Commentators on Clinton on China

Following Hillary Clinton’s visit to Asia, there have been a range of commentaries on her new approach to China. Clinton’s downplay of that standard gambit of Sino-American relations, human rights, has pleased some commentators and maddened others. Here’s a selection of five ways of looking at her China visit:

1) A Missed Opportunity, Merle Goldman at the Boston Globe:
The Charter 08 episode in China reveals widespread dissatisfaction with China's authoritarian market economy, including those who are the supposed beneficiaries of China's political model. Their participation in the Charter 08 movement may be attributed not only to worsening economic conditions in late 2008 because of the increasing closure of China's export industries due to slackening demand for Chinese consumer goods in the West, but also questioning of the political system on which the Chinese Communist Party has based its legitimacy. Despite the crackdown, Charter 08 represents a multi-class movement for political change in China that is likely to continue.

Such a movement needs the support of the international community. The worldwide outcry over the crackdown on the Charter 77 movement in Czechoslavakia marked the beginning of the unraveling of the Communist system in Eastern Europe. Clinton's recent visit to China would have been the appropriate venue for criticism of China's suppression of Charter 08.

Demands for political change in China will continue. The Obama administration should give more attention to human rights issues in China and support those who advocate peaceful political reforms. Clinton's trip to China was a missed opportunity.
2) A "Relief,"AFP at The Straits Times:
CHINA'S state media on Monday described Hillary Clinton's trip to Beijing as a relief, after the US secretary of state steered clear of human rights to focus on cooperation between the two nations…

She maintained that Washington's concerns about rights in China should not be a distraction from vital trade and environmental issues, pointing to the need for cooperation between the world powers amid the economic crisis.

'If the point of Hillary Rodham Clinton's maiden voyage overseas in her new role as United States secretary of state was to assure and reassure, she made it,' the China Daily said.
3) A Promising Approach to the Region, John C. Bersia of McClatchy-Tribune:
Both showmanship and substance were on display during Clinton's tour. The showmanship was essential to underscore that a different approach is in effect. Toward that end, she – a globally known quantity – has distinct advantages. Many people, from officials to average citizens, want to see her, and she happily accommodates them. But I was even more pleased with the substance, notably what Clinton said during her visit to China.

In fact, her statements went to the heart of the creative engagement that is necessary for the United States to continue to lead in Asia. Although she rightly reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to human rights, she also indicated that the issue will not "interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises." In other words, there will be separate tracks for those matters.
4) The End of a “Charade,” Alex Spillius at The Telegraph:
I found her honesty refreshing. For 20 years Western, particularly British and American, leaders have assured their publics that they would pressurise Beijing on Tibet, political dissidents and freedom of religion. The rhetoric was empty.

Perhaps the apogee of this cravenness was Jiang Zemin's London visit during the Blair era, when protestors were kept from his view by police vans, while the Foreign Office insisted that human rights was heavily on the agenda.

Now Mrs Clinton has admitted that other things matter much, much more to Washington, namely economic survival. She has exposed the myth that we can't afford to be unpleasant to the Chinese.

It will be to her shame if she drops human rights from all her discussions with the Chinese over the next four years. They remain guilty of abuses which should make all of us very uncomfortable dealing with Beijing. She says that won't be the case. Human rights groups, rightly, will be holding her to account.
5) As One Visit Among Many, a wrap-up of Clinton’s recent trips abroad at Worldpress.org


Regarding the Guantanamo Uyghurs

By James Millward

I never thought I’d see “Free the Uighurs” on the editorial pages of major U.S. newspapers, but there it was last Thursday in the Washington Post (Editorial, February 19, 2009, p. A14) and Monday in the Los Angeles Times (Editorial, Feb. 23, 2009). Of course, the editorial was not discussing Uyghurs in China, but the seventeen Uyghur detainees at Guantanamo, whom a federal appeals court ruled could be brought to the U.S. only by an act of the executive branch, not the courts. The Post urged the Obama administration to do the right thing by these men, whom the Bush administration acknowledged years ago were not “enemy combatants” but whom it could neither send back to China nor find a third country willing to take.

It was not that long ago that references to Uyghurs hardly ever appeared in the international press. From the late 1980s through the late 1990s there were occasional stories, when reporters given rare opportunities to travel to Xinjiang sought out silk road exotica and separatism—story lines they seem to have settled on before their trip. It was not hard to flesh out the template with colorful minority clothing, mutton kabobs and some young guy in the bazaar complaining about the Chinese. The rare actual violent incidents were exciting—they fit the imagined narrative that Xinjiang was a “simmering cauldron” or “powder-keg waiting to blow.” But they were harder to write about, as information was scant and mainly filtered through PRC state media, which was then intent on minimizing any local unrest or dissent. Internally, in the late 1990s Xinjiang Party officials still worried about the Xinjiang issue becoming “internationalized”—in other words, emerging, like Tibet, as a global cause célèbre.

After September 11th, 2001, China abruptly reversed course, deliberately publicizing the issue of Uyghur dissent as “terrorism, separatism and religious extremism,” and explicitly linking potential unrest in Xinjiang (the region was in fact quiet from 1997 through 2008) to Al Qaeda and the U.S. “global war on terror.” This linkage was accomplished through a document issued in English by the State Council in January 2002, official press reports, and print and broadcast interviews with Chinese leaders. The message was much reiterated in subsequent years; state media and PRC leaders proclaimed Uyghurs to be the main potential security risk to the 2008 Olympics (in the spring before and during the Olympics, there were in fact three incidents of what seems to have been politically-inspired violence involving Uyghurs in Xinjiang.)

The U.S. government, international media and anti-terrorism think-tanks contributed to the re-branding of Uyghur dissent as a “movement” motivated by Islamist thinking and linked to “international terror organizations.” Stereotyped notions about Islam and a paucity of solid firsthand information about Xinjiang made plausible the idea that Al Qaeda-type Uyghur jihadis were “waging” a “militant” “resistance” against Chinese authorities, even in absence of anything like a terrorist attack for over a decade. Because every “movement” needs an acronym, concerns crystallized around ETIM (East Turkestan Islamic Movement), one of several groups mentioned in the Chinese State Council document. The U.S. listed ETIM as an international terrorist organization in 2002 and mistakenly attributed to it all the violent acts reported by the PRC as having occurred in Xinjiang for the ten years prior to 1997, though Chinese sources themselves up to that point had not attributed any specific acts to ETIM (they did so subsequently). The U.S. thus made ETIM the name to conjure with.[1]

Now the “Uyghur issue” is well and truly internationalized, thanks to U.S. and Chinese policies and rhetoric over the past several years. Indeed, at the moment it stands at the crux of U.S.-Chinese relations. In order to close down Guantanamo prison, as President Obama has pledged, detainees who cannot be repatriated must be resettled elsewhere. In order to convince third countries to accept Guantanamo detainees, the U.S. must first show willingness to resettle some itself. Politically, the Uyghurs are the easiest choice among the detainees for U.S. asylum: they were determined by the Bush administration to harbor “no animus” towards the United States; there is a measure of Congressional support for their resettlement thanks in part to effective lobbying efforts by the Uyghur America Association (itself funded by the U.S. government through the National Endowment for Democracy); and the Uyghur community here is eager to help in the detainees’ transition.

Of course, the PRC government strongly opposes resettling Uyghurs from Guantanamo in the U.S. or anywhere else, and wants them sent back to China. As Li Wei, from the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, put it in an interview with NPR’s Anthony Kuhn (Morning Edition, Feb. 20, 2009), “what would the American government think if China sheltered people who threatened America's national security?” Li makes a reasonable point: if China publicly resettled Al Qaeda trainees from Afghan camps, the U.S. would take this as a major affront.

So now, with the Obama-era U.S.-China relationship still unformed, an act critical to realizing the president’s promise to shut down Guantanamo will also, like it or not, be seen as his major first act related to China: granting asylum to a group of men China has repeatedly and publicly denounced as violent terrorist members of ETIM. The Chinese public and most Chinese academics, party-members and officials sincerely believe Uyghur terrorists pose a grave security threat to China. ETIM is their Al Qaeda.

Moreover, despite the fact that no country and no serious scholar disputes the legality of China’s sovereignty in Xinjiang, some Chinese believe the U.S. supports and foments Uyghur terrorism in order to destabilize China. American academics who write about Xinjiang have been (falsely) accused in Chinese publications of working with the U.S. government to provide “a theoretical basis for one day taking action to dismember China and separate Xinjiang” (Pan Zhiping, in his introduction to the internal Chinese translation of Frederick Starr, ed. Xinjiang: China's Muslim Frontier). We should not underestimate the perception gap between the U.S. and China over Xinjiang and the Uyghurs. In China, the issue is as radioactive as the sands of Lop Nor.

