Commentary Magazine


Topic: China

Press Freedom and the New Whataboutism

One of the more entertaining adornments to Vladimir Putin’s attempts to return Russia to some form of imperial influence has been his routine indulging in “whataboutism,” the practice of attempting to highlight the West’s hypocrisy when criticizing Moscow. In the Soviet era, it had a distinct purpose: because the Soviets wanted to spread worldwide ideological revolution, they felt obligated to challenge any assertion or evidence that freedom was better than totalitarianism.

Nowadays, because Putin believes in nothing but wealth and power, Russian whataboutism has lost some of its edge. China, too, has dabbled in its own whataboutism in recent years, encouraging the mention of Western freedom of the press to be qualified with a snide “so-called” preceding it. The two occasionally converge, however, with a helping hand from the West. Such is the case with this ominous-sounding media column from the New York Times’s David Carr. Headlined “Where Freedom of the Press Is Muffled,” Carr wants to talk about the plight of journalists in China–and the Anglosphere:

Read More

One of the more entertaining adornments to Vladimir Putin’s attempts to return Russia to some form of imperial influence has been his routine indulging in “whataboutism,” the practice of attempting to highlight the West’s hypocrisy when criticizing Moscow. In the Soviet era, it had a distinct purpose: because the Soviets wanted to spread worldwide ideological revolution, they felt obligated to challenge any assertion or evidence that freedom was better than totalitarianism.

Nowadays, because Putin believes in nothing but wealth and power, Russian whataboutism has lost some of its edge. China, too, has dabbled in its own whataboutism in recent years, encouraging the mention of Western freedom of the press to be qualified with a snide “so-called” preceding it. The two occasionally converge, however, with a helping hand from the West. Such is the case with this ominous-sounding media column from the New York Times’s David Carr. Headlined “Where Freedom of the Press Is Muffled,” Carr wants to talk about the plight of journalists in China–and the Anglosphere:

In China on Thursday, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. spoke plainly about the role of a free press in a democratic society. …

He was speaking against the backdrop of China’s restrictive policies on reporting by foreign news organizations; the Chinese government has so far declined to renew the visas of nearly two dozen reporters from The New York Times and Bloomberg News as a consequence of their coverage, raising the possibility that they could be forced to leave China at the end of the year.

It was the first time a high-ranking United States official had spoken publicly about the professional plight of journalists seeking to fully report on China.

While it was heartening to see the White House at the forefront of the effort to ensure an unfettered press, government officials in Britain, a supposedly advanced democracy and the United States’ closest ally, might do well to consider Mr. Biden’s words. (Some of his colleagues in the Justice Department, which has ferociously prosecuted leakers, might take heed as well, but that’s a matter for a different day.)

In one fell swoop, Carr seemed to be engaged in an ever-escalating bout of whataboutism against himself. The Chinese are restricting freedom of the press, Carr says. Well what about Britain, responds Carr. Don’t forget the United States, retorts Carr. (The game ends there; in whataboutism, American hypocrisy is always the winning hand.)

But it’s not as though Carr wasn’t onto something. Britain and the Obama administration have both recently behaved in ways inimical to true press freedom, and it is indeed more offensive for this to happen in America, which has the First Amendment, notwithstanding Carr’s disdainful swipe at Britain being a “supposedly advanced democracy.”

Nonetheless, the treatment of journalists, even Western journalists, in China is of course far worse than in the West. And it may be heading to a crisis point. Isaac Stone Fish has a comprehensive write-up of the ongoing saga at Foreign Policy, detailing the increased attempts at censoring the more active foreign bureaus of the Times and Bloomberg. The latter is even embroiled in its own scandal amid accusations of self-censorship to keep the Chinese government happy. The whole article is worth reading, but the upshot is that it’s not out of the question that China would expel the bureaus:

If Beijing actually does plan to expel both bureaus it would constitute the government’s biggest move against foreign reporters at least since the upheaval following the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989. Evan Osnos, a staff writer for the New Yorker and a long-time China correspondent, called this recent move “the Chinese government’s most dramatic attempt to insulate itself from scrutiny in the thirty-five years since China began opening to the world.” Paul Mooney, a longtime China-based chronicler of that country’s human rights abuses, had his visa rejected in early November, in another sign of tightening for foreign correspondents in China. Reuters, Bloomberg, and the New York Times “don’t have the ability to influence the Chinese government,” said Mooney. “I think we really need to have some kind of action. Maybe against media executives in China, or officials — to give the message that this is not acceptable.”

What authoritarian regimes are finding out is that in the age of a democratized Web, which creates far more competition for stories among the press, and social media, which enables the citizens in many cases to turn the surveillance state against itself, the traditional avenues of influencing public opinion are subject to diminishing returns. All this means that state-run media are increasingly ineffective.

How to better control the conversation, in that environment? The Chinese response has been to elbow out the foreign press, if they don’t bow to bullying. The Russian response was somewhat novel. Putin dissolved the state news agency in favor of the creation of what is essentially a public-relations firm, dropping the pretense entirely. Putin has always been obsessed with image, but even this is a bit much–though more honest, I suppose, in its own twisted way.

Yet neither should be brushed off lightly. Authoritarian regimes that act like they have even more to hide probably do–or will in the near future.

Read Less

China Spikes the Ball in Iran

Perhaps the worst thing about Secretary of State John Kerry is that he is both completely aloof to how both adversaries and allies perceive the United States, and he genuinely does not understand how America’s competitors seek neither peace nor conflict resolution but rather to further their position vis-à-vis America in a zero-sum game of power rivalry.

For Kerry, the Iran nuclear talks may have been about curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, but for China, they were about curtailing the United States. Speaking yesterday to reporters in Tehran after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Chinese State Councilor (and former foreign minister) Yang Jiechi, declared:

Iran defended its rights in the [Vienna nuclear] negotiations and defeated the Western side. This result was achieved by Iran’s new government and through wisdom and prudence used in the talks. We respect Iran’s right to nuclear energy and uranium enrichment… Iran has started moving on the path of progress and development with your [Ruhani’s] appointment [victory in presidential elections]. And China considers Iran as a close friend and a good and strategic partner.

Read More

Perhaps the worst thing about Secretary of State John Kerry is that he is both completely aloof to how both adversaries and allies perceive the United States, and he genuinely does not understand how America’s competitors seek neither peace nor conflict resolution but rather to further their position vis-à-vis America in a zero-sum game of power rivalry.

For Kerry, the Iran nuclear talks may have been about curtailing Iran’s nuclear program, but for China, they were about curtailing the United States. Speaking yesterday to reporters in Tehran after meeting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Chinese State Councilor (and former foreign minister) Yang Jiechi, declared:

Iran defended its rights in the [Vienna nuclear] negotiations and defeated the Western side. This result was achieved by Iran’s new government and through wisdom and prudence used in the talks. We respect Iran’s right to nuclear energy and uranium enrichment… Iran has started moving on the path of progress and development with your [Ruhani’s] appointment [victory in presidential elections]. And China considers Iran as a close friend and a good and strategic partner.

In the same press conference—apparently reported in Persian but not in English—Rouhani himself, rather than any aide whose comments could be later denied, doubled down on the fact that the agreement would not stop Iranian nuclear ambitions: “Iran will not withdraw from its nuclear rights, including the right to enrichment.” He then thanked China for its assistance in Geneva.

Seldom has there been such a willful forfeiture of leverage and negotiating position with the American team overseeing the talks so seemingly unaware.

Read Less

China’s Strategic Patience

Because China was not under any serious foreign military threat, its decision to declare an “air defense identification zone” over an area that includes islands claimed by both Japan and China was unnecessary. Because it was unnecessary, there are two obvious ways of looking at it. Either the gratuitous display of power was meant as a prelude to real aggression, or it was a bluff.

If the former, then the second act may have been averted when the U.S. flew B-52 bombers through the airspace, causing China to back down. If the latter, the bluff was called for all the world to see. In either of these scenarios, China looks like a paper tiger–a phrase used often in reference to China, but again repeated when it looked like China would do nothing too troublesome to defend the flag it planted. But both these analyses stem from judging events news cycle by news cycle–a typically Western habit exacerbated in the age of Twitter.

There is a third way of looking at it, though, and there is reason enough to think it aligns with how the Chinese government viewed the episode, which is still unfurling with Joe Biden’s visit to China today. This perspective is hinted at on the map of the air defense zone, of which the New York Times has an excellent version here. The Chinese air defense zone is predominantly in conflict with Japan’s airspace claims, but about a third of the zone looks to be encroaching on Taiwanese airspace, which, of course, is much closer to the Chinese mainland. It also overlaps with some airspace claimed by South Korea.

Read More

Because China was not under any serious foreign military threat, its decision to declare an “air defense identification zone” over an area that includes islands claimed by both Japan and China was unnecessary. Because it was unnecessary, there are two obvious ways of looking at it. Either the gratuitous display of power was meant as a prelude to real aggression, or it was a bluff.

If the former, then the second act may have been averted when the U.S. flew B-52 bombers through the airspace, causing China to back down. If the latter, the bluff was called for all the world to see. In either of these scenarios, China looks like a paper tiger–a phrase used often in reference to China, but again repeated when it looked like China would do nothing too troublesome to defend the flag it planted. But both these analyses stem from judging events news cycle by news cycle–a typically Western habit exacerbated in the age of Twitter.

