invest nearly $600 billion on the country's own infrastructure, but it is also seeking economic opportunities elsewhere, from Australia to Africa to South America. It will be up to the Obama administration to send a new signal that we also welcome their investments here in the US.

A good beginning would be for the State Department to instruct its visa offices in China to stop treating applicants as if they are from a pariah state. Simplifying the visa application process to business travelers from China would encourage more commercial exchange and facilitate inbound investment.

As Europe and other tourist destinations have discovered, China is rapidly becoming the largest source of international tourists. France and Germany, among others, have found the Chinese tourists to be bigger spenders than Japanese or American. With an enlightened visa policy, we too can be beneficiaries of their tourist buying sprees.

After all, to quote a US President of not too distant past, “It's the economy, stupid.”
For those interesed, there is a recent review of China's impressive economic development over the last thirty years.

Read entire 5 part article on Asia Times.

Monday, December 8, 2008

No on Richardson is Growing

Compiled below are some of the more recent updates describing the sentiment against the nomination of Bill Richardson as the Secretary of Commerce in the incoming Obama Administration.

One of the petition drive to collect online signatures can be found here.

The other concurrent petition drive is here.

Both urls contain a lot of and some overlapping background information.

The opening paragraph of an open letter to the Obama transition team outlining reasons Richardson is not fit to serve can be found here while the full text is posted at another site.

The San Jose Mercury News article describes why folks in Silicon Valley are objecting to Richardson.

The latest commentary on this protest can be found in the San Francisco Chronicle. There is a version of this commentary in Chinese published by the World Journal for those interested.

Anyone feeling strongly about the right of every citizen to due process and objecting to racial profiling should join this protest.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Reasons why Obama needs a new start with China-part 2 of 5: Reduce Military Expenditure

The Obama Administration takes office on the promise of change and one of the most critical changes he can make is to reboot our relations with China based on mutual respect and shared interests. A strong and positive alliance with China is more important now than ever.

By treating China as an equal partner, the Obama Administration would not only recognize the reality of China’s position in the new world order but would gain an ally that could reduce America’s military expenditures, provide diplomatic cover in certain parts of the world essential to world stability and help rescue America’s foundering economy.

Pentagon and the military industrial complex love to position China as the next evil empire in order to justify annual defense budgets north of $500 billion. Not much of the allocation is for anti-terror activity. Most of the spending is for advanced weaponry development allegedly in anticipation of a rising China.

However, China is neither the belligerent state nor has the military might to compete with the U.S. China’s defense posture has been that of a porcupine rather than a pit bull.

They willingly revealed their nuclear weapon development to visiting American scientists. Their submarine surfaced in midst of the Kitty Hawk flotilla, just to show that they can. They shot down their own satellite to help Americans update their benchmark of the Chinese capability.

Their motivation seems nothing more than making sure that the U.S. will not miscalculate China’s ability for retaliation.

Unlike the former Soviet Union, China has not shown any inclination to compete for world dominance or join in an arms race. By seeing and understanding the real China, hundreds of billions can be saved by not having to spend it for advance military systems.

Ironically, if we were to spend those billions, we would have to borrow from China.

Read entire 5 part article on Asia Times.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Reasons why Obama needs a new start with China-part 1 of 5: International Relations

The Obama Administration takes office on the promise of change and one of the most critical changes he can make is to reboot our relations with China based on mutual respect and shared interests. A strong and positive alliance with China is more important now than ever.

By treating China as an equal partner, the Obama Administration would not only recognize the reality of China’s position in the new world order but would gain an ally that could reduce America’s military expenditures, provide diplomatic cover in certain parts of the world essential to world stability and help rescue America’s foundering economy.

Unlike the U.S., China never aspired to be a superpower and policeman of the world. Their policy has been to get along with everybody. Thus, they are able to maintain civil, if not downright cordial, diplomatic relations with nations with whom we have been unfriendly, such as Russia, Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Pakistan and North Korea to name just a few.

Consistent with their “get along” approach, they have rarely invoked their veto right as a permanent member of the UN Security Council. Since joining the body, they have cast 6 vetoes. During that same period for other permanent members, by way of comparison, USSR/Russia cast 123 vetoes, the U.S. 80 times, UK 32 and France 18.

Since 1990, China has contributed 9000 peacekeepers in 22 UN operations, more than the combined total of the other four permanent members of the Security Council. What they have not done is to send any of their troops on any non-UN sanctioned mission beyond their borders and occupy any territory belonging to other sovereign states.

China has a growing presence in Africa and Latin America, but it has been based on mutually beneficial, commercial interests. Typically, Chinese investments and participation help build the local infrastructure and train native skill sets as well as cooperation in exploration and development of natural resources.

China has already played a critical role by hosting the six party talks and keeping the conference room open with the North Koreans. Arguably much more progress could have been made by now, had the U.S. been less pig-headed about who blinks first.

Since China has gotten along well with every nation—far better than the U.S.—they are in the position to cajole international cooperation more readily than we can. With their complicit help, we will be able to lessen world tension without incurring extra expenditures for shuttle diplomacy or even bigger outlays for military intervention.

Read entire 5 part article on Asia Times.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

A new relationship with China will get Obama off to a good start

Special to the Mercury News
Posted: 11/30/2008 08:00:00 PM PST

The Obama administration takes office on the promise of change while inheriting a host of challenges. If Obama were to overhaul the bilateral relationship with China right off, he could find China a crucial ally in relieving some of his migraines.

Unlike the U.S., China never pretended to be a superpower and global gendarme. Thus, the Chinese are able to maintain civil, if not downright cordial, diplomatic relations with nations unfriendly to us, such as Russia, Iran, Pakistan and North Korea.

Since China has gotten along well with most nations, it is in position to cajole international cooperation in America's place. With China's help, we can save the cost of shuttle diplomacy and military intervention.

The Pentagon and the military industrial complex love to position China as the next evil empire to justify huge defense budgets. Much of advanced weapons development is allegedly in response to a rising China.

However, China is neither a belligerent state nor has the military might to compete with the U.S. By seeing the real China, we could avoid spending hundreds of billions of dollars.

Chinese companies are interested in investing in America. They could come to the U.S. to license, form alliances and joint ventures or take over shuttered plants.

Haier is one of China's major appliance makers and the first to build a plant in the U.S. Other Chinese investments followed Haier to South Carolina, giving the local economy a palpable shot in the arm. People in South Carolina know the story, but most in the U.S. do not.

Chinese companies could create jobs in America, but the new administration and Congress need to send out a new message that Chinese investors are as welcome as anyone.

Guidelines on permissible investment need to be transparent and clearly delineated so Chinese companies know where they stand. Case-by-case debate in Congress, with gratuitous rancor thrown in, can no longer be tolerated.

Export control policy toward China should be revamped so that China can be accorded the same respect as any customer. The notion that goods sold for civilian use could also find military use and therefore must be restricted when exporting to China is outdated and insulting.

The complex export licensing process has been costly to administer, costly for American manufacturers to comply and costly for the Chinese buyer to follow. China is a major opportunity for high-tech exports, but only if we do not handcuff ourselves when we compete with Japan and Western Europe.

The broad and ambiguous export control policy also allows the FBI to use suspected violations as cause to harass Chinese-Americans. Simplifying export regulations removes another excuse for racial profiling. Energies could be better directed to really protecting the homeland.

The State Department should simplify the visa-granting process to business travelers from China rather than treating China as another pariah state. This would encourage more commercial exchange and facilitate inbound investment.

By treating China as a respected peer, the Obama administration would not only recognize the reality of the new world order but would gain an ally that could provide diplomatic cover in parts of the world essential to world stability and help rescue America's foundering economy.

Chinese leadership from Hu Jintao on down frequently talks about creating a harmonious society and looks for win-win solutions. It's time we listen.
Dr. George Koo is a retired business consultant who has traveled to approximately 60 countries. He writes a personal blog, and wrote this article for the Mercury News. A slightly longer version is posted on New America Media.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Richardson unfit for Obama cabinet

Recent signals suggest that the Obama transition team has Bill Richardson in line to be the Secretary of Commerce.