Thus, while the U.S. press has discussed the Guantanamo Uyghurs mainly as a domestic U.S. political and legal issue, their fate could have a great impact on U.S.-China relations at this critical time. The legacy of the Bush administration’s China policy is often treated as broadly positive, thanks to the role played by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and resultant stress on economic affairs. However, the Guantanamo Uyghurs are another huge mess Bush got us into. Thanks to Bush-era mistakes and the fuzzy but dangerous notion of “global war on terror,” the Obama administration faces yet another potential crisis—one in U.S.-China relations—right off the bat.

The U.S. should recognize that while resettling the seventeen Uyghurs here may be the only way to break the Guantanamo log-jam, to do so will mean asking China to swallow something extremely unpalatable. If a blow-up in U.S.-China relations can be averted, it will be because American diplomats handle the issue with the extreme sensitivity it merits, and because China chooses to overlook U.S. hypocrisy and place the greater interests of good Sino-U.S. ties over their entrenched rhetorical position on Xinjiang. In so doing they will help us put yet another Bush-era disaster behind us and move on.

James Millward teaches Chinese history at Georgetown University and is the author of, most recently, Eurasian Crossroads: A History of Xinjiang (2006).

[1] On the mistakes in the public US statement accompanying the U.S. listing of ETIM, see my "Violent Separatism in Xinjiang: a Critical Assessment," East West Center policy studies #6, Washington D.C.: East West Center, 2004.


James Hevia on Summer Palace Relics

With disputes relating to looted Chinese objects in the news, we asked Professor James Hevia of the University of Chicago, author of an important book called English Lessons, which includes analysis of foreign military actions in China from the 1860s through the post-Boxer occupation of 1900-1901 and was cited in our earlier post on the topic, if he had any thoughts on the subject to share with our readers. Already quoted briefly in a useful Christian Science Monitor article on the issue, here's what he had wrote in response to our query:
The recent announcement by Christie’s of yet another auction including Summer Palace plunder continues the long tradition of corporate and national indifference to the depredations of European armies in Africa and Asia in the nineteenth century. Imperial and colonial warfare always resulted in plunder. This is not news, but does need to be remembered in a form other than the public sale of stolen artifacts. More importantly, no one has yet been able to arrive at a formula for addressing what are obviously understood by the descendents of victims of these events as ongoing forms of humiliation. It does not help the situation to read a Christie’s statement claiming that “for each and every item … there is clear legal title.” That is not simply preposterous, but Orwellian. How can there be clear legal title to looted objects? That bit of mendacity is further compounded by Christie’s claim that they also adhere to international law on cultural property. There was no international law in 1860 dealing with cultural property, which requires, I think, another way of thinking about the status and ownership of the objects in question. The same could be said for the museums like the Victoria and Albert, the British Museum, the Guimet in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and numerous military museums and officer’s messes in Europe and North America that hold objects taken in and around Beijing in 1860 and 1900-1901. Insofar as they are capable, the animal heads on sale at Christie’s stand in for this vast amount of plunder. Turning them into commodities only makes matters worse.

There is also a certain irony in all of this. Since 1997, when Hong Kong was returned to China, the Yuan Ming Gardens in Beijing was the site of the “Never Forget National Humiliation” memorial wall. There inscribed on numerous plaques was the sordid history of European and American incursions into China, of opium dealing, and the imposition of unequal treaties that made up the “century of humiliation.” For reasons that are unclear, the monument was taken down last year. Perhaps it had something to do with the Olympics. But given this recent reminder of the violent behavior of Westerners in nineteenth century China, I would not be too surprised to see a new monument, one that might be titled “Never ever forget national humiliation.”


In Case You Missed It: Passion of the Mao

By Jeremiah Jenne

Passion of the Mao is the quirky documentary produced by Lee Feigon based on his book Mao: A Reinterpretation. There's some things to like about the film. I appreciated the irreverence, and there were a number of chuckle-worthy jokes and sly references as well as several precipitous descents into banal toilet and body humor. (Some of which, for awhile, are also pretty chuckle-worthy.) Mao's writings are referenced throughout the film, though Mr. Feigon's choice to have them read using a voiceover that recalled the worst of the Fu Manchu films from early Hollywood is odd. Mr. Feigon also gives prominence to Mao's fondness for scatological references and bawdy language. It's funny and raunchy and, for the most part, unnecessary. Mao was the kind of guy who liked young girls, disliked bathing, and enjoyed the occasional fart joke. Okay, I got it. Next.

In terms of history, the first half of the film is quite good. The occasional surrealist cartoon or madcap aside doesn't distract from a pretty solid narrative that hits the high points of Mao's early career, a narrative which is interwoven nicely with the larger story of the Communist Revolution. But like that revolution, the movie starts to veer off course after we get to 1949. Mr. Feigon does well to reminds us that the early years of the 1950s were ones of economic growth and relative peace (though not so much if you were declared a landlord or a rightist). His treatment of elite politics in this era centers on a portrayal of Peng Dehuai as a "Judas" figure whose long-standing grudge against Mao led to an ill-fated showdown at Lushan. It's an intriguing re-telling of the Mao-Peng dynamic, but to cast Peng as having sold out Mao for 30 pieces of Soviet silver in this CCP passion play comes off a bit disingenuous given that there is little (if any) mention of the downfall of Lin Biao.

And it is this decision to minimize events from the latter part of the 1960s and 1970s that is perhaps the film's greatest flaw. For all the antics, animation, and toilet humor, Mr. Feigon has a serious point to make: Perhaps we've misunderstood the Cultural Revolution all along, that it wasn't that bad, and that any evidence to the contrary is the result of the wrong people ending up in power following Mao's death. Mr. Feigon dismisses Red Guard violence as an early setback in the movement, and chooses instead to focus on statistics which suggest increased educational access, economic growth, and industrial output during the 1966-1976 period. He doesn't say where the numbers come from and if he's using CCP figures from that era then obviously we must maintain a certain healthy skepticism.

The hypothesis that the political interests of Deng Xiaoping and his allies in the post-GPCR period have shaped the discussion and discourse about the Cultural Revolution is an intriguing one, and it is a not-so-subtle subtext of the movie that Mr. Feigon views the current government and the legacy of Deng Xiaoping with great disdain. In this way, he reminds me of protesters in China today who hold up pictures of The Chairman as a whip against the current government, one which is seen as more a product of Deng Xiaoping's reformist policies than of Mao's revolutionary vision.

In the end, while I enjoyed the beginning of Mr. Feigon's movie, the casual glossing of the Cultural Revolution was disturbing to me. I have met and talked to too many people who still cannot shake terrible memories of that period. I know families still riven by animosity over events which occurred forty years earlier. I'm willing to accept that the collective and official memory of the Cultural Revolution and Mao was influenced by the political needs of Deng Xiaoping, but in this movie Mr. Feigon himself commits the error of "Leaning too far to one side" and is a bit too blasé about an event which caused great pain and suffering for many people. In the end, it will take more than fart jokes and film parodies to save Mao's legacy.


Around the Web…

In case you are interested in reading more from writers we’ve referenced recently or on topics we’ve been tracking lately, here are a few recommendations from this week.

The New York Times ran a set of commentaries yesterday on “what the Chinese want from Obama,” including commentaries by Michael Meyer and Daniel Bell (links to their previous pieces at China Beat).

Meyer writes about Clinton’s visit to China, and the power she has to shift discussions in China (and the U.S.) about China’s desire for an “American lifestyle”:
Yet as modernizing Chinese cities emulate America’s car-friendly designs — and often employ American architects, but not clean-energy firms to realize it — she could tie China’s urbanization into her broader agenda of engaging Beijing in a partnership to reduce emissions and increase energy efficiency, measures that would affect global health and the economy.

“If Chinese want to live the American way of life, then we need seven earths to support them,” the founder of China’s first environmental nongovernmental organization once told me. That impact is of less concern to a government funding large-scale urbanization in the service of economic growth. Planners and officials here often insist, with rightful indignation, that “we have every right to make the same development mistakes that America did.”

Mrs. Clinton could correct that perception with a visit to the hutong the way her husband galvanized AIDS awareness when he hugged an H.I.V.-positive girl at a Beijing speech in 2003.
Daniel Bell relays what his students think about Obama, emphasizing their resistance to “Obama mania”:
Of course, there is respect for Mr. Obama’s intellectual abilities and leadership skills. But even “liberal” students are given to skepticism. One of my graduate students told me that she was dismayed by the uncritical coverage of the inauguration, the kind of love-fest for a political leader that could only make the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party envious. We discussed, only half-jokingly, the possibility that China should adopt some form of constitutional monarchy, so that the public could project its emotions on a symbolic leader while evaluating the de facto political leader’s performance more rationally.
Of course, this “uncritical coverage” is rather debatable—since there was indeed a great deal of critical coverage of the inauguration and of Obama in the United States, but Bell’s point that the stories of Obama’s popularity in China have been hyped up is well taken.

