Thursday, December 24, 2015

Is Donald Trump taking the GOP down a death spiral?

This was first posted on Asia Times. This version has three links to other sources for readers' convenience.

I believe what happened to the Republican Party in California bears relevant lessons for the GOP, and if unheeded, will mean a disastrous outcome in the coming presidential election and for a long time to come.

If California, heretofore a trend setting state, indeed portents the future of the national GOP, this is what they can look forward to. In California, the Republican Party has not won any of the statewide offices since Arnold Schwarzenegger left the governor’s office.

There has not been a GOP elected to the U.S. Senate since Pete Wilson resigned in 1991 to become governor. Democrat Dianne Feinstein won his seat to join incumbent Democrat, Barbara Boxer. They have been the only senators from California ever since.

From the GOP side, only candidates for Senate with the credentials to win the approval of the extreme right wing of the state can win the GOP primary but they are not electable. Candidates with moderate credentials that stand a fighting chance in the general election can never get pass the primary.

In 1994, Pete Wilson faced with a difficult re-election campaign took on a strong anti-immigrant position and vigorously supported Prop 187, a proposition denying services to illegal immigrants.

Wilson found the formula to win his re-election but inflicted a long-term injury to his party. Today, nearly three quarters of the Hispanic voters identified the state GOP as anti-immigrant and voted for the Democrats. A three-to-one edge on 22% of the electorate in California has been and will continue to be a formidable hurdle facing any GOP aspirant for statewide office.

Despite his outrageously irresponsible remarks, Donald Trump continues to lead the polls among the GOP presidential candidates. If he does become the standard bearer for the 2016 election, it’s certain that Trump’s anti-immigrant, racist statements that won him the primary will backfired on him in the general election. Trump’s bigotry will come back to bite him in the rump and the consequences will be even more painful for the Republican Party.

According to Los Angeles Times and other pundits, the eventual GOP nominee will need to win almost half of the Hispanic votes nationwide to win the general election. With Trump leading the ticket, it would be the same as the proverbial fat chance.

According to a recent fact checker compilation in the New York Times, Ben Carson and Trump led the pack of GOP nominees in making false statements; as much as 80% came out of their mouths as lies. (The Democratic candidates were more modest and lied less than 30% of the time.)

Of course, the more the eventual winning candidate had to lie his/her way to a winning nomination, the more undoing of the lies would be necessary in the general campaign. Some, such as the racist bigotry comments, will be indelible and not come out in the wash.

The analogy with California is that it may be necessary to take on extreme right wing positions to lead in the polls and win the nomination. But the baggage Trump and others pile on in the race to the nominating convention may be impossible to disown in the general election.

Now fighting desperately just to win over one-third of the state legislature and keep the Democrats from a super majority, The Economist has dismissed the GOP in California as fading into irrelevance. Based on the way the primary contest has progressed so far, the national party appears to be on the same trajectory toward irrelevance.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

How Beijing missed out on a K-Pop cultural event

This item was first posted on Asia Times.

