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Entries in China (495)

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.  

8:38AM

The coming age of hyper-transparency

In a huge simulation that we just ran at Wikistrat (and in several previous ones), this issue of hyper-transparency keeps popping up as a magnificently powerful shaping dynamic in future politics - as in, you can corrupt but you cannot hide (for long).

NYT reporting here that the paper's networks have been subjected to massive hacking efforts directed from China and that these repeated assaults were timed in response to the paper running that nasty expose on how Chinese political elites (and particularly the family of Premier Wen Jiabao) made - literally - billions on an insider deal involving what is now the world's largest insurance company.

Naturally, the Chinese government thinks it's sending a signal big-time - as in, don't mess with our political crooks.  Like any mafia, the Chinese Communist Party believes intimidation will always save its skin.  And when the masses of Chinese were too busy starving or struggling through their lives (see, Mao), there was no question that it worked.  

But things changed with Deng Xiaoping, who knew that what he set in motion would both make China a powerful economic giant and eventually cost the party its dictatorship.  This is why Deng is a personal hero of mine - a great and wise man who changed world history for the better.

No, his legacy is not yet complete, and Deng, who was one of those who approved the Tiananmen Square massacre, knew full well that timing was everything.  So, no illusions on his part about how long this would take.

But that hyper-transparency is arriving already across China.  What the Party wants hidden is getting far harder to hide.  Bravo Times!

So yeah, the CCP remains fearful of its citizenry and now it needs to fear the NYT as well, because it is all one vast conspiracy called globalization and connectivity and transparency and markets and democracy and super-empowered individuals.  It is a conspiracy hatched over 200 years ago by a far-sighted bunch of genuine revolutionaries.

And it's coming for you, Mr. Apparatchik - and your little (running) dog too!

As always, when in doubt, resort to nationalism - the last refuge of scoundrels the world over.  So the Party justifies this as America's doing/meddling/etc.

But rest assured, when they come for the Wens and his relatives and everybody else who stole from the Chinese people, they'll all be wearing Chinese faces.

The real "virus" has already infected too many Chinese to be stopped now.  These people are among the most rabid capitalists in the world, and you've got to respect everything that goes into that.  

But capitalism unbound is one nasty creature, which is why democracy is the only antidote.

And that's why the Chinese Communist Party is totally screwed, no matter how big a fight it puts up.

The clock is ticking, my friends.

9:18AM

China: The race up the production/development/political ladder is on!

Wow, that took a long time!  

Recall my recent post on China's college graduates (8m strong per year) and their expectations.

Right on cue, the NYT runs another front-pager that follows the logic up nicely:  "With diplomas, Chinese reject jobs in factory."

This is the development conundrum in a nutshell for the single-party state:  you give the people what they want (factory jobs that generate income so people moving off the land can make it in the city and send their kids to college) and then they just want more - in the form of those college kids.  And the more they want and you provide and they accomplish and achieve, the more they're running their own complex lives and get tired of hearing how only the one party and the one way are acceptable.

Best example of this was South Korea in the 1990s - four decades of essentially single-party rule and then things got a bit tumultuous.  But now look at South Korea - a second-tier great power on the move and becoming a soft-power exporter (Psy's hilarious and catchy "Gangnam Style" is just the hardest door-knocker of the burgeoning flow; personally I love the horror movies best) in addition to being a powerhouse product exporter. In many ways, China wants to replicate South Korea's path.  It's just the Party that assumes it can (or should) be done in a single-party format.

But yes, all the same tipping points eventually get reached. The size differential isn't key; it's a matter of generational turnover, and this article is a big pointer in this regard:  college grads who turn down their noses on factory jobs.

There's no turning back at this point:  China's future evolutions are already a fait accompli.  The only thing left for the West is to NOT screw it up, which typically occurs whenever we freak out over perceived "gaps" or "being passed by" or other such declinist nonsense.

The "victory," if you need such things, has already been won.  And we have Deng Xiaoping to thank for that.

China must live in the real world of its own making.  It cannot exist in the imaginary balance-of-power environments posited by the realists - on either side of the Pacific.    That real world of its own making forces very hard compromises.

And they are just beginning across China.

8:15AM

China's future with a only-child society

NYT story on Science article describing Australian research on the only-child phenomenon inside China.  This wasn't interview based, but actual work with kids, testing their trust behavior (a simple drill involving money).

The result:

The researchers concluded that the "one-child-policy" players were less trusting, less trustworthy, less competitive and more risk-averse than the older participants.

