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Published: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Wed, 22 Feb 2017 04:24:27 -0500


President Trump Stresses U.S. Support for One China Policy

Fri, 10 Feb 2017 11:50:00 -0500

President Donald Trump and China President Xi Jinping talked on the phone for the first time since Trump took office last month—Trump had spoken to about twenty world leaders before that as president, but had only communicated with Xi via letter after a brief November call. Chinese officials, too, were reticent about a phone call, particularly after discouraging reports of calls such as the one between Trump and Australia's prime minister. Nevertheless, the Trump-Xi phone call went as well as the Chinese government could have expected. There were no reports of the call going off-script, and Trump re-iterated his support for the "One China" policy, which was far from clear before the call. The "One China" policy, which states that the U.S. recognizes that Chinese living on either side of the Taipei believe they are one China, and that Taiwan is a part of it. The policy was first articulated in 1972 when Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to visit Communist China. In December, Trump took a high profile call from the president of Taiwan that had reportedly been weeks in the making. That call broke a decades-long precedent of U.S. presidents and presidents-elect not contacting the head of government of Taiwan as part of the "One China" policy, which Trump questioned in the fall out over the phone call. Nevertheless, despite a loud outcry, particularly from the U.S. foreign policy establishment but also from China, the move appears ultimately to be of little consequence. The Chinese seized a U.S. underwater drone in the South China Sea. Trump, who was still president-elect, tweeted that they should keep it, after the Chinese government had already returned it. The Chinese government filed a diplomatic protest over Trump's comments but officials have avoided publicly calling for a more aggressive posture in retaliation. Far more influential on China's overall posture appears to have been the decision by Trump to, as promised during the campaign, withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal between 12 Pacific countries that excluded China, part of President Obama's broader "Asia pivot," an effort to contain China. President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP process. Some countries want to continue but Japan's prime minister called a deal without the U.S. "meaningless." In a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos shortly before Trump's inauguration, China President Xi Jinping warned that globalization was not the cause of the problems the world faced. "We must remain committed to free trade and investment. We must promote trade and investment liberalization," he told the audience. "No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war." Shortly after Trump's inauguration, China's premiere, Li Keqiang, argued in a column in Bloomberg in favor of "economic openness" and offered China as an "anchor of stability and growth with its consistent message of support for reform, openness, and free trade." For all its foreign policy faults, the U.S. has generally been an outspoken champion of free trade in the post-WW2 era, from which the U.S. and the rest of the world have benefited tremendously. That countries like China could step up in defense of free trade, no matter how purely rhetorical or self-serving that defense is, is still a testament to just how successful it has been in lifting the world out of poverty.[...]

Mattis Assuages Concerns in South Korea, Japan

Mon, 06 Feb 2017 16:45:00 -0500

(image) Defense Secretary James Mattis' debut trip to South Korea and Japan appears to have succeeded in calming some of the anxiety caused by President Trump's erratic behavior in the foreign policy realm, the Associated Press reports.

Mattis' military background and level-headed attitude earned the praise of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. "I was very encouraged to see someone like you who has substantial experience, both in the military and in security, defense and diplomacy, taking this office," Abe reportedly told the secretary at a Friday meeting.

The South Korean Defense Minister Han Min Koo also expressed a kinship with his U.S. counterpart. "I believe this was possible because we both served as active-duty servicemen for 40-plus years," he told reporters. Mattis is a retired Marine Corps general.

His visit was intended as an alliance-mending trip to assure both South Korea and Japan that the United States was committed to mutual defense between the allies. Although the secretary's nickname is Mad Dog—a moniker he has repeatedly rejected as a media invention—he presented a calm face in East Asia. "Mr. Mattis was more loyal friend than attack dog, hailed as a welcome voice of sober restraint," as The New York Times put it.

While in Tokyo, Mattis assured the Japanese prime minister "that the U.S. would continue to stand 'shoulder to shoulder' with Japan and that its commitment to the country's security remained 'ironclad,'" according to the Asia Times. He also promised to defend Japan's claims to the Senkaku islands over those of China, where the islands are known as Diaoyu.

That prompted the Chinese Foreign Ministry to issue a statement on the matter, the Asia Times reported. "We urge the U.S. to take a responsible attitude, stop making wrong remarks on the issue involving the Diaoyu islands' sovereignty, and avoid making the issue more complicated and bringing instability to the regional situation," the statement said.

While others in Trump's cabinet have called for a military response to China's actions, Mattis prefers other methods for resolving conflicts. "Mr. Mattis has long argued that diplomacy should be backed up by military might, but that force should not be the first recourse," The New York Times reported. "In the case of the South China Sea, he said, it is the diplomats who should be carrying the ball."