Arguably nobody knows more about the unpredictability in dealing with North Korea than China. Even so, Beijing was caught by surprise by the latest flap.
Kim Jong-un
Kim Jong-un
Moranbong, the 21 all girl band organized and each member personally selected by dear leader Kim Jong-un and named after the peony peak in the Hermit Kingdom, was to perform in Beijing for three successive days as part of a high-profile culture exchange.
On Saturday, Dec. 12, early in the afternoon of the first day of the band’s scheduled engagement, the band members abruptly left their hotel and went to Beijing’s Capitol Airport where they boarded a North Korean passenger liner and went home. They left in such haste that not all their personal luggage went with them. Needless to say, the performances were cancelled.
There were no public announcements or explanations from the North Koreans or from the officials in Beijing. Instead, the public was left with an assortment of rumors and speculations.
One of the allegations was that Kim objected to the intense interest the local Chinese media paid to Hyon Song Wol, the leader of the band said to have had an extramarital affair with Kim. Such attention was regarded insulting to the dignity of Kim. An older rumor, clearly untrue, was that the dear leader had her executed after he came to power.
Hyon Song Wol
Hyon Song Wol in Beijing
Another, along the frivolous line, was supposedly that the Chinese officials had asked the song troupe to skip performing songs with patriotic and revolutionary themes such as songs that salute the dear leader. Again, the dear leader was insulted, leading to the sudden termination.
A more complicated narrative of the developments that led to the abrupt about face was that Kim had originally viewed the cultural exchange as a step to initiating discussions for Kim to pay a state visit to Beijing. The Beijing side demurred which naturally hurt Kim’s pride.
Of course, Beijing had its reasons for being displeased with Kim when North Korea announced that they now have the hydrogen bomb in their arsenal. This was not exactly music to Chinese ears and they had to wonder if the disclosure on the day the song troupe was entering China was Kim’s way of thumbing his nose at Beijing.
Kim’s response supposedly went ballistic and ordered the prompt departure when he found out that only low-ranking officials were slated to attend the performances and that China’s president Xi Jinping and premier Li Keqiang along with other senior officials would be absent.
Not known is whether the downgrade of the audience to the invitation-only event was Beijing’s way of expressing their disapproval of the surprising hydrogen bomb announcement or whether the senior ranking officials were simply not fans of the North Korean version of K-Pop.
In response to the sudden departure of the performers, Beijing sent 2,000 soldiers to the North Korean border as a precautionary measure.
North Korea's one and only K-Pop band
North Korea’s one and only K-Pop band
According to the South Korean press, after the performers’ return, over 100 ethnic Chinese living in Pyongyang were arrested and interrogated for possible espionage activities on behalf of China. The movement around the capitol by China’s ambassador to North Korean was also put under surveillance.
Instead of building warmer relations between Pyongyang and Beijing, the withdrawal of the Moranbong troupe has accomplished just the opposite. The relations are now more strained than ever.
Kim Jong-un came to power in December 2011 after the death of his father. He has yet to meet China’s titular leader, Xi Jinping, and this must grate in the mind of the supreme leader—especially so, since Xi has met South Korea president Park more than a half dozen times.
The erratic and impetuous behavior of young Kim—he will be 33 next January—has not endeared him to China, but he clearly believes he can continue to stretch the limits of bilateral relations.
Moranbong in military stage attire
Moranbong in military stage attire
As I said before, it would take a tri-party alliance between China, South Korea and the US to deal effectively with North Korea. So long as Kim sees his relationship with China as “lip and teeth,” or more importantly so long as China is stuck with the lip to counter the US/South Korea military treaty, Kim will continue to vent his frustration on his only ally.
So, Beijing’s loss was that they missed 21 comely young women in modest just-above-the-knee skirts performing their answer to K-Pop popularized by South Korea. The North Korean version includes strings, guitars, synthesizers and percussion to unambiguous beat. See video
In one of those ironic coincidences that could not be orchestrated, a real South Korean, all girl K-Pop band, “Oh My Girl,” were detained at the Los Angeles International airport as suspected sex workers about the time the North Korean troupe was in Beijing. After 15 hours in detention, the band promptly flew back to Seoul. Thus, America also missed out, in this case 8 young girls, probably more provocatively dressed, prancing on stage.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

America is under terrorist attack but doesn't know it

First posted in Asia Times.

November was an eventful month and may go down as a fateful chapter in the U.S. history.

First was the IS attack on Paris. The calculated, cold-blooded violence shocked and horrified the world. The realization began to sink in that fanatical Islamic acts of terrorism isn’t limited to the Middle East but can strike anywhere. IS even boasted that Washington DC would be next.

Obama finally and grudgingly joined France’s Holland and Russia’s Putin to direct their full attention on IS and defer Syria’s Assad from immediate liquidation—as if merely railing from Washington was going to topple him.

As more information about the terrorists became available, it became known that the attackers of Paris were home grown, either having been native born from France or Belgium.

Their connection with IS in Syria was actually skimpy. Some of the attackers may have visited Syria for training under IS but none were natives originally from the Middle East. This is not quite the same as the threatening impression that IS has been dispatching teams of terrorists to cities in the West.

The homegrown terrorists were typically young, unemployed without any decent prospects of a future. They lived in ghettos, suffered from low self-esteem as they were surrounded by disapproval and disdain. Their suicide vests and AK-47’s represented their last statement to the world.

As a matter of fact, whether the media and politicians deign to label them acts of terror, America is already numb from random acts of violence on a scale far in excess of what took place in Paris.

