Receive "The World According to Tom Barnett" Brief
Where I Work
Search the Site
Buy Tom's Books
  • Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    Great Powers: America and the World After Bush
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    Romanian and East German Policies in the Third World: Comparing the Strategies of Ceausescu and Honecker
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 1): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 2): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 3): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 4): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Thomas P.M. Barnett, Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett
  • The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    The Emily Updates (Vol. 5): One Year in the Life of the Girl Who Lived (The Emily Updates (Vols. 1-5))
    by Vonne M. Meussling-Barnett, Thomas P.M. Barnett, Emily V. Barnett
Monthly Archives
Powered by Squarespace

Entries in China (485)

2:27PM

Time' Battleland: National Security - Hunting Down Bad Guys: China vs. the U.S.

A pair of ostensibly unrelated New York Times‘ stories recently jumped out at me.

Understand, the paper itself made no attempt to link the two.

What struck me was just how calmly the Times reported 3,000 (!) targeted assassinations by the Obama Administration since 2009, after rather breathlessly noting - just days before – China’s “hard-nosed display of the government’s political and economic clout across Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.”

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

7:44AM

The inevitable counter-reaction to China's aggressive behavior in Asia

The easiest call of the last half-century:  push Japan around enough and you'll get an end to its constitutionally-mandated pacifism.

Unlike Germany, which self-flagelated to the point of altering its social persona, Japan did no such thing.  It simply buried the past, which it can now dig up with enough incentives from Beijing, which seems to have counted on the notion that it could push Tokyo around indefinitely.

No, this doesn't change my attitude on the "pivot" or AirSea Battle.  In both cases, it proves how unnecessary they are as over-the-top reactions (yes, I understand the "show of force" part; I just worry that such things tend to be forgotten fairly quickly inside the Pentagon and thus today's feint equals tomorrow's "unshakeable national security interest").

The US enabled Asia's peaceful rise by playing Leviathan and thus obviating anyone's need to "arms race" with anyone else inside the region.  The result being, for the first time in history, India, China, Korea and Japan all "risen" without any wars.  

Beijing seems to have seen some historic advantage in this situation, which now disappears - inevitably.  Thus, now is NOT the time for the US to "pour it on" but to play the honest-broker all the more.

11:12AM

The tricky thing about Kim Jong Eun

Good WAPO piece about the ratcheting up of brinksmanship by NorKo, which has gotten so aggressive as of late that SouKo pols are discussing the nuclear option - as in, get some.

I was asked this last week in a speech in Nebraska (Lincoln), and my reply was, KJE has shown a distinct willingness to open things up internally, which is a very hopeful sign.  But, as with anybody in his position, he needs to show a lot of external aggression to: 1) prove himself as the new leader and 2) show his internal reforms won't result in any loss of international "stature."

The problem is, of course, that the external aggression becomes self-fulfilling, which is why the hardliners always demand it as a form of reform-snuffing activity.  

We don't know yet whether KJE has any real ambition to become a Deng-like transformative figure (China's dream).  We can only go off the evidence to date. And that evidence says, playing with reforms but also playing with aggression.

It's easy to go overboard in either direction, but the instinct of an authoritarian state/leader is always to err on the side of external aggression, which is why totalitarian regimes of this nature are almost impossible to reform from within.

The good upside?

It gets Korea back on the front burner and gives a rest from the growing China-v-everyone dynamic.  Plus it opens up the chance for cooperation with China on a shared burden.

But for now, it's the same old, same old with no clear path ahead.

12:01AM

What China wants, China gets - at a cost to the planet

One of the ways in which China starts getting blamed for all things globalization is the direct impact its consumers can have on global markets - sending them soaring and crashing in a historical heartbeat.

I've talked about China's incredible hunger for various nuts in the past, and how that demand has fundamentally reshaped ag markets in the US.

This NYT story discusses how fishermen off the coast of Mexico are ignoring governmental attempts to preserve an overfished area for sea cucumbers.  Out-of-area guys are slipping into zones being vigilantly guarded by locals and pulling out hauls right under their noses.  This creates a "wild west" atmosphere were towns square off against towns over their precious slices of the pie and every stranger is treated like a would-be criminal.

Until China emerged in its middle-class glory, they wasn't much of a demand, as sea cucumbers aren't really eaten by Mexicans.  But now the demand is such that one guy poaching can claim $700 a day in profit.

So this section of Mexico's coastline is in uproar . . . because Chinese like their sea cucumbers.

There will come a time - soon enough, when virtually everyone in the world who isn't Chinese will be living some version of this story.

A while back, America played that role, and while everyone wanted to please that American consumer, the dynamic created a lot of antipathy too.

And that is what's coming toward China at high speed.

12:35PM

Iraq at ten years

Cartoon found here (in an FT op-ed that fits this post nicely - if orthogonally).