There is a third way of looking at it, though, and there is reason enough to think it aligns with how the Chinese government viewed the episode, which is still unfurling with Joe Biden’s visit to China today. This perspective is hinted at on the map of the air defense zone, of which the New York Times has an excellent version here. The Chinese air defense zone is predominantly in conflict with Japan’s airspace claims, but about a third of the zone looks to be encroaching on Taiwanese airspace, which, of course, is much closer to the Chinese mainland. It also overlaps with some airspace claimed by South Korea.

China did not win anything in the near term from the United States, it would appear. But that doesn’t mean China didn’t win anything at all in the near term, or that China didn’t win anything in the long run from the U.S. The opposite seems to be the case. First, from the Times, what the Chinese have won in the near term:

The vice president’s goal appears to be to neutralize the destabilizing impact of the air defense zone in the region by persuading the Chinese authorities to stop scrambling fighter jets or otherwise disrupt the busy air corridors between Japan and China.

China will likely interpret this as to some extent legitimizing China’s right to contest control of the airspace, just not to have that claim recognized as a fact in itself. It’s unclear what, if anything, the U.S. can do beyond this. It’s therefore likely that, far from miscalculating, the Chinese leadership assessed the situation accurately. It may not be a monumental victory, but it’s more than they started with.

And the Washington Post’s writeup of Biden’s visit hints at what China may have won in the long run:

Aides said the vice president’s goals would include getting the Chinese to agree not to establish other such zones without first discussing their intentions with potentially affected countries.

China has reason to view this as a win on two levels: first, that the U.S. will essentially stay out of such regional line-drawing; and second, that “discussing their intentions with potentially affected countries” before rearranging borders is a loophole big enough to fly a B-52 bomber through.

It also suggests the Obama administration knows China is playing the long game. As Harry Kazianis notes at the Diplomat, an air defense zone over the disputed islands with Japan is presumably the opening act:

Beijing could use such wording to openly declare such a new ADIZ in the South China Sea — an area with sovereignty disputes involving multiple claimants. In fact, Beijing has already gone so far to claim 80 percent of the area, effectively taking control of Scarborough Shoal last summer, which is well within the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of the Philippines and is pressing its claims now on Second Thomas Shoal. China has also deployed its new aircraft carrier to the region in what could be seen as a show of force (although, let’s be frank, the carrier won’t be operational for sometime, however, the point is still made).

Second, when America’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) gave guidance that U.S. domestic carriers should inform Beijing of their flight plans, Washington not only gave de facto approval of the East China Sea ADIZ, but also suggested that future moves would not be met with strong resistance. Truth be told, the Obama Administration was in a tight bind on the decision — not giving the information to Beijing could have put such flights and American lives in danger, and no one wants to see an accident turn into a crisis that won’t be easy to untangle considering the stakes. Yet, any move that gives this ADIZ declaration on China’s part any legitimacy will certainly be used by Beijing as a sign of acceptance. If we got away with it once, why not try the same move again and again?

President Obama’s openness to granting countries such as Russia and Iran their own spheres of influence will surely invite such challenges, but the Chinese air defense zone declaration is not really about Obama. It’s more about what he represents to some leaders: a weary, inward looking, declining power that at some point will be unwilling to challenge a major act of Chinese aggression either in the South China Sea or Taiwan. That day is not today, but the Chinese leadership is almost certainly curious as to when that will change.

Read Less

A Welcome Show of Strength from Obama

Perhaps this is what the Pacific pivot means. The Obama administration is telegraphing weakness, indecision, and retreat in the Middle East but is showing some welcome spine in the Far East.

This past weekend China had the temerity to proclaim an Air Defense Identification Zone over much of the East China Sea, including islands disputed by Japan and South Korea. If recognized, this would serve to extend China’s effective sovereignty and could lead to a dangerous confrontation with its neighbors, since China’s new air-defense zone overlaps with those of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. But the Obama administration rightly said it would not recognize the Chinese power grab, and to underline the point a pair of B-52s flew into the disputed air space without notifying Beijing.

Read More

Perhaps this is what the Pacific pivot means. The Obama administration is telegraphing weakness, indecision, and retreat in the Middle East but is showing some welcome spine in the Far East.

This past weekend China had the temerity to proclaim an Air Defense Identification Zone over much of the East China Sea, including islands disputed by Japan and South Korea. If recognized, this would serve to extend China’s effective sovereignty and could lead to a dangerous confrontation with its neighbors, since China’s new air-defense zone overlaps with those of Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. But the Obama administration rightly said it would not recognize the Chinese power grab, and to underline the point a pair of B-52s flew into the disputed air space without notifying Beijing.

This is precisely the sort of action that a liberal superpower needs to take to maintain freedom of the skies and the seas. It, indeed, recalls the Reagan administration using force in the 1980s to challenge Libya’s power grab off its coast and Iran’s power grab in the Persian Gulf. Of course challenging China–a superpower in the making–is a lot more perilous an undertaking than challenging regional powers such as Libya or Iran. So it is all the more to Obama’s credit that he did not flinch from what could be a potential confrontation.

In reality China has made plain that, while it is happy to bully lesser states such as the Philippines, it has little appetite yet for an open confrontation with the United States which can still–but for how much longer?–bring overwhelming naval and air assets to bear in the western Pacific. By stepping forward, the U.S. is actually reducing the chances of a much more dangerous confrontation between Japan and China which might have ensued–and still may–were Japan’s nationalist new prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to send his own aircraft to challenge China’s air defense claims.

This is yet another sign of why the world needs a strong and vigorous American military that can keep the peace, as it has done for the most part since 1945. That capability, sadly, is now imperiled by imprudent defense cuts. Ten years from now, China may be able to not only assert wide-ranging territorial claims but make them stick, because by that point the U.S. may be too weak to resist.

Read Less

The Proliferating Spheres of Influence

American political commentary was consumed on Thursday with the deployment by Senate Democrats of the so-called “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for their immediate agenda items. Two days later, that was easily outdone by the attention drawn to a more literal nuclear issue: the temporary deal over Iran’s nuclear program. So it was understandable that another piece of news that could prove to be of considerable historical import was overshadowed on Thursday, and its codicil overshadowed on Saturday.

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Ukraine “abruptly” walked away from its efforts to sign a trade pact with the European Union. “Abruptly” is a good word for it: the two sides were widely expected to sign the deal at a summit in Vilnius on Friday. Throughout trade discussions, Russia has put pressure on Ukraine to convince it that it belongs not with Europe, but with its old friends in Moscow. This would be a symbolic twofer: losing Ukraine back into Russia’s “orbit,” and Moscow’s implicit declaration that Russia is not only not part of Europe but that the two belong to mutually exclusive geographic families.

But the story is far from over. The Ukrainian government is now trying to tamp down days of protests over the decision. Perhaps unavoidably, the conflict is discussed in Cold War terminology, though as Reuters reports, the post-Cold War language of some of the protesters can’t be reassuring to the Ukrainian government either:

Read More

American political commentary was consumed on Thursday with the deployment by Senate Democrats of the so-called “nuclear option” to end the filibuster for their immediate agenda items. Two days later, that was easily outdone by the attention drawn to a more literal nuclear issue: the temporary deal over Iran’s nuclear program. So it was understandable that another piece of news that could prove to be of considerable historical import was overshadowed on Thursday, and its codicil overshadowed on Saturday.

On Thursday, the Guardian reported that Ukraine “abruptly” walked away from its efforts to sign a trade pact with the European Union. “Abruptly” is a good word for it: the two sides were widely expected to sign the deal at a summit in Vilnius on Friday. Throughout trade discussions, Russia has put pressure on Ukraine to convince it that it belongs not with Europe, but with its old friends in Moscow. This would be a symbolic twofer: losing Ukraine back into Russia’s “orbit,” and Moscow’s implicit declaration that Russia is not only not part of Europe but that the two belong to mutually exclusive geographic families.

But the story is far from over. The Ukrainian government is now trying to tamp down days of protests over the decision. Perhaps unavoidably, the conflict is discussed in Cold War terminology, though as Reuters reports, the post-Cold War language of some of the protesters can’t be reassuring to the Ukrainian government either:

“I have turned out for revolution because I have understood that the promises of Yanukovich to go into Europe were just pure comedy,” said Anatoly Gurkalyuk, 33, a builder.

That the Putin regime thinks the West has more or less left the playing field on these geopolitical tussles is no secret. In fact, the Russian government likes to emphasize the competition they’ve just “won” to maximize the propaganda value. And so after the major powers signed the accord with Iran, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov suggested that as the U.S. recedes from the Middle East, it should take its European missile defense system with it: “If the Iran deal is put into practice, the stated reason for the construction of the defense shield will no longer apply,” Lavrov said.