Military involvement is not out of the question for Mattis, though. In Seoul, the secretary of defense assured South Korea that any nuclear provocation from North Korea would be met with an "effective and overwhelming" U.S. response. He indicated that the U.S. would deploy an anti-missile system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defense in the area to protect against North Korean medium-range missiles.

During his confirmation hearings, the general "said the U.S. 'shouldn't be turning to the military to answer all of our problems in the world,'" Reason Associate Editor Ed Krayewski reported back in January. Of course, whether the Trump administration will adhere to Mattis' advice remains to be seen.

Brickbat: Cultural Revolution

Fri, 03 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The Chinese government has closed the social media sites of economist Mao Yushi as well as a think tank he is associated with. Mao, who received the 2012 Milton Friedman Prize, is a proponent of free markets and a critic of those inspired by the late Communist leader Mao Zedong.

Brickbat: On a Clear Day, You Can See Forever

Wed, 25 Jan 2017 04:00:00 -0500

(image) The Chinese government has told local officials to stop issuing smog alerts. Officials say the move is designed to end discrepancies between the information issued by local meteorological offices and that released by the environmental protection ministry.

The Perils and Promise of International Food Safety

Sat, 14 Jan 2017 08:00:00 -0500

"China's top leadership has called for more efforts to ensure food safety," a China-based news service reported last week, "noting there are still many problems despite an improving food safety situation." By most accounts, it appears the problematic-but-improving characterization of China's current food-safety situation is an accurate one. A recent report found nearly half-a-million food-safety violations reported in the country through the third quarter of 2016. That's evidence of serious problems, no doubt. But it's also the product of stepped-up enforcement, which helps reveal (and, hopefully, mitigate) such problems. In his recent remarks, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for stricter regulations and enforcement to help turn the tide against food-safety issues. One thing Xi didn't stress, it appears, is ability of the food industry itself to improve the culture and climate of food safety. That's an important omission. While regulations and enforcement are necessary tools to promote food safety, the private sector plays a pivotal role in protecting consumers around the globe. In 2014, for example, Walmart set out to pump nearly $50 million into its food-safety efforts in China. In 2016, the company pledged an additional $25 million there over five years. Increased food-safety expectations created by a giant like Walmart have the ability to resonate beyond the company and its suppliers, helping to change the broader food-safety culture. "U.S. companies are responding to food safety challenges in China in ways that are collaborative and innovative, and help promote food security across the whole supply chain," a recent report by a U.S.-China nonprofit found. Given our increasingly globalized economy, questions about the proper level of food-safety regulations and the role of the private sector in ensuring a safe food supply aren't limited to China. Many ongoing fears over the looming Brexit pertain to what Great Britain's food-safety rules—currently based mostly in EU law—should look like after the schism. If Great Britain opts to loosen its rules, for example, doing so could help those who produce food for sale domestically but harm their ability to sell in other countries, including across the EU. That's because rules there—as in the U.S.—require those abroad that wish to enter the local market to meet standards similar to or exactly the same as domestic producers must meet. Food-safety issues can also cross borders, even in cases where the food in question does not. For every domestic story about gluten-free labeling regulations in the U.S., you're as likely to find a similar story in a place like Ireland. For every story about a controversy over raw milk sales in the U.S., you'll probably find a similar tale abroad. While countries like China lag behind the U.S. in terms of food safety outcomes, food-safety concerns can cut both ways. U.S. beef producers have been excluded previously from international markets—including China—over fears about mad cow disease. And in lectures I've given to visiting Chinese food-safety regulators about the history and evolution of the U.S. food-safety system, I've noted nearly uniform disbelief about a handful of things these regulators had assumed—incorrectly, it turns out—their FDA peers have done and do to protect U.S. consumers. Even as the global food supply has become safer thanks to a combination of public and private rules and enforcement, it's possible food-safety bans may only increase in the coming years. If, for example, the administration of president-elect Donald Trump indeed decides to practice trade war, one can almost be certain a result of those disputes will be bans of U.S. food imports—in countries targeted by Trump—under the guise of protecting food safety. Reason readers may recall a tit-for-tat along similar lines several years ago, when the administration of George W. Bush sparred with France over U.S. beef exports (which had bee[...]

Apple Blocking New York Times App in China—Haters Rejoice

Fri, 06 Jan 2017 14:30:00 -0500

(image) Apple has removed the Chinese-language version of the New York Times mobile app from its App Store in China, saying it was complying with an order from the Chinese government, which in June imposed new rules cracking down on mobile apps that posed perceived threats to national security or social order, as The Washington Post reports.