Read through a variety of the tenth-year anniversary reviews, and I thought Thomas Friedman's was the best - despite the weird title (Democrats, Dragons or Drones?).

His basic notion that it takes the next generation to create and shape the subsequent reality is correct.  Friedman pegs it at "9 months and 21 years to develop."

Fair enough. But the question (as he also notes) hinges on that generation's journey.  Done well, it works.  Done badly enough and a vicious spiral ensues.  In truth, the jury remains out on that score.

We won the war - no doubt, and then took a pass on the postwar.  If we hadn't, then questions of "why?" fade away.  In the post-9/11 mood, America possessed the desire to reshape the region and Saddam was the obvious target. Direct causality was not the issue, although Dick Cheney tried to sell that.  Nor was direct threat, referring to the late and frantic oversell of the WMD to Congress.  The purpose - all along - was structural retribution: as in, you reshaped our world, now we reshape yours.  Americans are just deeply uncomfortable admitting that, so we needed a clear and present storyline to drive our revenge-flick dynamics.

The resulting strategic "pre-emption" was oddly symmetrical in ambition but certainly not in cost (and why should it be so between a superpower and a non-state actor?).

So when we take that pass on the aftermath of the war, and basically pretend that what comes next doesn't really matter, we abort the entire regional restructuring ambition (which, if you remember, was on a nice roll for 2-3 years there) and we allow ourselves to be swallowed up (in terms of strategic effort and attention) by an insurgency that was completely foreseeable and completely manageable - if we had bothered to embrace that inevitability.

But instead of embracing it, we did what we always do and called the postwar another war.  And wars yield a singular answer in US military history - called, more firepower.  And then we found that made things worse (go figure).

And then the White House, chastened finally by the 2006 midterms, relabeled the conflict and rebranded the mission - and then we succeeded again.  

But by then the public narrative had already been cast (Bush lied, too many deaths, too much cost).

So ultimately the Bush administration pays the legacy cost for its mistakes, which mostly had to do with stubbornness.  They had their narrative of a successful war and stuck to it - until it hurt so bad that they had to change.

So what are we left with?

In structural terms, I like what the Middle East has become.  The inevitabilities are being processed and Iran is more isolated than ever.  And thanks to larger structural changes in the global economy, the area is coming under new superpower management - inexorably.  None of it is nice, but it was never going to be anything but painful and violent.  The Arab world has an enormous amount of catching up to do WRT globalization, and it will be awful in execution (and with Africa leaping ahead on many fronts, the Middle East and North Africa - or large portions of it - risk becoming globalization's long-term basket case).

If the US had handed off the region still encased in its many dictatorships, China would have a much easier time over the next two decades.  Now, it faces challenges that are likely to alter its own political structure significantly - just like it did to the US.  Some naturally see the "defeat of American empire" in the region, but since empire was never America's goal, that judgment is meaningless.

All that matters is the relative evolutions of the three superpowers of the 21st century:  China, India and America.

America did, per my original Esquire piece, take strategic ownership of the Middle East in a big way.  That ambition was both debilitating and liberating:  we took our shot (badly) and now we're done "owning" things there (besides Iran's nukes).  In that way, Iraq processed our inevitable post-9/11 over-reaching response (we are a democracy) and hurried us along the exhaustion-collapse-rock bottom-recovery-resurrection dynamic that was always slated for us in the post-Cold War world (our inability to handle the success of the "end of history" - aka, the globalization of our economic connectivity model).  We had gotten used to running things, and we weren't going to stop until something made us stop - an unpleasant journey but a necesssary one.

Now, in grand structural terms, the race among my C-I-A trio is well underway.  The Obama administration, needing a switch-over target, sells its Asian pivot.  This is not a good answer, as I have noted frequently - but rather a red herring.  The real struggle in Asia doesn't involve us except in an off-shore balancing role.

Instead, the real struggles of the future involve the very same frontier integration I've been talking about for a decade now.  On that score, we are looking fine enough in our ongoing restructuring of our portfolio, while China's grows frighteningly larger relative to its ability to deliver and manage regions distant from its shores. India is just begining to recognize what responsibilities lie ahead.

You'll say that China will do it differently, but the structure of the system will force the same responses: China cannot afford to lose its growing overseas dependencies (much greater than any borne by the US), and so the responses will be mounted.  And when they don't go well (whoever gets it right - right off the bat?), change will double back upon China - to its general benefit (along with the world's).

Iraq was always a means to an end (when in history has great power war ever been anything else?).  During the real-time execution, it seems like everything - as does every war throughout history.  But half a century later?  It looks very different.  It's a stepping stone for superpowers:  some step up and some step down, some step away and some step in.  None of it is exactly what it appears to be in the light of present-day reporting.  Per Zhou Enlai's take on the French Revolution, we will be witnessing the downstream consequences across the century.