Lavrov was clearly enjoying the moment, but he actually raises a point of which the Obama administration, as it contemplates America’s new role in the world, would do well to be reminded: the illogic and foolhardy nature of the Obama administration’s compartmentalization of world affairs. It’s this mindset that has convinced the administration they can leave the Middle East behind and “pivot” to Asia. But on the day the deal with Iran was struck, China sent its own message on that score:

China established the East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone on Saturday, and its Defense Ministry said it would take “defensive emergency measures” against unidentified aircraft that enter the zone.

A map and coordinates published Saturday showed the zone covers most of the East China Sea and includes a group of uninhabited islets whose ownership is disputed by China and Japan.

Secretary of State Kerry raised immediate objections to China following Russia’s lead in marking off its own sphere of influence. The Chinese response to Kerry involved a long walk and a short pier:

But Chinese officials dismissed the U.S. comments as unjustified interference.

American criticism of the air zone announcement is “completely unreasonable,” Col. Yang Yujun, a Ministry of National Defense spokesman, said Sunday.

The United States should stop taking sides on the issue, cease making “inappropriate remarks” and not send any more “wrong signals” that could lead to a “risky move by Japan,” he said.

The “pivot” to Asia always rested on a shaky foundation. As the Economist explained in 2011 when the pivot was gearing up, Obama saw the Pacific as a refuge from “inherited” troubles (mainly in the Middle East) and a way to chart his own path. He could never fully own the twin fates of Iraq and Afghanistan, and he couldn’t bank on striking an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.

So the turn to Asia was perfect. He wouldn’t have to accomplish anything outstanding, just be able to take credit for a new strategic posture. His successors would undoubtedly visit the region often enough, but few would have been pompous enough to pretend that this was some sort of innovation. Obama and his foreign-policy team learned early on that all they had to do was come up with a bumper-sticker phrase or slogan and the media would credulously repeat it as if he had just discovered electricity. (This didn’t always work to the administration’s advantage, as it found out with the “leading from behind” debacle.)

The problem is that Obama looked at the pivot as an escape from conflicts that, in the age of the Internet and transnational political and terrorist networks, don’t stay in their box. More importantly, retreat from the major issues of the day sends the wrong message for any power looking to be respected in the far corners of the globe. So as the U.S. starts backing away from the Middle East, Lavrov reminds them to take their presence in Europe with them, and China practically laughs at the idea that they aren’t entitled to their own sphere of influence, as Russia and Iran seem to be. And then where will the president pivot?

Read Less

China’s Problem: Freedom Is Infectious

Pity the leaders of China’s sclerotic Communist government. They thought they had learned the lessons of the breakup of the Soviet Union and managed to allow a degree of economic freedom without giving up a smidge of political power. Many, though not all, Chinese are allowed now to make money in a booming economy that has helped finance a debt-ridden West. But as much as China has made extraordinary economic progress in the last generation, its society still labors under the burden of tyranny that limits its advancement. As is the case with all forms of tyranny, the all-powerful government acts with impunity, encouraging corruption and rendering the rule of law an empty promise. Personal incomes have gone up but the absence of freedom still lingers, as does the Chinese gulag where those who dissent are still sent.

The Communists know all this and by scaling back some of the most onerous restrictions on freedom they hope to not only keep the Chinese people quiescent but to retain their absolute hold on power for yet another generation. That’s why they are considering lifting the infamous “one child” policy in some instances. But, as the New York Times reports today, as popular as the abolition of this despicable law would be, doing so even if only for parents who are both only children is not going to be easy. The problem is that once you start allowing some freedom, the people are bound to want more.

Read More

Pity the leaders of China’s sclerotic Communist government. They thought they had learned the lessons of the breakup of the Soviet Union and managed to allow a degree of economic freedom without giving up a smidge of political power. Many, though not all, Chinese are allowed now to make money in a booming economy that has helped finance a debt-ridden West. But as much as China has made extraordinary economic progress in the last generation, its society still labors under the burden of tyranny that limits its advancement. As is the case with all forms of tyranny, the all-powerful government acts with impunity, encouraging corruption and rendering the rule of law an empty promise. Personal incomes have gone up but the absence of freedom still lingers, as does the Chinese gulag where those who dissent are still sent.

The Communists know all this and by scaling back some of the most onerous restrictions on freedom they hope to not only keep the Chinese people quiescent but to retain their absolute hold on power for yet another generation. That’s why they are considering lifting the infamous “one child” policy in some instances. But, as the New York Times reports today, as popular as the abolition of this despicable law would be, doing so even if only for parents who are both only children is not going to be easy. The problem is that once you start allowing some freedom, the people are bound to want more.

Any discussion of the one child policy must begin with the fact that it has never been some antiseptic commonsense attempt to cope with over-population. The notion that this law is all that stood between China and some “Soylent Green” style Malthusian nightmare is a myth that Beijing apologists have often successfully foisted onto the American imagination. All too many Americans, especially those liberals who have always been willing to give China’s tyrants the benefit of the doubt, have been prepared to accept the notion that one child made sense in China. Even Vice President Joe Biden publicly endorsed it when, in the course of trying to draw a bogus comparison between liberal U.S. economic policies and Chinese dictates, he said:

You have no safety net.  Your policy has been one which I fully understand — I’m not second-guessing — of one child per family.  The result being that you’re in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people.  Not sustainable.

Aside from Biden’s characteristically fractured grammar, what he left out of that equation was the reality of mass forced abortions, forced sterilizations and a skewed sex balance that devalues women in a culture which prizes male offspring. One child is at the heart of the terror state that persists in China since it limits a basic human right that not even Stalinist Russia ever directly challenged. While a case could be made that China had to do something to deal with the imbalance between its resources and a growing population, the correct answer to this problem was not less freedom but more. Centralized planning is no match for the benefits of human creativity aimed at expanding wealth and resources. Even in an era in which it has allowed some limited freedoms in its economy, Beijing still seeks to impose the heavy hand of tyranny on the most personal of decisions.

The Communists’ problem is the same as that of every tyrant who seeks to loosen their strangleholds on the lives of their subjects: freedom is infectious. Let it loose in one area and there’s no telling where it will lead. They had thought allowing people to own property would compensate for their lack of say over anything else but sooner or later, human beings will not be satisfied with the crumbs of liberty their masters allow them. While Chinese President Xi Jinping would like to let some families have a second child, once the floodgates are open, it’s not clear that they could be closed.

Ever since President Nixon normalized relations with China, apologists for détente with Beijing have told us that the Chinese people don’t value or don’t want freedom and that discussion of human rights in the planet’s largest tyranny is pointless or unnecessary. But they have always been wrong. China’s freedom fighters have gone to nameless deaths in the laogai but the notion that Communism can suppress a people’s nature longing for freedom even in a culture that values community is a myth. Sooner or later, one child is doomed and the country’s leaders know it. But they also may understand that once the threat of forced abortions and sterilizations is removed, something beyond the population figure will increase in China. Once you give a person back that sort of personal autonomy, there’s no telling what they will ask for, and more will be swept away in the tide that will eventually follow than restrictions on family size.

Read Less

Israel Has No Alternative to U.S. Alliance

China and Israel may not have much in common, but that hasn’t stopped the Jewish state from working hard to better ties with the world’s most populous nation. The growing connections between the two countries are largely economic, but the fact that two highly placed figures from Israel’s political and military realms spoke recently at China’s military academy was enough to gain the notice of the New York Times’s Sinosphere blog. The piece, which spoke of the visit to Beijing by Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu and retired general Uzi Dayan, spoke of how the Jewish state is working assiduously to deepen its relationship with China. Given Israel’s relative diplomatic isolation, there’s nothing terribly surprising about it reaching out in this direction. But put into the context of the last two weeks, any discussion of Israel’s efforts to make friends with a potential rival of the United States must be seen as part of an effort to lessen its dependence on its sole superpower ally.

Indeed, the Times didn’t shy away from such a discussion in the piece as it weighed, not unfairly, the advantages of better relations with China for Israel as well as the complications of trying to work closely with a nation that is also doing business with Iran. At a time when the United States seems to have distanced itself again from Israel on both the talks with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat, the frustration level in Jerusalem with the Obama administration is very high. This has led not only to ruminations about whether the U.S.-Israel alliance is doomed, as was the conceit of a recent feature in Tablet magazine, but to suggestions from some Israeli pundits, like the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, that maybe “it is time to reassess Israel’s strategic assumptions and for the country to begin the process of exploring “new opportunities” that will enable it to survive without U.S. help if not to completely replace the old alliance.

But while the notion of playing China or Russia off of the United States may seem tempting to Israelis who are sick of being played for chumps by the Obama administration, any thoughts about “alternatives” to the U.S. alliance are fantasies, not serious policy options. It’s not just that neither of those countries should be considered reliable friends of Israel. It’s that any effort to pretend that there is another option outside of the U.S. alliance is as much of a danger to the future of this relationship as the ill-considered actions of President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry.

Read More

China and Israel may not have much in common, but that hasn’t stopped the Jewish state from working hard to better ties with the world’s most populous nation. The growing connections between the two countries are largely economic, but the fact that two highly placed figures from Israel’s political and military realms spoke recently at China’s military academy was enough to gain the notice of the New York Times’s Sinosphere blog. The piece, which spoke of the visit to Beijing by Dore Gold, a former ambassador to the United Nations and a confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu and retired general Uzi Dayan, spoke of how the Jewish state is working assiduously to deepen its relationship with China. Given Israel’s relative diplomatic isolation, there’s nothing terribly surprising about it reaching out in this direction. But put into the context of the last two weeks, any discussion of Israel’s efforts to make friends with a potential rival of the United States must be seen as part of an effort to lessen its dependence on its sole superpower ally.

