Saturday, November 28, 2020

Kamala Harris, a role model for all generations

This was written for Asia Pacific Islander American Public Affairs and posted on the APAPA website. By becoming the Vice President elect of the United States of America, Kamala Harris has achieved three historic firsts. She will be America’s first woman Vice President, and she will be the first woman of African descent and first woman of Indian descent to serve in that second highest office in the land. She praised President elect Joe Biden for the audacity to pick a female of color to be his running mate, breaking all traditions and precedents. In turn, Kamala deserves our admiration and thanks for accepting the role and subjecting herself to abusive attacks from racists that would reject her just because of her ethnicity. She is clearly comfortable in her own skin. In one of her interviews, she said, “My point was: I am who I am. I’m good with it. You might need to figure it out, but I’m fine with it.” It’s obvious that her self-confidence and sense of self comes from her upbringing by her mother, Shyamala Gopalan Harris, who was Kamala’s single parent since Kamala was 7. At every public remark, Kamala never failed to evoke the memory of her mother and talked about her impact as Kamala’s mentor. Sadly, Shyamala lived only long enough to witness Kamala’s first election to public office as San Francisco District Attorney in 2003. Kamala’s mother died of colon cancer in 2009. Kamala went on to become the Attorney General of California is 2010 and junior Senator from California in 2016. Kamala won every election she ran for and made history in every case as the first woman of color to hold that office. Not just a capable campaigner for public office, she discharged the duties and responsibilities of her office most admirably. When she first began her political career by running for the district attorney, her good friend Julie D. Soo, attorney for California Department of Insurance and community activist, brought her around to introduce her to the large Chinese community in San Francisco. Julie’s father gave Kamala a Chinese name that implied Kamala and Julie are honorary siblings. Kamala promptly learned to say her name in Cantonese, the dialect popular with the community in Chinatown. The Asian side of Kamala came from her mother who came to study at UC Berkeley at the age of 19. Shyamala was not your typical student from India. She fitted right in the Berkeley scene and participated in the civil rights movement. Her father, P.V. Gopalan, was progressive and unconventional enough to encourage his oldest daughter and helped her financially. A career civil servant of limited means, he nonetheless saw his four offspring graduate from college with advanced degrees. Shyamala earned her PhD in endocrinology from UC Berkeley. Kamala said that her grandfather’s progressive views of democracy and women’s rights, especially their right to education, made a strong impression on her. She kept in touch with her relatives in the Chennai area with periodic visits. Her Asian values came from her upbringing and the influence of a close-knit family. The people of San Francisco Bay area are rightly proud of their native daughter. As Vice President, Kamala is one heartbeat from the Oval Office and has made it possible for Asian Americans to feel that they have seats at the table. As Asian Americans we share her values, admire her assertiveness, and proud of her accomplishments. Because of her, we can hope to regain our place in America and not worry about random accusation of spy charges and sudden questions of our loyalty. Now we can say to our children and grandchildren, especially the daughters, “Look at what a daughter of first-generation immigrant parents can accomplish. Kamala has broken through the highest glass ceiling for you. If you study hard in school and take pride in your Asian American legacy, the opportunities can be limitless.”