8:50AM

The pollution trigger in China

I love that building.  Locals in Beijing have dubbed it the "squatting man" or some such (you get the idea), indicating that the Chinese sense of humor is as fine as anybody else's.

But patience wears thin on the subject of pollution, which is stunning to behold in China - as in, take my allergy issues in Indiana and times it by 10 in terms of the resulting agony.

Here we see the same fundamental failure of authoritarian rule that we saw in the Soviet Union:  when the state has unbridled power, it trashes the environment.  The Soviets took that sin to amazing depths, but the Chinese are rapidly closing in on those horrific standards.

And yes, democracy is the answer - the only answer.  We bitch about the BANANAs and NIMBYs (look 'em up) in the US, but frankly, these cranks do God's work day-in and day-out - along with our legal system.  Give me one Erin Brockovitch over a million Maos (or even a hundred Dengs) and we will all live in a much better world.

The strongest grass-roots democratization dynamics inside China involve the environment.  Some of the best progressive elements within the US during our similar out-of-control developmental age (late 19th century) were likewise focused (and again, TR leads the way politically).  It's the easiest and most direct trigger to the whole "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore" dynamic that fuels democratization.  You simply push people too far with your incompetence and indifference.

Yes, the new generation of CCP leaders seems far more aware of the issue - Li  Keqiang especially.  But as the NYT front-pager today points out, that lofty talk doesn't surmount the bureaucratic infighting within the single-party state.  Here is where the lack of an out-of-power party is crucial.  No one can sweep in with an electoral mandate to clean things up - hence, nothing significant gets accomplished.  

The great dynamic of America's Progressive Era was that parties won big and ruled big, whether they were Dems or Republicans.  That's how stuff (new rules) got done and things improved dramatically.

That's also what we lack today with the evenly-and-deeply-divided Boomer-centric electorate - hence our deep need for reforms as well.  But at least we have the system in place for when the electorate gets fed-up enought to force action.

China lacks this, and it's getting to be a huge hindrance to its further progress as a nation.

9:32AM

American withdrawal: this time it is different

 

Eliot Cohen sounding very scared in the WSJ:

The arguments against far-flung American strategic commitments take many forms. So-called foreign policy realists, particularly in the academic world, believe that the competing interests of states tend automatically toward balance and require no statesmanlike action by the U.S. To them, the old language of force in international politics has become as obsolete as that of the "code duello," which regulated individual honor fights through the early 19th century. We hear that international institutions and agreements can replace national strength. It is also said—covertly but significantly—that the U.S. is too dumb and inept to play the role of security guarantor.

Perhaps the clever political scientists, complacent humanists, Spenglerian declinists, right and left neo-isolationists, and simple doubters that the U.S. can do anything right are correct. Perhaps the president should concentrate on nation-building at home while pressing abroad only for climate-change agreements, nuclear disarmament and an unfettered right to pick off bad guys (including Americans) as he sees fit.

But if history is any guide, foreign policy as a political-science field experiment or what-me-worryism will yield some ugly results. Syria is a harbinger of things to come. In that case, the dislocation, torture and death have first afflicted the locals. But it will not end there, as incidents on Syria's borders and rumors of the movement of chemical weapons suggest.

A world in which the U.S. abnegates its leadership will be a world of unrestricted self-help in which China sets the rules of politics and trade in Asia, mayhem and chaos is the order of the day in the Middle East, and timidity and appeasement paralyze the free European states. A world, in short, where the strong do what they will, the weak suffer what they must, and those with an option hurry up and get nuclear weapons.

Not a pleasant thought.

But the point I would make is, this time history isn't a guide.

During WWII, the US made the conscious decision to seek to remake the world in its rule-set image, and it succeeded beyond its wildest dreams in the phenomenon we now label globalization.  That process was most definitely undergirded by a US security guarantee, which we generally provided to a wonderful degree with definite lapses in execution and - almost as importantly - explanation.

Now we live in a different world thanks to that world-reshaping effort. Plenty of European powers had their shot at this brass ring, and those eras all ended in large scale warfare and decimation of both conquered and conquering.

But notice how the world now enjoys more wealth-creation and order and peace than ever before in history. This is no coincidence.  People will claim all sorts of meaningless variables (like the UN - a true laugher if ever there was one), but the reality remains:  the US showed up, took charge, and we got this world.

But the success we experienced in this amazing venture (the greatest gift any power has ever given this planet and humanity) means we enter new territory.  So no, history isn't any guide.  What we do now in some measure of withdrawal is highly unlikely to unleash the tide of misery that Cohen predicts.  We've simply incentivized too much of humanity in preserving this global system, meaning it is self-maintaining on many levels (easy to join and hard to upset, as they say).  

So why do experts like Cohen keep putting it in such Manichean terms?