Indeed, the Times didn’t shy away from such a discussion in the piece as it weighed, not unfairly, the advantages of better relations with China for Israel as well as the complications of trying to work closely with a nation that is also doing business with Iran. At a time when the United States seems to have distanced itself again from Israel on both the talks with the Palestinians and the Iranian nuclear threat, the frustration level in Jerusalem with the Obama administration is very high. This has led not only to ruminations about whether the U.S.-Israel alliance is doomed, as was the conceit of a recent feature in Tablet magazine, but to suggestions from some Israeli pundits, like the Jerusalem Post’s Caroline Glick, that maybe “it is time to reassess Israel’s strategic assumptions and for the country to begin the process of exploring “new opportunities” that will enable it to survive without U.S. help if not to completely replace the old alliance.

But while the notion of playing China or Russia off of the United States may seem tempting to Israelis who are sick of being played for chumps by the Obama administration, any thoughts about “alternatives” to the U.S. alliance are fantasies, not serious policy options. It’s not just that neither of those countries should be considered reliable friends of Israel. It’s that any effort to pretend that there is another option outside of the U.S. alliance is as much of a danger to the future of this relationship as the ill-considered actions of President Obama or Secretary of State Kerry.

As for the fissures in the existing alliance, they are serious but should not be mistaken for a fundamental split. Israelis are right to be infuriated about Kerry’s tantrum last week because of his anger about the failure of the peace negotiations he foolishly initiated as well as the U.S. attempt to rush to complete an unsatisfactory nuclear agreement with Iran. Like the spats with Israel that President Obama fomented during the course of his first term, these disputes illustrate the distorted mindset of this administration as well as its willingness to create daylight between the positions of the two allies. But, as both Obama and Kerry understand, there are clear limits as to how far they can go in taking shots at Israel.

Even a reelected Obama who seemingly has little to fear from disgruntled supporters of Israel realizes that picking fights with the Jewish state is a no-win proposition for him. As he showed during the last two years with his election-year charm offensive and the rhetorical lengths to which he went during his trip to Israel last spring, the president is aware of the fact that the roots of the alliance are deep and it can’t be uprooted easily.

The long-term problems that the Tablet piece noted are not to be dismissed. There’s no question that the trends explored by the Pew Report about the decline of the Jewish community and the impact of an increasingly assimilated American Jewry will mean a smaller base of pro-Israel Jews. But that and the growth of anti-Israel opinion, while troubling, should not be mistaken for a fundamental threat to the future of ties between the two countries. Support for Zionism is baked into the political DNA of America and won’t be erased by either Jewish demographics or left-wing activism. The point about the Walt-Mearsheimer “Israel Lobby” myth is that the wall-to-wall bipartisan coalition in support of Israel in Congress and throughout the American political system is wide and so deep as to encompass the vast majority of Americans. As Israeli leaders should have realized a long time ago, the core of that support is not Jewish activism or money but the deeply-held sentiments of American Christians.

Leaders like Obama, who are not in love with Israel, can shake it up. But even he is incapable of altering its foundations, as the growth of U.S.-Israel security cooperation on his watch has proved. It’s hard right now to see past the seeming betrayal on Iran, but pessimists should remember that the intransigent Islamist regime—like the Palestinians—may ultimately push the administration back into Israel’s arms.

But even if one were inclined to despair about the future of U.S. support, neither China nor Russia provides anything like an alternative. Both can be useful at times to Israel and Jerusalem is right to explore how far it might go in those directions, especially when it comes to economic ties at a time when Europe seems to be abandoning the Jewish state. Yet it must be understood not only are these countries not likely to be good or reliable friends of Israel, but flirting too much with them also carries with it the possibility of worsening the far more essential ties with the United States.

There is still only one superpower in the world and neither China nor Russia looks to be catching up with the U.S. in the near future. But if the history of the rest of this century will be read through the prism of China’s drive to attain the status of a global power and Russia’s efforts to reconstitute the old Tsarist and Soviet empires, then there is no question that a small democracy like Israel must place itself firmly on the side of the U.S. in these rivalries. The ties between the U.S. and Israel are based on shared values, not realpolitik. Forgetting that would be an unforgivable error on the part of any Israeli leader and that is a mistake that a savvy operator like Prime Minister Netanyahu is not likely to make.

That’s not just because both are tyrannies that cannot be trusted to deal fairly with Israel, let alone try to protect it against its foes. But also because Israel’s long-term safety must be seen as linked to the ability of the United States to maintain its status as the leader of the free world. Even at times of great tension with Washington, Israelis must never forget that it is not just that they have no viable alternatives to the U.S. but that American power remains the best hope of freedom for all nations.

Those advocating alternatives to the U.S. for Israel are engaging in magical thinking that will do more harm than good. The fix for the gaps that have been created by the administration’s ill-advised moves on the peace process and Iran is to be found in efforts to restrain the president’s folly in the U.S., not searches for new allies to take America’s place.

Read Less

China’s Missed Opportunity

The devastation in the Philippines has prompted various nations to provide aid. Reuters has a rundown on what a number of countries are doing.

The U.S. contribution is the most substantial and, in the case of the naval aircraft and ships, the most irreplaceable: “The UNITED STATES is providing $20 million in immediate humanitarian assistance and has sent a team of about 90 Marines and sailors, part of a first wave of promised U.S. military assistance. An aircraft carrier and four other Navy ships set sail for the Philippines from Hong Kong on Tuesday.”

Read More

The devastation in the Philippines has prompted various nations to provide aid. Reuters has a rundown on what a number of countries are doing.

The U.S. contribution is the most substantial and, in the case of the naval aircraft and ships, the most irreplaceable: “The UNITED STATES is providing $20 million in immediate humanitarian assistance and has sent a team of about 90 Marines and sailors, part of a first wave of promised U.S. military assistance. An aircraft carrier and four other Navy ships set sail for the Philippines from Hong Kong on Tuesday.”

But others are stepping forward as well. Australia is contributing a $9.3 million package of aid, Britain $16 million, Japan $10 million, UAE $10 million. Even the Vatican is pledging $4 million worth of help.

And what is the second-largest economy in the world doing? “The CHINESE government is providing $100,000 and the Chinese Red Cross a further $100,000.”

That is a stunningly small sum from such a large and increasingly powerful country. It is also a missed opportunity for China to get back into the good graces of Filipinos after tensions flared during a confrontation between the Chinese and Filipino navy over Chinese claims in the South China Sea.

China may be getting richer and more powerful but this is an indication that its exercise of “soft power” lags far behind not only the U.S. but also lesser powers such as Britain and Australia.

Read Less

Iraq Surpasses Iran in Oil Exports to China

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Derek Scissors points out to me that, according to China’s General Administration of Customs, Iraq has surpassed Iran as a source of crude oil exports to China in the first three quarters of 2013. That is both good and bad news. Good news because, despite all those who said sanctions would not work on Iran and that China would fill the gap left behind by Western companies, it seems both that China has decided to look elsewhere and that Iranian capacity to fulfill demand has declined. Earlier this year, the Iranian Statistics Agency announced that the Iranian economy had retracted 5.4 percent; the Islamic Republic is certainly feeling the bite of sanctions and decades of its own mismanagement. No wonder Tehran wants quick relief in response to a diplomatic charm offensive.

The United States no longer gets much oil from the Middle East—the markets are fungible, but Middle Eastern oil largely supplies China, India, and Europe. China and India, and to some extent Europe, are essentially free-riders benefiting from decades of American security investment. That Iraqi oil exports are increasing is good news for Iraq, and would be better news if Iraq would invest more of that income in its economy and not simply use it to pay the salaries of a bloated bureaucracy that is an order of magnitude too large.

Read More

My American Enterprise Institute colleague Derek Scissors points out to me that, according to China’s General Administration of Customs, Iraq has surpassed Iran as a source of crude oil exports to China in the first three quarters of 2013. That is both good and bad news. Good news because, despite all those who said sanctions would not work on Iran and that China would fill the gap left behind by Western companies, it seems both that China has decided to look elsewhere and that Iranian capacity to fulfill demand has declined. Earlier this year, the Iranian Statistics Agency announced that the Iranian economy had retracted 5.4 percent; the Islamic Republic is certainly feeling the bite of sanctions and decades of its own mismanagement. No wonder Tehran wants quick relief in response to a diplomatic charm offensive.

The United States no longer gets much oil from the Middle East—the markets are fungible, but Middle Eastern oil largely supplies China, India, and Europe. China and India, and to some extent Europe, are essentially free-riders benefiting from decades of American security investment. That Iraqi oil exports are increasing is good news for Iraq, and would be better news if Iraq would invest more of that income in its economy and not simply use it to pay the salaries of a bloated bureaucracy that is an order of magnitude too large.