Friday, November 13, 2020

Biden must avoid lose-lose confrontation with China

The failures of Trump's China policies are obvious, and the way out for his Oval Office successor is just as clear. Subhad posted in Asia Times. Whew, the world is entitled to exhale in relief now that the reign of error by US President Donald Trump is over. His dismal record of endless deception and disruption can be discarded into the dustbin of history. One of President-elect Joe Biden’s highest priorities once he takes office will be to restore the integrity of the US constitution and reaffirm that America remains a democracy. The constitution is the sacred document that the soon to be ex-president and his sidekick and co-conspirator, Attorney General Bill Barr, have sent to the shredder. But that narrative needs to be written by someone more qualified. He or she should consult the daily YouTube series by Glenn Kirschner for a rich repository of evidence that could put Trump and Barr in jail. Biden needs China I would like to address a high-priority repair that is of urgent immediacy for the sake of the future of not only Biden’s term of office but for America. I am referring to the need to turn the bilateral relations between the US and China around. This will not be easy for Biden because demonizing China has had bipartisan support in Washington. Yet failing to do so would cost the US dearly in terms of lives and well-being. It’s literally the difference between prosperity and economic depression, and more importantly between war or peace. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has made a shambles of US relations with the rest of the world. If Biden were to take an opposite approach on virtually any of Pompeo’s policies, it would be the correct course of action. This logic surely applies to China. One particularly dangerous situation that the Trump administration, with Pompeo in the lead, has created is regarding Taiwan. They have deliberately flirted with the third rail in US-China relations by sending ranking officials to visit Taipei and by selling a bounty of arms including offensive weapons to Taiwan. Until Trump took over the White House, every American president since Richard Nixon had agreed to the Shanghai Communiqué, and had abided by the principle that there is one China and Taiwan is part of China. To recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation is to risk war, as Trump has edged close to doing, abetted by some of the more rabid Republican senators. What’s worse, the Taipei government led by President Tsai Ing-wen and the independence-minded Democratic Progressive Party has been deluded by Pompeo et al. Tsai is under the impression that if she were to declare independence and provoke an invasion by the People’s Liberation Army, the US military would come to her aid. Therefore, Biden’s first action in the Oval Office must be to tell the Pentagon to stand down and back off from the Taiwan Strait while he sends a message to Tsai that Washington is no longer interested in provoking death and destruction on the island of Taiwan. The military leaders in the Pentagon will be relieved that they won’t have to send young American men and women – yes, the ones Trump calls “losers” and “suckers” – into harm’s way on the other side of the world. Next on the agenda is for the incoming Biden administration to figure out how to reboot relations with China and embark on a path of collaboration and mutual beneficial development. America’s economic health and well-being depend on it. Throw out the ‘blame China’ playbook The determined rendering of China as America’s enemy has been “one hand clapping.” “Blame everything on China” was the Republican playbook for the 2020 election campaign. The disastrous outcome – for the Republicans – on November 3 should be enough incentive for Biden to toss that playbook straight into the trashcan. The Democrats have been as hostile to China as the Republicans have, but on the grounds of accusing Beijing of rampant violations of human rights. This point of view is based on nothing but xenophobia and ignorance. Through decades of concerted efforts, the Beijing leadership working with the local governments has lifted more than 800 million citizens out of poverty. To Beijing, all lives matter, and this is the Chinese leadership’s way of respecting the basics of human rights. In contrast, the US speaks loudly as the self-anointed standard bearer of democracy and upholder of human rights. All the while, people of color in America are discouraged from casting their ballots, are subject to police harassment including being shot for no cause, and find no government helping hand to get them out of poverty. The Ash Center, part of the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, recently released a study tracking Chinese people’s approval of their government for over a decade. The survey result shows an approval rate of more than 93%, or roughly twice that for Americans of their own government. Hardly the sentiment of an oppressed populace. The bipartisan desire to put down China has been based on racial bias or holier-than-thou-ideology. But continuing this hostile zero-sum game with China will not help Biden reverse the downward spiral of the US economy. Distributing checks in the name of economic stimulus cannot go on indefinitely. Sooner or later, the checks will bounce. Biden can create jobs with China The only way Biden can create real jobs, as he promised in his election campaign, is to boost the economy on Main Street, not Wall Street. It’s no exaggeration that he can’t do it without working with China. Trump tried to decouple from China and the outcome has been a total disaster. Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping see eye to eye on the need to deal with climate change. Together, they can reinvigorate the Paris Accord and lead a global effort to halt and then reverse the emission of greenhouse gases. That’s an easy starter to rebuilding US-China relations. China has made advances in solar and wind energy, and the companies in those industries are ready to serve the American market by putting manufacturing plants in the US. All the Biden administration has to do is the change the regulations that are biased against investments from China. Most countries welcome foreign investment for manufacturing, whether from China or any other nation, because such investments create jobs. But imbeciles in Washington have taken a twisted view that Chinese investments are for the purpose of stealing from America. As I reported last year, China’s CRRC Corporation has established two assembly plants to assemble subway cars for major US cities. The cars are state-of-the-art, cost 20% less than any competition, have more than 60% local content, and created 150 jobs at each of the two locations. So far, the company has contracts with Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. CRRC was hoping to enter deals with New York and Washington until paranoia in Congress stopped the development on the grounds that subway cars could be used for spying. Really? Better to let wild accusations dominate the conversation than for cities to replace rickety old coaches with new ones at bargain prices? China’s experience and expertise can also help Biden fulfill the need to restore America’s infrastructure. One example is New Jersey-based China Construction America. CCA has been operating in the US for 35 years. About 10 years ago, CCA rebuilt the Alexander Hamilton Bridge in northern Manhattan, doubling the four lanes to eight, and completed the project ahead of schedule and on budget. It was the largest single contract construction project, at US$407 million, ever awarded by the State of New York. When Trump came into office, he talked – a lot – about public/private partnership for renewing infrastructure in America. Just talk, nothing ever got done during his term in office. On the other hand, there are a lot of Chinese companies like the CCA just waiting for the opportunity to participate in the US. They can bid for projects that will mean cost savings for state and federal governments while creating construction-related jobs for American workers. China has a demonstrated record of infrastructure building and has taken its proven expertise around the world as part of the Belt and Road Initiative. There is no reason China could not bring that managerial and planning ability to the US. All it would take is to treat the Chinese as partners without racial bias. China’s economy can give the US a lift Another important reason to want to work with Beijing is that China will be the economic engine to drive the global economy for the foreseeable future. China has already recovered from the Covid-19 epidemic and is showing economic growth while the economies of all other countries, including the US, are still shrinking. China has the world’s largest middle class, with a population of more than 400 million. China’s import market is more than $2 trillion annually. Biden’s top priority for his new secretary of commerce should be to help American businesses sell to China and establish bases inside China. Participating in China’s expanding economy is the best and perhaps only way for the US to accelerate its recovery. American companies already in China can tell you that their sales there are making up for their losses elsewhere in the world. To bring Covid-19 under control, another of Biden’s major campaign promises, will require China and the US to work together. Both are working feverishly to develop vaccines to combat the coronavirus. Being the first country or company to develop an effective vaccine is not the key. What is important is how the vaccines will be distributed so as to eliminate the coronavirus around the world in a most expeditious manner. Pompeo’s idea of “me first” and “me only” for the US is idiocy. Even if America breaks free from the virus while the rest of world is still suffering from the contagion, the US will not be able to keep other parts of world from re-infecting the US. It’s a global pandemic and needs a global solution that the US along with China and World Health Organization can devise together. The current zero-sum game requires constant demonizing of China until the rhetoric reaches fever pitch. A recent example is the hysterical lamentation by US Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite. He takes an orientation trip to the Asia-Pacific region and comes back terrorized by what his overactive imagination tells him of China, but his nightmare has no relation to the reality of what China is actually doing. There is no evidence that China is about to become a military adversary of the US. China can be a formidable economic adversary but only if the US wants it that way. K J Noh and I have outlined a course of action for the Biden administration in Asia Times. The overall strategy is really simple. He just needs to find the many collaborative ways for both countries to win.