This could be regarded as a good news/bad news kind of a joke if the consequences weren't so serious for the U.S.

The good news is that apparently he is not being considered for the Secretary of State post. The bad news is that he is being considered at all.

The last cabinet post he held was as Secretary of Energy under the Clinton Administration and his performance was decidedly dismal.

Instead of courage, he showed cowardice under pressure. Instead of challenging the right wing for outrageous accusations of the Clinton administration, he appeased them by leaking the name of Dr. Wen Ho Lee to the media as the alleged spy for China.

To this day, he stands by his misconduct. A summary of this case can be found elsewhere on this blog.

Please join us in signing the petition calling attention to why Richardson is unfit to serve in the Obama administration.

See a recent report of the petition and protest from the community in the San Jose Mercury.

See Youtube summary of the Wen Ho Lee case for a refresher.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Taiwan's Chen Shui Bian, political prisoner or just crooked politician?

A historic moment is being recorded in Taiwan, albeit not a proud one. After months of dodging and weaving, former Taiwan president Chen Shui-bian was finally taken to jail on November 12 to face charges of corruption.

Chen is accused of embezzling NT$14.8 million (about $400,000) in secret state funds, laundering US$21 million in funds abroad and accepting as yet undetermined millions of New Taiwan dollars under the table from Taiwan businessmen.

He admitted that his wife transferred $21 million to secret Swiss accounts, but without his knowledge. Furthermore, he had done nothing wrong and the money rightfully belonged to him anyway.

Besides proclaiming his innocence, he mounted an offense accusing the prosecution and the judiciary of acting as pawns of the ruling Kuomingtang (KMT) to turn him into a political scapegoat. Chen claimed that by discrediting him, the KMT hoped to discredit his party, the DPP, before the people of Taiwan.

While the leaders of the DPP opposition have protested the “undignified” arrest of Chen and questioned the necessity of having to handcuff him like a common criminal, no one among the DPP leadership has stepped forward to vouch for Chen’s integrity and veracity.

Chen was the 12th in the series arrested in connection with the investigation of corruption during his term of office. All the arrests that preceded him were members of his staff, officials that reported to him, or friends and family. Other members of his immediate family including his wife have been forbidden to leave Taiwan pending further investigations and court appearances.

The week before his arrest, there was another historic event when Chen Yunlin, Beijing’s chief cross-strait negotiator came to Taiwan to sign several breakthrough agreements and meet briefly with Ma Ying-jeou, the current president of Taiwan. It was a first for a Beijing official to meet with the elected leader of Taiwan since the Nationalist government fled the mainland and set up in Taiwan.

The agreements will increase daily flights from Taiwan to more destinations on the mainland and all flights will be direct and not have to detour over Hong Kong airspace. Direct shipping will be allowed as well as improved mail service and better assurance of food safety. This became known as the “four agreements.”

The agreements could prove to be historically important in furthering cross-strait economic cooperation. The meeting with Ma could mark the symbolic beginning of the eventual cross-strait unification.

For weeks leading up to this cross-strait summit, the DPP had staged a number of public protests in opposition and in the name of Taiwan independence and sovereignty. Chen Shui-bian, though uninvited by the organizers, was active and prominent in these agitations. The DPP led mob even trapped Chen Yunlin in a hotel where a hosted banquet took place and the Beijing official was not allowed to leave for eight hours.

Despite such vociferous protest by the opposition, polls taken later revealed that less than 17% of the Taiwanese population opposed the four agreements. Less than 26% of the people supported the DPP protest while over 59% did not.

After Taiwan’s security force came to arrest Chen Shui-bian, he made one last attempt to avoid jail by complaining that he was injured by the rough handling police. He was promptly taken to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed a slight muscle strain due to over exertion of his shoulders. He strained his shoulders trying to show his handcuffs to the media.

Since Chen became inmate #2630, he began a hunger strike, protesting that he had become a political prisoner of the KMT. Shih Ming-teh, former chairman of DPP and former political prisoner under KMT, dismissed Chen’s antics saying that his refusal to eat will not transform Chen from a suspect in corruption and money laundering into a political prisoner.

History will only have to wait for the actual trial when the case against Chen is presented in court to examine the full extent of Chen’s offense. If convicted, he could spend the next 10 to 30 years of his life in prison. If not, Chen will become the martyr of his dream.

The importance of Ma’s meeting with the Beijing official will take longer to assess. If the historic meeting and four agreements become the foundation of ever closer integration across the straits, the memory of first meeting will fade and be replaced by a succession of higher profile summits and official proclamations.
An edited version appeared on November 17, 2008 in New America Media.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Exploring Jordan and Syria

Sometimes we go on vacation to enjoy nature’s lush scenery, other times to meet the local people and experience their cultures. A visit to the Biblical lands of Jordan and Syria, which we did recently, is to be reminded of the vital importance of water in shaping civilizations.

As we looked over the once mighty River Jordan, now reduced to a modest stream a few meters wide, the crucial role of water in the making and breaking of civilizations really came home to me. Control of access to vast amounts of water was a necessary condition to the creation of great empires such as Petra in Jordan and Palmyra in Syria. Trade was the other necessary condition that assured their greatness. So long as overland caravans needed to pause and replenish, Petra and Palmyra extracted their pound of flesh and accumulated great wealth.

From wealth came power and the luxury to pursue finer things in life such as erecting elaborate temples and memorials to celebrate their accomplishments and to remind future generations of the greatness that once stood. The building material of choice from antiquity until fairly recent times was stone. Stone provided an aura of permanence like nothing else could. In the case of Palmyra, the stone structures and colonnades remained pretty much intact and partially crafted stone blocks could still be seen in the nearby quarry where they laid for well over a thousand years. Being an oasis, Palmyra ruins were free from predations of successive generations harvesting blocks from preexisting edifices rather than quarrying from scratch.

Petra had an even greater staying power since their tombs were carved right into the rocks of the hillside that ringed the town. Today, not much is left that would show how the Nabateans lived in Petra—hardly anything remains of their living quarters--but plenty of tombs showed how they died. A thrill not to be missed is to take the donkey ride up to the highest point to the massive tomb known as the Monastery. The ride would cut the two hour trek by at least half. The ride up was merely hard on one’s bottom. The ride back down was an exercise in terror as the donkey seemed to go out of its way to find the biggest drop for prancing down while the rider held on for dear life. Dismounting after the ride despite wobbly legs felt wonderful for having survived the experience.

Without water, there would be no Fertile Crescent, widely attributed to be one of the birthplaces of civilization. While much of the Crescent is in Iraq, northern Syria is also part of the Crescent thanks to the Euphrates River. Only a small part of one horn of the Crescent makes it down to Jordan which is why Jordan is 70% desert. But all is not well in this Semitic paradise. It is drying up. Even Syria, though much greener than Jordan and obviously more agriculturally bountiful, is now 58% desert.

The towering waterwheels, several stories high, situated near Hama once rotated tirelessly, driven by the fast flowing Orontes River to convey river water upwards and spilling onto a network of Roman aqueducts. When we drove by to see them, the few surviving waterwheels sat motionless in stagnant pools of water waiting for decay to administer the ultimate coup de grace. I could not think of a more appropriate symbol of the dilemma that our over populated world is facing today than these forlorn waterwheels resting on dry river beds. In this part of the world, the Dead Sea is getting saltier; the rivers are dwindling into creeks and dry beds and people having to reach ever deeper to find ground water. Sooner or later, other parts of the world will face the same hurdle.

Special thanks and acknowledgement to:
Ms. Rita Zawaideh, president of Caravan-Serai Tours, who made this trip possible.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

President elect Obama

Barack Obama is not only intelligent but has consistently shown a willingness to listen to diverse range of views. If he stays true to rejecting unilateralism, America stands a good chance to right itself and rejoin the world community. Certainly the rest of the world is rejoicing in the election of a man of color.