We got used to thinking of ourselves as the savior of the world, but that's a been there, done that dynamic now. We came, we saw, we rearranged the rules.  Now the system does just fine on its own - for the most part.  

Yes, put the world economy in extreme crisis like 2008 and Obama's role suddenly looms incredibly large. Honestly, I think he deserved the Nobel for that - simply doing his best to defeat the widespread expectation that the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression would result in massive instability and warfare - none of which appeared (proving the realists antiquated yet again).

So what do we do now?

We learn to manage the world with the risers - plain and simple.  They have the money and the need and the fear and the willingess to kill to protect their interests.  In normal terms, those attributes = a genuine ally versus the free-loaders.

The two key players going forward are China and India.  America needs to work that trilateral-global-order-in-the-making.  Everything else is ancillary - remembering my recent admonitions that positive co-evolution on progressivism is the way to go on the transatlantic relationship.

But our experts and leaders still have light years to travel on such understanding.  We still imagine it's our way or the WORLD OF CHAOS!  This fear-mongering is, of course, rather silly.

But this is the state of strategic debate in the US.

8:13AM

China: The hunger = the hate

On a walk last night and I was thinking about what I know about the future that I feel supremely confident about, and the answer that popped into my head is China's coming difficulties.  Not that I wish it any harm - anything but.  It's just that the hubris and the nationalism and the hunger for all things - all completely natural in a rise of this caliber - are combining to create antipathy abroad and extreme anxiousness at home.  The tough times that follow will force China into a scary and dangerous democratization. It happens to the best; it happens to the rest.  There is no Chinese "alternative."

Neat pair of NYT stories to illustrate.

First one (above) is about an Asian art exhibit.  The paper version had the title that caught my eye:

East is East; West is Omnivorous

Exhibit covers the time period of Europe's early global expansion and the apocalyptic views it generated among the conquered in Asia.

The only thing I thought when I saw the title was, now the worm has turned.  Now the West is West and the East is omnivorous.  And that hunger for all things creates the growing hatred of China.

This has a been a prediction of mine since New Map:  China becomes the face of globalization and thus the target of anti-globalization anger in all forms.  I've been saying this in Beijing for almost a decade, and I don't get many takers.  "We are different," I am told. 

But they're not.  The hunger is unbelievable (China adds ANOTHER 300m to its US-sized middle class in the next 6-7 years) and the hate is real and growing.

See Shambaugh's excellent NYT op-ed on global attitudes toward the Chinese:  all downhill.

Meanwhile, the US is in its hibernation phase, and Obama is the perfect hibernation president.  I'm not bitching. We asked and he delivers.

But the regeneration proceeds.

China, however, tops out on all sorts of things - signalling tougher times ahead.  And this is not a system built for tough times.  You may think authoritarianism is, but it ain't.  No ability to "throw the bums out" = building hatred within the system (frustration that finds no relief).

Nothing I describe here happens tomorrow, and it's easy to dismiss.

But I know this with a certainty:  Right now China is perceived to be passing the US and we find that scary.  But between now and 2030 this all gets reversed in a big way, and that will be far more scary for both sides.  

This is why we cannot abide the fear mongers on both sides; they are too dangerous for the world's future.

The outreach must be pursued and eventual partnership revealed - not out of our fear for them but to modulate what will become China's great fears of all things during the difficult times ahead.

8:40AM

The long war: same as it ever was - same as it ever was

And you might find yourself in a beautiful dynamic (Arab Spring), with a beautiful ally (French) ...

And you may ask yourself, How did I get here?

The French did God's work in Mali:  cleared out the nutcases who went medieval on the north during their year of ruling dangerously.

But with the "clear" comes responsibility to "hold" (nay, even to "build") and now the locals naturally fear the return of the AQIM-affiliated types who imposed their version of 7th-century morality over the past year or so.

With France planning to start withdrawing its troops from Mali next month, Western and African officials are increasingly concerned that the African soldiers who will be relied on to continue the campaign against militants linked to Al Qaeda there do not have the training or equipment for the job.

The heaviest fighting so far, which has driven the militants out of the towns and cities of northeastern Mali, has been borne by French and Chadian forces, more or less alone. Those forces are now mostly conducting patrols in the north, while troops sent by Mali’s other regional allies, including Nigeria and Senegal, have been slow to arrive and have focused on peacekeeping rather than combat, prompting grumbles from Chad’s president, Idriss Déby Itno.

The outcome of the fighting in Mali carries major implications not only for France, but also for the Obama administration, which is worried that Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other militant groups could retain a smaller but enduring haven in remote mountain redoubts in the Malian desert.

To help the French, the United States began flying unarmed surveillance drones over the region last month from a new base in Niger. And the administration has spent more than $550 million over the past four years to help train and equip West African armies to fight militants so that the Pentagon would not have to. But critics contend that the United States seems to have little to show for that effort. 