Hundreds were killed and wounded in Paris whereas in the U.S., there were more than one shooting per day and more than 30,000 died in a year from gun violence.

But according to folks of the gun lobby, Americans were not supposed to be traumatized by the daily acts of terror because these perpetrators were merely exercising their 2nd Amendment rights. Some presidential candidates even suggested that the targets of violence, such as the Planned Parenthood facility in Colorado Springs, were to blame.

Never are we to blame the NRA and the gun lobby. The latest shooting rampage in San Bernardino, California by a Muslim couple may even shift the focus away from prevalence of guns in America as a problem to fear based on bigotry.

In fact, the shooters in America have a lot in common with the terrorists in Paris. The American terrorists were also disenfranchised in some way but the difference is that they can express their grudge and rage easily with guns and automatics they can buy legally in the open market and then go hunting for innocent lives.

The Obama administration has shown that they are not capable nor willing to resolve the crisis in Syria or root out the cause of IS. Letting Putin take the lead can’t be as bad as not doing anything.

Whether Obama can stop the jihadist from crossing international borders to wreak havoc in America remains to be seen. Even stopping the more urgent matter of domestic terrorism—yes, if the shooter is as terrifying as any terrorist, then he’s a terrorist—is in question.

That’s because a significant part of America is obsessed about the right to bear arms even against the interest of his/her own safety and the safety of the public. America’s fanaticism about guns is just as extreme in religious fervor as the Islamic jihadists.

If the latest incidences of gun rampage won’t convince American public to impose gun control and to deal with the reality of domestic terrorism, it would become another tragic piece missing from Obama’s legacy.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Xi-Ma summit has changed the status quo

This piece first ran on Asia Times and reposted on New America Media
My good friend, a university mathematics professor and keen observer of Taiwan politics, pointed out to me that by virtue of the Xi-Ma historic summit having taken place, the goal posts of Taiwan’s status quo has already moved a step farther from independence.
China's President Xi Jinping and Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou face a gaggle of media before their closed-door talks
China’s President Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou greet each other at Singapore
Up to now, the leader from Beijing would not agree to meet the leader from Taipei because that would imply a meeting of equals. In Singapore last Saturday, that meeting actually took place thus breaking the ice once and for all.
The summit was expected to be largely symbolic and no concrete developments were to come out of the meeting. In fact, the two sides found common ground where both Xi and Ma urged the other party to strengthen the cross-straits relations based on the 1992 consensus.
Of course, from Xi’s perspective the important part of the 1992 consensus is that both sides recognize that there is one China and Taiwan is part of that China. In Ma’s view, yes one China but according to each side’s interpretation. The opposition party in Taiwan, the DPP, and its leader, Tsai Ing-wen, does not accept the existence of the 1992 consensus at all.
According to the hundreds of journalists present to witness the historic event, the meeting was warm and cordial. At the scheduled time, both leaders strolled toward each other, smiling broadly and Xi was first to extend his hand.
The handshake lasted well over a minute as both men turned slowly to the right and left to give all the photographers a vantage point. This was a far cry from Xi’s stiff body language when he awkwardly shook Japan’s Prime Minister Abe’s hand earlier in the year.
Xi’s public remark was brief and in generalities. He said blood is thicker than water and tragedies of the past must not be repeated. Let this meeting be symbolic of both leaders turning a new page together in the cross-straits history.
Ma’s remarks followed and his was longer and spent a good part of it reviewing the accomplishments under his administration: 23 cross straits agreements related to economic cooperation, 40,000 students now studying across the straits, 8 million tourists visiting the other side (about half from the mainland to Taiwan and half in the opposite direction), and bilateral annual trade has now exceeded $170 billion with the trade surplus going to Taiwan.
Some specific accomplishments also came out of the closed-door conference between the two sides. Ma proposed installing a hot line across the straits and increasing the nature and frequency of bilateral exchanges. Xi agreed and delegated to China’s Taiwan Affairs Office for implementation.
Ma also asked for more access for Taiwan to the international community, heretofore severely limited by Beijing as the only sovereign government of China. Xi agreed to review on a case by case basis. In turn Xi indicated that Taiwan would be welcome as a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and participate in his One Belt, One Road initiatives.
Before the summit, Tsai Ing-wen, who is expected to win the next presidential election by a landslide, opined that the Xi-Ma summit would be considered historic if Ma is treated with equality and mutual respect and Taiwan keeps its current status without any preconditions. Otherwise, it would be merely a meeting.
To no one’s surprise, Tsai immediately dismissed the summit as “failure on all counts” after the conclusion of the closed-door conference by the two parties.
Assuming that Tsai wins the election and takes over the Taiwan government next year, she may yet come to appreciate the legacy Ma has left for her—the legacy being a bridge for future leaders to meet and confer.
The last time the DPP was routed from power, Chen Shui-bian was the sitting president and he had badly mismanaged Taiwan’s economy. Tsai knows full well she will face the same fate if she also fails to keep the economy humming. To do so, she will sooner or later have to work with Beijing.
In the 1990’s, Taiwan’s economy was comparable to the mainland and Taiwan businesses and manufacturing concerns were collectively the largest group of foreign direct investments in the mainland. Beijing welcomed these investments and granted the Taishang (Taiwan businessmen) most favorable terms.
Lee Teng-hui, then president of Taiwan, was worried that Taiwan was putting all its eggs in the mainland basket. He urged Taishang to diversify and put their factories elsewhere in Southeast Asia, anywhere but in China.
Many listened to Lee’s advice and invested elsewhere such as Philippines and Vietnam. Lacking the advantage of cultural affinity and common language, most of those investments ended in the red. The negative experiences only serve to affirm their focus on China.
Today, China’s economy is about 20 fold larger than Taiwan’s. Taishang’s presence and success on the mainland is far more important to Taiwan than to China. If Tsai attempts to roll back Taiwan’s economic integration with China and diversify Taiwan’s economic interests away from China, she will likely stumble just like Lee Teng-hui did.
I believe the day will come when Tsai will have to forego her separate dream and seek to join Xi’s China Dream. Then she will be glad to travel on the bridge to China that Ma built.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Taiwan and China set to take a positive step forward