The mobile app was developed last year with the help of GreatFire, a non-profit dedicated to combatting online censorship (the Great Firewall) in China. The group, based at, does not disclose its identity due to security concerns, but has an active Twitter presence. "We're defeating China's well-developed censorship apparatus, only to be thwarted by actions of a publicly listed American company," the group tweeted yesterday.

Apple insisted in a statement it had to remove the app. "For some time now the New York Times app has not been permitted to display content to most users in China and we have been informed that the app is in violation of local regulations," the company said. "As a result, the app must be taken down off the China App Store."

GreatFire noted the Times app remained available on Android. Android users are also generally permitted to download apps from third-party sources (outside of the Google Play store) while Apple makes downloading apps outside of its store far more difficult. GreatFire also suggested that Apple's compliance was because of a Times exposé that was in the pipeline on Chinese subsidies to Foxconn, the company that runs the factory in China where Apple's iPhones are built. "Foxxconn story broke camel's back," the group tweeted. "Circle now complete. No question Apple's interests now 100% aligned with demands of Chinese authorities."

Ann Coulter tweeted that she was "really warming" to China after they put the banhammer down on the Times, a poor attempt at humor, especially given a pro-Trump social media ecosystem that doesn't just view much of the mainstream media as an adversary but as a cohort engaged in malpractice that may not deserve free press protections. Coulter is among the most prominent operators in that ecosystem but the shit rolls downhill, as you can see in the positive responses to her tweet. It goes all the way up, naturally. Trump has never appeared particularly enthusiastic about a free press, not before he ran, not while he was running, and not now and has, much like Hillary Clinton and other politicians, been pretty hostile to the idea, especially when it comes to criticisms of him.

Trump has not tweeted about China getting Apple to ban the Times app, nor about the Times reporting on China's subsidies, which seems up his alley for the foreign subsidies part and the things being made in China that are sold in the U.S. part—Trump's told Apple CEO Tim Cook he wants him to build iPhones in America.

Donald Trump’s 'Wildcard' Foreign Policy Bearing Fruit?

Wed, 21 Dec 2016 15:40:00 -0500

"Is Donald Trump a "freewheeling" "madman"? While Trump challenged foreign policy norms on the campaign trail, not holding back on attacking the George W. Bush legacy, he was hardly a non-interventionist—often complaining that the United States was not reimbursed for its security commitments and military actions around the world. Trump wants to make a deal. So far he's something of a wildcard. Since becoming president-elect, Trump has made a number of moves that have rattled the foreign policy establishment, although his cabinet picks were not one of them. Rex Tillerson, his secretary of state nominee, was reportedly initially suggested by Bob Gates, the former Bush and Obama administration defense secretary, and backed by Condoleezza Rice, Bush's former national security advisor and secretary of state, both of whom run a consulting firm that represents ExxonMobil, where Tillerson is CEO. Former President Bush called Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where the nomination hearings will be heard, with "effusive" praise, and former Vice President Dick Cheney also backed Tillerson. Henry Kissinger, former Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford secretary of state, meanwhile, was cautiously optimistic about Trump in a Face the Nation interview, telling John Dickerson Trump, "a phenomenon that foreign countries haven't seen," had the "possibility of going down in history as a very considerable president" because of the perception around the world that Obama "basically withdrew America from international politics" and because Trump was "asking a lot of unfamiliar questions." The Washington Post's David Ignatius asks whether "Trump's freewheeling foreign policy could have its benefits," pointing to the "useful ambiguity and negotiating room" Trump created with the congratulatory phone call he took from the president of Taiwan. China captured an unmanned navy drone in the South China Sea, where China has been building military facilities on artificial structures, which was returned. Trump later tweeted the U.S. should "tell China that we don't want the drone they stole back.- let them keep it!" On Fox News Sunday last week, he asked why the U.S. ought to defer to China on relations with Taiwan and the One China policy, which Kissinger helped construct. At the Washington Post, James Hohmann suggests Trump is following Nixon's "madman theory" on foreign policy, also pointing to Trump's approach to China as bearing some fruit, calling it "the first vindication of this approach." Since the election, Trump has re-affirmed U.S. security commitments to NATO and to countries like South Korea. The European Union invited Trump to a summit in Europe at his earliest convenience as soon as he was elected, and a NATO summit early next year in Brussels ought to be one of the first venues for Trump to demonstrate what's he meant by wanting to cut a deal, and whether he's ready to de-escalate American security commitments or whether he intends to continue a bipartisan foreign policy that sees America as an indispensable nation that must be involved everywhere.[...]