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

The strange saga of Meng Wanzhou

First posted in Asia Times The next extradition hearing in Canada for the Huawei CFO is set for Monday; it is time to end this sad story Until she was detained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police while transiting Vancouver International Airport, the world had not heard of Meng Wanzhou. Now everybody knows that Meng, 48, is the chief financial officer of Huawei and the daughter of Ren Zhengfei, chief executive officer and founder of China’s leading technology giant. The RCMP arrested Meng in respond to a warrant from the US District Court in Brooklyn, New York. The warrant was actually drafted on August 22, 2018, but not delivered to the Canadians until November 30, urging immediate action because Meng was expected to transit Vancouver on December 1 en route to Mexico City. The message from US officials implied that if she was not arrested this time, the next opportunity might not come again for an indeterminate period. Unfortunately for the Canadians, they fell for the story. The Americans had been monitoring Meng’s movements for some time. Between August 22 and December 1, 2018, they noted that she had visited six other countries with extradition treaties with the US, namely Britain, Ireland, Japan, France, Poland and Belgium. Had she been allowed to leave Vancouver, she would have visited Mexico, Costa Rica and Argentina. They too have extradition treaties with the US. Canada the designated patsy With 10 countries to choose from, then US deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein, directing this operation, concluded that Canada would be the easiest patsy and most willing to act as a vassal state to run this errand for Uncle Sam. Selecting a willing collaborator was important because extradition hearings are almost always complicated, subject to challenges and appeals, and can consume a lot of time. Most countries would prefer not to get involved with such proceedings, since as a disinterested third parties, they have no skin in the game. Indeed, Meng has languished under house arrest at the home she owns in Vancouver since her arrest nearly two years ago. Her next hearing is scheduled for this Monday, October 26. Lawyers familiar with extradition cases have opined that this case could drag on for another five years before all the issues and challenges can be resolved. Much has already been reported about this cause célèbre, but I have seen very few discussions that examine the rotten underpinnings of the case, which I now propose to do in this article. The origin of this case was probably more than 10 years ago as Washington watched the growth and development of Huawei with increasing dismay. Huawei had grown into a major supplier of telecommunication technology, and then threatened to become the world’s leader in that sector. By the time Donald Trump became US president, Huawei had indeed become the leader in 5G, the fifth-generation wireless communication protocol and a leading maker of telecommunication hardware and mobile phones. The Trump administration decided that the way to deal with the rise of Huawei was to use brute force – suppression, harassment and active campaigns with other nations not to buy from Huawei. Two news articles in 2012 and 2013 gave the ad hoc task force the idea to consider accusing the company of violating the US sanctions on Iran. On further reflection, they must have concluded that charging a company in China with violating a US sanction on doing business with another country, in this case Iran, had a low probability of sticking. But another article in 2013 reported that Meng had given HSBC a PowerPoint presentation about Huawei and Skycom. Meng was quoted as saying, “Huawei’s engagement with Skycom is normal and controllable business operation,” and that “as a business partner of Huawei, Skycom works with Huawei in sales and service in Iran.” The “aha” moment for the Trump team was the fact that Skycom had attempted to sell Hewlett-Packard (HP) personal computers to Iran. The sale was never consummated but the intent to sell US technology to Iran was evidently sufficient to charge Skycom with violating the sanctions. So far in the story, it seems to be a slam-dunk for the Trump team. All they did was read some old news articles and found a way to link the printed evidence to the CFO of Huawei. Now bear with me, dear readers, and you will see that the story starts to smell fishy. The most damaging “evidence” offered as part of the charges filed by the US Justice Department with the Canadian courts was the aforementioned PowerPoint Meng had prepared for HSBC. The US prosecutors claimed that the presentation showed Meng had lied to the bank and cause it to violate the sanctions against Iran unknowingly. So it would seem that HSBC had turned state’s evidence to help the US federal court. However, the bank did not necessarily have clean hands in this matter. It issued a press release in 2012 that read in part: “HSBC has reached agreement with United States authorities in relation to investigations regarding inadequate compliance with anti-money-laundering and sanctions laws. “Under these agreements, HSBC will make payments totaling US$1.921 billion, continue