This piece first posted in Asia Times.
An historic summit is about to take place between Ma Ying-jeou, leader of the ruling party of Taiwan, and Xi Jinping, leader of the ruling party on mainland China.
Chinese President X i(R) and Taiwan President Ma
China’s President Xi Jinping (L) and Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou
The meeting in Singapore on November 7 will be the first time a leader of the KMT party meets leader of China’s CCP in 66 years since the KMT lost their hold on the mainland and relocated the Republic of China to Taiwan.
The announcement for the Xi-Ma summit has the feel of a “Hail Mary” pass — from American football terminology. The impression of a last minute desperation heave is because Ma’s term of office is nearing its end and his likely successor Tsai Ing-wen from the opposition party, DPP, with her generally negative attitude about the cross-straits relations, is hardly the person Xi would like to partner for ice-breaking across the Taiwan Straits.
Both sides denied that this was a last minute, hastily arranged meeting or that it was called in response to the rising tension over the South China Sea.  It took months for the two sides to agree on how to address each other so as not to incur any implied recognition of Taiwan’s sovereignty status. They finally agreed to call each other “Mister.” After their meeting, they will have a “no-host” dinner together and split the bill.
According to spokesperson for Ma, he had proposed such a meeting over two years ago to be held on the sidelines of an APEC summit but Beijing had demurred.
The generally accepted explanation was that Beijing did not wish to give any appearance of recognizing Taiwan as a separate sovereign state. Holding the meeting now with a few remaining months before Ma leaves office is subject to a number of mutually non-exclusive interpretations.
Having returned from successful state visits to the US and UK, Xi Jinping is confident in his role as a globetrotting leader and comfortable in his skin as a diplomat. Seems the right time to begin the meeting with Taiwan from the top.
Since Ma took office in 2008, he has worked hard to improve the cross-traits relations. Even though he has failed to articulate the importance of a close relationship with the mainland to the people of Taiwan, Xi can expect Ma to appreciate the importance and can anticipate that their conversation will be fruitful.
It is also important to break the no meet/no speak embargo and begin the precedence of a cross-straits summit now than wait for the next Taiwan administration.
Tsai Ing-wen of the DPP is expected to become the next leader of Taiwan after the election next year. Given her less than cordial attitude about the mainland, any summit could be icy and unproductive if they occur at all. To initiate precedence breaking first meeting under Tsai’s administration would be a daunting task.
Despite the preferential trade agreement Beijing has extended to Taiwan under the Economic Cooperation Framework Agreement (ECFA), many in Taiwan especially among the younger generation have not appreciated the benefits of being economically integrated with the mainland.
By establishing a platform of more direct dialogue after the summit in Singapore, Beijing will have future opportunity to talk more directly with the people of Taiwan and persuade them of advantages of a closer relationship.
Tsai has grudgingly accepted the notion of having such a summit provided the results of the meeting do not go into a “black box,” i.e., kept secret and undisclosed to the public in Taiwan.
She has expressed concern that this could be a last minute surprise maneuver reminiscent of the assassin bullet that grazed Chen Shui-bian’s belly and changed the outcome of the election of 2004. (The alleged assassination attempt garnered Chen enough sympathy to win him the election with the thinnest of margins.)
Ma sought to assure the Taiwan people that the purpose of the meeting in Singapore is to “consolidate cross-strait peace and maintain the status quo.” He promised that the summit would produce no agreements or joint declarations.
In their closed-door session that will last about one hour, Xi should take the opportunity to say to Ma, “Mr. Ma, in a few months you will become the senior statesman in Taiwan. I hope you will take advantage of your status being above the fray of politics to explain the importance of the economic linkage across the straits to the economic well-being of Taiwan.
“Through your past efforts to strengthen the ties with the mainland, Taiwan’s economy is strong. Tell the people of Taiwan that if and when they decide that they do not wish to be part of China, we would have to withdraw the favorable economic terms given to our brethren to date. The consequences for Taiwan would be disastrous.”
When Eric Chu, KMT candidate for president, heard about the impending Xi-Ma summit, he said, “Both sides of the strait must continue to engage with each other and promote cooperation to achieve a win-win situation based on peaceful development.”
Win-win is the foundation of Xi’s global diplomacy. Chu’s remark should be music to his ears. Too bad Chu is running far behind Tsai and is unlikely to be the next Taiwan leader and move cross-straits relations forward toward win-win engagements.