We have mentioned James Hevia’s work on imperialism in China; he was quoted in a recent piece at The Christian Science Monitor on the Christie’s auction flap.
The "imperial objects are an absent presence in a tale of loss, humiliation, and the recovery of national sovereignty," says James Hevia, a professor at the University of Chicago and expert in European military traditions of plunder.
Last month, we ran a short list from Claire Conceison on Chinese actor Ying Ruocheng, taken from her work on his autobiography, Voices Carry. This week, she did an interview about the book on NPR’s Here and Now. You can listen by making a jump to Here and Now’s website.

Clinton’s visit to China was much in the news lately—a piece from Reuters discusses her indication to Beijing that human rights will not be at the top of the U.S.’s Sino-American agenda:
Making her first trip abroad as secretary of state, Clinton said three of her top priorities in Beijing will be addressing the global economic crisis, climate change and security challenges such as the North Korean nuclear weapons programme.

"Now, that doesn't mean that questions of Taiwan, Tibet, human rights, the whole range of challenges that we often engage on with the Chinese, are not part of the agenda," Clinton told reporters in Seoul before flying to Beijing. "But we pretty much know what they are going to say.

"We have to continue to press them but our pressing on those issues can't interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises," she added. "We have to have a dialogue that leads to an understanding and cooperation on each of those."
The environment is at the top of Clinton’s agenda, but it is as yet unclear what U.S.-China collaboration on this issue will look like. At his blog, James Fallows provided links to a new report from the Asia Society and the Pew Center that makes specific proposals for cooperation on energy and climate change.

Last week, we also ran a commentary from Ken Pomeranz about water in China. For an additional viewpoint, those in the New Haven area may be interested in an upcoming talk (on February 25) by Chunmiao Zheng on “Will China Run Out of Water?


Fascinatin' Facts

Harper's has just put its famous "index" feature online and it is (thrill of thrills) searchable.

Of course, this has spawned a host of postings around the web about what the index has covered over the years. Among those are a few China watchers.

Shanghaiist notes that there has been only one substantive mention of "Shanghai" in the twenty-five years of the index (there are two hits for the word "Shanghai," but one is for Shanghai Tang).

Tim Johnson did a search for "China" and shares some of the entries from the past three years, with the source of the information listed as well (just as interesting to track where Harper's is getting its information). Here are a few of Johnson's tidbits, but make the jump for more:
9/06 -- Minimum number of Chinese censors who monitor Internet activity: 100,000 (Xiao Qiang, China Internet Project, Berkeley, Calif.)

4/07 -- Maximum body-mass index that China now allows for any foreigner adopting a Chinese infant: 39 (China Center of Adoption Affairs, Beijing) Maximum number of divorces that prospective parents can have between them: 2 (China Center of Adoption Affairs)

11/08 -- Average number of hours per week that an American and a Chinese person, respectively, spend shopping: 4, 10 (McKinsey & Company, NYC)

Self-Promotion Saturday

You can find a new interview with Jeff Wasserstrom at Shanghai City Weekend, in anticipation of the Shanghai International Literary Festival. You can find interviews with many other authors, including James Fallows and Cecelia Chang. There's also an interview with Wang Gang, the author of the very interesting-sounding novel English (about which CB was previously unaware). Here is a short excerpt from the interview with Wasserstrom (much more at City Weekend):
CW: What's one question you'd like to be asked at SILF? I'd love it if someone asked me: “If you could bring back to life, for a day, two people you've written about who are now dead, and ask them questions about what Shanghai was like then, who would they be and what would you ask them?”

CW: So who? I can't tell you my answer, it would take away the mystery!

CW: What made you want to record your YouTube video about Karl Marx? I haven’t actually recorded a video of the song you are referring to, which is called “Oh, Karl,” and which I have been known to sing to classes on occasion (in part to convince students that they need to keep coming to every lecture, since if they skip one they might miss something surprising).

CW: Can you “sing” us a few lines? Here’s the way it begins:
Let me tell you all a story of a friend of mine
Who’s known from Cuba to Lichtenstein
As the man who set the workers’ blood aflame
‘Cause he told about their exploitation
Increasing fragmentation
His name was “Marx” and dialectics were his game.
Ken Pomeranz has several up-coming events that readers in the Bay Area and Phillie may want to mark on the calendar.

First, on Friday, March 6, Pomeranz will speak on “Land Rights, Resources, and Chinese Development in Long-Run Perspective” for the Center for Chinese Studies at Berkeley.

Then, on Thursday, March 26, Pomeranz will address "Chinese Development and World History: Putting the 'East Asian Model' in Perspective" at the Department of History at Penn.


Time Machine: Dear US Presidential Candidates…

By Robert A. Kapp

February, 2009: we are in the early days of a new Administration, and the Internet and print media bulge with messages of advice to the new President and the new Secretary of State about how to deal with China. Some of the missives are Olympian. Others are avuncular. They serve multiple purposes, and seek to reach multiple audiences.

Reading them, I was reminded of one of my own exercises of a similar nature, in the fall of the year 2000. Eight long years; so much has happened. Then, we were only a couple of months beyond the huge political battle over extending Permanent Normal Trade Relations to China – a Hill struggle brought the most strident arguments over China to the forefront of American attention.

Before that, in reverse chronological order, lay the Lee Wen Ho case; the Cox Commission and its allegations of Chinese nuclear theft; the Hughes-Loral furor over alleged transfer of military rocketry knowledge to China; Johnny Chung, John Huang, Charlie Trie and the scandal over “campaign finance.” Amid all that had come the Belgrade Embassy bombing and the siege of the Sasser embassy. Only a couple of years earlier had occurred the PRC missile tests off northern Taiwan and the sending of the Seventh Fleet to waters off Taiwan. Among the colorful Congressional comments along the way, in 1999, came the denunciation of the PRC leadership as a bunch of “child molesters.” One very well known Member of Congress, in a speech to members of his own party the same year, referred to the “big wet kissup” of the Clinton regime to Beijing as nothing short of “the full Lewinsky.”

Thus the immediate background to my open-letter message to our presidential candidates at the time, George W. Bush and Al Gore. China Beat readers can form their own judgments, eight-plus long years later, as to where the U.S. and China have been and where we have come, and whether this particular “advice” from a receding moment in time still burns, or whether it merely flickers feebly in the cooling embers of another era.

This piece was originally published in the September-October 2000 issue of China Business Review.
Dear US Presidential Candidates…

Congratulations on securing your parties' nominations for the presidency. You have embarked on a deeply personal journey in which hundreds of millions have a vital stake. We wish you health and fulfillment in the campaign and, to the winner, we wish success in a tough job with unequalled potential for enhancing the well-being of all Americans…

…As you conduct your campaigns and prepare to serve the nation, I hope you don't mind my offering a few personal thoughts on America's future with China and the critical role of the president in shaping that future.

1. The United States and China must work at building a world system in which China is, for the first time in our 225-year history, a force to be reckoned with. Even if we wanted to, it is now impossible to shunt China back into its nineteenth- and twentieth-century identity: impoverished, self-isolated, riven by civil war, assaulted by more powerful states, or imprisoned in Marxist-Leninist doctrinarism. Those days are over. There is no going back. The United States and China must either find the means to maintain a civil and respectful bilateral relationship in a shrinking and perilous world, or face the consequences of their failure.

2. China must not be an American afterthought. Maintaining a productive relationship with China should rank high on the American agenda. Leaving US-China relations far down on the totem pole of US concerns will not serve our national interest well.

3. The greatest danger we face in our relations with China is the danger of unfamiliarity and of its partners, fear of the unknown and unwarranted casualness. Engagement with China is demanding, but it's not extraterrestrial. We must grapple with a deeply ingrained habit of relegating China to the periphery of our national consciousness, except in moments of crisis; of assuming that China (or for that matter Asia as a whole) is somehow so exotic (or, as one Cabinet member once put it to me, "so darned far away") that we need not place a priority on engaging with it day in and day out. Paying attention to relations with China only when something bad happens, or only when a domestic political storm breaks out, is a recipe for unnecessary tensions.

4. The president must frame American relations with China. There is simply no substitute for presidential energy on this. If he does not lead, others will fill the void: elected figures of more limited constituency, for whom China sometimes represents opportunity without responsibility; members of the media, who provide Americans with a fraction of one minute's worth of information about China on any given day and who thrive on pungent momentary "news"; interest groups--business, labor, the non-governmental community--all of which have a role to play, but none of which can substitute fully for presidential leadership in the making of sensitive and far-reaching American policy decisions.

5. Presidential leadership on China requires hard work. The president must communicate to the American people about our relations with China, even when there is no crisis and no triumph. He must also communicate successfully with the Chinese, a very different audience. But before he communicates, the president must "know himself and know the other side," as an old Chinese saying goes. It is not impossible, but it takes time and care. It takes meeting the Chinese. It takes seeing China. It takes consensus-building. It requires allocation of precious talent and time within an administration inevitably beset by limitless demands for both.