And on the basis of a personality test, they were also "less conscientious, more neurotic and more pessimistic ...

What is interesting:  China is already all those things in terms of top leadership stuck in a single-party mode. What this says is, there is quite possibly no hope on the horizon in terms of top-down reform/democratization dynamics.  Yes, the leadership will talk such lines (reforms) and hint at such possibilities (democracy), but they won't move down this path without pushing from below - and hoping generational changes will trigger top-down dynamics is probably far too optimistic.

A bit more depressingly, it also says there may only be a generational window of people, roughly corresponding to the 6th generation of leadership (on slate to rule 2022-2032), who are able to trigger the bottom-up dynamics necessary for change (i.e., serious demand for it from below that pushes the way-too-cautious elite to finally do something real and not just experiment and talk and promise).  To me, that says the 2020s may be it - as in, get the system moving in the right direction or China loses its nerve - both above and below - to make the difficult steps happen for the post-Mao system's full maturation (reforms, marketization, globalizing, middle-class and then democracy).

A worrisome observation, but not an insurmountable one.  The Chinese system is already rife with intense populist anger and it's growing by leaps and bounds.  We can hope Xi Jinping and Co. catch a clue, because if they don't, China - in terms of generational leadership - might have only one more swing at the plate to get it done before turning - yet again - back in on itself.

 

10:03AM

China's rising pool of college grads - and expectations

NYT story on the 8m college grads that China cranks each year at the cost of about $250B a year.

The comparison that comes to mind is the US post-WWII and the remaking of society and politics that ensued (think of all that change across the 1960s and 1970s).

Yet another reason why I stick with my prediction that China is democratized by 2030.  This article speaks more of economic strengths than challenges, but the real danger (which appears only when you get to the jump page) are the social expectations and - if they are met - the resulting political confidence that will be hard to manage on a mass basis.

When people make the effort and sacrifice for that degree, the same-old, same-old factory job won't do.  This forces China into a race up the production ladder alright, and that fits the nation's desire to base more future growth on domestic consumption.  But that desire forces a progressive agenda to fix their healthcare and pension problems, which are not all that different from the US in their ability to mess up economic growth.  In China's case, the two issues combine to depress consumption by forcing individuals to save mightily against fate's whims. So if the government wants all that domestic consumption-led growth to make all those white-collar jobs happen so all those college grads can be happy (and not too disruptive politically), then major government efforts along the "great society" trajectory will be forced by all these dynamics.

Even if China pulls all that off, and then suffers the natural slow-down in growth that occurs when you start better covering the needs of the left fortunate (Freudian slip, as I meant less unfortunate) in society (a costly proposition), then you move into the next tier of problems:  all those college grads now making it and living complex lives will bristle at being spoken down to regarding political debates and government transparency.  We saw this big time in South Korea roughly a generation ago.  China is now 10-15 years (at best) from confronting that fabulous problem.

All of this is to say that, if you imagine that China somehow becomes truly powerful down the road but will still look like today's single-party state, you'd be wrong by every experience of history that we know.  Once you embrace the markets and all the other great aspects of modern society, the politics must change in reponse - eventually.  Yes, the Chinese are adept at postponing that reality.  

But it will not be postponed forever.

A truly strategic thinker worries about handling a democratizing China down the road more than some single-party state.  A single-party state is inherently cautious; it cannot suffer a genuine overseas debacle because there is no throw-the-bums-out dynamic to stabilize the system.  But a democratizing China looks more like the rising US of the late 19th century.  I personally don't foresee that being an unmanageable problem, given all the domestic issues that China will still be finessing throughout that transition, but it will definitely be a new and different China "challenge."

9:33AM

Fmr US Ambassador to Mali: Why we must save country

Nice op-ed in NYT on Tuesday.

A familiar charge:  "Islamist terrorists want a lawless stronghold in West Africa."

US, we are told, has spent $500m over past decade to keep violent Islamic extremists at bay in West Africa, but it's still too busy elsewhere to mount any serious Mali effort.  Thus the onus is on interested local powers like Algeria and interested outside powers like France.  Otherwise we get more Benghazi-style attacks.  This is a natural external cost of the Arab Spring - new garbage to be taken out.

Usual lead-from-behind pitch: US supports with logistics and intell and we need OCT (other countries' troops).

This is the reality of the Obama administration's decision to "pivot" to East Asia and disavow a troop-based approach to frontier settling in Africa.  It's tough love to say the least.