Friday, November 6, 2015

The world sees Uncle Sam in a hospital gown

This was first posted in China-US Focus and re-posted in Asia Times.

More than two centuries ago, King George III of England dispatched his emissary to China to call on the imperial court and seek an audience with the emperor. Lord McCartney, the envoy, was to urge Emperor Qianlong to open up China for increase trade.
England was weary of paying for Chinese tea, silk and porcelain with silver, the hard currency of the day. Qianlong looked at the samples of British products McCartney brought along as gifts and declined to open up China. The emperor didn’t think China needed the goods made with western technology that he regarded as mere gadgets.
Qianlong did not live long enough to see that he made a big mistake. Who knows what would have developed had he agreed to open China to free trade. Instead, the British unilaterally imposed their version of open trade by selling their opium grown in India to China for their silver.
Two hundred and some thirty years later, things have changed. The modern day version of China’s emperor, Xi Jinping, didn’t stay home to say no to the British envoy, but personally went to London to say yes to Great Britain. As much reported elsewhere, “yes” came in the form of tens of billion dollars of economic deals including the financing and building of a nuclear power plant.
On their end, the royal family and government leaders in London went all out, rolling out the red carpet and the royal state coach ride for Xi with Queen Elizabeth. I can’t recall any U.S. president accorded a similar honor in recent memory.
This could presage a long-term bilateral friendship but it was not born overnight. For the last 5 years Chinese investments in the U.K. has been increasing annually at a phenomenal rate of 85% per year. The accumulated investment of over $40 billion in U.K. makes up one-third of China’s total investment in Europe.
China’s investment in U.K. is expected to double and double again over the next decade. Obviously, Britain has benefited significantly by collaborating with China. The prime minister Cameron and Exchequer Osborne clearly understand that the economic future of the bilateral relationship will keep U.K. on the right side of history.
Professor Zhang Weiwei recently visited San Francisco at the invitation of the Committee of 100 to speak at the forum co-organized by The Commonwealth Club. The topic of the forum was how China and the U.S. can avoid conflict. Zhang said to the audience that bilateral trade between China and the U.S. is nine fold larger than China with U.K. Surely the potential benefits of bilateral collaboration would be that much greater than the case with U.K.
If China and U.K. can collaborate, why not the U.S. was more or less his rhetorical posit. Zhang is Director of the Centre for China Development Model Research at Fudan University. As New York Timesreported, Zhang is a highly respected thinker in China and the leaders in Beijing follow closely his books analyzing China’s place in the world.
Indeed, a number of highly regarded observers of the international arena have suggested that the U.S. take a page or two from Britain’s book of diplomacy in dealing with China. After all, the U.K. has been playing the Great Game for a long time, even before McCartney’s visit to China. The U.S. has assumed the role of a world power relatively recently, since after WWII, and has much to learn that nuanced diplomacy is not a blunt instrument.
As a strange way of parlaying the positive feelings of Xi’s state visit to Washington mere weeks earlier, the U.S. follow-up response was to dispatch a missile-firing destroyer in South China Seas to within the 12-mile zone of one of the islands being enlarged by China and claimed as its territory. The U.S. position was that they cannot allow militarization of the islands and thus become a threat to freedom of navigation.
China’s position was that dredging and filling the island and erecting lighthouses to aid safe navigation did not constitute militarization. Other neighboring countries have been doing the same long before China began. Furthermore, in the long history that China has staked their ownership of the South China Sea, freedom of navigation has never been an issue.