America has always claimed to be a fair and egalitarian society. The election of Obama is a huge affirmation that the claim just might be true.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

America desperately needs leaders with courage to face reality

The $700 billion bailout is apparently not having the desired affect to assuage the American public that everything is going to be all right.

Not only has the U.S. stock market continue to head south but now the Europeans and Asian are joining the panic parade. They are losing confidence in America's ability to get out of this mess.

Small wonder. So far neither of the major candidates running to succeed the Bush administration has explained what measures they will take to reverse the economic freefall.

Before the freefall, McCain and Obama saw cutting taxes as the solution to America's economic malaise. After the freefall, both saw cutting taxes as the solution to America's economic malaise.

Pardon me for pointing out the inconvenient truth, but cutting taxes is not a magic bullet or miraculous cure to overspending--just as there is no free lunch.

How will cutting taxes fund education and really (and actually) leave no child behind?

How will cutting taxes continue to finance the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq?

How will cutting taxes pay for the increase in defense spending that the Pentagon is hankering for?

How will cutting taxes balance our budget, reducing rather than adding to our budget deficit?

How will cutting taxes convince other nations that the U.S. is finally behaving responsibly about protecting the value of the dollar?

America owes trillions of dollars to the rest of the world. What would happen to the American economy if foreigners decide that American IOU's (and American dollars) are not worth the paper they are printed on?

What America needs right now is a leader with the backbone to look at the American people in the eye and say, "There is no free lunch, afterall. Until we pay the tab for all the past 'free' lunches, we can't continue to blabber of cutting taxes."

It will take someone with integrity and statesmanship to do that. So who is it going to be?

(Though ostensibly a discussion on Sarah Palin, Tom Friedman has done an excellent job of explaining the necessity of taxes.)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

When did we know the Earth was not Flat?

While visiting Ephesus in Turkey, one of the great ports of the ancient Roman empire, I thought I experienced a personal ah-hah moment. I saw a statue of a triumphant Roman hero with one foot on a globe. The revelation that struck me was, hey, the Romans knew that the earth was round!

Later, I was to find out that the Greeks knew that the earth was round and passed the knowledge on to the Romans. Some guy named Eratosthenes even measured the circumference of the earth and came within less than 1% from today's measurement based on modern instrumentation. That was more than 2,200 years ago, when Eratosthenes was one of the leading scholars living in Alexandria.

Why then it was necessary for Galileo to rediscover this startling truth all over again? Because religion got in the way. More specifically, since the Catholic Church became the religion of the realm after Constantine became the Roman emperor.

The Church ruled by dogma, a concept that is antithetical to free thinking and open inquiry. It became blasphemy to speculate about the universe and whether the earth is at the center or not and whether the earth is flat or not.

Since no one relish being toasted at the stake, everybody went along with whatever the Church deemed as right was right. Darkness descended on earth in the middle ages. To some degree, that darkness remains to this day.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

What America Needs to Know about China

Below is text of address delivered at Pitzer College

Thank you for coming to hear what I have to say about China and about the U.S. China bilateral relations. As a business consultant, I have been going to China regularly for the last 30 years, essentially from the beginning of China’s economic reform. My first personal visit to China actually took place in 1974, during the height of the Great Cultural Revolution. I certainly have enjoyed a ringside seat watching China’s amazing transition and transformation during this period.

In my early trips into China, I would be interviewed by the CIA and the FBI upon my return. They would want to know whom I saw, what we talked about and so on. I was happy to tell them all I knew because from the start, I thought I had a mission, which was to explain China to Americans and America to the Chinese. I felt that I was in the position to act as a bridge between the two countries that meant the most to me.

Thirty years later, some things have not changed much. In particular, there remains a lot about China that America does not understand and I continue to feel that the role of a cultural intermediary is as relevant as ever. So it is today that I am here to describe and explain some things about China that America needs to know and understand--such understanding being crucial to the development of a healthy bilateral relationship. As the two arguably most powerful nations and economies in the world, a strong positive bilateral relationship is important not only to the peoples of the two countries but to a peaceful world.

I might also add that given the recent financial turmoil on Wall Street and the increasing importance of China, holding close to $1 trillion or our treasury notes and government debt, it becomes increasing relevant that we develop a measure of respect for someone that is likely to end up owning a bit of America in exchange for bailing us of out of our financial excesses.

My talk today is not about western media distortion of China or the biases of western politicians. If it is, I would be on the podium for hours. What I hope to do is to take you outside of your customary American frame of reference. I would like to present some data and thoughts that would automatically counter many of the preconceptions of China that you have grown up with. To paraphrase Secretary Paulson from his Foreign Affairs article about China, I want to help you see the country as it actually is, not as many Americans imagine it to be. If I can persuade you to rethink about China, I would feel that I have accomplished something worthwhile today.

Olympics Aftermath
Let’s start with the Olympics. By most accounts, the Beijing Olympics was an overwhelming success. Certainly, the people of China, and for that matter most of the overseas ethnic Chinese, are rightfully proud of the number of gold and medals the Chinese athletes won. But frankly, that was not the most significant achievement in my mind. Considering that Australia won 42 medals with a population of 21 million, that’s two medals for every million population. To attain parity on a per capita basis, the U.S. would have to win more than five times their actual tally. For China, they would have to sweep every event and then supplement with plenty of knock-offs to meet that standard. On the other hand, if one were to measure achievement against the level of economic development, Ethiopia, Jamaica and Georgia would come in first, second and third.

There are many ways to slice and dice the Olympic outcome, but more important in my mind, is that billions of people in the world have tuned in and caught a glimpse of today’s China for possibly their first time without the filter of the western media or political leaders or the bias of some religious cult. I thought NBC did a good job of introducing some of China’s culture to their viewing audience, particularly short vignettes such as Shaolin martial arts by Mary Carillo and hand pulled noodles by Martin Yan. I was also impressed with GE and their commercials specially done just for the Olympics—sort of like commercials geared just for the Super Bowls--using authentic Chinese backdrops and storylines to make their point.

Despite all the anti Olympic torch rallies and sentiments advocating another Olympic boycott, some even go so far as to call this the “genocide Olympics,” a record number of 100 heads of state representing 80 different countries attended the opening ceremony. They did not witness any slaughter of innocents but did see that the Chinese could really put on a show and raised the bar that likely will stand for many future Olympics. I am glad that Mr. Steven Spielberg was not involved so as not to confuse the minds of the viewers as to who contributed what. The visitors left after seeing a virtually flawless execution of a 16-day event. The 10,000 athletes from around world went home with, I am sure, memories to last a life time.

The 30,000 some journalists found different perspectives and events to write about and most, by and large, will further understanding between the East and West. The worst example of going out of his way to look for dirt under the carpet, that I happened to have read, was a near hysteric blog on ESPN accusing Beijing of a cover-up because a building under construction was draped by a beautifully decorated plastic sheet to hide the construction in progress underneath. Why an attempt to present a more pleasant public appearance became an excuse to blacken China is something I do not understand.

The Chinese Spy that Never Was
How many of you read Physics Today regularly? In the September issue, there is an article written by the former Secretary of Air Force talking about the period in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s when Chinese scientists were attending scientific conferences in the U.S. As the testimony at the Cox Committee hearing later revealed, the American authorities regarded these attendances as intelligence gathering on the part of the Chinese. Actually, just opposite was going on, the visitors, according to Thomas Reed, the author, was trying to find ways to let America know what China was doing in nuclear weapon development.

These visitors found Danny Stillman, a nuclear weapon scientist at Los Alamos who was charged with gathering intelligence on China’s weapon development—a polite way of saying that he was a spy. Stillman was eager to meet and talk to the Chinese visitors, who in turn invited Stillman to visit China. Through a series of visits over months to various secret facilities including the nuclear testing grounds, Stillman came away thoroughly impressed with what China had done. He put all his trip reports together into a cohesive tome and sought permission to publish his book. The U.S. government said no.