6. Far-reaching affinity will not come easily to nations as different as the United States and China. Happily, the world has created a number of structures and systems, including the World Trade Organization, to maintain predictable and stable relations among vastly different nations. China in the past 20 years has committed itself increasingly to participation in the world's principal economic and political regimes. Wherever possible, the president should position the United States to encourage China's growing commitment to multilateral regimes and norms. He should both ensure that the United States accords China the respect that full participation in international regimes entails, and do his utmost to ensure that China reciprocally displays the same respect and lives up to its own responsibilities.

7. At home, the president must not allow himself to be drawn politically on China. This is perhaps the hardest domestic challenge of all.For reasons too long to describe here--including real events in China--China sound bites sometimes have special pungency in the American public consciousness. Some will paint a simplistic picture of China--a single memorable phrase, a brilliant moral call to arms, a single riveting photo--and demand that the president "take sides." They will present China as a morality play, a test of the president's fidelity to elemental values pure and simple. They will suggest that a nuanced and carefully balanced US posture with regard to China is nothing short of "appeasement" or "kowtowing to Beijing." China's political radioactivity in the United States feeds on itself. If the president is to lead on China, he must stay out of the China trap at home. But presidential leadership is itself the best way out of the China trap.

8. In guiding American relations with China, the president should understand and draw upon the skills and insights of people of Chinese descent in the United States. People have come to the United States from China for a century and a half--first as exploited coolie labor, later as refugees from war and political convulsion, more recently as students and businesspeople. Some are now tenth-generation Americans. Others are new citizens. Some know their ancestral homeland well; others are total strangers to it. Some are brilliant, others are dull. Some vote one way, others vote another. But they are Americans of Chinese heritage, and even as they contribute to America's strength, many cherish their roots and their relationships in China. Their position on the cusp of China-US cultural contact is an underutilized American asset. There is a misguided suggestion afoot in the land that Americans of Chinese origin are somehow vulnerable to the influence of a malevolent oriental despotism. The president should leave no doubt about where the nation stands on this, and should enhance our nation's ability to manage its relations with China by drawing upon our country's Chinese-American resources.

9. The president needs to lead the nation in recognizing that China, more than most countries, is a work in progress. China is in constant motion. Unchanging first principles are few, apart from an abiding sense of historical identity and a deep-seated determination to be respected by others. It is not easy, but the president must anticipate the certainty of uncertainty, the permanence of impermanence, the constancy of inconstancy, in US relations with China. That does not require suspension of ethical standards or of plain common sense. It does demand both strategic long-term vision and short-term flexibility.

10. The president must understand both the power of American example and the limits of American influence. "Sending China a Message" has proven rhetorically popular but substantively unproductive. Telling China to do as we say, on pain of economic punishment, is a fond fantasy. The American president should not take on the impossible burden of remaking China in America's image, whether from the pulpit or the cockpit. He can, though, strengthen America's influence with China. Many in China study the United States. They look for the sources of this nation's vitality and productivity. Their search has century-old roots. China's willingness to learn from American experience, and the desire to assimilate in some way America's (and other countries') strengths into China's difficult environment, is genuine. It is both a reflection and a source of American strength.

No matter which of you attains the presidency this winter, we wish you well, and we hope that that the lessons American business has learned over nearly three decades of work with China may be of service to you and your nation al leadership.


Debating the Summer Palace

While scholars, like James Hevia in English Lessons, have revised historical views of the impacts of Western imperialism in China during the nineteenth century, China’s government is arguing for a revision of its own. Earlier this week, the New York Times reported that the Chinese government has been pressing for relics stolen from the Summer Palace—about to go up for auction at Christie’s—be returned to China:

The two Qing dynasty bronze animal heads, one depicting a rabbit and the other a rat, are believed to have been part of a set comprising 12 animals from the Chinese zodiac that were created for the imperial gardens during the reign of Emperor Qianlong in the 18th century.

China views the relics as a significant part of its cultural heritage and a symbol of how Western powers encroached on the country during the Opium Wars. The relics were displayed as fountainheads at the Old Summer Palace, known in Chinese as Yuanmingyuan, until it was destroyed and sacked by British and French forces in 1860.

At a press briefing in Beijing last week, a spokeswoman for China’s Foreign Ministry said the two bronzes should be returned to China because they had been taken by “invaders.” And a group of Chinese lawyers says it plans to file a lawsuit this week in Paris seeking to halt or disrupt the sale. But Christie’s says the sale is legal and plans to go ahead with the auction on Monday through Wednesday in Paris, where the two bronze items could fetch as much as $10 million to $13 million apiece.
The Edge of the American West (a group blog) provided a little historical context (hat tip: Danwei):

In both Tianjin and Beijing, there was extensive looting in the summer of 1900. As one American Marine remembered:

“Soldiers of all nations joined the orgy…Men of the allies staggered through the streets, arms and backs piled high with silks and furs, and brocades, with gold and silver and jewels.”

A brisk trade in looted goods broke out, with open air markets buying and selling goods.

This sometimes led to particularly odd moments. American troops began to sport interesting clothing combinations after the capture of Beijing. As one officer remembered:

‘Not a man was completely clad in American uniform. As they lined up for inspection, some of them wore blue or rose Chinese trousers, others mandarin coats, and almost all of them were shod in Chinese silk boots.’
For reflections on the debates surrounding Yuanmingyuan, see this feature at China Heritage Quarterly from 2006, including a piece by Geremie Barme:

In the early 1990s, the Western Pavilions became a site used by state and party leaders to recall the humiliations of the past and to celebrate the regnant nation (and it featured prominently in the 1997 return of Hong Kong to mainland control). In 1993-1994, the government proposed using foreign capital to construct a miniature replica of the Yuanming Yuan on the site of the original, and draft plans and initial archaeological surveys were made. This plan focused on three areas in the southwest section of the site—the Garden of Aquatic Plants (Zaoyuan), the Thirteen Locales (Shisansuo) and the Mountain and River Retreat (Shangao Shuichang). To comply with state regulations on cultural relics protection, Beijing Municipality commissioned archaeologists from the Beijing Cultural Relics Institute to survey and excavate the sites and prepare a draft plan. Shortly thereafter, an area of more than 4,600 sq m at Zaoyuan was excavated between September and December 1994. The entire building complex in the southwest corner of the garden was uncovered. Although all the buildings had been levelled, the outline of the stone paths and ponds could still be seen at the time of the survey.

The Beijing government's proposal to launch incursive reconstruction project in the garden, however, resulted in a public outcry and the proposal was scrapped. However, the idea was floated again in 1998 at the Beijing Municipal Political Consultative Conference, and in May 1999 the Beijing government authorised the Beijing City Planning Authority to draw up a draft plan for the Yuanming Yuan site. The debate spread in the mass media after the historian Wang Daocheng and Chen Liqun voiced their opposition, and the novelist Cong Weixi published a rebuttal in Beijing Evening News (Beijing wanbao).[3] Fuelled by enthusiasm for Beijing's 2008 Olympic bid, the plan was, however, eventually approved in August 2000. Authorities on ancient architecture and the environment were quick to denounce it again. The contretemps about whether the park be preserved as it was, partially restored, partially rebuilt or fully restored raged in the print media for some months, and every time a new incident involving the gardens occurs the familiar battle lines are redrawn and the debate unfolds anew.
The site has spawned other debates, including this one last year over plans for a Summer Palace theme park:

The Hengdian Group, a private company, initiated in 2006 the project to create a reconstructed version of this fabulous park, which was historically known as the "Garden of Gardens" for its luxurious palaces, mansions and décor that utilized both Western and Eastern architectural styles. Their plan would create an exact replica of the undamaged park at its original size. It is scheduled to be completed in 2013. The firm estimates that the investment will cost 20 billion yuan (US$2.78 billion)…

However, the plan has met with mixed public response. About 63 percent of the netizens surveyed were against the project, among whom 9 percent believed that it represented a lucrative business venture and would cause destruction; 23 percent felt that the project would promote traditional Chinese culture, according to a poll…

"It will be a multi-functional theme park and it will bring new growth to the local economy, especially regarding tourism," Xu explained.

But, according to Xu, a specialized committee will be established overseas to collect missing cultural relics, thus making the project a public welfare undertaking.

He said that any reclaimed cultural treasures would be returned to the government after they had been duplicated.
Charles Hayford wrote a piece for Asia Media a few years ago that discusses the continued resonance of 1860 in China today:

Professor Yuan's article begins by observing that after the Cultural Revolution people explained their violent excesses by bitterly commenting "we grew up drinking wolf's milk." But in looking through middle school history texts, Yuan was stunned to find "our youth are still drinking wolf's milk!" The textbooks' treatment of key nineteenth century incidents make his point. The authors present the Taiping rebels and the Boxers as patriotic and heroic precursors of revolution. The crimes of the British in the Second Opium War (1858-1860), such as the burning of the Summer Palace in 1860, are correctly characterized, he says, but the texts fail to hold the Qing government responsible for its own obstinate and criminal acts, which are simply described as patriotic. Yuan concludes that these views are not in the true spirit of China's revolution but represent the "poisonous residue of the vulgarization of revolution."

