Monday, July 17, 2017

The two sides of Liu Xiaobo

Edited version first appeared in Asia Times.

China’s Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo has succumbed to liver cancer. Lionized in the West, his passing was little noted in China. Just a smidgen of reflection would explain the dichotomy.

Liu did not win the Nobel Prize for physics or economics or any of the others administered by the Nobel committee in Stockholm. He won the Peace Prize administered out of Oslo Norway.

The Nobel committee for the peace prize is appointed by the Norwegian parliament and has been responsible for the most politicized honor among the Nobel prizes.

Since there hasn’t been a whole lot of peace around the world, it’s understandable that there were more years when a peace prize was not awarded than for any of the other awards. Some of the prize recipients were matters for debate.

The peace prize has been the most burdened in controversy. For example, some say the committee gave the peace prize to the Dalai Lama in part to atone for repeatedly passing over Mahatma Gandhi, universally recognized as the most deserving to not have received the honor.

The committee also rushed headlong in the opposite direction and couldn’t wait to see what Barrack Obama was going to do as president of the U.S. They awarded Obama with the Peace Prize shortly after he was elected president just to flaunt Norwegian indignation at the war mongering policies of George W. Bush, Obama’s predecessor.

Alas for the prestige and credibility of the committee and the Peace Prize, Obama would be hard-pressed to point to any achievements toward peace in his two terms as the U.S. president.

If it’s easy to become a Peace Prize laureate, it’s hardly surprising that it’s a low bar for anyone to become a peace prize nominee. All it takes is to possess credentials with the proper slant.

The late Harry Wu (Hongda) is a good example. The aftermath of his death has revealed him to be a thief and philanderer. He stole the money set aside for Chinese human rights activists and he was a serial groper of women.

Wu rose to fame when he was arrested as he tried to enter China under disguise. After his much publicized release, he trotted around the world as a self-proclaimed defender of human rights in China. His anti-China criticism and attendant publicity got him nominated for the peace prize.

Wu and his ilk have learned that there is a career in paimapi, a Chinese saying that literally means petting the horse’s rump or in a cruder version, inducing equine flatulence. It’s a Chinese expression for obsequious flatter.

The profit is in petting the westerner’s mapi, by expressing admiration for the western concept for democracy and as if only through democracy can one achieve human rights and dignity.

The important difference between Wu and Liu is that while Wu remained in the safety of the protective West, Liu went back to China from a teaching position in the U.S. to advocate the overthrow of China’s CCP.

Liu even expressed the idea that 300 years as a colony of a western power would have done China wonders and enabled China to catch up to the standards of western democracy. That was paimapi of the highest order. No wonder the West adored him.

Conveniently overlooked by Liu is that in nearly the 3 decades since Liu went back to China, China has become the second or largest economy in the world, depending on the yardstick used in measuring China’s economy.

According to Pew’s regular polls of the sentiments of the people in China, their satisfaction and approval rating of China’s one party rule and CCP has hovered around 80% in most recent years.

Thus we have a situation where western countries that boast of popular approval ratings under 50% hectoring China to reform. They encourage China to change their system of government so that the popularity of their government can be more like the West.

May Liu Xiaobo rest in peace. Difficult to know how long he will be remembered in the West. He’s already a forgotten man in China.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Time to think and act differently on North Korea

Edited version first appeared in Asia Times.

North Korea’s latest missile test—with the range to threaten American cities—has put the Trump Administration between wishful thinking and a hard place. Too bad neither represents a realistic resolution of the conundrum.

The easy way out, for the U.S. at least, is to “let China do it.” Trump, Secretary of State Tillerson, Defense Secretary Mattis and UN Ambassador Haley have in unison chanted the same basic mantra. Namely, problem solved if only China would apply more pressure on North Korea.

Unfortunately, this naïve wishful thinking is based on several false premises.

First there is no evidence that China can tell North Korea what to do.  The two countries are not buddies and there is no love lost between China’s President Xi ‘s and Kim Jong Un. They have not met since both leaders came to power and they communicate via messengers.

China has joined the chorus in support of the UN resolution strongly condemning North Korea. The Kim regime no more pays heed to China than it has to protests from South Korea, Japan and United States.

Just as China cannot stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapon and intercontinental missile technology, North Korea is not developing those technologies for China’s sake. North Korea needs nuclear strike capability in order to be taken seriously by the U.S.     

To date sanctions on North Korea have not deter them. The American response has been to ask the UN Security Council to impose more sanctions. In particular, Trump does not feel that China is tightening the screws hard enough.

Shutting down North Korea’s economy might bring Kim to heel from the American perspective but clearly unacceptable from China’s view. Economic collapse would trigger a massive humanitarian crisis and China would be left to deal with the refugees since migrating north into China would be the only viable option.

There is also a flip side to this approach. Even if the sanctions do indeed bring North Korea to its knees, it does not mean that the Kim regime would become more conciliatory. Kim may decide that he has nothing to lose and simply launch an attack on the south.

The other hard approach is to launch a Rumsfeldian shock and awe on North Korea before the north can begin their attack.

There is no chance that carpet-bombing of unprecedented scale could vaporize the array of artillery and missiles facing South Korea. The consequent damage on Seoul and other parts of South Korea from the retaliation would be significant, not to mention the danger to the 30,000 American troops stationed in the south.

There is also no assurance that any precision strikes could successfully take out Kim and his inner circle nor knock out all the nuclear weapons and development centers. The risks of failure are simply to too great to contemplate.

There is a more sensible approach and increasing number of commentators and foreign policy observers are suggesting for the Trump Administration to consider. And, that is why not offering to sit down and talk without preconditions?

North Korea fears the U.S. and knows that Beijing cannot speak for nor commit on behalf of Washington. Pyongyang wants to deal directly with Washington and does not see China as a credible intermediary. Why not begin a direct conversation?

The Clinton Administration almost reached an agreement with Pyongyang when the clock ran out on his term of office. The incoming George W. Bush elected to ignore North Korea and then imposed preconditions before being willing to resume negotiations.

Pyongyang saw the Bush White House as dealing in bad faith and that the only way to gain American respect was to complete the development of the nuclear bomb. North Korea detonated their first nuclear bomb in October 2006. (George W came into office in 1999.)

The Obama administration unfortunately elected to follow his predecessor’s line. Namely, no agreement to negotiate unless North Korea first agreed to abide by certain preconditions and in lieu of North Korean agreeing, Washington bandied the threats of sanctions and solicited Beijing for their help.

In the intervening 16 years since the end of the Clinton administration, Washington and Pyongyang have made no progress to reaching a common understanding. Each accused the other of acting in bad faith. The U.S. threatened more sanctions; North Korea kept testing weapons with bigger bang and missiles with longer range.

This endless cycle is clearly not getting anywhere.  The threat of American shock and awe is clearly what worries Pyongyang. Why can’t Washington soften a bit and show a willingness to talk without preconditions? What have we got to lose?

Will the world respect us less as a fearsome hegemon because we are willing to swallow our pride, or will the world applaud us for being willing to make the first move towards peace? Donald Trump has an opportunity to accomplish an important foreign policy triumph that has eluded his two predecessors.

For a more detailed review of the complicated history between China and North Korea, go to here.