Stillman’s timing was bad. The Congressional Committee headed by then Representative Christopher Cox had just concluded that America was running wild with Chinese spies, that every Chinese company was a front to steal secrets from America. And then Dr. Wen Ho Lee was identified as the one who leaked W-88 multi-head missile technology to China. It would have contradicted all that anti-China rhetoric if Stillman’s book were to come out saying that China detonated their first atomic bomb in 1964 and in a mere 32 months their first H-bomb and launched their first unmanned satellite in 1970. The unacceptable conclusion would have been that China has independently developed their first class nuclear weaponry all along--all of it having taken place well before Nixon went to China in 1972 and before exchanges were taking place between the two countries. Stillman’s book had to be suppressed as it would have taken the hot air out of the hysterical China bashing balloon floating around Washington from 1998 to 2000.

Why, you might ask, did the Chinese want to expose their nuclear secrets to the U.S.? I think the answer is very simple. How can you have a nuclear deterrence if the other side doesn’t know that you have the capability to deter? China has consistently declined to join the arms race to see who can pile up the larger heap of ever more sophisticated arms. But once in a while, I think, China feels that Washington and Pentagon need to be updated and be informed that China has a credible 2nd strike capability to retaliate and enter that data into their calculations when they plot the course to world domination. Of course, this leads to the question of whether the DoD’s current expanding defense budget makes any sense, which we can discuss in the Q&A if you wish.

America’s Racism
Personally I am acutely aware of the historic racial bias of the American authorities towards the ethnic Chinese in America as exemplified by the Congressional hearings and by the case of Wen Ho Lee, where after 9 months of solitary confinement, all the charges against him were dropped except for one, and that was for not following lab procedure and downloading files from office computer to home computer. Just think, nine months of solitary confinement for downloading computer files against procedure. The special agent of the FBI involved in this case had to admit in court that he lied. The presiding judge apologized to Dr. Lee on behalf of the government for their misconduct. It had to be one of the more embarrassing chapters of American justice.

Lest you think the Wen Ho Lee case was an isolated aberration, it is not. I live in Silicon Valley and there are frequent cases of miscarriage of justice and official intimidation. Recently, there was a Bill Chen originally from China who was appointed sales manager to sell vibration tables to China. The government accused him of selling the tables to a missile building facility when his sales report indicated that they went to a locomotive factory. Originally his employer supported his defense but then the government quietly informed the company that if they plan to sell any more tables to the American Air Force, they better withdraw their support. The company had to fire him. He was in limbo for some time before the government dropped all charges. The last public statement he made to the local press last year was that his career was ruined and he was taking his family back to China.

Just earlier this year, there was a case involving another PhD whose expertise was in agriculture remote sensing, involving the use of satellite data to predict crop harvest, and had been in this country for 20 years. He came to the U.S. from China to study for his PhD. Most recently he worked for a contract research organization analyzing publicly available satellite data to quantify global climate changes for NASA at its facility in Mountain View. His work had no connection to national security. He even got clearance for his ID badge to enter NASA at will. Then the FBI came to interview him, followed by a lie detector test and then two more interviews, at the end of which he was escorted off the premises and fired. He never could figure out why the FBI came to see him and on what grounds he was dismissed. The only explanation I could offer him was that the special-agent-in-charge of Silicon Valley had told BBC in a public interview that the valley was crawling with spies from China and that every working Chinese was a potential security risk.

There are, of course, costs associated with the national practice of racial profiling. Let me ask you, which universities and colleges do you think, have sent the most number of graduates on to obtain a doctorate degree in America? If you guess UC Berkeley, you would be close but incorrect. According to National Science Foundation’s latest compilation, in 2006, the latest year of the survey, the two schools that contributed the most number of Bachelor degree holders that went on to earn a doctorate degree in the United States (in science or engineering) was Tsinghua and Beijing University. This is the first time in history where two Chinese institutions of higher learning out supplied the American universities. Berkeley was third. Over the period of 1999 to 2006, over 26 thousand doctorates earned their undergraduate degrees from China. For 2006, the latest year reported, for every 6 that got their undergraduate training from the U.S., one more came from China. So the question to ponder is this: Given the racist attitudes that prevail, how many of these PhD’s would remain in the U.S. after getting their degree, and of those that remain how many would risk their careers by working in a national laboratory?

Shipping Jobs Overseas
This bias against ethnic Chinese in this country has been around since the 19th century. This prejudice is tied to how we feel about China which is why I personally want to do what I can to counter the China bashing rhetoric by our political leaders. The first one I would like to tackle is the question of so-called “shipping jobs overseas.” According to the National Association of Manufacturers, manufacturing from the U.S. contributes 22% of the total global output with a workforce of about 14 million, by far the leader of the world. China, the rising manufacturing power that we love to demonize, contributes just 8% and with a workforce as large as 100 million if the migrant workers in rural industries are included--22% with 14 million versus 8% with 100 million, that is roughly 20 fold difference in productivity. It should immediately become obvious that there is no way that the American worker would be willing to take a humongous pay cut to do the low paying jobs being done in China. The Chinese might wish to move up the value chain and take over the American job but their productivity (and capability) has a long way to go. The next time you hear about shipping jobs overseas, you should challenge the speaker not to sprout nonsense.

China’s emergence in becoming the global factory really began in earnest when China entered WTO (World Trade Organization) in 2001. In order to conform to the stipulations of membership, China had to stop subsidizing inefficient, state-owned enterprises and let some of them go belly up. They knew that the price to be paid was to put around 30 million of their workers out on the streets. Led by Premier Zhu Rongji, China accepted the pain because they saw the long term benefits of competing in the global market. China made the right choice and hopefully America will also have the courage to make the hard decisions necessary to overcome their current economic dilemma. Blaming China is not going to cut it.

China, the Polluter
Now, China’s rapid economic development does come at a price and the most serious would be the environmental cost. In recent weeks, lambasting China for runaway pollution damage has become a fashionable diatribe for the politicians. They seem offended that China is soon going to overtake us as the biggest polluter in the world. Our political leaders say: “How dare the Chinese insist that we take the lead in pollution abatement before they, India and the rest of developing countries take corrective measures?”

I used to think well, the politicians have a point there. But then a July 31, 2008 press release from the The Climate Group caught my attention. The lead paragraph of this press release said. “China is already the world’s leading renewable energy producer and is over taking more developed economies in the exploiting valuable economic opportunities, creating green collar jobs and leading development of critical low carbon technologies.” The report goes on to say that China has the advantage of low cost, a clear policy framework, a dynamic and entrepreneurial business environment and plenty of abatement opportunities. I must admit until I read the report, I didn't know that China is already a leader in the Green revolution. That China is already a world leader in the manufacture of solar panels and wind turbines. That China is introducing fuel efficiency standards for cars which are 40% higher than those in the U.S. Forty percent! While Washington continues to talk about going green, China has been doing something about it. I have no expertise on China’s effort to go green and I was really surprised by the strong definitive statements from this non-profit organization, organized in 2004 in multiple countries to promote a green and clean earth. However, in recent separate visits to Beijing, my friends and I can testify to seeing blue skies, so there must be something to this report.

Human Rights & Democracy
Now let’s talk about human rights and democracy. First, I find it ironic that the country who perpetrated Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the fine art of waterboarding should be the leading critic of others facing their own set of human rights challenges. I believe that at the very least, the very visible and prompt manner that authorities came to the rescue of the unfortunate victims of the giant earthquake in Sichuan showed to the world that the Chinese government is not a callous body but cares as much about its people as any responsible government.