Punks at Kinko's

By Pierre Fuller

Microfilm is deadly. Deadly for the eyes, the brain and, as I recently learned here on a research jaunt to Beijing, the stomach. So when a CD booklet on the bar of a Haidian district livehouse caught my weary eye I thought I’d found a good wall ornament for the apartment and a better image to set my evenings eyes on. The only problem was the insert – a black & white sketch of a mass of punks tossing Molotovs at a grinning Mao – wasn’t big enough. I was thinking poster size, so I took it to the first place that came to mind: my local Beijing Kinko’s.

The attendant lifted the thing to her face and, yes, things got uncomfortable. There was no mistaking the message on the graphic’s palace backdrop to the Chairman: fanzui xiangfa, pohuai (criminals minds, destroy). And I felt a bit awkward walking in as an American with this suggestive graphic, so I made sure the staff took in the CD cover: two hands, a bloodied hatchet and the head of George W. Bush. These rockers were clearly out for everyone.

The manager and attendant conferred in mutters while a third staffer busied himself with the printed album lyrics, half rendered in English. (E.g. “Kill your Television. We sit back passively as OUR culture is commoditized and force-fed back to us. We have nothing to talk about except TV’s imaginary lives that are safe and sanitized, while the real hours of our own lives are sold away as advertising space to corporations. Our lives become the commodity as the things we buy, the words we speak and the way we live all become reflections of what we watch. Smash your TV and live YOUR life!”; or “We destroy the red dream… The dream turned into a nightmare without end. Now it’s time to destroy this dream gone stale. Smash it up and find a new way!”)

The answer was in the negative. “Political” was the word, and the attendant directed me to the list of rules that Kinko’s (a.k.a. FedEx Office) had posted by the copiers.

I bought this up the street, I said, could it really be illegal?

Again, “political” was the word, and, I suppose, I could’ve been shooed out the door. Instead I got profuse apologies and the suggestion that I take it to a smaller shop in the area where waving cash might get someone to bend the rules. But I didn’t get around to it.

Weeks later I pulled the offending item out of my bag. This time I was in Irvine, California. It too has the convenience of a neighborhood Kinko’s.

Did you make this? asked the woman behind the counter.

I went with honesty: No, I bought it in a bar in Beijing.

You’ll need a release letter from the artist, she said.

A letter? I said. From Chinese punks?

The irony, of course, was lost on her. Legality? Property? She had to read the stuff she was holding. But then there was no chance that that would happen. She was one of two or so staffers. The Beijing branch was crawling with some twelve.

How about I copy it myself, I asked.

She wouldn’t have any of it. Poohed away by this haughty, middle-aged woman like a petty thief, I realized I’d been stumped by the respective power and property obsessions of two reigning systems. But at least the Beijing branch had offered an apology and a back-up plan.

Back to Beijing, and the first candidate I could think of: a photo shop at one of the Peking University gates. I figured I’d print and break the image up in quadrants; for some reason I thought it’d look better up on the wall that way. The young woman didn’t bat an eye when she brought my image up on her PC. I confirmed that I wanted each quadrant at 6 by 8 (cun, or inches; photos here, I learned, are measured American-style). It was smaller than I’d planned, but the price was right and I had them in hand the next day.

Now I’m working on the frame. I’m thinking I'll go safe with black.


Readings Around the Net

1. Rebecca MacKinnon has a great new article at First Monday (“peer-reviewed journal on the internet”) called “China’s Censorship 2.0: How Companies Censor Bloggers.” It is required reading for all those tracking China’s web developments.

2. David Flumenbaum has produced a great reader that tracks the developments of and reactions to the CCTV fire in Beijing. It includes videos and excerpts from news reports.

3. If you haven’t yet read chinaSMACK, you can catch a clever recap of their 2008 postings here.

A week ago, we ran Lauri Paltemaa’s reflection on democracy movements and anniversaries in China this year. Here’s a mini-primer of related (Charter 08 and anniversaries) news.

1. For another take on the possible coming problems for the CCP this year, see Willy Lam’s commentary at the Asia Times (hat tip: CDT)

2. China Digital Times has continued to track Charter 08 news, as in this piece from last week. Two weeks ago, CDT ran a translation of a commentary on Hu Jintao’s poor leadership, and how it might contribute to unrest in 2009.

3. Xujun Eberlein also recently summarized the Charter 08 events at her blog (and the comments section is very interesting too).

4. For more on the “rumbles” of further unrest from a few weeks ago, see “China’s rural teachers join rumble of unrest” (Reuters, at International Herald Tribune), “China police take away citizens airing grievances” (AP), and “Workers protest as Italian sofa maker folds in China” (AFP).

5. And for a typically thoughtful preview of the challenges that confront Hu and Wen in the coming year, see Kerry Brown’s “China’s giant struggle” at openDemocracy.


Last spring, we reported from the annual AAS meeting on President Elizabeth Perry's inspiring address ("Reclaiming the Chinese Revolution"). For a short period of time, the address is available for free PDF download and we strongly encourage you to grab a copy while you can. [Link will take you to the issue and from there you can select the format in which you wish to view Perry's piece.]

The address begins:
REVOLUTIONS ARE UNPOPULAR THESE days, among Western politicians and scholars alike.We put our faith in liberal institutions such as markets and courts of law, looking to “democratic transitions” rather than to social revolutions as the path toward political progress. The view of revolution as a nasty and needless mistake was evident twenty years ago when celebrations surrounding the bicentennial of the French Revolution evoked debate and discomfort both inside and outside France. Then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, after leaving Paris on Bastille Day 1989, tapped into the prevailing sentiment when she presented President François Mitterrand with a handsome edition of Charles Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities, and smugly instructed the French president to read Dickens to learn why the French Revolution had been completely unnecessary...

Indeed, I imagine it is fair to say that many members of our association were initially drawn to the Asian field because we once held a favorable view of the Chinese revolution. Forty years ago, in the spring of 1968, the Association for Asian Studies convened its annual meeting in Philadelphia. That occasion was marked by a subgathering of Asianists who opposed the war in Vietnam, out of which was born the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars (CCAS). The many budding young Asianists who soon joined the CCAS, myself included, were generally united in the conviction that the war in Vietnam represented an epochal clash between a dynamic Asian revolutionary upsurge, stirred by the example of Mao’s China, on the one hand, and a destructive American imperialism, bolstered by the work of some prominent members of the Asian studies establishment, on the other.

But that was then...
The availabilty of the address is part of an effort on the part of the AAS's journal, the Journal of Asian Studies, to increase the association's reach. For another free article (again, available for limited time), see "State, Sovereignty, and the People: A Comparison of the 'Rule of Law' in China and India" by Jonathan K. Ocko and David Gilmartin (Feb. 2009).


A Year of Telling Tales

"Tales from Taiwan" also celebrated its first birthday recently. Since our inaugural posting on January 14, 2008, Peter Zarrow, Jennifer Liu, Yong Chen, and I have been contributing pieces about various aspects of Taiwanese culture. In terms of readership, here is a bit of numerology provided courtesy of the China Beat's web wizards:

The general page for "Tales" received 1,297 views as of February 5, totaling approximately 500 fewer than the tenth-most viewed post for the China Beat (Five Sites for Lesson Plans and Teaching Materials on China; 1,775 views).

Our Taiwan top five reads as follows:

1. The KMT Backstroke = 453 views
2. The Great Diversion = 372 views
3. Wild Strawberries = 267 views
4. Where Do We Go From Here? = 236 views
5. Trauma and Memory: 228 in Taiwan Today = 217 views

(Note: The category "views" simply records the number of readers who clicked a particular story; our wizardry does not extend to divining how many perused the story on the China Beat's main page when it was first posted).

A few posts attracted considerable discussion, some of it heated:

1. State of Siege = 16 comments
2. Wild Strawberries = 10 comments
3. The KMT Backstroke + The Return of the Two Nationalisms = 6 comments (tie)
4. Taiwan Top Five = 5 comments
5. 2008 Retrospective: Olympics in Taiwan + Trauma and Memory: 228 in Taiwan Today = 4 comments (tie)

It is a bit disappointing that the pieces about Taiwanese culture (movies, sports, festivals, etc.) seem to have attracted less attention than those about politics. However, "Tales" will continue to address both of these topics, while also devoting some space to the plight of Taiwan's underprivileged.

Bill Powell (1919-2008)

Stephen MacKinnon is a Professor of History at Arizona State University whose most recent book (reviewed by Nicole Barnes on China Beat last August) is Wuhan 1938. He has an abiding interest, as this post shows, in the history of Western journalists in China--an interest that led to publication of earlier books such as Agnes Smedley. He sent us this piece from India, but our PRC-based readers might like to know that they can catch him live at the Shanghai International Literary Festival on March 22, where he will give a talk at M on the Bund on “Intrigue and Romance the 1930s--Agnes Smedley's Shanghai.”