The Hidden Mind

Sun, 18 Dec 2016 06:00:00 -0500

The Three-Body trilogy—a wild science fiction saga that attempts to tell the complete story of humanity's future, from its first encounter with intelligent alien life to its near-extinction to its eventual transcendence beyond this dimension—is a global literary sensation. The series sold 500,000 copies in China and won its author, Cixin Liu, a handful of Galaxy Awards before crossing over into the American market a decade later. The opening book of the series, The Three-Body Problem, became the first translated novel to win a Hugo Award, given at WorldCon each year and considered science fiction's greatest honor. Accepting the award on the author's behalf in 2015, translator Ken Liu (no relation) noted the historical nature of the event and the appropriateness of the forum. "It's WorldCon," he said. "And this is the award for world science fiction." Cixin Liu deserves more than this belated nod. Border-crossing books are invigorating speculative fiction—and bringing with them the realization that American parochialism has unduly constrained our vision of the future and of the capabilities of the human mind. Though almost incomprehensibly massive in scope, Cixin Liu's sprawling series starts small, on Earth, in his own country's recent history. The Three-Body Problem begins during the Cultural Revolution, and it depicts a family shattered as the country erupts in violent chaos. The family patriarch, Ye Zhetai, is an astrophysicist who is forced into a "struggle session"—a form of mental and physical humiliation in which politically disfavored individuals were required to publicly confess to crimes that in many cases they did not commit. Liu describes how so-called "reactionary academics" responded under pressure. "Those who survived that initial period gradually became numb as the ruthless struggle sessions continued. The protective mental shell helped them avoid total breakdown." And he describes those who were broken by the process. "The constant, unceasing struggle sessions injected vivid political images into their consciousness like mercury, until their minds, erected upon knowledge and rationality, collapsed under the assault. They began to really believe that they were guilty, to see how they had harmed the great cause of the revolution." In this case, Ye Zhetai is forced to deny fundamental scientific facts about the nature of physical reality; when he fails, the mob kills him. It's a chilling depiction of the way that authoritarian regimes seek to control the lives of their subjects by controlling truth itself—as well as a dramatic reminder that the individual mind, and its connection to objective reality, is the last redoubt in the face of violent coercion. It is difficult to imagine these passages being written by a Western author. Cixin Liu, who until recently worked full time as a software engineer at a power station in the city of Shanxi, based these sequences on his own experiences as a child of scientists during the Cultural Revolution, when many works of art and literature, especially those from the West, were banned as the product of ideological enemies. But that didn't stop Cixin Liu from reading some of them anyway after finding a cache of American and British science fiction novels hidden away in his own home. His fiction is very much a product of both his own culture and the ideas embedded in Western science fiction. Golden-age science fiction has left its imprint all over Cixin Liu's work. The series explicitly references Isaac Asimov's Foundation series, and he has said that "everything that I write is a clumsy imitation of Arthur C. Clarke." American readers—for whom the series has been rebranded as the Remembrance of Earth's Past saga—will certainly recognize many of the tropes and technologies in his novels, which rely on devices such as cryogenic freezing, cloning, and the physical and tempo[...]

