Monday, June 19, 2017

Graham Allison’s Thucydides’s Trap is about how America can avert the War with China

An edited version of the discussion on Graham Allison's book first posted on Asia Times.

The just published book called “Destined for War” addresses the question: “Can America and China escape Thucydides’s Trap?” Given the state of tension between the two powers, the publication is timely and the subject matter vitally important.

Coined by author Graham Allison, the Thucydides trap is based on the “History of Peloponnesian War” written by historian Thucydides who observed that a rising Athens inevitably came to blows with a ruling Sparta.

Allison is the founding dean of Harvard Kennedy School, eminent scholar and prominent adviser to the federal government on matters related to defense and national security. He and his students reviewed the past 500 years of history and identified 16 cases of a rising power facing a reigning power. Twelve of those cases ended in disastrous wars.

The book is a tour de force on identifying all the different ways a rising power and a reigning power can collide despite the best of intentions and despite conscious efforts to avoid war. Some times the process begins with a trivial misunderstanding that magnified with each reaction until open conflict becomes inevitable.

One of his chapters was devoted to conjectures of how a war between China and the US could develop. Various scenarios begin with a minor provocation misunderstood by the other side, which leads to a response in turn misunderstood and thus an escalating series of thrust and parry until the two countries stand at the brink of nuclear holocaust. 

The author did not intend to sell his book as a prophesy of doom but to make sure that his cautionary tale is sufficiently frightening, so that readers will take the threat of conflict seriously and more importantly leaders in Beijing and Washington will be sufficiently alarmed to avoid the trap. 

As his four no-conflict cases demonstrated, war between a rising power and reigning power does not have to be inevitable. Allison suggests that China and the US face four “mega threats” that would require their working together rather than in opposition, and in so doing help them avert falling into the trap.

The first is the threat of mutual assured destruction from a nuclear Armageddon. Both sides should be deterred from an all out nuclear war from which there can be no winners. This is the same deterrent that kept the 70 years of the Cold War between the US and the Soviet Union from getting hot.

Along the same lines, both powers have the same interest in keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of as many nations as possible and out of the hands of terrorists. He calls this scenario “nuclear anarchy.” Joint efforts would naturally be more effective in preventing nuclear anarchy than working separately. 

Both also face terrorism based on biological weapons derived from genetic engineering. “Extensive cooperation, through bilateral intelligence sharing, multilateral organizations and the establishment of global standard will be essential,” said Allison.

The fourth common mega threat identified by Allison was combating emission of greenhouse gases to stop global warming. The President of the U.S. has said, “This is not going to happen.” Oh well, three out of four should be enough for leaders of Beijing and Washington to choose collaboration rather than competition. 

On his book tour at Stanford, Allison and his moderator and former colleague at Harvard, Niall Ferguson, joked that the Chinese leaders follow western ideas and thinking closely and most have already read this book even before it was published—suggesting another case of piracy (ha-ha). Both lamented that the Trump White House is unlikely to have read the book and probably never will. 

Sitting in the audience, I asked whether a model of one hand clapping could still evoke the risk of falling into the Thucydides’s trap. I was hoping that they would take the cue to discuss the dominant US role as the provocateur in face of  a relatively passive reaction from China. Allison understood my question but he simply said that China’s island building activity in the South China Sea could create two hands clapping required by the trap.

Allison admits that his expertise is in national security and not on China. I believe seeing China from a western frame of reference is a significant flaw of his book. While he acknowledges a China as a 5000-year Confucian based civilization, he seems to attribute China with the same zero-sum mentality of a western nation.

All sixteen cases of Thucydides’s trap involved western nations. Japan was the rising power in two of the cases, but I would argue that Japan became a rising power after they decided to vigorously adopt all manner of western values and thus should be counted as a westernized nation.

As Michael Wood, award-winning producer of documentaries on major world civilizations, concluded at the end of his series that only the western civilizations went around killing each other and slaughtering others to extinction.

China does not send battleships to the Caribbean nor surveillance planes off the coast of California. China’s presence in the Middle East has been to help restore and rebuild infrastructure. The soldiers China dispatches overseas wear the blue UN helmet and serve as peacekeepers under UN auspices.

Washington gasped in alarm when China finally established its first offshore military base outside of China. China justified their base in Djibouti on the horn of Africa as needed to support their naval ships on patrol as part of the multinational efforts to combat piracy off the coast of Africa.

China’s heavy-handed influence on Djibouti was to lay a fresh water pipeline in the country and connect the coastal port with a railroad to Addis Ababa, capitol of landlocked Ethiopia. This is an example of China’s strategy to “dominate” the world, namely helping other countries build their infrastructure via the Belt and Road Initiative.

The author is rightly concerned about world and American national security. I respectfully submit that the hand doing the clapping, namely the United States, is the reigning power that can do the most to cease and desist their aggressive actions and thus avert the infamous trap.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Is EEA giving cover for FBI racial profiling of Chinese Americans?

 This was first posted in Asia Times.
On the Friday before the Memorial Day Weekend, the Committee of 100 (C100) published their findings on the systemic profiling of Chinese Americans as economic espionage spies by the US federal government.