Still, while Chinese investors are ubiquitous in southern Iraq and increasingly in Iraqi Kurdistan, it is a shame that after so much investment in blood and treasure, too many American investors continue to give Iraq a wide berth. President Obama has long looked at Iraq as original sin and rushed to wash his hands of it. Sure, there were diplomatic pronouncements and agreements about continuing relationships, but Obama has done little if anything to fulfill those agreements. In effect, because of disagreements about Saddam’s ouster more than a decade ago, Obama decided to forgo a lasting relationship with Iraq, even though the Iraqis want one to balance out Iran, Russia, and China. That China has become a primary beneficiary of the Iraq War wasn’t inevitable, but simply the result of White House disinterest if not disdain.

Read Less

Can a Deadbeat America Stay on Top?

In the 19th century, individual deadbeats could go to prison and countries that defaulted on their debt could be invaded. To choose only two examples of many, Britain invaded Egypt in 1882 and the U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 because those countries were not meeting their obligations to international debt-holders.

Today we take a far more relaxed view about owing money. The law makes bankruptcy relatively easy and painless for individuals and corporations–at least less painful than the prospect of debtors’ prison. There is no ethic of living within your means; instead we are now encouraged to run up debt, whether via a home mortgage or a credit card bill, and spend, spend, spend. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we don’t need to return to the Puritanical, anti-debt attitude of the 19th century. There is nothing wrong with a responsible amount of debt, whether for a family or a country.

But we are carrying our easy-going modern-day ethos a little too far when we run the risk of defaulting on the debt of the United States. Odds are we will see an 11th-hour reprieve from this calamity; at least the markets seem to think so, judging by the run-up of stocks in recent days. But, even if we avert the worst today, it is grossly irresponsible and harmful for lawmakers—meaning principally Tea Party hardliners in the House—to have allowed the deadline to come so close.

Read More

In the 19th century, individual deadbeats could go to prison and countries that defaulted on their debt could be invaded. To choose only two examples of many, Britain invaded Egypt in 1882 and the U.S. invaded Haiti in 1915 because those countries were not meeting their obligations to international debt-holders.

Today we take a far more relaxed view about owing money. The law makes bankruptcy relatively easy and painless for individuals and corporations–at least less painful than the prospect of debtors’ prison. There is no ethic of living within your means; instead we are now encouraged to run up debt, whether via a home mortgage or a credit card bill, and spend, spend, spend. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing—we don’t need to return to the Puritanical, anti-debt attitude of the 19th century. There is nothing wrong with a responsible amount of debt, whether for a family or a country.

But we are carrying our easy-going modern-day ethos a little too far when we run the risk of defaulting on the debt of the United States. Odds are we will see an 11th-hour reprieve from this calamity; at least the markets seem to think so, judging by the run-up of stocks in recent days. But, even if we avert the worst today, it is grossly irresponsible and harmful for lawmakers—meaning principally Tea Party hardliners in the House—to have allowed the deadline to come so close.

Thankfully the U.S. armed forces are still strong enough—for the time being anyway—to prevent the Chinese military from showing up on our shores to collect the trillions we owe them. (But for how much longer? Given the increases in Chinese military spending and our own across-the-board cuts as a result of the mindless sequestration process, the trends are not favorable when it comes to the shifting balance of power in the Pacific.) But the U.S. cannot rely on military strength alone. Much of our economic strength is underpinned by the fact that the dollar is the favorite reserve currency in the world and by the fact that the U.S. is the favorite destination for foreign investment.

That strong financial position will not be sacrificed overnight. But it will gradually erode if we have too many more perils-of-Pauline flirtations with a sovereign debt default. Already China’s Xinhua news agency is using this occasion to call for the world to “de-Americanize.” Such calls are likely to fall on deaf ears—for now. But we cannot afford to make the world think there is any doubt about America’s ability and willingness to repay its debts. That is a fundamental obligation of government, which, if called into question, will erode our national standing and hence our national security. There is no excuse for the willingness of some lawmakers to drive us so close to the cliff’s edge.

Read Less

The Missing Pivot

So much for the vaunted “Pacific pivot.” When Barack Obama came into office, he vowed to reverse the Bush administration’s focus on the Middle East by “rebalancing” toward East Asia and the looming menace of China. The argument of the incoming administration was that the previous administration had lost sight of the bigger strategic realities as a result of the post-9/11 aftermath.

It turns out it’s not so easy to disengage from the Middle East–or to double down on the Far East. Look at what happened this weekend, or rather what didn’t happen.

Read More

So much for the vaunted “Pacific pivot.” When Barack Obama came into office, he vowed to reverse the Bush administration’s focus on the Middle East by “rebalancing” toward East Asia and the looming menace of China. The argument of the incoming administration was that the previous administration had lost sight of the bigger strategic realities as a result of the post-9/11 aftermath.

It turns out it’s not so easy to disengage from the Middle East–or to double down on the Far East. Look at what happened this weekend, or rather what didn’t happen.

On the one hand, Obama ordered commando raids in Libya and Somalia. This comes after weeks, even months, of near-total focus in Washington on Syria and Iran–not on China or North Korea. On the other hand, Obama decided to not to go on a planned swing through East Asia. This included skipping an Asia Pacific Economic Summit meeting in Indonesia. Secretary of State John Kerry went instead, but he simply doesn’t carry the same diplomatic megawattage as the president. Obama’s absence left China’s leader, Xi Jinping, as the top dog.

Obama’s absence had more than symbolic import. It probably slowed the process of completing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade zone that includes most of the major countries of East Asia but excludes China. More broadly, Obama’s absence no doubt causes wavering nations such as the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, and many others, which fear China but live in its shadow, to doubt how much they can rely on a putative alliance with the United States.

The president’s absence suggests that dysfunction and deficits at home are preventing American engagement in the broader world. That impression is not necessarily true; if Delta Force and SEAL Team Six could travel abroad this weekend, even as the government is partially shuttered, so too President Obama could have traveled. He just didn’t want to, because he figured it would be bad politics to leave the country during a major budget crisis. It would certainly hamper, in a cynical interpretation, his efforts to lay all the blame on the Republican side, or, to adopt a more charitable explanation, to negotiate a way to end the crisis.

That’s an understandable political calculation, and one that most presidents no doubt would have made. But it comes at a strategic cost in the very region of the world that Obama claimed he would pay more attention to.

Read Less

Turkey Endangers NATO

While the U.S. media focused for much of the past two weeks on President Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the government shutdown, Turkey has made some moves which should raise alarm bells at both the Pentagon and in Brussels.

Three months ago, I blogged here about how Turkey was considering a Chinese bid for an anti-aircraft system. Integrating a Chinese missile system into NATO’s early warning network would require giving the Chinese company access to top secret NATO software. Earlier this week, however, Turkey announced that it would award a $4 billion air defense contract to co-produce a long-range missile defense system with a Chinese firm sanctioned by the United States for its proliferation activities with Iran.

Read More

While the U.S. media focused for much of the past two weeks on President Obama’s “bromance” with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and the government shutdown, Turkey has made some moves which should raise alarm bells at both the Pentagon and in Brussels.

Three months ago, I blogged here about how Turkey was considering a Chinese bid for an anti-aircraft system. Integrating a Chinese missile system into NATO’s early warning network would require giving the Chinese company access to top secret NATO software. Earlier this week, however, Turkey announced that it would award a $4 billion air defense contract to co-produce a long-range missile defense system with a Chinese firm sanctioned by the United States for its proliferation activities with Iran.

This is not the first time that Turkey has undercut NATO security to the benefit of the Chinese. The Turkish Air Force has held war games with the Chinese Air Force without first alerting NATO. Turkey has also turned its back on the European Union and sought to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a club for anti-Western dictatorships.

With even the Turkish press questioning the wisdom of the deal, Defense Minister İsmet Yılmaz has defended the purchase. “We had asked for joint production and a technology transfer,” Yılmaz said. “If other countries cannot guarantee us that, then we will turn to ones that can.”

How sad it is that, as Turkey pivots to China, and endangers U.S. security, the Obama administration not only proposes no consequence, but continues to share technology with an untrustworthy regime.

Read Less

Putting the ‘Mad’ in Maduro

It’s that time of year when the world’s tyrannies flock to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York with all the predictability of birds flying south for the winter. This year, however, their numbers were noticeably depleted.

True, the fork-tongued Iranian President, Hasan Rouhani, was on hand to deny the Holocaust in one breath, while calling for “time-bound, results-oriented” talks on his country’s nuclear program in another. And the aging Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe gave a vintage performance denouncing the “illegal and filthy sanctions” imposed on his brutal regime. But the Sudanese leader, Omar al Bashir, stayed away, fearful perhaps that he would be arrested on war-crimes charges upon landing in New York. And so did Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, for reasons that will compel us to question whether he has lost his mind.

Read More

It’s that time of year when the world’s tyrannies flock to the UN General Assembly meeting in New York with all the predictability of birds flying south for the winter. This year, however, their numbers were noticeably depleted.