How Trump Endangers Global Peace

Thu, 15 Dec 2016 00:01:00 -0500

To anyone weary of 15 years of inconclusive war, Donald Trump's recent foreign policy speech offered heartening words. He thinks the United States should stop pursuing regime change abroad and start fixing its own problems. "We will stop racing to topple" foreign governments "that we know nothing about," he recently told a crowd in Fayetteville, North Carolina. "We're guided by the lessons of history and a desire to promote stability—stability all over—and strength in our land. This destructive cycle of intervention and chaos must finally, folks, come to an end." This promise is particularly relevant to Syrian ruler Bashar Assad, whom President Barack Obama once called on to leave. It also will reassure Egyptian strongman Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, who restored an autocracy that Obama's pressure had helped bring down. Trump has no interest in toppling dictators. His goal is maintaining order. So he says. But Trump's attention to the lessons of history goes only so far. In other places, he has heedlessly put stability at risk already. His blithe disdain for long-standing commitments and understandings invites a different destructive cycle that could make the previous chaos seem like ripples on a pond. The first danger involves China, whose government Trump offended by taking a call from the president of Taiwan and indicating he may scrap our "one China" policy. The implication was that he may be willing to recognize Taiwan, which Beijing regards as a renegade province. It may not sound like a big deal to him, because the Republic of China, as Taiwan calls itself, has enjoyed de facto independence since 1949. But that's where respect for the lessons of history comes in. For a long time, the three governments have operated according to a compromise: China leaves Taiwan alone to govern itself; Taiwan doesn't declare its independence; and the United States acknowledges China's claim on the island while selling arms to Taiwan. No one loves the arrangement, but it's kept the peace. By calling it into question, Trump challenges the Chinese government on turf that it can't give up. Were he to restore diplomatic relations with Taipei, Beijing would doubtless break ties with Washington and look for new ways to subvert our interests. Any overt move by Taiwan toward independence would provoke forceful military action by China. Are Americans ready to fight for Taiwan? Upsetting the status quo would violate a couple of basic axioms of geopolitics. One is not to push an adversary into a corner where his only option is war. Another is not to pick a fight where the enemy's stake is much greater than yours. By ignoring these rules, the president-elect runs the risk of unleashing the very turbulence he abhors. If his policy toward China is dangerously aggressive, his policy toward Russia is dangerously accommodating. Trump is famously enamored of President Vladimir Putin, and he has complained that our European allies are not paying enough for their own defense. Asked in July whether he would use military force in the case of a Russian invasion of Estonia, Latvia or Lithuania—all NATO members—he hedged. "I don't want to tell you what I'd do, because I don't want Putin to know what I'd do," he said, suggesting it would depend on whether the invaded country had "fulfilled their obligations to us." The implication was that the U.S. might stand by and let Russia seize one of its former states. Now, the original decision to include these countries in our defense alliance may have been a mistake. (I think it was.) But it's not a decision to be revisited when someone like Putin looms. To suggest we might tolerate such aggression is to invite it. To tolerate a Russian attack on a NATO ally would expose all the others to intimidation. It would badly endanger an arrangement that, whatever its flaws, has deterred major war in Europe[...]

Dana Rohrabacher Doesn’t Want a Cold War With Russia—He Wants One With China

Thu, 08 Dec 2016 12:15:00 -0500

Potential Trump Secretary of State nominee and California Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher's interview with Yahoo!'s Bianna Golodryga went viral after Rohrabacher called Russia's human rights abuses "baloney" and questioned the reporter's motives, asking where she was from. When Golodryga said she came from Moldova, a former Soviet republic, Rohrabacher answered that that was good because "the audience knows you're biased." Rohrabacher, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan, also compared Vladimir Putin to Mikhail Gorbachev, because both were both powerful leaders of countries the U.S. needed to be friends with. Golodryga had compared Russia's human rights abuses to those of China, a country Rohrabacher insisted was not America's "friend," and later suggested was one of the reasons a closer U.S.-Russia relationship made sense. "I said they are both human-rights abusers. How am I wrong?" Golodryga asked Rohrabacher. "How are you wrong? In China they don't have an opposition party," he answered. While Russia is no longer officially a one-party state, more than a decade of rule by Putin and the concomitant crackdown on opposition has made those forces weaker than they've been since the fall of the Soviet Union. Rohrabacher dismissed allegations Russia had interfered with elections in the U.S., saying such things happened around the world and that the U.S. did it as well. Rohrabacher called China the world's "largest human rights abuser." With a population of 1.2 billion, there isn't a larger anything than China. But the U.S. has allies like Egypt and Saudi Arabia that are vicious human rights abusers as well. Not only does the U.S. decline to take an antagonistic position toward those countries—it sends them billions of dollars in military and other aid every year. Saudi Arabia has been dropping U.S.-made bombs in Yemen for the last year and a half. "We don't need China," Rohrabacher insisted, "China is against us no matter, the Chinese are not our friends." He suggested the country of 1.2 billion people had become the world's second largest economy because the United States had "acted like fools," building up China's economy, and bemoaned the normalization of U.S.-Chinese trade relations. "We have transferred wealth, we have transferred technology," Rohrabacher said. "We have opened our markets to them while they have controlled everything on that side." Golodryga asked about whether it was wise for President-elect Donald Trump to "provoke" China by talking to the president of Taiwan, given China's potential role in keeping North Korea and its nuclear aspirations in check. "The last thing that's going to motivate the Chinese is that they want to do favors for us, because we're kowtowing to them, we're telling them how sincere friends we want to be," Rohrabacher said. He's not wrong there, but would eventually be. "If the Chinese are ever going to intercede for us," Rohrabacher continued, "it's going to be based on that we have a strong leader who is not a push over, and a strong leader who will actually threaten them, not military action, threaten them with consequences if they're supporting the military dictatorship attaining nuclear weapons power in Korea." But what's going to motivate China to curb North Korea is the threat North Korea presents for regional stability, unless Chinese leadership are led to believe the U.S. was willing to take up the costs of dealing with North Korea instead. Rohrabacher claimed that China's military build-up in the South China Sea (he called it "the middle of the Pacific"—it is not), its threats to shoot down planes over territory it claims, its "territorial claims all over the world," and its human rights abuses, all meant that the Chinese were "not our friends." He did not explain why Russia's human rights abuses precluded it from being A[...]