The Chinese American community, have always known that they are victims of institutionalized racism. This study puts a measuring dipstick into this controversial issue.

Andrew Kim, recent Cum Laude graduate of Harvard Law School, performed the actual analysis of public arrest records of cases charged under the Economic Espionage Act (EEA) from 1997 to 2015.

Kim found that under the Obama Administration, i.e., since 2009, the percentage of people charged under EEA that were Chinese Americans tripled to make up 52% of all the cases.  If all non-Chinese but of Asian descent were included, the total would add up to 62% of all the cases.

Since ethnic Asians represent only between 5-6% of the total US population, it would seem that Asian Americans and particularly Chinese Americans are extraordinarily busy spying on America.

However, Chinese or Asians charged under EEA are also twice as likely as those with western surnames to have the charges dropped or reduced to minor offenses so as to justify release on probation.

Conversely, if convicted of espionage, the average sentence in prison is 25 months for Chinese Americans as compared to 11 months for those with western surnames.

In summary, if you are a Chinese American living in the US, you are more likely to be suspected of being a spy, more likely to be falsely accused, and more likely to pay dearly no matter whether you are guilty of any real infractions. Just having the FBI imagined wrongdoing is enough to put you through hell.

Frank Wu, Chairman of C100, recruited Kim to do the study. Kim’s work did not start from scratch but was built on top of the data already collected by C100 member Jeremy Wu. Wu in turn initially took notice of the disparity based on ethnicity from the works of a Palo Alto law firm.

C100, a national organization of prominent Chinese Americans has been following closely cases when Chinese Americans were arrested. When Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee was arrested and put in solitary confinement in 1999, the C100 had a leadership role in coming to his defense.

Nelson Dong, then general counsel of C100, via a series of conference calls, organized a national coalition of Asian American organizations to present a unified voice of protest to the Clinton Administration. Dr. Lee was not given due process and the group protested that the FBI agent gave misleading and false testimony during Lee’s trial.

Even though the presiding judge apologize to Lee for government misconduct, Lee still had to plead guilty to downloading data into his computer in violation of accepted national laboratory procedure. The misdemeanor charge was necessary to justify his 10 months of solitary confinement. There was no other way for the government to save face.

Eventually, the Lee family got some monetary compensation from the media for violating Lee’s privacy thanks to C100 member Brian Sun who acted as the plaintiff’s counsel. Getting compensation from the government for wrongful prosecution is nearly impossible as my review disclosed as recently as two years ago.

There are currently two pending cases involving Chinese American scientists seeking compensation from the government. As reported last year, even after all charges were dropped against her, Sherry Chen still could not get her job back.

Chen had since then retained legal counsel and got a hearing with the Merit System Protection Board of the Federal Government that took place in Cincinnati in March. The purpose of the hearing before the administrative judge of MSPB was to determine as to why Chen should not get her job back.

At the hearing, it became clear that Deborah Lee was the principal cause for denying Chen her old job. Even after the charges against Chen were dropped, Lee wrote a two page letter insisting that Chen was a danger to the US. Tom Adams, one time colleague of Lee and Chen, told Chen’s supporters at the hearing that on a social occasion, he had heard Lee expressed hatred and prejudice against ethnic Chinese.

Lee’s letter apparently became the basis for Laura Furgione to draft the letter to dismiss Chen in her capacity as the deputy director of National Weather Service. Furgione, a self-described ambitious career bureaucrat, had to submit her removal letter twice because the director of NWS refused to have anything to do with this sordid business.

Until her appearance at the hearing in Cincinnati, Furgione has never met Chen, did not know her and had no personal reason to insist on denying Chen her old post. Perhaps she thought writing the proposal to dismiss Chen would be a boost for her career.

Since last December, Furgione has moved from NWS to become chief of Office of Strategic Planning, a small office with a handful of staff at the US Census Bureau. Wu who had retired from the Bureau observed in LinkIn that given the organizational disarray there and in face of a pending national census, Furgione might be given assignments where she has no chance to succeed.

Professor Xiaoxing Xi attended the C100 conference in Washington and I interviewed him about the civil suit he filed against FBI agent Andrew Haugen. He said the decision to sue Haugen was a very difficult one because the action required having to relive the trauma of being taken away in handcuffs at gunpoint in front of his family.

However, he was infuriated not just by the way he was treated and that his right as an American citizen has been violated, but because he has never been given any explanation from the government as to why he was the target.

His complaint against the FBI agent charged, “FBI Special Agent Andrew Haugen, who intentionally, knowingly, and recklessly made false statements and representations and material omissions of facts in his reports, affidavits, and other communications with federal prosecutors, thereby initiating a malicious prosecution of Professor Xi.”

Xi hopes his legal action will give him some answers. He understands and expects that the due process will take a long time and that the system protects government wrongdoing. 

The way the system works in the US, even when an officer shoots an unarmed black man in the back, the officer may still find a justifiable probable cause to wiggle away. So it is with Haugen. Even if Haugen has a proclivity to arrest Chinese on sight on trumped up charges, he can hide behind his badge of authority and never face charges for hate crimes.
The views expressed herein are those of the author and does not represent the views of Asia Times nor The Committee of 100.