It's just so odd that we're always so intent on simultaneously containing China AND carrying its water (so to speak) elsewhere in the world, except now we're endeavoring mightily to make it somebody else's blood for Chinese resources.  It's just weird that we essentially refuse to cooperate when our strategic interests overlap JUST because of the tensions in East Asia.  Back in the day (read, Nixon & Kissinger), we had more of a linkages perspective.  But with Obama, continuing the Bush thing, it's our way or the highway; you either cooperate across the board or we oppose you across the board.

We need another Nixon to rationalize our relationship with China, because it is beyond Obama's strategic capacity.

10:31AM

Does Obama let the transatlantic bond fade too casually?

 

I have been preaching for well over a decade now that America needs to realize that it's most productive allies going forward, when it comes to security affairs, are going to be different from those upon whom it relied in the past.

It's a simple logic that fits global trends:  Europe was incentivized big-time before, it's far less so now.  America feels a different responsibility on a global scale.  China and India rise, their global interests expand, and they display more and more interest and capacity to defend those interests.

So not a hard leap:  you work with those most similarly incentivized in the era that you're in right now.  You don't hold to nostalgia.  You want allies with big (and growing) militaries), growing interests, and a clear willingness to go place and kill people to protect those interests.  Crudely put, but there it is.

We are currently in an age of transition from a familiarity and comfort-zone with Europe to one in which we are inevitably drawn into cooperation with India and China to manage this world from a security perspective.

And yet, there is a part of me that says, what matters most going forward is who gets to the shared future in the best shape.  And that means, who processes (as I've said in the brief for a while now) the widespread populist anger and pursues a sufficiently progressive agenda to clean things up and get their countries in shape for the economic competitions still to come.  By that last part, I mean, we see a global middle class rise now, and we face an era of extreme technological change as a result.  Why?  The compelling global need to disconnect standard of living from consumption - plain and simple.

For now, I like the path America is going to have to go down regarding painful reforms and improvements better than I like those of India or China (also a staple of my brief).  We've engaged in such progressive eras before and we're well suited to that task.  We simply lack the political leadership now.

And here's the rub that creates the doubt.  

If we run off too seriously in our strategic "pivot," I fear we engage in the usual escapism ("Look Ma!  I'm fixing the future!") instead of looking within and making the necessary changes happen.

Europe faces many of the same advanced challenges.  We unconsciously model ourselves on them, and they on us, far more than either cares to admit.  Read the Economist if you don't believe me.

So my concern is this:  are we missing the great opportunity for co-evolutionary dynamics if America turns too swiftly and deterministically on this pivot?

Obama is an arrogant man and an even more arrogant president.  Not as bad as Bush, but still.  

I fear this strategic "pivot" is one of the most poorly considered shifts the US has ever made.  I usually cite the foolishness of picking fights with one's banker, and there are many more, but this time I think we're losing our center of gravity some inside globalization.

I also fear we're missing a chance to reform ourselves as needed.  We'll find no answers in China and India on this score.  And - again - the sense of geo-political escapism is palpable regarding the Arab Spring, Africa's churn, our need to integrate more with LATAM.

Don't get me wrong: I don't see scarier worlds out there that need more US military operations.  I see a world of small threats, small wars and small - networked - efforts.

And then I see a president with this grand notion of boxing China in - no matter what fine words he's using - and I see a narrow vision arrogantly pursued.

1:09PM

China has to learn how to take better care of its own

NYT front-pager on how new model of outreach and service to HIV community is being appreciated as possible approach to host of underserved populations currently in the official shadows, to include the mentally ill, the extremely impoverished, and the environment. The key is letting NGOs rise as part of a general maturation of civil society.  The simple but harsh reality for the Party is that, by spending so much time obsessing over political speech (Kristof's point in his op-ed of same day), it's losing ground on a host of government support/regulation areas where the public desperately needs help.  The result?  Rapacious behavior all around, but especially on the part of the elite - a growing problem that only hyperventilates the already profound populist anger.

The conundrum is solved, in both instances, by the Party actually extending more trust to the public it claims to represent, because, right now, the combination of over-exertion on political speech and under-exertion on everything else is a losing battle.  As progressive agenda items pile up (what is more progressive than extending coverage to the underserved?), the Party ends up looking like it's only concerned with its own power - along with its own greed (all that corruption).