Trump Takes Call From Taiwan President, Freak Out Ensues

Mon, 05 Dec 2016 11:41:00 -0500

On Friday, President-elect Donald Trump and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen talked on the phone for about 10 minutes—no president or president-elect had spoken to the president of Taiwan since the U.S. withdrew its diplomatic recognition of Taiwan in 1979. The Chinese government lodged a formal complaint about the call with the U.S. government, calling the one China policy "the political basis of the China-U.S. relationship." The White House reasserted U.S. support for the one China policy after the phone call. The policy is also something both major parties in Taiwan accept in principle although, like different U.S. administrations, they differ on their interpretation of what "one China" means for Taiwan's political independence. Many observers insisted the phone call was unprecedented; Vanity Fair suggested it and other "flippant calls" were already creating diplomatic crises. Critics said it could "alter decades of foreign policy," The Guardian reported. Some experts did note the call could've been a "calculated move." The last few weeks have been filled with chatter about news not comporting with the political mainstream being equivalent to Russian propaganda. Overplaying fears about the recklessness of Trump's Taiwan call would certainly look to play into Chinese propaganda about the importance of not engaging Taiwan, yet it doesn't mean such fears are a part of a propaganda network. That would be preposterous. China's China Daily insisted there was "no need to over-interpret" the Trump call, writing it off, like other state-run outlets in China, as a product of the Trump team's "inexperience." China also called the move "petty" on Taiwan's part, and reached out to Henry Kissinger to tell him they hoped for "stability." As Foreign Policy notes, the phone call was not an unprecedented breach of protocol in U.S.-China relations—in 1980 and 1981 the incoming Reagan administration sought to renormalize relations with Taiwan, inviting senior officials to various inauguration events. When the Chinese government suggested the U.S. revisit the Taiwan Relations Act, which governs U.S. relations with Taiwan, Reagan told his envoy the act should be even tougher. "Beijing stopped pushing and the Reagan administration enjoyed a far more productive and stable U.S.-PRC relationship than his predecessors, while simultaneously deepening trust with Taiwan," Foreign Policy's Michael Green wrote, acknowledging that the Trump administration would find it "difficult to sustain this first move when there are so many other thorny issues they will have to work with Beijing." For his part, Trump took to Twitter to defend his call, insisting the Taiwan president had called him, and pointing out that it was "interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment but I should not accept a congratulatory call." International relations professor Dan Drezner suggested on Twitter that the phone call was more important than "some guns" because it was an action that threatened "the core of the PRC's self-conception of its sovereignty." The U.S. has completed dozens of arms deals with Taiwan since the 1979. China's response to the call was described as "measured," but while Trump team officials tried to downplay the significance of the phone call, Trump returned to Twitter to bring up other issues with China, complaining that the country did not ask for permission to "manipulate" its currency or militarize the South China Sea. Neither, though, did the U.S. ask China for permission to engage in the "Asia pivot," which Obama announced in Australia in 2011 and which sought to increase the U.S. military presence and American influence in the regions around China. For some reason, four years later, the Obama administration was still confused why the Chinese gov[...]

China Burns More Coal: Climate Promises Broken or Just Deferred?

Wed, 30 Nov 2016 16:00:00 -0500

(image) At the end of the U.N. COP22 climate change conference in Marrakech earlier this month, Greenpeace China policy advisor Li Shuo fatuously declared: "We have seen China continue with its climate actions and support for the Paris Agreement because it is in its self-interest to do so. China´s drop in coal consumption is driving down global emissions and tackling air pollution at home. We can expect further action as China reaps the benefits of its climate policies." Also at Marrakech, Chinese climate change negotiators reportedly chided President-elect Donald Trump for once tweeting that global warming was a hoax devised by the Chinese. A headline in The Guardian declared that "China emerges as global climate leader in wake of Trump triumph."

The Marrakech conference ended just 12 days ago. Today the New York Times is running a front page article, "Despite Climate Change Vow, China Pushes to Dig More Coal." As the paper of record explains:

A lack of stockpiles and worries about electricity blackouts are spurring Chinese officials to reverse curbs that once helped reduce coal production. Mines are reopening. Miners are being lured back with fatter paychecks.