There are at least 56 ethnic groups living in peaceful co-existence inside China. Official policies go out of their way to favor the 55 ethnic minorities such as no single child restrictions and a Chinese version of affirmative action that makes it easier for minorities to get a higher education. During my travels inside China, I have met folks that are half Han and half another minority. Invariably when they fill out their residence registration (hukou), they claim to be the minority and not a Han majority in order to take advantage of the more favorable conditions. I cannot recall ever talking to a Chinese citizen that disparages another because of the other person’s ethnicity. Conversely, every minority person will openly admit that they belong to Bai, or Miao, or Korean, or Hui, or Mongolian, or Tibetan, or whatever minority in the course of normal conversation. They can be proud of who they are and do not feel that they need to hide their ethnic identity.

We do blanch at how quickly China carried out the executions of the condemned. It’s sort of “one strike and you’re out.” But it is not our place to condone or condemn China’s administration of justice. They have a huge population to deal with and how to maintain order and stability in such a society is beyond our American experience and expertise. Human rights abuses abound in China, such as children in sweat shops, slave labor camps, tainted blood transfusions, toxic baby formulas and so on. These are appalling situations, but it’s important to bear in mind that the Chinese government is combating the problems and not condoning them—no more than the U.S. government condoning many of the human right abuses in this country.

The city of Shenzhen bordering Hong Kong, which a quarter of a century ago was nothing more than rice paddies and fishing boats, has been the greatest experiment since China launched its reform. Up to now, the reform is most visible economically, but they have just announced that the mayor will be the first of China’s major cities to be elected and not appointed. This is a major step for China.

Chinese officials have been talking about democracy even back in Mao days but always within a single political party and not in a pluralistic framework. We Americans have trouble understanding the seeming contradiction of a democracy functioning within a single party rule. We are befuddled, I think, partly because we are accustomed to associating exercise of democracy with serious fundraising and that money is what makes democracy go around.

But there is something to be said about the Chinese system of governing. Leaders are judged and promoted based on the merits of their past performance. They are tested every step along the way. They rise to the top, not dependent on their lineage and on their cronies and public persona. In their selection process, the candidate who knows how to stay low key and keep a low profile (di diao in Chinese) is more likely to be promoted over the handsome, flamboyant and dynamic orator. These promotions came not because of unilateral decisions of a strong man but through consensus, compromise and horse trading between various factions.

China’s Foreign Policy
China’s foreign policy is also diametrically different from the U.S. China has insisted on non-interference of the internal affairs and non-infringement of the sovereignty of another country and to work within the confines of the United Nations. They have contributed troops and police in 13 of 17 on-going UN Peacekeeping operations. Since 1990, China has contributed 9000 peacekeepers in 22 UN operations, more than the combined total of the other four permanent members of the Security Council. As of the end of 2007, China has exercised its veto power on the Security Council a total of 6 times since they joined that body. During that same period, USSR/Russia cast 123 vetoes, the U.S. 80 times, UK 32 and France 18.

I would like to describe just one example of China’s foreign policy based on the exercise of soft power and on the principle of mutual benefit. About a year ago, China signed a deal with Congo to work on infrastructure projects in accordance with the Congo government’s priorities, which were water, electricity, education, health and transportation. The total cost will exceed $9 billion, far more than Congo’s annual budget of $1.3 billion. To pay for the infrastructure investment, China formed a JV with Congo to extract copper, nickel and cobalt, a $3 billion investment. Presumably, the Congo side will pay for their share of the investment with their share of the extracted minerals. Other parts of the deal include technology transfer and training of Congolese staff, work on social welfare and environment and subcontracting certain work to local Congolese companies.

The deal is neither colonial exploitation nor charity to a destitute developing nation. China is not telling the Congo government how to run their country and make no judgment on whether the government is to their liking. Instead, they just structured a win-win arrangement that will make a difference in Congo quickly. The World Bank considers Congo one of the worst countries to conduct business. So the success of this cooperation is not assured. Hopefully the Congolese people will soon see and reap the benefits of this outcome.

The West likes to hold China responsible for Darfur. The premise seems to be that China is doing business with the Sudan government and Sudan government is using the revenue to commit genocide in Darfur. But China is not the only country doing a lot of business in Sudan. India, Japan and Russia are also major players. Furthermore, many years before China was involved in Sudan, the U.S. was there. The CIA backed the other faction and when that faction did not win control of the government, conflict resulted which gradually moved to the Darfur region. Needless to say, conflict takes two opposing parties, in this case the Sudanese government and the rebel faction. Since we Americans are backing the rebels, the government must be the bad guys. Just ask Mia Farrow.

At least last year, China was able persuade the Sudan government to allow a 20,000 strong UN-AU peace-keeping force into the Darfur region, and China took the lead in contributing peace keepers to the force. Unfortunately the force has not been effective, in part because other UN member and African nations have been slow to contribute their share of personnel. Everybody bears some responsibility for the tragedy that is Darfur, it is too easy just to fault China.

I would like to make a brief comment about Taiwan and Tibet so that we can move on to the Q&A, which is my favorite part of the program.

Taiwan & China
Taiwan has been economically integrated with the mainland for well over a decade. Taiwan is either the largest or second largest source of foreign direct investment in China. Entrepreneurs from Taiwan have made millions, and at least one billionaire, from China. Today, over one million Taiwanese live and work in China. Taiwan’s productizing expertise and understanding of the world market coupled with China’s manufacturing prowess has been a powerful amalgamation of complementary strengths. Taiwan’s early factories in China served as the foundation of China’s manufacturing strength. In turn, the components and sub-assemblies shipped from Taiwan across the straits for final assembly every year has earned Taiwan a trade surplus that has always exceeded the total trade deficit incurred with the rest of the world. The common culture, language and ethnicity across the straits have made the synergy a natural outcome.

Unfortunately for Taiwan, the last eight year under President Chen Shui-bian has been an absolute disaster. He did not care about how to manage Taiwan’s comparative advantages. He was much too busy figuring out ways to line his and his family’s pockets. He and his immediate family are currently under investigation for various money laundering schemes, hidden Swiss accounts and bogus accounts in Singapore, the U.S. and who knows where. Having stepped down, Chen lost his presidential immunity and the investigators are hot after many leads. The Taiwan stock market seems unable to get out of the free fall as nervous investors wonder how many of the listed companies are waiting to be implicated by the radiating circle of wrongdoing. It didn’t help that the incoming president Ma Ying-jeou campaigned on the promise of a quick turn-around in Taiwan’s economy. The voters took him literally and expected miracles in his first 100 days in office, and he has not delivered. It is fair to assume that he did not anticipate a financial scandal as he stepped into office.

Tibet & China
The Dalai Lama is an excellent proselytizer for Lamaism, a form of Buddhism--based on animism--indigenous to Tibet. In the case of His Holiness, admirers in the West seem willing to overlook the principles of separation of church and state. No doubt he is the religious leader of a majority (but not all) of the Tibetans. As a secular leader, he represents perhaps the 5% of the population that formerly belonged to the privileged ruling class. In his days, the other 95% were serfs and had no rights whatsoever. Today, China has invested heavily in the infrastructure and offered every Tibetan the opportunity to an education and the freedom to make a decent living by the dint of his/her own efforts. When Dalai Lama ruled Tibet, the average life expectancy was not even 36 years of age, now it’s 67; still less than China’s national average but far better than what it was. Today, Dalai Lama cannot legitimately champion the human rights of the Tibetan masses that had no rights when he was the titular ruler. I am planning to visit Tibet next year. Perhaps I will have more to say about this matter then.

At the beginning of my talk, I proposed raising a perspective about China different from the mainstream to stimulate your interest. I hope I have been provocative enough for this audience. I don’t know why it is that China is the favorite punching bag in the West--sometimes, I refer China as the go to piñata—but I believe this attitude is in for some adjustment. Let me quickly raise some other issues without elaboration to round out our topic.