Turning Mali’s own fractured army into a cohesive and effective force would entail “a huge amount of work,” according to Brig. Gen. Francois Lecointre of France, who is leading the effort to retrain Mali’s Army. As if to underscore the point, a group of Malian troops briefly abandoned their posts recently and fired shots in the air to demand a deployment bonus.

Here in the southeastern corner of Mauritania, about 100 miles from the border with Mali, an exercise conducted this month by the United States military to train African armies to foil ambushes, raid militant hide-outs and win over local populations offered the administration more reasons for worry, as well as some encouraging signs.

The exercise offered a rare glimpse into the strengths and weaknesses of several of the African armies that are poised to help take over the mission in Mali. In a few weeks, the United Nations Security Council is expected to decide whether to authorize a peacekeeping force for Mali and how to compose it.

France, we are told, will leave behind a small unit of headhunters - counter-terror personnel.  And then there's always America's "limited regret" drones (the gun that's settling the Gap), but we all know that this is temporizing the situation (think back to Ignatius' latest lament on the lack of a SysAdmin-like force).  This is why I continue to rail (per my recent piece in Foreign Policy) against retreating to renewed fantasies of great power war as a means of denying the strategic reality still lying out there.

We can most definitely choose to low-ball our responses to such events; we just don't need to blame it on the Chinese, who are - oddly enough - most incentivized to likewise deal with such enduring instabilities.

9:39AM

Censorship of tweets/microblog posts in China

WAPO article on Rice U. study (richly detailed and seemingly very robust in data capture and analysis on how the Chinese gov deletes micro-blog posts).

First point article makes is that China's flow of tweets is several times that of Twitter, so we're talking massive amount.  It seems gov cuts about 12% of them.

Here are the envisioned procedures:

  • Explicit filtering: a banned keyword triggers an automated system, which stops the message from posting and warns the user he has violated policy.
  • Implicit filtering: a banned keyword triggers an automated system, which delays the message until a censor can see it and tells the user there’s a server error in the meantime.
  • Camouflaged posts: a banned keyword triggers an automated system, which keeps the message from displaying publicly but shows the user it has posted.
  • Backwards repost search: either a human censor or an automated system discovers a problematic posts and deletes all versions of it (re-posts, etc.) across the network.
  • Backwards keyword search: a censor notices a problematic keyword and deletes a number of its instances across the network.
  • User monitoring: certain users who are censored frequently are flagged for closer scrutiny.
  • Account closures: censors shut down problematic accounts entirely. The study counted 300 such closures of 3,500 accounts in a one-month period.
  • Search filtering: a regularly updated list of terms cannot be searched.
  • Public timeline filtering: sensitive topics are edited out of the general Weibo “fire hose.”
  • While we may celebrate the technical achievement (most posts killed in less than 10 minutes), we must remember the tremendous effort required and the larger reality that banned conversations occur all the time.  All the government succeeds in doing is clamping down on public transmission.

    The topics show how defensive the government is - from the geostrategic to the completely mundane:

    Okay, so Syria trends one day and then gov corruption comes next, but then look at the rainstorms cluster, because that's just people bitching about how poorly the gov responded to the frickin' rain!  I mean, that is sad.

    What's sad about this effort is that the gov does seek to respond on some level to these issues, so it listens.  It just can't allow that listening or response process to be acknowledged - much less the initial bitching.

    You may spot strength in that, or some BS about the "Chinese way of governance" and so forth, but all that fades away as the Chinese people modernize their society and exhibit more and more competence in running their own daily lives, businesses, and the larger society itself.  

    By engaging in all this clamping down of speech, all the government does is signal that it's not to be held responsible for its failures, and that determination blocks the naturally positive expansion of nationalism in the direction of societal self-improvement, meaning the gov is making itself less stable and thus more brittle over time by refusing to respect its own people and their righteous complaints.

    In historical terms, this is spitting in the wind and wondering why there always seems to be saliva in one's eyes. The government is simply refusing to converse with a public that is becoming more self-deterministic - through economic success - with each passing day.

    Again, there is no singular Chinese/Asian path in this regard.  The same breakdown of the collective mindset that happened in the West happens in the East.  Modernization/industrialization is simply that powerful.

    11:02AM

    Kerry not a fan of Asian "pivot"? I smell a plot!

    WAPO story:  China is happy with John Kerry because it thinks he'll drop the 'pivot to Asia'

    Obviously, you can be a strategic thinker and disagree with the transparency of the Obama administration's containment strategy on China.  You can also believe there's just as much - or more - work to be done right now in the Middle East (Spring, Iran's nukes, Palestine, Syria).

    But this is a weird piece, because I don't think the Chinese are dumb enough to believe that Kerry can "drop" the pivot if he so chooses.

    But the positive Chinese press pours in, apparently.