China's response to coal scarcity shows how hard it will be to wean the country off coal. That makes it harder for China and the world to meet emissions targets, as Chinese coal is the world's largest single source of carbon emissions from human activities....

"I get a kick out of people in the West who think China is decarbonizing, because I see no sign of it whatsoever," said Brock Silvers, a Shanghai banker who has previously served on the boards of two Chinese coal companies.

Of course, back in 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping issued a "joint announcement on climate change" in which the Chinese government promised to peak its greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. So that means there's plenty of time for China to keep its climate promises.

Documentary Recalls Horrors of Korean War

Fri, 28 Oct 2016 15:00:00 -0400

American Experience: The Battle of Chosin. PBS. Tuesday, November 1, 9 p.m. When the Chinese mortar shell exploded, it sent the American soldier hurtling through the air, his body savaged but his mind eerily dreamy as he fell back to earth, cataloging the carnage surrounding him. He took particular note of a severed limb casually askew on the ground. "Some poor guy lost a leg," the soldier thought to himself sadly. When he tried to stand, the dream blinked back to reality: The poor guy without a leg was him. So it goes in The Battle of Chosin, an episode of the PBS documentary series American Experience airing November 1. It's a series of postcards—surreal, grisly, terrifying—from a largely forgotten battle in the mostly unremembered war that the United States fought in Korea from 1950 to 1953. For two weeks beginning in late November 1950, a U.S.-commanded force of nearly 15,000 men, mostly U.S. Marines, fought its way out of an encirclement of 120,000 Chinese troops near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. The combat, at such close quarters that the fighting was often hand-to-hand, took place on steep, craggy mountain terrain ("you had two directions to go in Korea, that was either straight up or straight down, recalls one American soldier) in temperatures that plunged to 50 degrees below zero on some nights. It was a frozen killing field so gruesome that the soldiers interviewed in The Battle of Chosin are often reduced to ghastly free association in their attempts to describe it: "Grotesque. ... Horrible. Nightmare." Producer-director Randall MacLowry and writer Mark Zwonitzer, though both American Experience veterans (together and separately, they've chronicled everything from the creation of Silicon Valley to the campaign to stamp out polio), have little experience in making military documentaries. That doesn't show at all in The Battle of Chosin, which dexterously alternates between broad discussions of strategy and grunt's-eye-view of the fighting on the ground. They've assembled a truly awesome collection of archival footage and still photographs; as grim and exhausting as the battle got, military combat photographers apparently never put down their cameras. Battle opens with a quick, deft summary of the outbreak of the Korean War five months earlier. North Korean troops poured across the border, quickly captured Seoul and within a few weeks were on the verge of driving out U.S. and South Korean forces. But American commander Douglas MacArthur's risky decision to launch an amphibious assault behind the North Korean lines broke the communist offensive, sending them in headlong retreat north with U.S. forces in hot pursuit. As Thanksgiving approached, American troops were nearing the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China, and U.S. forces were so totally in control that American planes were ferrying turkey and dressing rather than bombs and bullets to the front. Though there were some nervous voices in Washington—including that of President Truman himself—expressing worries that China might intervene on behalf of the shattered North Korean army, MacArthur dismissed the Chinese as a "peasant army" that would crumble in the face of American military technology. Even when American troops traded some sporadic shots with infiltrated Chinese soldiers—their distinctive quilted uniforms made them easy to recognize—U.S. commanders were unconcerned. The spearhead of the drive on the Yalu was the 1st U.S. Marine Division, augmented by smaller units of the U.S. and South Korean army, arrayed in a semi-circle around the Chosin Reservoir on the eve of an offensive that their commanders had promised them would end the war by Christmas. Instead, they were awakened the night of Nov.[...]

The Fate of Baishizhou

Thu, 22 Sep 2016 09:50:00 -0400

(image) Recommended reading: Foreign Policy's dispatch from Baishizhou, a dynamic district in the Chinese city of Shenzhen:

Start with Cannery Row, then jerry-rig it to accommodate half the population of Iceland, and you're close to Baishizhou. A tangle of damp alleyways opens at odd intervals onto wider avenues of frenzied commerce—fruit carts, shoe repair, blind massage, hot pot, pig's feet on rice, coal-roasted sweet potato, fortune tellers, handymen for hire, smartphone engravers, karaoke parlors, smoke shops, love hotels, furniture dealers, street-side lamb butchers, elementary schools, mahjong rooms, communal laundry wells, open-air billiard halls, and a vast number of hair salons where customers can get a head massage, a cut, and a wash for about four dollars. All of it hustles by under a sun-blocking canopy of braided telephone wires....Baishizhou also includes a densely built industrial area that's populated with small- and medium-sized businesses—from kitchen-supply companies to surface-mount technology workshops—and skirted with shops and restaurants.

