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Published: Tue, 24 Jan 2017 00:00:00 -0500

Last Build Date: Tue, 24 Jan 2017 04:18:19 -0500


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 been restricted due in part to alleged food-safety concerns), and slapped a prohibitive tariff on Roquefort chees[...]

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 temporal challenges of traveling through space at relativistic speeds. At heart, the trilogy is an expansive riff o[...]

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 for more than 70 years. To respond to a Russian invasion, though, would mean going to war with a nuclear sta[...]

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 America's "friend," choosing instead to question Golodryga's motives in bringing that up. As for the assertion[...]

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 government had begun to take a more confrontational stance vis a vis the United States. It's a basic lack of unde[...]

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. 27 by a series of murderous human-wave attacks by a Chinese force that would number at least 60,000 soldiers[...]

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: We look back today at the demonization of Chinese immigrants in the 1870s and 1880s and are aghast that so man[...]

Thomas Friedman, Admirer of Dictators, Slams Trump for Admiring Dictators

Thu, 15 Sep 2016 06:30:00 -0400

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman criticizes Donald Trump's "idiotic observation that Vladimir Putin is a strong leader" who gets stuff done, unlike Barack Obama. Friedman endorses former world chess champion Garry Kasparov's take on Trump's praise of Russia's president: "Vladimir Putin is a strong leader in the same way that arsenic is a strong drink. Praising a brutal KGB dictator, especially as preferable to a democratically elected U.S. president, whether you like Obama or hate him, is despicable and dangerous." Friedman and Kasparov are right. Trump's attraction to oppressive autocrats is more than a little disturbing, especially since it is precisely their dictatorial strength that he admires. But Friedman fails to acknowledge that he himself is guilty of the same idiocy. "One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks," the foreign policy sage conceded in a 2009 column. "But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century." In particular, Friedman admired the Chinese government's commitment to "clean power and energy efficiency," which he contrasted with the Republican Party's benighted resistance to "energy/climate legislation and health care legislation." The Republicans' failure to agree with Democrats on those issues, Friedman said, makes the United States a "one-party democracy," which is "worse" that China's autocracy. Friedman offers more praise for China's rulers in his 2008 book Hot, Flat, and Crowded, where he says their oppressive, cruel, and brutal limits on reproductive freedom "probably saved China from a population calamity" and hopes the current regime will show the same tyrannical fervor in pursuit of "net-zero buildings." In 2014 Mark Bittman, then a fellow Times columnist, took a cue from Friedman, hoping that China's dictators, unencumbered by democracy, the rule of law, or civil liberties, would show the rest of the world how to take on "the scourge of junk food." Bittman's reasoning echoed Friedman's: "Say what you will about the Chinese, but they know how to make wholesale changes, and sometimes those changes are inarguably for the good." Trump also admires the power of China's leaders. In a 1990 interview with Playboy, he said they "almost blew it" in response to the Tiananmen Square protests the previous year but then realized they had to be "vicious" and "horrible" to maintain order. "They put it down with strength," he said, which "shows you the power of strength." By contrast, he said, "Our country is right now perceived as weak." Asked about those remarks during a Republican presidential debate last year, Trump provided this clarification: "I was not endorsing it. I said that is a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot. It was a horrible thing. It doesn't mean at all I was endorsing it." But it sorta does mean that, doesn't it? By describing the protests as a "riot" and admiring the strength shown by the government's "horrible" response, which according to Trump came after the regime "almost blew it" by taking a more restrained approach, he is saying the violent crackdown, which killed hundreds (possibly thousands) of people, was the right way to go, even while claiming he is "not endorsing it." Friedman's admiration of the Chinese government's power, which allows it to accomplish policy goals (clean energy and population control) he views as desirable, is, if anything, less ambiguous than Trump's. Although "one-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks," the columnist says, it gets good things done, unlike our dysfunctio[...]