    From the piece:

    Kerry himself sort of predicted this when he said of the pivot during his confirmation hearings, “You know, the Chinese take a look at that and say, what’s the United States doing? They trying to circle us? What’s going on?”

    The author Max Fisher's judgment is a bit simplistic:  if Kerry is just trying to make nice with China, then fine, but if he's serious and actually focuses on the Middle East, then China benefits!

    Sounds to me like WAPO is trying to "out" Kerry on China in this sophomoric piece.  People on that paper have too much time on their hands and too little non-inside-the-Beltway stuff to cover.  WAPO is truly a small-town newspaper.  Always has been, always will.

    9:18AM

    Let a million muckrakers bloom!

    Nice NYT story on Chinese blogger who "thrives as muckracker."  Odd choice of wording there.  Self-professed citizen journalist in early 40s is being tolerated for now, as his "freelance campaign against graft has earned him pop-star acclaim and send a chill through Chinese officialdom."

    Sounds like a fine line.  I mean, once you start going on the BBC with your stories, you take your life into your hands.

    One of his latest tricks is posting sex videos of high bureaucrats having at it with young prostitutes.  He also says things like, "I'm fighting a war.  Even if they beat me to death, I won't give up my sources or the videos."

    A local Beijing journalism academic says, "Here on Chinese soil, it's almost impossible for citizen journalists like him to survive long term."

    But if you want the self-regenerative progressivism to take hold, you have to tolerate these types.  Otherwise bad stuff continues to be swept under rugs.  Problem is, of course, showing the crimes of the single party leads to that single party's legitimacy being further diminished.

    The CCP in China has typically operated along the lines of, it's okay to unmask mid-level officials but not truly high ones (like the NYT did recently, triggering the Chinese hacking attacks).  But people know that, if mid-level types are routinely engaging in mischief, it's because the higher-ups tolerate it as lesser versions of their own evil.

    So the fine line continues.  The blogger recently got a flattering Xinhua treatment, and yet gov censors constantly remove his micro-blog pieces almost the minute they appear.

    Again, ultimately Beijing needs to allow this sort of positive self-renewal. It's a sign of the maturation of Chinese society in response to all the positive socio-economic churn.

    You either trust the people or you don't, and the CCP's problem is that, it most definitely does not trust its own people.

    No question where things are headed.  Anyone who thinks the future is less transparency and less public accountability is kidding themselves.

    9:21AM

    South Korea follows Japan's path to soft-power exports

    WAPO story on how South Korean directors are experiencing a sort of explosion in Hollywood.  I've long been a big fan of SouKo's horror films, but now it appears that we're getting a broader flow - post-Gangnam Style:

    South Korea’s film directors, like its pop stars, have been trying for years to break out of their country’s competitive but small market and into the West. Just as Korean music finally broke through last year with Psy’s “Gangnam Style,” this might be the year that Korean directors take over Hollywood.

    Three of South Korea’s top directors are this year releasing, and in one case already have released, their first English-language films, often featuring top-name American actors (or Anglophones who pose as Americans), the New York Times noted in a story this weekend. The directors have long had “fan bases” in Hollywood eager to pull them into the U.S. market, the Times says, explaining that American producers appreciate that Korean directors’ “style and restraint go hand in hand with a taste for visceral, often bloody stories in popular categories like horror and crime.”

    South Korea seems poised to follow the path of Japan.  It had its democratization moment back in the 1990s, and its big firms have gone from knock-offs to high-end offerings.  Now, it's time to start exporting the culture.

    It's a journey worth watching.  China invariably follows this path, and the Chinese spend a lot of time watching South Korea and how it navigates from middle-income to higher realms.  South Korea is, last time I checked, just about the biggest regional investor in China and you see Koreans all over the place in major cities - especially in universities.  It seems like a positive "lead goose" effect, wherein the Chinese are more ready to follow the South Korean example than admit to doing the same with Japan.

    Then again, it's natural to focus more on the country making the journey is closest historical proximity to your own.  Japan modeled itself significantly on the US, South Korea watched and copied Japan's example.  China will eventually copy South Korea in many ways, and Seoul is an excellent example of how you do it.

     

    3:28PM

    More on the China middle-income trap

    Great piece in Forbes that my wife found.

    Part that caught my eye references a second analysis:

    In their final installment on the Chinese economy, titled “Beyond the Miracle”,Barclays Capital analysts in Hong Kong led by Yiping Huang wrote that China will avoid the middle-income trap as a whole. However, they did not underestimate the risks facing China’s economy in the coming years.  It’s one thing to be middle income. It’s another thing to move out of that middle income and into the coveted high income category of Western Europe, the United Statesa and Japan.

    The experience of countries that failed to make the jump to high-income status suggest that their inability to innovate and upgrade can be attributed to three broad factors: (1) macroeconomic, political and social instability; (2) persistent inefficient allocation of resources; and (3) insufficient support to physical infrastructure and human capital development.