South China Sea is a huge body of water with plenty of room for unimpeded sailing. China’s islands would become a threat to freedom of navigation only for ships intent on running aground. The U.S. had no legitimate basis for claiming that freedom of navigation was at risk.
In my view, the U.S. has taken unilateral military action acting like the bully in the neighborhood. What was their point in making this provocation?
Some say the U.S. naval exercise was to send a message to the Asian signers of the Transpacific Partnership that they have cast their lot with the right ally and that the American military will be there to protect their security.
On the other hand, America’s ongoing and rapidly spiraling out of control record in the Middle East does not instill anyone with confidence that the U.S. knows what it’s doing.
Shock and awe of Iraq by the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld team created the power vacuum that opened the way for the IS radical state. With the possible exception of tiny Tunisia, the Arab Spring under the Obama/Clinton watch has led to millions of refugees on the run with some dying every day.
The present Obama administration has been on the sideline stupefied by the disintegration of Ukraine and has hardly been able to keep the Boko Haram from committing a litany of atrocities in sub-Sahara Africa.
The U.S. is clearly failing in its role as policeman of the world. Yet with unfathomable reasoning, America would compound the mess they are already in by taking the American brand of my-way-or-the-highway exceptionalism to South China Sea where there was no conflict—at least not until Uncle Sam came barging in.
The U.K. has seen the error in following Washington’s lead. Tony Blair, the prime minister who followed George W in invading Iraq, now publicly acknowledges his mistake and apologizes to the people of Britain.
Another clear departure from Washington by London was to ignore the White House urging and to lead a large contingent of developed countries in becoming founding nations of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, an idea proposed by China. U.K. opted for the opportunity to make economic investment over paths to conflict.
At the same time as Xi’s visit to U.K., Huawei announced collaboration with the University of Manchester to take graphene from the lab to commercialize into products for mobile applications. Manchester is the recognized world leader in graphene technology and they express delight in working with “a leading global technology brand”—a brand only recently rudely rejected by U.S. Congress.
Graphene is a space age material with as yet untapped potential in civilian and military uses. The mutual trust between China and U.K. is no mere window dressing. Needless to say, such collaboration with any U.S. entity would have been out of the question.
I asked Professor Zhang how China would implement their “one belt, one road” initiative. He said China would select the most reliable partners for the first round of infrastructure investments. Because the projects would be based on the win-win principle, both parties would be equally motivated to make sure the investments succeed. The success of the first series of projects would convince others not to miss out on other projects to follow.
The U.K. obviously understands China’s win-win principle and has positioned to become China’s best partner in the West. Soon it will be obvious to other countries when it’s their turn to choose between being part of China’s economic collaboration or being part of the America’s global chain of military bases.
Uncle Sam struts around the world proselyting the merits of American exceptionalism thinking that he is wearing a full-body armor. The rest of the world just might see that it is only a hospital gown.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Racial profiling of Chinese American scientists never ends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The contact at Asian Law Caucus is Yaman Salahi, for a copy of the handout.