How did such a place emerge? Interesting story:

In the late 1970s, when Beijing undertook plans to turn Shenzhen into the country's first Special Economic Zone—an experimental area with more liberal financial policies—the government first had to purchase land from the local villagers living there, mostly farmers and fishermen, and convert it to municipal property. Officials took the path of least resistance, buying up farmland and leaving the actual villages untouched. This left villagers with lump sums of cash but extinguished the basis for their agricultural lifestyle, and essentially set them adrift in a rising sea of construction projects. Crucially, though, their homes were still designated as rural land. Although they were living at ground zero for Shenzhen's big bang of urbanization, they still held onto special home ownership rights, giving them a degree of freedom in deciding what to do with their pockets of the city.

Unfortunately, "Shenzhen's government has slated Baishizhou for renewal, and the current proposal from Hong Kong-based developer LVGEM aims to replace it with 59.2 million square feet of high-rises, malls, and hotels, along with a skyscraper billed as a new icon for the district." So there's a lot of uncertainty in the area, and the article covers that too.

To read the whole thing, go here. For more on the anarchic side of Shenzhen, go here.

Will We Build a Wall Against Chinese Immigrants, Too?

Tue, 20 Sep 2016 09:50:00 -0400

Can you guess who the victims were of the largest mass-lynching in American history and where it took place? Most people would, I think, guess blacks first, then maybe Mexicans or Native Americans. And we'd assume it was somewhere in the old Confederate states. Writing in the Boston Globe, Jeff Jacoby notes that the 18 men and boys killed on October 24, 1871 were chosen dragged out of their houses and beaten and hanged because they were Chinese. The locale wasn't Alabama or Mississippi, either. It was Los Angeles, California. They were Chinese, and they were murdered by a mob, nearly 500 strong, that included some of the city's leading citizens. "Their first victim was an elderly, inoffensive Chinaman, whom they seized and dragged headlong through the streets, beating and abusing him at every step," the Los Angeles Daily Mirror later recounted. At the corner of Temple and New High streets, the lynch party tied a noose around the old man's neck and hauled him up. "The rope broke and the unfortunate wretch, innocent of any wrong, asked for mercy from his cruel tormentors. This was denied with jeers, and he was again hung up; this time successfully." As readers of Reason know, the first mass exclusions on the basis of country of origin (then as now a proxy for protean categories of race) covered the Chinese in a law titled with unabashed descriptiveness: The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. (Read Erika Lee's recent history The Making of Asian America for more.) Jacoby notes that Chinese now comprise the single-largest group emigrating to the United States: In 2013, according to the Census Bureau, China was the country of origin for 147,000 US immigrants, compared to just 125,000 who came from Mexico. Over the previous 10 years, immigration from China and other Asian countries had been rising, while immigration from Mexico decreased. Since at least 2009, reported demographer Eric Jensen, more immigrants to America have been Asian than Hispanic. By 2013, the disparity was unmistakable: Asians accounted for 40.2 percent of the total immigration flow. Hispanics made up only 25.5 percent. Last week, The Wall Street Journal crunched even more recent numbers. "In 2014, there were 31 states where more immigrants arrived from China than from Mexico. . . . Even in California, a top destination for Latinos, Chinese immigrants outnumbered Mexican immigrants." (The data include all immigrants, legal and illegal.) If Mexicans are the enemy within—all this talk of deporting millions of undocumented immigrants is mostly aimed at them—China has mostly replaced Russia or Japan as our major enemy without. Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, virtually all of the failed GOP candidates for president, and especially Donald Trump mince no words in saying they will hold China accountable for flexing its regional military might, "manipulating" its currency (something all national central banks do simply by existing), and especially "stealing" American jobs. And of course, Chinese immigrants in America threaten "us" in a way that is less like low-skilled Mexicans and more like the fears stoked by Jews back in the early 20th century: Chinese kids are so super-smart, especially in math and engineering, right, that they aren't taking manual-labor gigs away from low-income, low-skilled natives? They're taking away all the slots at the University of California system and maybe even the Ivy League! They're not human, they work too hard! Jacoby closes his piece with a trenchant observation about how "we" (real Americans, who can trace at least two generations in the U.S. of A.!, but not inlcuding blacks) always eventually do the right thing after exhausting all other options: W[...]