Obama and Xi 'Ratify' Paris Climate Change Agreement

Sat, 03 Sep 2016 10:24:00 -0400

President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping announced at the G-20 Summit in Hangzhou today that both countries will join the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The White House must be annoyed that lots of headlines are declaring that President Obama is "ratifying" the the agreement. The Paris Agreement will come into effect 30 days after 55 countries emitting at least 55 percent of the world's greenhouse gases commit to it. The U.S. and China emit about 40 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. In March, 2015, President Obama submitted the U.S.'s Intended Nationally Determined Contribution pledge to cut by 2025 U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 26-28 percent below their levels in 2005. At the Hangzhou conference, President Obama reaffirmed those cuts and President Xi restated that China would begin cutting its emissions around 2030 or so. But what about that pesky "ratification" issue? The Constitution provides that the President "shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two-thirds of the Senators present concur." In order for a treaty to be ratified two-thirds of the Senate must vote in favor of a resolution of ratification. If the resolution passes, then ratification takes place when the instruments of ratification are formally exchanged between the United States and the relevant foreign governments. The Paris Agreement was specifically crafted during the United Nations negotiations to try to get around this provision of the Constitution. As I reported in my article, "Obama's Possible Paris Climate Agreement End Run Around the Senate," back in 2014 from the United Nations Lima climate change conference: A 2010 Congressional Research Service (CRS) legal analysis of climate agreements ... notes that a 1992 Senate Committee on Foreign Relations report dealing with the ratification of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) flatly stated that a "decision by the Conference of the Parties to adopt targets and timetables would have to be submitted to the Senate for its advice and consent before the United States could deposit its instruments of ratification for such an agreement." The 1992 Senate report also explicitly added that any presidential attempt "to reinterpret the Convention to apply legally binding targets and timetables for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases to the United States" would also require the Senate's prior advice and consent. The State Department's own Foreign Affairs Manual notes that presidents may conclude executive agreements in three cases, e.g., pursuant to a treaty already authorized by the Senate; on the basis of existing legislation; and pursuant to his authority as Chief Executive when such an agreement is not inconsistent with legislation enacted by the Congress. Consequently, President Obama might assert that he has the authority to bind the U.S. to take on international obligations under the Paris climate agreement because it is pursuant to the already authorized UNFCCC and is consistent with existing federal environmental legislation. On the other, the Manual offers guidance for deciding when a treaty or when an executive agreement is appropriate. Relevant considerations include (1) the extent to which the agreement involves commitments or risks affecting the nation as a whole, (2) whether the agreement is intended to affect State laws, and (3) the preference of the Congress as to a particular type of agreement. Clearly any international agreement that purports to impose legal limits on the emissions of greenhouse gases would involve risks to the nation as a whole and affect state laws. And, as noted earlier, the Senate has plainly stated that setting any greenhouse gas red[...]

The Economic Stimulus Perplex: Could Regulation Be the Problem?