to cooperate fully with regulatory and law-enforcement authorities, and take further action to strengthen its compliance policies and procedures.” Even for a major international bank, $1.9 billion is not chump change. But the interesting question not answered is whether “cooperate fully” included giving the PowerPoint slides to the Justice Department. Did the US government agree to deduct some amount from the fine as quid pro quo? US prosecutors not playing with a full deck The legal counsel for Meng were quick to point out to the presiding judge that the PowerPoint deck presented by the US prosecutors was incomplete. Slides that would have portrayed a different position for Meng in this decade-old affair and indicate that she had been transparent with HSBC were left out. As The Globe and Mail observed, it’s highly unusual to go after individual executives carrying out company business rather than indicting the corporation for illegal offenses; indeed, one such example was the case against HSBC. Obviously, the special circumstance for going after Meng was that she was the daughter of the founder of Huawei. The age of this case in the Canadian court is nearing two years. The original hare-brained idea was to hold Meng hostage to put pressure on her father, Ren Zhengfei. It didn’t work. Huawei has grown stronger and increased worldwide sales in the interim. The latest Trump-team move was to deny Huawei access to critical semiconductor technology, which will temporarily set the company back, but at great cost to American high-tech industries – read David Goldman’s forecasts in Asia Times here and here. With the current attention on denying American technology to Huawei, the US may have lost interest in Meng’s incarceration, but Canada is left holding the bag of a stinky mess not of its making. The Big Brother south of the border has skillfully set up Canada to take the fall, and there is no nice way to put the gloss on this little piggy. Washington deliberately gave Vancouver authorities just one day to plan and make the arrest. They did not have time to look at the broader picture, consider the international consequences, or consult with Ottawa. Let’s face it, they were played for suckers – OK, if not suckers at least country bumpkins. Not Justin Trudeau’s brightest moment However, the prime minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, has not exactly been a smart national leader and avoided the sinkhole laid out before him. He had plenty of opportunities to tamp down this sordid affair. Instead he lost control of the situation. Five days after Meng was detained, her arrest was finally made public, and the Chinese Embassy in Canada was furious and demanded her immediate release. Ottawa did not respond. Ten days later, two Canadians were detained in China, heretofore referred to in the media as the “two Michaels.” Beijing denied that the arrests were related to Meng’s arrest, which of course Trudeau wouldn’t buy. But Trudeau also did not acknowledge the reciprocal nature of China’s action. Instead, he accused China of using arbitrary detention to achieve political goals and said that to give in to Beijing would put more Canadians at risk. His reasoning is a real head-scratcher. Urging Canada to release Meng is hardly politics but humanitarian, and it’s hard to see how arranging a prisoner swap would endanger more Canadians – unless Ottawa is planning to intercept more Chinese business executives transiting Canadian airports in the future. There are plenty of voices within Canada telling Trudeau that he can cut off the extradition process if he wants to. One summary reads: “The Extradition Act in 1999 gives the justice minister ‘unfettered discretion to withdraw an extradition at any time during the judicial phase of extradition,’ which offers the federal government a very clear option.” Even though China has significantly reduced its imports from Canada, Trudeau appears undeterred. He apparently treats placating the irascible Donald Trump as more important than Canada’s sovereignty and national interest. He even fired his ambassador to China, a historic first, for publicly suggesting that Trump’s public comments provided grounds to stop the extradition. Too bad Justin is just not a chip of the old block that was his father, Pierre Trudeau. Fifty years ago, Pierre led Canada to establish one of the first diplomatic relations between a Western country and People’s Republic of China, two years ahead of US president Richard Nixon’s visit to Beijing and nine years before formal normalization between the US and China. Now, it appears unlikely that any surprising turnabout development is likely to take place at the court hearing on Monday. Meng’s fate will have to wait for the outcome of the US presidential election on November 3. K J Noh and I have outlined the messy legacy created by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and a long list of actions that former vice-president Joe Biden will have to take to right the ship of statecraft if he wins the election. Assuming that he wins, upon taking over the Oval Office, he will have many things to tend to, but one of his easiest tasks will be to drop the extradition process for Meng promptly. It’s long overdue and the decent humanitarian thing to do.