True, the fork-tongued Iranian President, Hasan Rouhani, was on hand to deny the Holocaust in one breath, while calling for “time-bound, results-oriented” talks on his country’s nuclear program in another. And the aging Zimbabwean dictator Robert Mugabe gave a vintage performance denouncing the “illegal and filthy sanctions” imposed on his brutal regime. But the Sudanese leader, Omar al Bashir, stayed away, fearful perhaps that he would be arrested on war-crimes charges upon landing in New York. And so did Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, for reasons that will compel us to question whether he has lost his mind.

As I noted here recently, in the five months since Maduro won the presidency in an election widely regarded as fraudulent, barely a day goes by without him excitedly unveiling some new American plot to unseat him, or assassinate him, or destroy Venezuela’s groaning economy. Despite all these lurking dangers, Maduro nonetheless decided that he would attend and speak at this week’s 68th session of the General Assembly.

Winging his way to New York from a state visit to China, Maduro got as far as Vancouver. Rather than continuing eastwards, he elected to return to Caracas, where he visited a television studio to explain to a national audience why he was home early

One of the alleged plots could have caused violence in New York and the other could have affected his physical safety, Maduro said in a national address carried on television and radio yesterday. 

“The clan, the mafia of Otto Reich and Roger Noriega once again had planned a crazy, terrible provocation that can’t be described in any other way,” Maduro said, referring to two former U.S. officials he frequently accuses of plots against Venezuela.

Reich, who served as Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs in the George W. Bush administration, was accused by Maduro in March this year of planning the assassination of Henrique Capriles, Maduro’s opponent in the presidential election, as part of a plan to engineer a coup against the ruling chavistas. Reich’s rebuttal at the time is worth citing, simply because it is equally applicable now:

Though Maduro’s strategy is not original, it is not as dull-witted as it appears.  With the election in Venezuela scheduled for April 14, less than a month away, every day that the media focus on non–existent conspiracies is one day less that Venezuelans hear there may be a peaceful, honest, and democratic alternative to the Maduro regime.

Every day Venezuelans talk about foreign devils, they don’t discuss shortages of water and electricity, of cornmeal and cooking oil, of soap and diapers, of antibiotics and insulin.  It is one day less to wonder how Caracas became the third most violent city in the world and about the 150,000 Venezuelan victims of homicide in the 14 years of 21st Century Socialism.

Yesterday, Roger Noriega made much the same point as his ostensible partner in crime. “I think Maduro is under more pressure than I am, and his comments reflect that,” Noriega told the Miami Herald. “He needs a boogeyman.”

In Venezuela itself, there is increasing concern that Maduro’s confrontational stance towards the U.S., which imports around 900,000 barrels of Venezuelan oil on a daily basis, will carry negative economic consequences. In response, the Venezuelan regime is now orienting its foreign policy towards countries that are ideological bedfellows, but that won’t bleed the country dry at the same time—as does Cuba, for years the closest ally of the late Hugo Chavez, and the beneficiary of $7 billion worth of subsidized oil annually. 

Enter China. Maduro’s trip to Beijing quickly followed the announcement of a $14 billion deal with the China National Petroleum Corporation for a project to develop the Junín 10 block in Venezuela’s Orinoco region, an area that holds one of the largest oil reserves in the world. China currently imports 600,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela, a figure that Maduro wants to boost to the point where the Chinese, and not the Americans, are the biggest consumers of Venezuela’s main export. After all, breaking the economic dependency on the United States has been a central obsession of ruling Socialists since they came to power in 1999.

The Chinese also perceive important benefits. Suspicious of the Obama administration’s much-vaunted “pivot” to East Asia, Beijing is happy to seize on opportunities in America’s backyard. As the Mexican economist Enrique Dussel Peters noted in a recent paper on Chinese overseas investment, between 2000 and 2011, Latin America and the Caribbean became the second largest recipient of Chinese investment after Hong Kong. Dussel writes that 87 percent of this investment, directed mainly at raw materials, came from state-owned companies that are beholden to the Communist Party and its satellite institutions. In other words, the political imperatives here are as important, if not more so, than any fiscal considerations.

The Obama administration won’t be able to stop Maduro’s fulminations about assassinations and coups. Nor should it want to—the more frequent these accusations, the less that Venezuelans trust him. The real strategic challenge here is the relationship with China, and the lifeline that Beijing is dangling to the proponents of “21st Century Socialism” on the American continent. 

Read Less

Is the Pentagon Prepared for East Med Gas?

More good news out of the Eastern Mediterranean, as even more gas has been discovered in the Levant Basin between Israel and Cyprus. The last decade has seen new gas and oil fields discovered around the world, but the Levant Basin is special: It is close enough to major markets in Europe to make it easy both to produce and distribute. Eastern Mediterranean gas can bypass Russia, Iran, and Turkey—all sources of regional instability—and also need not transit choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab al-Mandab, or the Suez Canal to get to market.

As Eastern Mediterranean gas development continues, and the region becomes increasing strategically important, it behooves the United States to plan ahead to ensure the safety not only of American personnel working in the region, but also of the energy infrastructure. To do so would not simply be to spend American resources to defend the flow of oil and gas to China, as the United States effectively does in the Persian Gulf, but rather to protect an energy corridor which undercuts and diminishes the leverage and income of American adversaries.

Read More

More good news out of the Eastern Mediterranean, as even more gas has been discovered in the Levant Basin between Israel and Cyprus. The last decade has seen new gas and oil fields discovered around the world, but the Levant Basin is special: It is close enough to major markets in Europe to make it easy both to produce and distribute. Eastern Mediterranean gas can bypass Russia, Iran, and Turkey—all sources of regional instability—and also need not transit choke points such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab al-Mandab, or the Suez Canal to get to market.

As Eastern Mediterranean gas development continues, and the region becomes increasing strategically important, it behooves the United States to plan ahead to ensure the safety not only of American personnel working in the region, but also of the energy infrastructure. To do so would not simply be to spend American resources to defend the flow of oil and gas to China, as the United States effectively does in the Persian Gulf, but rather to protect an energy corridor which undercuts and diminishes the leverage and income of American adversaries.

German scholar Niklas Anzinger highlights growing threats to the region in an essay he wrote for the American Enterprise Institute:

  • First there’s Turkey: “After Noble Energy Inc. began drilling for oil and gas in the Eastern Mediterranean in September 2011, Turkey’s European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış threatened to use military force against Cyprus. ‘This is what we have the navy for,’ he declared, adding, ‘We have trained our marines for this; we have equipped the navy for this. All options are on the table; anything can be done.’”
  • Then there’s Russia: “In 1967, Moscow formed the 5th Operational Squadron in the Mediterranean to counterbalance the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the US Sixth Fleet. The 5th Operational Squadron remained in the region until 1992, when it withdrew after the Soviet Union’s fall. In May 2013, against the backdrop of the Syrian civil war, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered a new Russian taskforce comprised of 16 warships and support vessels to the Eastern Mediterranean.”
  • Next there’s Lebanon: “While Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, certified Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000, the countries’ maritime boundary and 330 square miles of territorial waters remain in dispute… Nabih Berri, speaker of the Lebanese parliament and a close ally to Hezbollah, said in September 2012 that ‘we will not compromise on any amount of water from our maritime borders and oil, not even a single cup.’”
  • Hezbollah, of course, remains a particular problem: “During its 2006 war with Israel, Hezbollah crippled the Israeli warship INS Hanit, which was cruising eight to nine miles offshore, with an Iranian version of the Chinese C-802 missile… Hezbollah may also maintain an amphibious sabotage and coastal infiltration unit. Recruits may receive training in an IRGC underwater combat school in Bandar Abbas and in a camp near the Assi River in the northern Bekaa Valley.”

There’s much, much more, and the whole essay is worth reading. Too often, American military planners focus on the last conflict. There is no shortage of discussion about what resources are needed to counter Iranian ambitions, but too little strategic planning about what resources the United States might need to protect interests in the Eastern Mediterranean in the years to come.

Read Less

What China Fears

The battle between “idealism” and “Realpolitik” in the making of foreign policy is vividly on display now with regard to Egypt: “Idealists” (aka “neocons”) generally favor cutting off aid to the military regime which is slaughtering its own people in the streets; “Realpolitikers” generally advocate holding our noses and backing the generals as a better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. My purpose here is not to engage in the debate about Egypt per se (I will do that separately), but simply to point out that, although the U.S. cannot afford to stick to its ideals in each and every foreign-policy crisis (compromises do sometimes have to be made in the real world), when we deviate too far from our principles we lose what is arguably the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.

Evidence of this proposition comes, in a back-handed tribute, from none other than the reigning Communist emperor of China, Xi Jinping. His minions have just issued a memo, known in proper Orwellian fashion as Document No. 9, that warns Communist apparatchiks about the biggest threat to their rule. No, it does not come from the US 7th Fleet, from the American nuclear arsenal, or any other manifestation of American hard power in which Realpolitikers typically repose all of their faith.

Read More

The battle between “idealism” and “Realpolitik” in the making of foreign policy is vividly on display now with regard to Egypt: “Idealists” (aka “neocons”) generally favor cutting off aid to the military regime which is slaughtering its own people in the streets; “Realpolitikers” generally advocate holding our noses and backing the generals as a better alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. My purpose here is not to engage in the debate about Egypt per se (I will do that separately), but simply to point out that, although the U.S. cannot afford to stick to its ideals in each and every foreign-policy crisis (compromises do sometimes have to be made in the real world), when we deviate too far from our principles we lose what is arguably the most powerful weapon in our arsenal.