    The persistently inefficient allocation of resources is the government having too much of a role in investment and picking winners and losers (mostly shielding the latter while the elite corruptly hoards the benefits of the former).  I realize that contradicts the "wisdom of the state" notion behind the Beijing Consensus, but history says the state displays little smarts, and there is a ton of evidence of badly spent public investment in China.  

    The instability arises from a lot of things:  enviro damage, repression of political rights and free speech, corruption of officials, and the S-curve slowdown in general.

    China does decently-to-well on the sufficient support to infrastructure development - both hard and soft.  But that can backfire too if the growth fails to materialize or the slowdown is profound enough.

    Answer for all these things is simple:  turn the people loose on creativity and freedom of spending choices. Problem is, of course, the single-party dictatorship finds all that uncomfortable, so they shortchange it whenever and wherever they can.  Why?  If people get to decide too much of their economic reality on their own, their ambition naturally turns to politics over time.  People simply stop being willing to be treated like children on the latter score; it offends their intelligence and obvious sense of accomplishment - especially when they know full well that talented Chinese abroad succeed and get to politically participate in democracies.

    And that's what eventually stops the show, forcing political change.

    6:14PM

    Time's Battleland: National Security Putting China’s “Hacking Army” into Perspective

    Great New York Times front-pager on Tuesday finally provides a substantive overview of the comprehensive hacking activities of the Chinese military against all manner of U.S. industries (with an obvious focus on defense).

    Actually, the title was a bit of soft sell (China’s Army Seen as Tied to Hacking Against U.S.). This unit’s activities have been much discussed within the U.S. national-security community for several years now, so we are far past the “tied to” allegation. It’s clear that Beijing has the People’s Liberation Army conduct widespread cyber- theft all over the world, targeting the U.S. in particular.


    Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

    I blame Dave Emery for making me write something on the subject.

    12:27PM

    Get yourself some Chinese (part II) and conquer the BOTP

     

    Missed yesterday on 20-hour workday that featured 4 flights - sweet!  Just to go to fricking Norfolk from Indy. Such is the cost of being able to sleep in your own bed both nights (I have had all the hotels in this world that I care to). Unbelievable logistics that left my head aching from all the up-and-down.  I am going to build a future that has minimal flying and maximum time on the waves.  Count on it.

    MS and Huawei do a GM-SAIC (my fave example of getting yourself some Chinese to capture the fortune at the bottom of the pyramid).

    Gist:

    Microsoft, taking aim at the world’s fastest-growing smartphone market, said on Monday that it would team up with Huawei of China to sell a low-cost Windows smartphone in Africa.

    The phone, called the Huawei 4Afrika Windows Phone, will cost $150 and initially be sold in seven countries.

    Slick connection, yes?

    Africa is the world’s fastest-growing region for smartphones, with an average sales growth of 43 percent a year since 2000, according to the GSM Association, an industry trade group based in London.

    In sub-Saharan Africa alone, 10 percent of the 445 million cellphone users have smartphones, but that is expected to increase rapidly as operators expand high-speed networks.

    By 2017, most consumers in South Africa will be using smartphones, up from 20 percent last year, according to the GSM Association. In Nigeria, the continent’s most populous country, the outlook for sustained growth is even greater, with smartphone penetration projected to reach just 30 percent by 2017.

    The World Bank says that roughly a quarter of the one billion people on the continent are middle-class wage earners, the target group that Microsoft will try to reach with the Huawei phone, Mr. de Sousa said.

    “Africans are generally quite conscious of brand, quality and image,” he said.

    Some serious bottom-of-the-pyramid stuff.

    Think about it:  MS and Wal-Mart making these big moves in Africa.

    Biggest analytic mistake I've ever made was overestimating how slowly (yes, my original post had me mis-stating this) Africa would embrace globalization and succeed with it.  Totally blew it.

    And that mistake taught me:  the bias of the national security type toward pessimism is a huge analytic weakness WRT globalization.   It really means Washington, by and large, doesn't have a clue - PNT worst of all.

    And that's a weird realization, when you remember that this era of globalization is a US-led creation, but now, here we are, and the progenitor and long-time bodyguard has lost its analytic ability to understand its own creation.

    9:20AM

    Nice NYT piece on dangers of inequality inside China

    Appears in NYT Opinionator blog after print edition.  Writer is former Singaporean reporter/photojournalist.

    Part of a series on inequality.

    A snippet:

    With the “rats” and “ants,” the trash collectors, cobblers and couriers, it took time to build rapport and trust. But it was even harder to get wealthy Chinese — perhaps like rich people everywhere — to open up. Most live in gated, guarded communities on the outskirts of the city, and socialize behind closed doors. A few months ago, I was granted rare permission to photograph inside an exclusive club in Beijing for high rollers, and only at a party where some members were in costume.