You put that all together, and I don't know how pundits see a triumphant Chinese model, because it's stalling at the same point that all industrializing powers do, and the answers are still the same - more and better democracy, or more opportunity extended to the people to take more responsibility for themselves and each other.

China's model is not "better" than ours by any stretch.  Instead, it's an insult (growing) to the Chinese people, who prove themselves to be smart and responsible and capable the world over - whenever they're extended the chance to prove that.

The Chinese Communist Party lives in fear of its own people, and that's sad - and ultimately self-limiting for all.

That's why democracy is coming.  People want more and achieving more requires it.

11:18AM

Indian women and the push against gender violence

NYT story on widespread protests in New Dehli over the apparent gang rape and (eventual) murder of a young female student (23) on a bus.  The woman died from her wounds, which included penetration by a metal rod.

Gruesome stuff, to say the least.

The nature of the violence isn't what catches my sense of historical timing.  Men in packs will do the most atricious things.  

What's interesting here (and it corresponds to a scenario proposed by a Wikistrat analyst at a recent sim we ran) are sociologists linking this growing pack violence against Indian women to a growing disparity in gender numbers - i.e., excess males after years and years of discarding female fetuses.  The result is an age cohort where there are too many guys, too few females to court, and a budding social anger among the males that translates into violence against women and implicit attacks on their rights and standing.  In short, too few women relative to men = social devaluation of females, making them "fair game" in the minds of angry young men.

I will tell you, I buy excess males turning against governments when jobs are not there, and I buy this too.  I've never bought, in the modern context, the bit about having to place excess males in the military and then going to war.  That's applying old logic to modern situations.

But the "war" does come, is the point.  It's just a war against women.

The upside?  It forces women to fight harder and more pervasively for their rights in society, and here the historical timing reminds me of the US in the 1960s and 1970s - a time of seismic and permanent change for women in American society.  I was born (1962) into one world regarding the role of women, but by the time I was a young male courting (1982, when I met my wife and started dating her), it was a very different universe. My wife was the only daughter of a woman who divorced her husband and left to pursue her PhD - I mean, really radical stuff in the early 1970s.  That experience made my spouse a very different person, and thus forced a different relationship (trivial but telling example:  my second middle initial comes from my taking my wife's maiden name of Meussling, thus rendering, in the eyes of the USG, my original name (Thomas Patrick Barnett) as my "maiden name" for all time).

It's a tiny example of how much change happened in the US on womens' issues across the short timespan of my first 25 years of life.  I can't possibly guess at the rate of change that older civilizations like India and China will enjoy/suffer.  I can just speculate that this awakening is coming, and that it's going to be huge.

10:48AM

Paging China's muckrakers!

Great NYT piece that's filling in for the missing muckraking function within China (although it's emerging, it just doesn't manage stories like this because only sacrificial lambs [mid-level Party functionaries] may be sacrificed - officially):  investigative piece showing how the giant state-owned shipping company, Cosco, managed to sell off its stakes in Ping An Insurance in the period prior to its IPO to two companies essentially owned by the families of senior political elites (the third is owned by a HK magnate who, we can presume, is a good friend of the Party). The result is not all that different from the robber-baron phase of Yeltsin's reign in Russia: a few insiders go from rich to billionaires overnight.  One family was that of just departed PM Wen Jiabao, so"Uncle Wen," for all his platitudes and caring, takes care of his own and the masses be damned.  The other involved the family of the former central bank chief who oversaw the insurance industry.  Talk about brazen!

The "princelings' rationalize all this by saying the transition from state-ownership to private-ownership needs to be safe-guarded by the "party," but this is robber-baron, oligarch greed of the highest order.  If they took some, and let the rest go "free" into the market, they'd get away with it, but they want close to all of it.  Their greed knows no bounds.

This kind of behavior will create massive populist anger over time, as more and more of these stories are written. 

We will be reading this stuff for the next two decades...  

4:45PM

Time's Battleland: National Security - Just How Intelligent is the National Intelligence Council's Global Trends 2030?

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Every half-decade, the National Intelligence Council’s “Global Trends” series produces a roughly 20-year predictive analysis of the world’s evolution – an analysis considered to be the best long-range geopolitical forecasting conducted by the U.S. government. These multi-year efforts involve consultations with hundreds of experts from around the world (the last two drills have featured interviews and presentations from yours truly.) The NIC also conducts global “road shows” to collect feedback for great powers like RussiaChina and various European states.

Simply stated, the biggest problem with this year’s Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the lack of internally consistent logic throughout each of the worlds presented.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.