Evidence of this proposition comes, in a back-handed tribute, from none other than the reigning Communist emperor of China, Xi Jinping. His minions have just issued a memo, known in proper Orwellian fashion as Document No. 9, that warns Communist apparatchiks about the biggest threat to their rule. No, it does not come from the US 7th Fleet, from the American nuclear arsenal, or any other manifestation of American hard power in which Realpolitikers typically repose all of their faith.

Rather the peril that Xi warns about comes from seven subversive ideas starting with “Western constitutional democracy.” The others on the list include “promoting ‘universal values’ of human rights, Western-inspired notions of media independence and civic participation, ardently pro-market ‘neo-liberalism,’ and ‘nihilist’ criticisms of the party’s traumatic past.”

The New York Times reporter Chris Buckley, who obtained a copy of the document, writes that it warns cadres, “Western forces hostile to China and dissidents within the country are still constantly infiltrating the ideological sphere.” One Communist propagandist, implementing the document’s advice, told mining officials that “promotion of Western constitutional democracy is an attempt to negate the party’s leadership.”

The Communists are right—the Western ideals embodied, above all, in the Declaration of Independence are a big threat to the rule of anti-American dictators, whether in China or in other countries. Which is the best argument I have ever heard for why the U.S. should be doing more to promote those very ideals. Promoting democracy can be messy in the short-run and isn’t always possible in every circumstance but, in general, it is the best long-term bet for promoting American interests. In the case of China in particular, the U.S. should not be focusing simply on narrow economic or security concerns; instead it should be doing more to spread behind the Bamboo Curtain the subversive ideas which the Communist bosses fear so much.

Read Less

RE: China’s National Identity

I certainly agree with Max that China needs to change its historical focus away from its century of humiliation that began with the end of the First Opium War in 1842. Great Powers need to focus on their greatness, not their failures. Britons prefer thinking about the Agincourt, Nelson, and their “finest hour” to thinking about the First Afghan War and Suez.

But, in fairness to the Chinese, we need to remember the reason their humiliation was so very great and why it is so very hard for them to move on from it. For two thousand years China had been the Middle Kingdom, the Celestial Empire. The emperor was the Son of Heaven. And this was not merely empty braggadocio or hype (such as calling the American baseball championship the World Series). For those two millennia, China had indeed been the center of the world it knew: the richest, most cultured, most inventive, most economically and industrially advanced country on earth. China’s position was a bit like that of the United States in the immediate aftermath of World War II, only there was no Soviet Union and its total dominance lasted for 2,000 years.

Read More

I certainly agree with Max that China needs to change its historical focus away from its century of humiliation that began with the end of the First Opium War in 1842. Great Powers need to focus on their greatness, not their failures. Britons prefer thinking about the Agincourt, Nelson, and their “finest hour” to thinking about the First Afghan War and Suez.

But, in fairness to the Chinese, we need to remember the reason their humiliation was so very great and why it is so very hard for them to move on from it. For two thousand years China had been the Middle Kingdom, the Celestial Empire. The emperor was the Son of Heaven. And this was not merely empty braggadocio or hype (such as calling the American baseball championship the World Series). For those two millennia, China had indeed been the center of the world it knew: the richest, most cultured, most inventive, most economically and industrially advanced country on earth. China’s position was a bit like that of the United States in the immediate aftermath of World War II, only there was no Soviet Union and its total dominance lasted for 2,000 years.

To be sure, China sometimes fell to non-Chinese invaders, such as the Mongols in the 13th century and the Manchus in the 17th. But within a generation, these foreign conquerors had become more Chinese than the Chinese. Even when westerners began to appear in Chinese waters in numbers, in the 16th century, they had little to offer in the way of trade goods in exchange for silks, porcelains, tea, and luxury goods.

In 1700, China had about 25 percent of world GDP. But China’s population doubled in the 18th century and doubled again in the 19th. With little new land available for agriculture, food prices rose and unrest spread. But the Chinese government, self-perpetuating, inward looking, and complaisant, resisted change. The view from the mountaintop, after all, is always a satisfactory one.

In the West, mostly unknown to China, the Industrial Revolution sent the economy into overdrive and gave the West military power and technology the Chinese could not hope to match. Suddenly, the Chinese government found itself utterly at the mercy of uncouth barbarians who had not the slightest interest in adopting Chinese ways.

The shock was overwhelming.

Read Less

China’s National Identity

China scholars Orville Schell and John Delury are, of course, right that China needs a new national history which is not built around victimhood. For too long, as they note in the Wall Street Journal, Chinese students and ordinary citizens have been taught that their modern history began in 1843 with China’s humiliating capitulation to Great Britain in the First Opium War. This was followed by the creation of quasi-colonial “concessions” by the European powers and later Japan–a trend accelerated by China’s costly losses in future wars against the West (the Second Opium War, the Boxer Rebellion) and Japan (1894-1895, 1933-1945). Schell and Delury write that:

it is time for China and the more vociferous propagandists in Beijing to move beyond declarations about China’s “one hundred years of national humiliation.” That period has come to an end. The world has changed, China and the West have changed, and a new narrative is necessary for China to achieve its declared aim of equality and a “new type of great power relationship.”

Read More

China scholars Orville Schell and John Delury are, of course, right that China needs a new national history which is not built around victimhood. For too long, as they note in the Wall Street Journal, Chinese students and ordinary citizens have been taught that their modern history began in 1843 with China’s humiliating capitulation to Great Britain in the First Opium War. This was followed by the creation of quasi-colonial “concessions” by the European powers and later Japan–a trend accelerated by China’s costly losses in future wars against the West (the Second Opium War, the Boxer Rebellion) and Japan (1894-1895, 1933-1945). Schell and Delury write that:

it is time for China and the more vociferous propagandists in Beijing to move beyond declarations about China’s “one hundred years of national humiliation.” That period has come to an end. The world has changed, China and the West have changed, and a new narrative is necessary for China to achieve its declared aim of equality and a “new type of great power relationship.”

Unfortunately, the chances of the current government in Beijing taking their advice are slim indeed, for the very simple reason that a major part of the rationale for the Communist Party’s monopoly on power is to excise China’s supposed history of humiliations. This was the same rationale, incidentally, as the Nationalist regime that the Communists overthrew. Both ideologies grew out of the attempts by early 20th-century leaders such as Sun Yat-sen to create a modern Chinese renaissance–both Chiang Kai-shek and his rival, Mao Zedong, were profoundly influenced by Sun Yat-sen.

Ironically, Mao’s heirs have completed Sun’s mission: Today China has not only the world’s largest population but also the second-largest economy, and within a few years it will surpass the U.S. economy in total size, if not in per capita wealth. China also has the second-largest military budget on the planet, and is growing increasingly powerful in East Asia and influential as far away as Latin America and Africa. By any standard, China has done spectacularly well since it began to shed its Maoist economy straitjacket in 1979. But its leaders cannot shed their ideological commitment to China as victim–an embattled state picked upon by powerful neighbors such as Japan and the United States–without calling into question their own fitness to rule without benefit of elections.

Read Less

The Blind Dissident and the American Left

Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng got a taste of American partisan politics almost immediately after appealing to the U.S. for asylum last year. In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a high-profile visit to Beijing. She was representing the administration of Barack Obama, who was locked in a general-election campaign against Mitt Romney, who was taking a more hawkish line on Chinese trade and currency shenanigans to try to exploit what he felt was a foreign-policy weakness of the president’s.

That meant that Clinton’s trip would be under the microscope and every word overanalyzed. On top of that, Clinton is mulling a presidential bid in 2016 and her Chinese counterparts were quite aware that they were dealing with Obama’s possible successor. The optics and the politics had to be just right for a whole host of domestic reasons, to say nothing of the pressure from the Chinese side, which was preparing for a leadership shuffle of its own. And that’s when Chen threw everybody’s plans off.

Read More

Chinese dissident and human rights activist Chen Guangcheng got a taste of American partisan politics almost immediately after appealing to the U.S. for asylum last year. In 2012, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a high-profile visit to Beijing. She was representing the administration of Barack Obama, who was locked in a general-election campaign against Mitt Romney, who was taking a more hawkish line on Chinese trade and currency shenanigans to try to exploit what he felt was a foreign-policy weakness of the president’s.

That meant that Clinton’s trip would be under the microscope and every word overanalyzed. On top of that, Clinton is mulling a presidential bid in 2016 and her Chinese counterparts were quite aware that they were dealing with Obama’s possible successor. The optics and the politics had to be just right for a whole host of domestic reasons, to say nothing of the pressure from the Chinese side, which was preparing for a leadership shuffle of its own. And that’s when Chen threw everybody’s plans off.

A public spat over human rights may have been the last thing Clinton and her Chinese counterparts needed at the moment, but the hearty attention being paid to her visit made it precisely the right time for Chen, known as the “blind dissident,” to make his move. Not only did his surprise visit to the American embassy add a layer of tension to Clinton’s visit, but he was also famous for warning of the dark side of China’s one-child policy and calling attention to the Chinese government’s forced abortions.