    The migrant workers and the poor mostly accept that life is unfair, at least for now.

    “There is no difference between me and the people who live in the posh condominium above,” Zhuang Qiuli, 27, a “rat tribe” pedicurist who lived in a basement apartment, told me in Beijing. “We wear the same clothes and have the same hairstyles. The only difference is we cannot see the sun. In a few years, when I have money, I will also live upstairs.”

    I was just struck by the sun reference.  Other big driver in China is, of course, the pollution, which is why, on many days, nobody gets to see the sun.

    As always, the similarities to the populism of the Second Industrial Revolution in the US are striking.

     

    11:15AM

    WPR Briefing: Trans-Atlantic Ties Still Key to Renewing U.S. Global Leadership

    For roughly a decade now, I’ve been advocating that America needs to be unsentimental in choosing its military allies for the 21st century. Europe and Japan are aging and seem increasingly less willing to protect their interests abroad, while India and China are becoming budding superpowers with global interests that, to a stunning degree, overlap with America’s. Most pointedly, we live in an age of “frontier integration” triggered by globalization’s rapid advance, a process in which China and India, and not the “old” West, are the two rising pillars. So it makes sense for America to focus future alliance-building efforts in their direction.

    Read the entire article at World Politics Review.


    10:55AM

    Interesting panel on Chinese navy (video)

    Got this from Tom Wade, who attended the US Naval Institute's WEST 2013 in San Diego.  Been a while since I last spoke at one of those, but they are very good conferences on all things naval.

    The guy to watch is the Naval War College prof Toshi Yoshihara.  Most interesting point:  Remember just how easy it could be to thwart the PLAN by placing one's own area-denial anti-access assets all along (or on) the so-called first island chain, which is owned by everybody EXCEPT China.  Per my usual point:  the balancing dynamic here is not all that hard and can be achieved through highly incentivized "others" like Japan (which grows more incentivized by the day).  America's need to turn this into the man a mano fight of the century is a bit much - for all the non-military reasons upon which I love to harp.

    10:41AM

    Scorching (but dead-on) Battleland piece on US strategic pivot

    Winslow Wheeler, clearly a bit of a defense-waste firebrand, takes on AirSea Battle and the whole pivot logic.

    I couldn't agree more.

    The best bits:

    It’s old, and likely thoroughly forgotten now, but last summer the Washington Post ran an excellent article on the U.S. military‘s “pivot” toward Asia, its origins, and its budget implications. It presented some meaningful background on where the pivot came from, and how it so quickly became dogma in Washington as the decade-long ground wars receded in the national rear-view mirror ...

    I urge you to read the piece: the pivot is not just a redirection of attention toward Asia; it is a proclamation of a new form of warfare, Air-Sea Battle, to solve the problem of defeating China’s presumed military ambitions in the Pacific with an assemblage of existing and new long-range, precision-strike weapons.

    It is the brainchild of Andrew Marshall, the long-sitting director of the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment ...

    The Air Force and the Navy are particularly enthusiastic about Air-Sea Battle; after a decade of budget emphasis on the Army and Marine Corps in the mostly-land conflicts in the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, ASB is so much all about the Navy and Air Force that, according to Jaffe’s article, they have “come up with more than 200 initiatives they say they need to realize Air-Sea Battle” and it “provides a framework for preserving [and expanding] some of the Pentagon’s most sophisticated weapons programs.”

    The heavy bill for the hardware Air-Sea Battle contemplates was noted, last August, by numerous skeptics. In Jaffe’s article, Barry Posen—the director at MIT’s Security Studies Program—pointed out Marshall’s history of rationales for what is now called Air-Sea Battle saying “it should be called the Office of Threat Inflation.” As well, Jaffe quotes the Marine Corps—likely to lose big chunks of budget share under ASB—saying in a contracted study it would be “preposterously expensive.”

    It is America’s new strategic fixation—even if some would argue that it doesn’t even qualify as a strategy, and is simply a shift of bureaucratic spending priorities for hardware garbed in pseudo-strategic talk ...

    The focus on historically under-performing hardware, especially the long range—“global”—variety, displaces the higher-level thinking now needed. We must contemplate how to leverage China’s geographical disadvantage of being literally surrounded by actively-antagonistic and potentially-hostile neighbors: Russia, India, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Vietnam ...

    Worst of all, ASB presumes a new Cold War with China to sustain the Pentagon’s own budget, thereby swapping strategic thought with material considerations.

    Panetta proclaims that the “doomsday” of the sequester of the defense budget—in all, nearly a 10% cut in spending over the coming decade—would require him and the Administration to come up with a whole new strategy.

    Indeed; what a tragedy that would be ...

    Watch Hagel closely on these issues ... it will be interesting to see if he leaves even the tiniest amount of daylight between himself and these strategically bankrupt ideas.

    Read the entire piece here.