Bill Powell (John W. Powell) died suddenly on December 15 at the age of 89. Obituaries (New York Times, 12/17/08) focused on the sedition trial of the 1950s in which Bill, wife Sylvia, and Julian Schuman were pilloried for repeating in the Shanghai English language weekly, China Weekly Review, the charge that U.S. forces used germ warfare in the Korean War. The story of their defense is a remarkable one of personal courage and tenacity – and of course it should be addressed. The ordeal made McCarthy hysteria martyrs of the Powells.

But there is another, more Chinese story to tell about Bill Powell. Bill was a central figure, one of the few who survived into the twenty-first century, among a group of young men and women from the West (mostly American) who reported on the China theatre during World War II. In the face of censorship, language barriers (the country was a check-board of regional dialects), and the horrors of daily bombing raids, Powell and others dug for stories and then found various means to get their stories out and in print. Their reports marked the most extensive news coverage at that point of a non-Western country in the Western press. Bill’s comrades included John Hersey, Teddy White, Harold Isaacs, AT Steele, Til and Peggy Durdin, Jack Belden, Anna L. Jacoby, Stewart Alsop, Mac Fisher, Chris Rand, Graham Peck, Agnes Smedley, Edgar Snow, and Freda Utley.

What Bill lacked in age and experience was made up by the connections of his father in Shanghai (where Bill was born). By the mid-1920s, J.B. Powell – originally from Hannibal, Missouri – was a legend in the Chinese coast English language publishing world. He was editor and eventually publisher of the China Weekly Review, the most widely read and quoted publication (often in the Chinese language press) of its kind in China. By the 1930s , the editorial stance of the Review was virulently anti-Japanese. In December, 1941, J.B. was arrested in Shanghai and badly tortured by the Japanese occupation forces.

Fresh out of college, Bill was 22 years old when he returned to China as a war correspondent. When Bill arrived in Chongqing shortly after Pearl Harbor, he knew only that his father was in a concentration camp. Bill was assigned first to Chongqing, which he found stifling. As soon as possible he volunteered to go to Guilin as an officer in the Office of War Information as well as a stringer for Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Daily News and other publications. His father’s connections gave Bill access at the highest level to Chinese government officials, both Communist and Nationalist (remember China was nominally fighting at this point as a “united” front). These included figures like Chiang Kaishek and the Madame, H.H. Kong, T.V. Song on the Nationalist side and Zhou Enlai and Gong Peng on the Communist side. On the American side, he was part of the press corps covering the tumultuous relationship between Generals Vinegar Joe Stilwell (Army) and Claire Chennault (Air Force) as well as the shenanigans of the Navy Intelligence chief Milton (Mary) Miles.

The high point of his war reporting years, Bill told me, were his years in Guilin (in mountainous Guangxi province, northwest of Canton). He was there from 1942 until the city fell to the Japanese in 1944. Besides being more picturesque than Chongqing (as it still is), Guilin was much freer politically and culturally – free of Chiang Kaishek’s secret police or juntong led by the infamous Daili. A group of different Generals, not Chiang Kaishek, had controlled the province as an independent power base since the 1920s. The most important of these in Bill’s time were Generals Bai Chongxi and Li Jishen. Annual celebrations of General Bai’s mother’s birthday was the biggest holiday of the year. Thus from Guilin Bill got stories out, about dramatic rescues of downed U.S. plane crews, for example. He was able to report with less censorship and in a more balanced way on the battlefield developments and political rivalries going on around him. Bill also thought that the partnership between the U.S. and Chinese allies worked better in Guilin, with a lot going on beneath the surface. Guilin was a center of intrigue between British, American, and Chinese intelligence operatives – in all sorts of ways. For example, Ho Chi Minh surfaced in Guilin, soliciting and winning support from the O.S.S., after a bad spell in a Chiang Kaishek prison (in Chongqing). There were collisions between British and U.S. intelligence about how to best conduct clandestine operations in Burma, and so forth.

At another level, Guilin was exciting because it enjoyed a flowering as a sort of wartime cultural center, attracting prominent Chinese artists, writers, and poets. General Bai bankrolled the major daily paper, Aobei ribao, whose editorial board had strong communist leanings. There were even important western cultural figures passing through, including Hemingway. Bill remembered being amused by Robert Payne, the poet and translator, who was married at the time to the daughter of a Beijing aristocrat, wandering around Guilin with long hair, sandals, and a rope holding up his pants – to Bill anticipating the beat generation he saw in San Francisco in the 1950s.

In 1944 Bill was one of the last out of Guilin before the arrival of the Japanese as part of the Ichigo offensive. He covered the tragic torching of the city before the Japanese advance which included the U.S. forces blowing up the state of the art hospital they had just opened.

Bill never forgot the Guilin (and Chongqing) years. They represented one of the high points of his life (another being his marriage to Sylvia in Shanghai and honeymoon in Lichang in 1947). Bill met Sylvia through Madame Sun Yatsen (Song Qingling). Of course his assumption of the editorship of the Weekly Review after the war (followed by the death of his father in 1947 in New York) was a milestone as well. As editors, Bill and Sylvia had the ideal catbird seat from which to view the Chinese civil war. By 1947 Bill saw the Communists as China’s best hope for the future and the Review’s reporting ran in that direction. (Ironic, because J.B. Powell had been a strong supporter of Chiang Kaishek and founder of the China Lobby in the U.S.).

It is important to remember Bill’s role as a war correspondent and put it on an par with the later life experiences. He was the last of a generation of Western journalist-adventurers for whom China during the war became a romantic, courageous, revolutionary place. Their reporting broke with older styles of “treaty port” journalism because they attempted to report empathically on conditions as a whole in China. It was this generation who inaugurated a new era of much more varied and penetrating Western reporting on the Chinese situation and later on all of Asia– a legacy that still casts a shadow today.

Readers may also be interested in China Reporting: An Oral History of American Journalism in the 1930s and 1940s by Stephen MacKinnon and An American Editor in Early Revolutionary China by Neil O'Brien.


Clinton Plans Visit to China

In just a week, Hilary Clinton will be in China for her first visit as U.S. Secretary of State. What will inform the visit? Here are a few readings that discuss it…

1. Surprise! Many China watchers were caught short by the news that Clinton is headed to China for a visit. The tour has been put together at the last moment, with an as-yet unclear agenda, as discussed by Ian Johnson at WSJ

2. For an updated analysis of Clinton’s likely goals during her Asia stops, see FEER’s report. One highlight from their analysis of the China visit:

The final stop in China will combine personal and policy tests for Secretary Clinton. Personal, because she has long been critical of China for human rights abuses and trade issues, and Beijing has been trying to puzzle her out. Policy, because President Obama has set high goals for additional cooperation with China, beyond what President Bush achieved.
3. On Friday, Clinton gave a speech at the Asia Society that indicated the direction her visit might take:

Secretary Clinton also said she will "press the case" for greater energy efficiency and clean energy, stating that climate change also has implications on global health care and economy.
4. Clinton has made several high-profile visits to China already. Here is a report on her 1995 visit during the U.N. Fourth World Conference on Women.

5. In case you’d like a day-by-day accounting of the Clinton 1998 visit to China (really perhaps more than most of us need to know), here is that detailed account.

6. As some will remember, China was a punching bag for Clinton and Obama during the primaries. If you need a refresher, check out this story from AFP.

7. Back in January 2008, Sufei of Sexy Beijing pondered how she should make a decision between Obama and Clinton…revealing Clinton’s widespread familiarity and popularity on the streets of Beijing.


For Book Lovers and China Enthusiasts…

Tis the season of book festivals, at least around here. A number of China Beat contributors will be speaking at events in the coming months. Here is a list of readings to add to your calendars:

1. The Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival. Scroll through their program to find panels with Xujun Eberlein (Saturday, March 14, 10 a.m., and again on Sunday, March 15, 3 p.m.) and Jeffrey Wasserstrom (Monday, March 16, 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Tuesday, March 17, 7:30 p.m.), as well as many other commentators and analysts (like Rebecca MacKinnon) and writers (like Zhu Wen) whose publications have been mentioned or linked to on China Beat.

2. The Shanghai International Literary Festival. Jeffrey Wasserstrom will be speaking Sunday, March 15, 4 p.m. Scroll through to find more friends of the blog on the program, including Stephen MacKinnon, Graham Earnshaw, and James Fallows. (Those interested in past visitors can scroll through the archives of Shanghai City Weekend's Book Club, which down near the bottom of the page has podcasts from the 2008 event available for downloading.)

3. Virginia Festival of the Book. Susan Brownell and Kate Merkel-Hess will be speaking at a panel on “Portraits of Contemporary China,” Friday, March 20, 10 a.m.