• China has just put three astronauts in space along with a space walk and has plans to go to the moon. Heretofore, the U.S. has specifically excluded China from the space consortium membership that included Russia. Now NASA has been quietly meeting with China’s space officials about cooperation and leverage from technology that China has developed that NASA does not own. If we weren’t so darn sure that the Chinese needs to steal everything from us, we might have come to this realization sooner.
• China has steadfastly been buying U.S. treasury bills and agency notes and now owns close to $1 trillion of American debt. They have been buying even as Japan has been decreasing their holding for the very practical reason that the dollar is worth less and less. If you ask, the Treasury Department officials will privately admit to you that without China’s financial support, our economy would be in worse shape than it is.
• The Bush Administration made a hash of the relationship with North Korea. Without China’s assistance and leadership, the situation would be even more unstable than it is now.
• China built their Great Wall to keep foreigners out. They do not have the mentality or a history of conquering and occupying other countries. If that is the U.S. goal, China is unlikely to stand in the way. There is no need to regard China as an adversary so long we do not insist on their seeing everything our way.
• Just as China is rapidly becoming one of the most popular tourist destinations, China is also fast becoming the largest source of international tourists. Europeans will tell you that tourists from China are bigger spenders than Americans or Japanese. Until recently, we did not welcome tourists from China. This situation is changing to the potential benefit of our local economy.
• Just as China has become America’s largest source of foreign graduate students, China is also becoming a popular destination for foreign student. According to the most recent tally, China is the 6th most popular destination of the world for students going abroad. I hope some of you will take advantage study abroad opportunities to go to China and see for yourself. With more exchange of people will come improved mutual understanding and more acceptance of the other and different points of view and way of life. I believe this is important to the prospects of attaining world peace.

Now, I want to thank you for your attention and I welcome the opportunity to extend our discussion in any manner you, the audience would like. Please do allow me one small commercial. Much of what I presented today has been elaborated under various entries in my blog. I invite you to visit and to share with others. I have also posted today’s speech on my blog if you wish to refer to anything I've said. Thank you.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Chen Shui Bian's Next to Last Strategy

A classic in Chinese culture is the collection known as the 36 strategies. One of the 36 is the so-called battered flesh (苦肉计, 'kurouji') strategy. The famous example of this strategy can be found in the Romance of the Three Kingdom, in which the greatly outnumbered Wu forces needed to persuade the superior Wei forces to adopt a losing battle plan. They accomplished the goal by sending a pretend defector to the Wei camp. To make the defection look real, the Wu commander had the defector beaten in front of eye witnesses on some trumped up charges. When the defector arrived in the opposing camp, the Wei generals had already heard about his mistreatment at the hands of Wu commander and welcomed him into their confidence. Thus when he suggested a battle plan desired by the Wu camp, it was accepted without suspicion.

It appears that in Taiwan, Chen Shui Bian is heading toward a kurouji of his own. In his case, his wife, Mme Wu, is being set up to carry this off. To date, she has pled frail health as the reason she has turned down at least 17 summons to appear in court and testify on her own defense regarding the illicit transfer of funds to overseas bank accounts. According to Chen, the wheelchair bound Mme Wu has recently fainted more than once, whenever she faced the prospects of having to appear.

The Taiwan authorities are less than sympathetic and threatened to force her to appear. Chen claims that such a forced appearance would surely kill her and thus setting the stage for the ultimate kurouji. In order for her to avoid having to explain to the investigators how she was able to wire transfer more than USD 20 million to Swiss bank accounts without the knowledge of her husband, she may really have to kill herself, or have someone do it for her.

Committing suicide, real or otherwise, would solve a lot of problems for Chen. Her real role in the Chen family money laundering schemes would remain in the dark. Just as the fortuitous assasination attempt on his tummy on election eve worked to his advantage four years ago, a grief strickened Chen would win him public sympathy--again--and possibly take the pressure off the ongoing investigation.

If the kuruoji does not free Chen from the corruption charges, there is always the most preferred of the 36 strategies. That strategy (走为上计) would be for Chen to get the hell out of Taiwan under the cover of darkness.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

If I were Chen Shui Bian's daughter....

This is the email letter I would write:

Dear Sir/Madam,

I desperately need your assistance to access funds from secret Swiss bank accounts.

You see my father was the former president of Taiwan. Now that he is out of the office, his enemies are persecuting him and hounding him about alleged financial misconduct. The current government is investigating charges that my father illegally laundered at least $31 million to overseas accounts. My father has angrily denied these charges. He will only admit that my mother transferred $20 million to Swiss bank accounts under my sister-in-law's name, but without his knowledge. Of course, every penny of the $20 million are legitimately his, given to him from his multitude of admirers.

Now, my father, mother, brother and others in the immediate family are not allowed to leave Taiwan. Therefore we have no way to access the funds abroad. We need the funds for a variety of reasons. In part for his legal defense, even though he has been very skillful in rallying public opinion to his side. But just in case we need to make a fast get away, the under cover run will be costly and we would need the funds immediately. There is even a chance that my father will run for president again in 2012 and regain the immunity (and impunity) that he once enjoyed. If he does, his old donors may not rush to his aid unless he can show he already has the funds to make a serious attempt.

The shabby treatment of my father knows no limit. There is even a movement to reexamine the assasination attempt on the election eve in 2004, which the accusers claim my father staged to get some last minute sympathy votes. You may know that my father was seriously grazed by the assassin bullet which also wounded vice president Annette Lu on the knee. Fortunately for her, the momemtum of the bullet had been mostly dissipated by the fat of my father's belly. But as you can see, my father's enemies will go to any length to get him.

So please, I need your assistance to withdraw the funds that belong to my family. If you agree to help me, I can promise you a fee of 20% of the millions you help us recover and in any case not less than USD$10 million. If you are interested, please contact me at your earliest convenience.

The letter is, of course, tongue-in-cheek. For a good recent summary of the scandal surrounding Chen, please go here.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

China's Nuclear Weapon Development

Recent disclosure indicates that in the late 1980's and early 1990's, scientists from China attending scientific conferences in America came not to steal America's nuclear secrets but to let America in on China's secrets.

The latest expose about China's nuclear weapon development makes for fascinating reading and turns popular notion on its head. Written by Thomas Reed, an expert on nuclear weapons and former Secretary of Air Force, entitled The Chinese nuclear tests, 1964–1996, the article appeared in September 2008 issue of Physics Today.

Reed's article pointed out that China exploded its first atomic bomb on October 16, 1964, and quickly moved to detonate its first hydrogen bomb 32 months later--a rate of progress faster than any other member of the nuclear club and at a time when there were hardly any contact with the West. Subsequently, China decided that America should know about their nuclear capability.

Contrary to Reed's assumption that Chinese scientists craving international recognition was the main motivation for their subsequent disclosure, I believe China decided that Washington needed to be made aware of the level of sophisticated deterrence China was capable of and thus alleviate any miscalculation by the Pentagon.

Reed's article was based on information provided by Danny Stillman, a nuclear weapon scientist based in Los Alamos and charged with the responsibility to gather intelligence about China's nuclear weapon technology.

Stillman eagerly sought meetings with the visiting Chinese. He knew very well that dialogue with scientific peers was frequently the most effective way of learning about what the other side was doing. He struck friendships with the Chinese visitors and was invited to visit China.

Stillman's numerous forays into China opened his eyes. He was impressed with the advanced state of the art technology he witnessed. He compiled what he saw into a book he was hoping to publish, but his timing was bad.

His book was suppressed by the U.S. government on the convoluted grounds that the Chinese should not know what they have already told Stillman about China's nuclear weapon development. This was during the height of China bashing hysteria as exemplified by the Cox Committee Congressional Report in which every piece of worthwhile military secret was thought to have been stolen by the Chinese.

Dr. Wen Ho Lee was a direct victim of this hysteria. A Los Alamos scientist, Lee was initially accused of somehow giving away multi-headed missile technology to China, later the charges downgraded to illegally downloading from his work computer. The presiding judge dismissed the case with a most unusual apology to Lee for government misconduct. A review of the hysteria that occurred in 1999-2000 can be found here.

Naturally, Stillman could not be allowed to publish his book revealing that China has been developing its nuclear weaponry quite successfully and independent of the need to steal American technology. His book would have spoiled all the fun of China bashing.