As soon as it became clear that Clinton’s attempts to get the Chinese government to let her grant Chen American asylum were off to a rough start, Romney criticized the administration’s handling of the issue and Republicans in Congress called a hearing to highlight Chen’s case. Romney was criticized for jumping into the case and the press used the incident to highlight division within Romney’s campaign. The congressional hearing, led by the staunchly pro-life Republican Chris Smith, featured a phone call to Chen directly. Chen was officially a partisan issue.

Smith’s hearing was derided by media voices as well, but it later emerged that the hearing is almost surely what secured Chen’s freedom after Clinton’s efforts went nowhere. Considering that back story, today’s New York Times feature claiming Chen’s first year in the U.S., at a brief fellowship with New York University, was beset by controversy and his work somewhat discredited by his association with conservative activists falls flat. The Times reports:

Chen, 41, has found himself enmeshed in controversy. Backed by a coterie of conservative figures, Mr. Chen has publicly accused N.Y.U. of bowing to Chinese government pressure and prematurely ending his fellowship this summer. The university says the fellowship was intended to be for only one year. Some of those around Mr. Chen also accuse the university of trying to shield him from conservative activists.

The sparring has grown fierce, with N.Y.U. officials accusing one of those conservative activists, Bob Fu, the president of a Texas-based Christian group that seeks to pressure China over its religious restrictions, of trying to track Mr. Chen surreptitiously through a cellphone and a tablet computer that Mr. Fu’s organization donated to him.

The controversy kicked up by Mr. Chen’s accusations against N.Y.U. has dismayed some of his supporters so much that a wealthy donor who had pledged to finance a three-year visiting scholar position for him at Fordham University recently withdrew the offer. That means Mr. Chen, who declined to be interviewed for this article and who returns to New York from a visit to Taiwan on Thursday, has to line up another source of financing. If that does not pan out, he will be left with a single job offer: from the Witherspoon Institute, a conservative research organization in New Jersey that is perhaps best known for its opposition to same-sex marriage and stem cell research.

With regard to the NYU controversy, it’s doubtful either side has a monopoly on the truth. The university seems to have wanted to have its cake and eat it too, by welcoming an international celebrity (and doing its part to help end a diplomatic standoff by offering Chen a fellowship) but hoping to keep the feisty dissident quiet enough not to antagonize the Chinese government, since NYU is opening a campus in Shanghai. There is also the matter of the three NYU researchers, all Chinese citizens, who have been charged with accepting bribes from Chinese entities to pass on the information about their work, which was sponsored by a U.S. federal grant from the NIH. Chen’s departure from NYU was unceremonious to say the least.

At the same time, it’s difficult to imagine NYU is guilty of some of the accusations leveled by Chen’s supporters, including that Chen was muzzled by an official NYU minder whose job it was to run interference for the school. There are few places more admiring of Chinese-style statism and authoritarianism than elite American universities, but that doesn’t mean they function as Stalinist reeducation camps or thought prisons.

But any intellectual romance Chen hoped to have with the American left or academia was doomed from the very start. The defense of unlimited, unregulated abortion is sacred to the American left. So is the idea that increasing the size and scope of government is the solution to virtually any problem, including those created by big government in the first place. The language the left deploys in these fights dehumanizes unborn children and deemphasizes individual rights and individual identity–“the government is us,” as President Obama said just this week. Chen has dedicated his life to warning of the consequences when those principles are taken to their frightful extremes. And he doesn’t seem to have any interest in stopping now.

Read Less

Will China Experience Islamist Blowback?

For the better part of two decades, China has paid nothing and benefited greatly from the American willingness to secure international waterways and police the Persian Gulf. While Washington did the heavy lifting, Beijing played it both ways: Trade with oil-rich American allies and markets guaranteed by U.S. security, while at the same time supporting rogue regimes as part of an anti-American chess match.

In both Syria and Pakistan, China may finally learn that it can only play both sides of an issue for so long. While the Chinese government supports Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Chinese Muslims have been fighting within the Syrian opposition. Jihadi chat forums have posted eulogies, for example, to Chinese Uighurs who came to Syria to fight alongside Turkish, Saudi, Swedish, and British co-religionists.

Read More

For the better part of two decades, China has paid nothing and benefited greatly from the American willingness to secure international waterways and police the Persian Gulf. While Washington did the heavy lifting, Beijing played it both ways: Trade with oil-rich American allies and markets guaranteed by U.S. security, while at the same time supporting rogue regimes as part of an anti-American chess match.

In both Syria and Pakistan, China may finally learn that it can only play both sides of an issue for so long. While the Chinese government supports Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad, Chinese Muslims have been fighting within the Syrian opposition. Jihadi chat forums have posted eulogies, for example, to Chinese Uighurs who came to Syria to fight alongside Turkish, Saudi, Swedish, and British co-religionists.

At its root, China is an imperialist power, one more brutal than Europe’s formerly colonialist powers who, to this day, continue to beat themselves up over their nineteenth and early twentieth century pasts. The Tibetans have been victims, Taiwan—whose unique identity is apparent to any visitor—might become a victim, and the Uighur Muslims are victims, as are any group who are not Han Chinese. Muslim restaurants in touristy areas of Beijing are one thing, but real cultural and religious diversity is another. Few Uighurs in far Western China like being part of the Peoples’ Republic of China.

As my colleague Dan Blumenthal points out, China is increasingly wary about Islamist blowback from the Middle East (and South Asia). Beijing has recently blamed Syrian rebels for Xinjiang violence, and may finally be recognizing in the way that Russia has that the American retreat from Afghanistan will put them on the front lines of Islamist radicalism. Indeed, Chinese President Xi has already put Pakistani Islamist assistance to the Uighur Muslims on the bilateral agenda.

If China believes that international jihadism derives from grievances against Western countries only and that China will be immune, the Chinese are mistaken: Islamist radicalism promotes hatred toward both West and East. China may soon find that being a global power has a cost, and that not all countries care enough or are even able to restrain Islamists who may be unwilling to turn their back on their Chinese brethren. Get ready, China: The next decade is going to be a very bumpy ride.

Read Less

France’s Domestic Surveillance

The sound you hear is my chortling over the news that France’s intelligence agencies undertake domestic surveillance at least as far-reaching as that of the NSA which European leaders have been criticizing. France also spies on users of Google and Facebook, among other Web networks. The biggest difference between the French and American systems is that the former is run without the elaborate oversight that attends the latter’s activities. Le Monde reports that the French system is run with “complete discretion, at the margins of legality and outside all serious control.”

France is also a top offender in spying on its allies–something that President Hollande has denounced as unacceptable. As this account notes: “Back in 2011, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, France and not China or Russia, was found to be the country that conducted the most industrial espionage on other European countries. WikiLeaks also revealed that the spying network was so widespread that ‘damages it caused the German economy were larger as a whole than those caused by China or Russia.’ ”

Read More

The sound you hear is my chortling over the news that France’s intelligence agencies undertake domestic surveillance at least as far-reaching as that of the NSA which European leaders have been criticizing. France also spies on users of Google and Facebook, among other Web networks. The biggest difference between the French and American systems is that the former is run without the elaborate oversight that attends the latter’s activities. Le Monde reports that the French system is run with “complete discretion, at the margins of legality and outside all serious control.”

France is also a top offender in spying on its allies–something that President Hollande has denounced as unacceptable. As this account notes: “Back in 2011, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables, France and not China or Russia, was found to be the country that conducted the most industrial espionage on other European countries. WikiLeaks also revealed that the spying network was so widespread that ‘damages it caused the German economy were larger as a whole than those caused by China or Russia.’ ”

One would hope that these revelations would spare us more mock outrage of the kind being heard from so many countries over NSA activities that are, if anything, limited and tame compared to what they routinely undertake. But rest assured, facts will not stand in the way of America’s critics who are looking for any excuse to kick Uncle Sam in the shins.

Read Less




Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor to our site, you are allowed 8 free articles this month.
This is your first of 8 free articles.

If you are already a digital subscriber, log in here »

Print subscriber? For free access to the website and iPad, register here »

To subscribe, click here to see our subscription offers »

Please note this is an advertisement skip this ad
Clearly, you have a passion for ideas.
Subscribe today for unlimited digital access to the publication that shapes the minds of the people who shape our world.
Get for just
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
YOU HAVE READ OF 8 FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
FOR JUST
Welcome to Commentary Magazine.
We hope you enjoy your visit.
As a visitor, you are allowed 8 free articles.
This is your first article.
You have read of 8 free articles this month.
YOU HAVE READ 8 OF 8
FREE ARTICLES THIS MONTH.
for full access to
CommentaryMagazine.com
INCLUDES FULL ACCESS TO:
Digital subscriber?
Print subscriber? Get free access »
Call to subscribe: 1-800-829-6270
You can also subscribe
on your computer at
CommentaryMagazine.com.
LOG IN WITH YOUR
COMMENTARY MAGAZINE ID
Don't have a CommentaryMagazine.com log in?
CREATE A COMMENTARY
LOG IN ID
Enter you email address and password below. A confirmation email will be sent to the email address that you provide.