China in the U.S. Annual Threat Assessment

News agencies have been reporting widely on the content of the U.S. intelligence community's annual threat assessment, delivered Thursday by Dennis Blair (director of U.S. national intelligence) and peppered with language that hearkens back to the Bush era (of a whole four weeks ago, but, still, anyone else tired of references to the U.S. as the "Homeland"?). News stories have focused on the primacy given to the economic crisis in the report and the analysis of threats in the Middle East and what the report calls an "arc of instabilty" from South Asia through the Middle East. However, the report also contains several pages on China specifically (pp. 22-23), as well as mentions of China's impact in Africa (pp. 34-5), its role in cyber attacks (p. 39), and Chinese environmental security (p. 45).

The full report is available at the website of the Director of National Intelligence. Below are excerpts of the included material on China.

From the section on China:
We judge China’s international behavior is driven by a combination of domestic priorities, primarily maintaining economic prosperity and domestic stability, and a longstanding ambition to see China play the role of a great power in East Asia and globally. Chinese leaders view preserving domestic stability as one of their most important internal security challenges. Their greatest concerns are separatist unrest and the possibility that local protests could merge into a coordinated national movement demanding fundamental political reforms or an end to Party rule. Security forces move quickly and sometimes forcefully to end demonstrations. The March 2008 protests in Tibet highlighted the danger of separatist unrest and prompted Beijing to deploy paramilitary and military assets to end the demonstrations.

These same domestic priorities are central to Chinese foreign policy. China’s desire to secure access to the markets, commodities, and energy supplies needed to sustain domestic economic growth significantly influences its foreign engagement. Chinese diplomacy seeks to maintain favorable relations with other major powers, particularly the US, which Beijing perceives as vital to China’s economic success and to achieving its other strategic objectives. But Beijing is also seeking to build its global image and influence in order to advance its broader interests and to resist what it perceives as external challenges to those interests or to China’s security and territorial integrity.

Taiwan as an area of tension in US-China relations has substantially relaxed since the 2008 election of Ma Ying-jeou. The new Taiwanese President inaugurated in May has resumed dialogue with Beijing after a nine-year hiatus, and leaders on both sides of the Taiwan Strait are now cautiously optimistic that a new period of less confrontational relations has begun. Many outstanding challenges remain, however, and the two sides eventually will need to confront issues such as Taiwan’s participation in international organizations. Beijing has not renounced the use of force against the island, and China’s leaders see maintaining the goal of unification as vital to regime legitimacy.
On the modernization of the PLA:
Preparations for a possible Taiwan conflict continue to drive the modernization goals of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the Chinese defense-industrial complex. It will likely remain the primary factor as long as the Taiwan situation is unresolved. At the same time, we judge that China over the past several years has begun a substantially new phase in its military development by beginning to articulate roles and missions for the PLA that go well beyond China’s immediate territorial interests.

• For example, China’s leaders may decide to contribute combat forces to peacekeeping operations, in addition to expanding the current level of command and logistic support.

• China’s national security interests are broadening. This will likely lead China to attempt to develop at least a limited naval power projection capability extending beyond the South China Sea. This already has been reflected in Beijing’s decision in December to participate in anti-piracy operations off the coast of Somalia.

Missile Capability. China continues to develop and field conventional theater-range ballistic and cruise missile capabilities that can reach US forces and regional bases throughout the Western Pacific and Asia, including Guam. China also is developing conventionally armed short- and medium-range ballistic missiles with terminally guided maneuverable warheads that could be used to attack US naval forces and airbases. In addition, counter-command, control, and sensor systems, to include communications satellite jammers, are among Beijing’s highest military priorities.
Counterspace Systems. China continues to pursue a long-term program to develop a capability to disrupt and damage critical foreign space systems. Counterspace systems, including antisatellite (ASAT) weapons, also rank among the country’s highest military priorities.
Nuclear Capability. On the nuclear side, we judge Beijing seeks to modernize China’s strategic forces in order to address concerns about the survivability of those systems in the face of foreign, particularly US, advances in strategic reconnaissance, precision strike, and missile defenses. We assess China’s nuclear capabilities will increase over the next ten years.
And on Africa:
China’s presence has grown substantially over the past decade. Total bilateral trade between China and the continent has increased from less than $4 billion in 1995 to $100 billion in 2008, but the EU and US still remain far larger economic partners for the region. China’s objectives are to secure access to African markets and natural resources, isolate Taiwan, and enhance its international stature, all of which it has made progress on. Nevertheless, China’s role has generated local resentment as Chinese firms are seen as undercutting African competitors in securing commercial contracts and falling short of standard local labor practices. Moreover, there is little discernible evidence of Chinese investments being used to incorporate Africa into the industrial “global value production chains” that are becoming the hallmark of integrative trade and FDI flows, especially in manufacturing in other regions of the world.
On cyber attacks:
We assess that a number of nations, including Russia and China, have the technical capabilities to target and disrupt elements of the US information infrastructure and for intelligence collection. Nation states and criminals target our government and private sector information networks to gain competitive advantage in the commercial sector.
On the environment:
China’s high incidence of chronic disease stemming in great part from heavy tobacco use threatens to slow economic growth by incapacitating workers and incurring heavy health-care costs. The health effects of environmental degradation are an increasing source of discontent in China.


Obama Recommendations: VI

Paul French is the Shanghai-based author of Carl Crow, a Tough Old China Hand and keeps the blog China Rhyming, as well as acting as publishing and marketing director at Access Asia. French's next book, Through the Looking Glass: China's Foreign Journalists from the Opium Wars to Mao, will be published June 1 by Hong Kong University Press.

Obama claims to be a break with the past by which, in a very American way of defining the past, he seems to mean the last few years. Instructive as some recent China books may be, perhaps the President would care to go back a bit further and consider the opinions of some older Americans and one Brit with plenty of China experience.

The revival of American extraterritoriality (extrality) in Iraq does not appear to have spurred much interest in historians to go back and look at previous examples of the practise. But in pre-revolution Shanghai, Americans were at the forefront of the debate and history has a tendency to echo. So he might benefit from ploughing through the great American journalist in Shanghai Thomas Fairfax Millard’s The End of Extraterritoriality in China (1931). Millard’s book influenced a whole gang of Americans in Shanghai to oppose extrality – China Weekly Review editor JB Powell did and he was drummed out of the right wing American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai (some things never change!) for his position. A more recent examination of the failings of America’s attempts at extrality in China, Ellen P. Scully’s Bargaining With the State from Afar: American Citizenship in Treaty Port China 1844-1942 (2001), might also prove useful.

Obama is about to get bombarded by a thousand and one industry lobby groups and the US-China Business Council about how he must adopt a “trade first” policy towards China as there are millions to be made over there. Hopefully the expensive suits and lavish PowerPoints won’t faze him. To help, he might like to read Carl Crow’s 1937 classic 400 Million Customers: The Experiences – Some Happy, Some Sad of an American in China, and What They Taught Him. It should at least remind the Commander-in-Chief that there’s very little new under the sun – in 1937 Crow could confidently write - “China is a market of long receivables, rigid markets, structural inefficiency, impossible logistics and relentless brazen copying and substitution of imported goods with fakes” and conclude that a lot of those PowerPoint projections may not come to pass now as they didn’t back then – “No matter what you may be selling, your business in China should be enormous, if the Chinese who should buy your goods would only do so.”

The President is presumably a rather busy chap at the moment and doesn’t have much time for reading so there’s no need to overburden him. Perhaps the most instructive read to prepare him for the “experts” that will inundate him is a book that might or might not have ever existed – Tony Keswick’s Everything I Know About China which has become an old Shanghai legend. Keswick was the taipan of Jardine Matheson in Shanghai up until WW2. He rarely gave interviews and when he did would sit opposite the eager journalist with a coffee table between them upon which was a leather-bound and beautifully embossed copy of Everything I Know About China. Half way through the interview he would excuse himself from the room, go next door and peep through a spy hole in the wall to watch the journalist, knowing they wouldn’t be able to resist opening the book for a peek. Inside were 200 completely empty pages. You get the point hopefully?


China’s Water Woes: Past, Present, and Future

The Chinese droughts have just begun to move onto the front pages of the world's newspapers, but the droughts are just the latest sign of much more dire warnings of water woes in China. Some China experts are talking about this (see, for instance, today's event at the Wilson Center on "Temperatures Rising: Climate Change, Water, and the Himalayas"), but, in China Beat fashion, we're hoping to encourage many more people to do a little more reading and talking about it too, so we invited Ken Pomeranz to reflect on the present news and suggest a few further readings for those who are interested.