Reed concluded his article with, "Over a period of 15 years, an intellectually talented China achieved parity with the West and preeminence over its Asian peers in the design of nuclear weapons and in understanding underground nuclear testing. China now stands in the first rank of nuclear powers."

Pentagon frequently accuse China's military with lack of transparency. But have we been attentive when China is being candid and transparent?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Olympic Reflections

The Beijing Olympics is over and the debate has begun. China has more gold but the U.S. has more medals. So who’s better? One of the NBC commentators suggested the use of a point system to resolve this matter: 3 for gold, 2 for silver and 1 for bronze. But this would imply that the gold medal is worth the same as one silver plus a bronze. Still others believe in 5 points for gold, 3 for silver and 1 for bronze.

But should the criteria of achievement rest solely on medals, either by color or by count? What about the number of medals or gold normalized against the total number of participants representing that country? Some of the nations sent proportionally more athletes than others, more than one athlete per 100,000 populations while others sent as few as one per tens of millions. Shouldn’t these considerations also enter into the determination of the athletic prowess of a country?

In the end, who cares? Each of us will take away different memories of this Olympics as was the case in the past and the number of gold or medals will not have much to do with it.

For me personally, I do not have a vivid memory of when Mark Spitz won seven gold medals but I do remember it as the Munich Olympics where terrorists turned it into a horrible political statement by the senseless murder of innocent athletes and civilians.

I have but a dim memory of the Moscow Olympics because the U.S. and many countries in the West elected to boycott participation as another political statement. I can only imagine the deep personal disappointment of individual athletes that prepared long and hard only to have their anticipation dashed because of politics.

These athletes, at least, had no say on the decision of not participating. I wonder how the champion marathon runner must be feeling now for his high profile withdrawal from the Beijing Olympics because of his alleged fear of polluted air. The actual race was held under blue sky and no one collapsed because of lung damage. I wonder how the now ex-champion will feel about the London smog four years from now?

In the similar vein, I wonder whether Steven Spielberg is feeling any personal satisfaction for bowing out of his advisory role to the opening ceremony. Having seen the actual spectacle, will anyone care as to what his contribution could have been?

The Beijing Olympics might be remembered as when Michael Phelps won eight gold medals. But the story that touched me the most was the Chinese woman who won a gold in shooting. Her single parent father couldn’t support her when she was in her early teen and abandoned her in the care of the coach. She missed her father so much that many times she thought of quitting to go searching for him. Her coach told her that training hard and winning the gold would be the best way to reach out to her father and get him back.

I wonder if her father knows what his daughter has done. If he is still alive, will he reunite with her? Is there a real happy ending to this story?

The most gold won by the U.S., 83 in all, was at the Los Angeles Olympics when the Soviet bloc returned the favor and boycotted the event. This was more than double the amount of gold medals the U.S. would garner in a normal Olympics, but certainly the significance of the accomplishment was greatly diminished by the non-participation of a significant part of the world.

Similarly some of the detractors of the Beijing Olympics also sought to trash this event by turning the sporting event into a political circus. They may have succeeded in persuading some athletes to stay home but they failed in their objective to diminish the spectacle. The 10,000 athletes that participated in Beijing will testify to the great time they had and the life-long memories they will treasure.

An extensive review of the hypocrisy found in Western media coverage of the run up to the Olympics and the event itself can be found here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

President Bush Defends China's Citizens Right to be Human

President George Bush decides to attend Beijing Olympics opening ceremony because he wants to "show respect for the Chinese people" and to cheer for American athletes. However, Bush can't resist the temptation to rain a little on the Chinese parade by criticizing China's human rights record on the eve of his arrival in Beijing.

Recent Pew Research results revealed that 86% of the people in China approved of the direction their government is leading. So perhaps Bush was thinking of the 14% and defending their rights--or may be he was just envious of not even being able to get even half that in his own approval rating back home.

Even the 14% may not all be dissatisfied because of human rights. Some may be unhappy about the traffic or price of a bowl of noodles. In fact it's fair to say that most of the people dissatisfied with human rights in China do not live in China and are not even ethnic Chinese.

So maybe Bush was pandering to his real contituents in the West, you think?

Interesting to note that a former Reagan official and associate editor of Wall Street Journal has written a counter piece, pointing out that the worst offender of human rights is none other President Bush himself. Anyone find that accusation hard to believe? Go to his article and read it for yourself.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Flight of the Silicon Dragon

Every journalist dreams of writing a book and Silicon Dragon (McGraw- Hill, $24.95) is Rebecca Fannin’s. She interviews a dozen of China’s most successful entrepreneurs and builds a book around her profiles of their roads to success. These are some of China’s movers and shakers in the high tech industry, especially in Internet and wireless communication sectors. All of them are well known inside China but most are relatively unknown to the West. By describing and analyzing the keys to their success, Fannin has provided some lessons learned that are useful to anyone contemplating doing business in China.

As readers go through the 150 pages of easy to read text, they find certain common themes. The first lesson is that a proven business model from the U.S. does not guarantee success in China. Whether it’s Alibaba vs. eBay, Dangdang vs. Amazon or Baidu vs. Google, the local version has first mover advantage and can move quickly to localize the business model to ensure acceptance in China.

The established American competitors initially focused on their U.S. market and paid no attention to China. By the time they are ready for China, they attempt to leapfrog via acquisition of a local company. They then make the mistake of replacing the Chinese management team with culturally deaf and dumb managers from home or even move the headquarters back to the U.S. Thus they further handcuff themselves by removing the ability to react quickly to a fast changing market. The book offers many other gems on rules of conduct in China that readers will find useful.

Alas, the subtitle of this book: “How China is Winning the Tech Race” is unfortunately misleading. With the possible exception of the last chapter on possible technological breakthrough on light emitting diodes based on silicon, other chapters depict no threat of world leading edge, technical breakthroughs. Even the LED development with its vast potential to revolutionize the lighting of the world is at the pre-commercial stage. All the other chapters describe clever, hard working entrepreneurs that have basically improved upon something that already existed.

My personal view of where China will make a world leading edge, technology breakthrough is to look in life sciences and not in electronics. My reason is that China has been investing heavily in R&D. In such cases as stem cell therapy, researchers in China do not have the school of intelligent design as competitor for funding.

Regrettably, this book exhibits too much rush to publish and could have improved its quality with a bit of fact checking and editing. For example, the book says “China accounts for 24% of world production of semiconductors.” This is not true. China accounts for 24% of consumption but barely produces one fifth of what they consume. Albert Yu is described as “now-retired programmer” at Intel. His actual last position was Senior Vice President in charge of Intel’s microprocessor development. The two top foundries in Taiwan are identified as Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and United Microelectronics Corp. UMC is correct but the other, by far the largest and best known in the business is TSMC, where T stands for Taiwan.

Blemishes like those listed above, unfortunately, mar the confidence on the reliability of the information in the book that otherwise could serve as a valuable reference for tracking China’s future high tech development.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Dear Senator Sam Brownback

Dear Senator Brownback,

Thank you for your vigilance and act of public service warning foreign visitors to China’s Olympics that they face the danger of “invasive intelligence gathering” if they were to use the Internet during their stay.

Actually, as you know very well, American visitors are already accustomed to the kind of surveillances you object to, thanks to their own experiences at home by the hands of Homeland Security. You were among those who authorized the department listening in on our own citizens' telephone conversations, reading our emails and who knows what else.

So far as you are concerned, invasion of one’s privacy at home in the name of anti terrorism is just data mining, but when China is trying to monitor any illicit activities during arguably the most vulnerable times, it would be spying.

That the U.S. government has been infringing on our rights to privacy is an established fact. That visitors to China might be subject to same sort of surveillance is not a fact but merely based on your astute speculation.

Given that China will be hosting the most hotly debated and most attended sporting event ever held anywhere in the world and given the current threat of global terrorism, can anyone seriously doubt that close monitoring to ameliorate acts of terror would be in place?