Mon, 15 Aug 2016 12:11:00 -0400

The orthodox Keynesian policy prescription to get out of a recession/depression is for the government to boost demand by massive increases in government spending and borrowing. The idea is that recession-wary consumers are refusing to spend their money thus reducing production and the associated creation of new jobs. In the wake of the Great Recession, the U.S. government enacted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to stimulate the economy. Paul Krugman, the modern avatar of Keynesianism, has decried that stimulus as "too small and too short-lived," urging Congress to massively borrow and spend on infrastructure projects. As it happens both major party presidential candidates are in favor of ramping up federal infrastructure spending. In fact, Trump promises to spend twice as much as Clinton. While considering a new stimulus proposal by the Economic Policy Institute in today's Washington Post, columnist Robert Samuelson cogently wonders why $5.1 trillion in tax cuts and deficit spending between 2009 and 2012 produced such tepid economic growth. As the Great Recession unfolded, he notes that the Chinese were enthusiastic Keynesians spending vast amounts on infrastructure projects. "But it didn't solve China's underlying economic problems, which are now worse for having festered," he notes. Japan is another Asian country that has tried numerous times to use government deficit spending to jumpstart economic growth. The latest version of this is Abenomics, named after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe whose government has adopted several large stimulus packages aimed at building infrastructure and encouraging consumer spending. The results have been disappointing; the economy grew at 0.2 percent rate in the second quarter of 2016. Abe is doubling down, and has announced a new stimulus package totaling $274 billion dollars. In his column, Samuelson asks, "What ails the private sector? Can we do anything about it? Those are the crucial questions." Perhaps the answer to what ails the private sector is excessive regulation. A recent study by the conservative American Action Forum estimates that the Obama administration is on track to adopt over 600 major regulations (those costing more than $100 million each) by the end of the president's term. The total cost of complying with all of the new regulations will add up to $813 billion. The libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute calculates that extent and cost of Washington's rules and mandates is $1.8 trillion annually, amounting to about $15,000 per household each year. Even the New York Times on Sunday called President Obama, the regulator-in-chief whose new rules have "imposed billions of dollars in new costs on businesses and consumers." I have reported earlier analyses that found that regulatory drag has made the U.S. economy $4 trillion smaller than it would otherwise have been. That amounts to a lot of foregone jobs and consumption. I would like to suggest that hugely escalating regulatory costs under the Obama administration have mostly offset whatever the benefits that orthodox Keynesians would expect from economic stimulus. In other words, President Obama has been trying to use Keynesian stimulation to rev the economy while simultaneously jamming down hard on the regulatory brakes.[...]

China's Rare Earth Minerals Mercantilism Totally Fails: I Told You So Six Years Ago

Mon, 25 Jul 2016 12:05:00 -0400

(image) Back in 2010, Chinese central planners believed that they had the world over a barrel because their country was the source of 95 percent of various rare earth minerals used in many modern technologies. The Chinese government imposed limits on the amounts that could be exported with the goal of forcing Western technology companies to move their manufacturing operations to the Middle Kingdom.

As I argued in my column, "Rare Earth Ruckus," back in 2010, this Chinese mercantlist ploy would backfire as entrepreneurs opened rare earth mining operations in nice stable countries like Australia, Malaysia, and Canada. In addition, innovators would develop technologies that did not depend upon the minerals that China was trying to cartelize. Of course, some American politicians panicked and introduced legislation offering federal loan guarantees to companies to develop rare earth supplies in the United States (as though higher prices wouldn't incentivize that). I concluded:

In the end, new supplies and innovation will ensure that the future of the world's high tech economy will not depend upon the whims of the mercantilist mandarins who steer Chinese industrial and trade policy.

And so it has come to pass. A nice Wall Street Journal op-ed, "China's Rare-Earths Bust," confirms my prediction. For example, the op-ed notes that Honda is introducing a hybrid car engine that does not depend upon magnets made using rare earth minerals and which is 10 percent cheaper and 8 percent lighter. From the op-ed:

Beijing's mercantilist gambit had predictable effects—predictable, at least, for anyone familiar with the work of Julian Simon. The economist taught that fears over natural-resource scarcity often underestimate the flexibility of markets and the ingenuity of the human brain, which Simon called the ultimate resource. Those who warned about "peak oil" were blindsided by fracking, and rare-earth doomsayers failed to foresee how Beijing's supply squeeze would spur overseas investment in new supplies and substitutes. (image)

Just last year, I participated in a Cato Unbound debate on this issue with economist Dambisa Moyo, author of Winner Take All: China and Global Race for Resources. I don't know where she learned her economics, but it's clear that Moyo simply doesn't know what she is talking about. As I argued:

Moyo would do well to advise China's leaders to stop their economically ignorant pursuit of resource nationalism. ... The Party leaders evidently are still in thrall to the failed ideology of economic central planning and the ultimate results of those policies will not be pretty.

That's still true.

H/T David Ridgely.