By Ken Pomeranz

Water is back in the China-related news lately – and that’s almost always a bad sign. Most recently, we have had stories about the grinding North China drought; this may be the worst since the late 50s drought that exacerbated the Great Leap Forward famine. A bit earlier, we had the report of credible (though unproven) research suggesting that last May’s catastrophic Sichuan earthquake may have been triggered by pressure from the water stored behind Zipingpu Dam. (See here for an early report, and then the slightly later piece, with more about the key Chinese scientist involved, by Evan Osnos of the New Yorker). Late in January, Jiang Gaoming of the Chinese Academy of Sciences released a sobering piece (China Dialogue, January 22, 2009) about how accelerating the construction of dams in China’s Southwest – part of the P.R.C.’s ambitious stimulus package to fight the global recession – is worsening the already considerable environmental and social risks involved, with some projects beginning before any Environmental Impact Assessments have been completed. Such a confluence of events is enough to make a historian think back…to about six weeks ago.

When the China Beat crew decided to put together our book China in 2008, I drew what you could consider either the long or the short straw, depending on your tastes: light editorial duties in return for writing an “end of the year wrap-up” piece to go at the end of the book. (Most of the copy had to go to the press by November 1, and a book with the sub-title “10 months out of a year of great significance” somehow didn’t seem right.) And as the last days of the year ticked off and I tried to figure out what things about 2008 to emphasize, water kept winding up at the center. Here’s an excerpt:

“The Olympics briefly focused attention on China’s serious air pollution problems…But China’s water woes are at least equally pressing, and it may be easier to see what effects they will have. Two little-noted news items from near the end of the year may illuminate that – after we review some background.

Water has always been a problem in China, and effective control of it has been associated with both personal heroism and legitimate sovereignty for as far back as our records go…. But water scarcity is probably an even greater problem than excesses, especially in the modern period. Surface and near-surface water per capita in China today is roughly ¼ of the global average, and worse yet, it is distributed very unevenly. The North and Northwest, with over half the country’s arable land, have about 7 percent of its surface water; the North China Plain, in particular, has 10 to12 percent of the per capita supply for the country as a whole, or less than 3 percent of the global average. China also has unusually violent seasonal fluctuations in water supply; both rainfall and river levels change much more over the course of the year than in either Europe or North America. While the most famous of China’s roughly 85,000 dams are associated with hydro-power (about which more in a minute), a great many exist mostly to store water during the peak flow of rivers for use at other times of year.

The People’s Republic has made enormous efforts to address these problems – and achieved impressive short-term successes that are now extremely vulnerable. Irrigated acreage has more than tripled since 1950, with the vast majority of those gains coming in the North and Northwest; this has turned the notorious “land of famine” of the 1850-1950 period into a crucial grain surplus area, and contributed mightily to improving per capita food supplies for a national population that has more than doubled. Much of that, however, has come through the massive use of deep wells bringing up underground water far faster than it can be replaced; and a great deal of water is wasted, especially in agriculture, where costs to farmers are kept artificially low. (Chinese agriculture is not necessarily more wasteful in this regard than agriculture in many other places – and certainly the deviations from market prices are no worse than in the supposedly market-driven United States – but its limited supplies make waste a much more immediate problem.) Water tables are now dropping rapidly in much of North China, and water shortages are a frequent fact of life for most urban residents. (Beijing suffers fewer water shortages, but only because it can commandeer the water resources of a large surrounding rural area included in the municipality.) Various technologies that would reduce water waste exist, but most are expensive. More realistic pricing of irrigation water would help – but probably at the price of driving millions of marginal farmers to the wall, and greatly accelerating the already rapid rush of people to the cities. Consequently, adoption of both of these palliatives is likely to remain slow.

Instead, the state has chosen a massive three-pronged effort to move water from South to North China – by far the biggest construction project in history, if it is completed. Part of the Eastern section began operating this year, and the Central section is also underway (though the December 31 Wall Street Journal reported a delay due to environmental concerns). The big story in the long run, however is the Western line, which will tap the enormous water resources of China’s far Southwest – Tibet alone has over 30 percent of China’s fresh water supply, most of it coming from the annual run-off of some water from Himalayan glaciers. (This is an aspect of the Tibet question one rarely hears about, but rest assured that all the engineers in China’s leadership, including Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, are very much aware of it. Tibetans, meanwhile, not only see a precious resource going elsewhere when their water is tapped: they regard many of the lakes and rivers to be dammed as sacred.) The engineering challenges in this mountainous region are enormous, but so are the potential rewards, both in water supply and in hydropower – the electricity water can generate is directly proportional to how far it falls into the turbines, and the Yangzi, for instance, completes 90 percent of its drop to the sea before it even enters China proper. The risks, as our two stories make clear, are social and political as well as environmental…

Call the two news stories the “double glacier shock.” On December 9, Asia Times Online reported that China was planning to go ahead with a major hydroelectric dam and water diversion scheme on the great bend of the Yarlong Tsangpo River in Tibet. The hydro project is planned to generate 40,000 megawatts – almost twice as much as Three Gorges. But the water which this dam would impound and turn northwards currently flows south into Assam to form the Brahmaputra, which in turn joins the Ganges to form the world’s largest river delta, supplying much of the water to a basin with over 300 million inhabitants. While South Asians have worried for some time that China might divert this river, the Chinese government had denied any such intentions, reportedly doing so again when Hu Jintao visited New Delhi in 2006. But when Indian Prime Minister Singh raised the issue again during his January, 2008 visit to Beijing, the tone had changed, with Wen Jiabao supposedly replying that water scarcity is a threat to the “very survival of the Chinese nation,” and providing no assurances. And so it is – not only for China, but for its neighbors. Most of Asia’s major rivers – the Yellow, the Yangzi, the Mekong, Salween, Irrawaddy, Brahmaputra, Ganges, Sutlej, and Indus – draw on the glaciers of the Himalayas, and all of these except the Ganges have their source on the Chinese side of the border. Forty-seven percent of the world’s people, from Karachi to Tianjin, draw on those rivers.

In short the possible damage to China’s neighbors from this approach to its water and energy needs is staggeringly large – and the potential to raise political tensions is commensurate. Previous water diversion projects affecting the source of the Mekong have already drawn protests from Vietnam (and from environmental groups), and a project on the Nu River (which becomes the Salween in Thailand and Burma) was suspended in 2004. But this project has vastly larger implications for both Chinese and foreigners. If, as some people think, the twenty-first century will be the century of conflicts over water, Tibet may well be ground zero.

Of course, China is hardly the only country that has ever appropriated water (not to mention other resources) that others see as theirs; I am writing in Southern California, made much more livable by denying Mexico Colorado River water it is theoretically guaranteed by treaty. And there is also something to be said, environmentally, for anything that provides China with lots of electricity and isn’t coal…

But that’s where the second glacier shock of 2008 comes in – news that this crucial water source is disappearing faster than anyone had previously realized. A report published in Geophysical Research Letters on November 22 noted that recent samples taken from Himalayan glaciers were missing two markers that are usually easy to find, reflecting open air nuclear tests in 1951-2 and 1962-3. The reason: the glacier apparently had lost any ice built up since the mid-1940s…And since the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change estimates that the Himalayan highlands will warm at about twice the average global rate over the next century, there is every reason to think the situation will get worse. One estimate has 1/3 of the Himalayan glaciers disappearing by 2050, and 2/3 by 2100. If that scenario is right, then even if all the engineering challenges of South-North water diversion can be solved, and even if China undertakes and gets away with taking water away from hundreds of millions of people in South and Southeast Asia, the resulting fix might not last very long…”
Strangely, these stories have attracted very little press coverage. There is, however, an excellent video at the Asia Society website. And there is a fair amount of stuff that’s worth reading about China’s water problems in general. If you are interested in learning more, here are a few things I would recommend:

1. James Nickum has a nice, short, summary of the South-North water transfer project available online. His December 1998 essay in China Quarterly, “Is China Living on the Water Margin?” (#156, 880-898) seems to me to have held up very nicely for a 10-year old overview of this rapidly changing set of problems (and as regular readers of this blog know, we give extra points for punning titles).

2. Another useful overview from several years ago (more technical than Nickum’s) is Olli Varis and Pertti Vakkilainen “China’s 8 challenges to water resources management in the first quarter of the 21st Century,” Geomorphology 41:2/3 pp. 93-104 (November 15, 2001). If you’re at a place where you can access the web version (i.e., a library with a subscription), you’ll find lots of useful further links to click on. (Here is one link for those with a subscription through ScienceDirect.)

3. Elizabeth Economy’s The River Runs Black seems to me to overstate the problems at some times (and since I don’t have a sanguine view, that should give an idea how, umm, black, her take is), but it’s a very good introduction to some of the relevant policy-making agencies and processes.

4. Dai Qing’s various essays on Three Gorges and other hydro projects are very useful, as is the collection Mega-Project (which included both official and unofficial views of the project).

5. Probe International often has good material, as does the International Rivers project.

6. And since plugging oneself is OK on a blog, I have a long-ish essay on the history of Chinese water management in a forthcoming collection of essays on environmental history: Burke, Edmund III, and Kenneth Pomeranz, editors The Environment and World History (UC Press, forthcoming March, 2009).