Why stop at the Internet? China will also have a nightmare task monitoring text messaging on the 500 million plus cell phones that will be in use to make sure that activities of terrorist groups are stopped dead on its tracks.

How to stay out of trouble while visiting the Olympics? Simple. Just as one would not board a plane and joke about carrying a bomb on board, one would also not send provocative messages while in China during the most sensitive period of massive tourism.

Seriously, Senator Brownback, political grandstanding aside, what would the U.S. government do differently if we were the host of Olympics instead of China? Given the current paranoia, are you suggesting that our monitoring procedure would be any less extensive?

See Good Morning Silicon Valley for a full description of how Homeland Security treats laptops belonging to foreign visitors.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Democracy is not doing India any favors

I have just returned from a short business trip to India. The visit took me to New Delhi and Chennai and my overall impressions of India admittedly based on a short stay are summarized below.

My first conclusion is that India’s public sector is as dismal as ever. Multi-laned highways were littered with pinch points due to ongoing construction, incomplete exchanges necessitating u-turns instead of direct turns. Industrial parks consisted of buildings that sat in midst of dirt fields strewn with piles of rubble, networked by unpaved, pot-holed roads. While visiting factories in these zones, we experienced periodic brown outs at a frequency of several per hour. Whether in the city or outside, the roads in India were lined with tin shacks and mud brick hovels. There was no conceivable way the streets could be kept clean and dust under control.

Because of the ineffectual government, India is a land of bottlenecks. On the first morning in Delhi, our host picked us up to take to his plant located in the industrial park west of New Delhi. As we approach the toll station, his driver took the extreme inside lane because his car was equipped with “fast pass,” the electronic way of paying toll. We quickly came to a crawl in the “fast” lane for more than 30 minutes while the slow, cash only lanes, moved passed us in steady streams. We were stuck in the fast lane because we were trapped by three lanes next to us; all using the moving “slow” lanes to cut in front of us in order to get through the electronic gates.

It was hard to know the original cause of the jam at the toll gates but having fast lanes moving much slower than the slow lanes sort of epitomized the way things work in India. At airport security, for instance, there was either more carry-on inspection capacity than there were passenger inspection or vice versa so that the lines never moved smoothly the way it should.

In contrast, the private sector is impressive. We met two companies vastly different in size but share certain common traits. They were resourceful, competent from top to bottom and knew how to get things done promptly. They understood the importance of making a consistently high quality produce, necessary to be preferred supplier to Japanese and Korean car makers. They found ways to be successful despite the hindrance of a bumbling government system.

Both companies were founded by leaders that were visionary and knew how to treat their employees and thus earn their loyalty. They enjoyed low turnover and can boast of core group of executives that have been with them for decades or more. Their core teams consisted of home grown talent that were very content to grow with their owners. These folks were not going to be easily lured by MNCs and others that set up in their neighborhood.

Despite the imagery of the rule of a caste system in India, I was impressed with the people in India. While driving in Delhi, I saw someone trying to jump on to a moving bus, missed and fell to the payment. The inert form was immediately surrounded by passers-by trying to figure out how to help him. In the brief moment that our car was passing the scene, I could see a genuine and spontaneous reaction of care and concern from total strangers on the street.

While in India, the front page of the newspapers reported on the imminent demise of the current ruling coalition and speculated on the make-up of the next coalition. The news was rife with rumors of how each small party was maneuvering for concessions as price of their potential swing votes. There were so much of these articles about so many of these minority political parties, it was too dizzying for a foreign visitor to follow. A week later, I found out that the current ruling coalition squeaked by with a slender majority, but not before getting temporary releases for jailed parliament members so that they can cast their votes. These were members currently serving terms in prison for murder or extortion.

When and if India’s public sector can get their act together and become the other essential leg of India’s economic machine, India will then truly become a power to reckon with. Until then, all the effusive praise of India as a model of democracy is simply a reflection of ignorance, a projection of blissful optimism not supported by reality.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Japan has a funny way of promoting cross straits unity

Last week, a Japanese frigate, Koshiki, on patrol collided with Lien Ho, a deep sea sports fishing boat from Taiwan, an incident that was virtually ignored by the media in the West. Yet future developments from this provocation will bear close watching.

The incident took place in the disputed waters of a cluster of 8 uninhabited islands that China and Taiwan claimed as part of Taiwan called Diaoyu islands. Japan claimed the same islands, which they called Senkaku as part of Okinawa.

According to the Japanese coast guard on patrol, while they were in the process of establishing the identity of the fishing boat, the boat began to take an evasive course and ran into the frigate; apparently it zigged when it should have zagged.

According to the Taiwanese crew, the Japanese frigate found them in their search light, hailed them and then suddenly steered the much heavier ship into the fore section of the fishing boat causing a huge gash and sank the boat in one hour.

Lien Ho’s crew of 3 and its 13 customers were fished from the waters by Koshiki and taken to Ishigaki, the southernmost island of the Ryukyus. The sports fishermen were shortly released, then the crew of 2 and lastly the captain of the boat.

The crew upon their return asserted that their Japanese captors used harsh, sleep deprived interrogation techniques and demanded that they sign confessions in Japanese that they did not comprehend.

The captain maintained that the frigate deliberately rammed his boat. The captain made his living by taking deep sea fishing enthusiasts to these islands and has never heretofore encountered the Japanese Navy.

The Diaoyu islands have been a periodic focus of vigorous dispute between China, the Chinese Diaspora and Japan ever since the U.S. turned Okinawa back to Japan in 1972. Then as now, China and Taiwan were separate entities. Though both contend that Diaoyu islands were connected to Taiwan and not Okinawa, their divided voices did not have the international clout of Japan, already considered an ally of the U.S.

It remained for the Chinese Diaspora to carry on the argument with Japan, most notably from Hong Kong and from the San Francisco Bay Area. Hong Kong still remembers David Chan, one of the activist leaders, who tragically drowned while attempting to swim to one of the islands in 1996.

Japan claimed administrative control over the islands when the U.S. returned Okinawa to Japan. All the Chinese in the world have responded that the islands were administered as part of Taiwan dating back to the Qing dynasty and were ceded to Japan in the unequal treaty of 1895. When Taiwan reverted to China in 1945, the Diaoyu islands should have been part of the package except the U.S. was still holding onto them.

This latest incident raises some disturbing questions about Japan’s motives. Did Fukuda’s government ordered this provocation or was it an initiative of a lower ranking official?

Was it Japan’s intention to test the resolve of the newly elected president of Taiwan, Ma Ying-jeou? Harvard educated Ma in his youth was a prominent activist for the return of the Diaoyu islands to Taiwan. He even wrote a thesis on this subject.

To complicate matters, Taiwan’s resident envoy in Tokyo was recalled in part to show Taiwan government’s displeasure with Japan and in part to express their dissatisfaction with the envoy for being “soft” with Tokyo. The envoy, an appointee of Ma’s predecessor Chen Shui-bian, has since resigned.

In a show of bravado, the Taiwan navy cutters have escorted some protest ships to the Diaoyu islands to stake their claim in response to the ramming incident. Some of the emotional responses from Taiwan even suggested going to war with Japan. They pointed out that Russia and South Korea have been successful in resolving their disputes with Japan by forceful possession of the islands in dispute.

Realistically, Taiwan does not have the navy to take on Japan. Some Bay Area Chinese have asked why Beijing has not been more active in the dispute. Understandably, since Taiwan has not yet returned to China’s fold, Beijing is in the awkward position of having to defer to Taiwan’s lead.

However, Taiwan and China has just concluded the first successful bi-lateral meeting where both parties agreed to begin weekend direct flights carrying up to 3000 passengers daily across the straits in each direction. This is herald as the first step to significant warming of relations across the straits. See O'Neill for a comprehensive analysis to date.

By becoming the adversary of an issue that both Taiwan and China find emotional common ground, the ultimate irony is for Japan to be the catalyst pushing the two sides to even speedier and closer cooperation.

See edited version in New America Media.