Commentary Magazine


Topic: Communist party

China and Climate Change

Yesterday, at the 190-nation UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, China suggested that Americans live more modestly. “I just wonder whether it’s fair to ask developing countries like China to take on binding targets,” said Su Wei, a member of Beijing’s delegation, referring to mandatory caps on emissions of greenhouse gases. “I think there is much room for the United States to think whether it’s possible to change lifestyle and consumption patterns in order to contribute to the protection of the global climate.”

Isn’t the global climate everyone’s responsibility? This year, China, which contains twenty of the world’s thirty dirtiest cities, has probably emitted more carbon and other heat-trapping gases than any other country. Yet the Chinese argue that their per-capita emissions are only a sixth of America’s and that they have been poisoning the atmosphere for only two decades while the United States and Europe have been at it for two centuries.

Whatever one thinks of the concept of global warming or the Kyoto Protocol—the conference seeks a replacement for this failing agreement—Beijing’s arguments fall flat for many reasons. Most importantly, China’s Communist Party is hell-bent on economic growth and will not take any meaningful measures to limit ecological harm. To their credit, the country’s leaders talk about renewable energy and energy efficiency, but they’re not doing much to further their initiatives. They adopted a “Green GDP” index to measure the effect of environmental degradation, but dropped the effort when it revealed embarrassing results: some areas, for instance, showed negative growth after subtracting out the effect of environmental damage.

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Yesterday, at the 190-nation UN Climate Change Conference in Bali, China suggested that Americans live more modestly. “I just wonder whether it’s fair to ask developing countries like China to take on binding targets,” said Su Wei, a member of Beijing’s delegation, referring to mandatory caps on emissions of greenhouse gases. “I think there is much room for the United States to think whether it’s possible to change lifestyle and consumption patterns in order to contribute to the protection of the global climate.”

Isn’t the global climate everyone’s responsibility? This year, China, which contains twenty of the world’s thirty dirtiest cities, has probably emitted more carbon and other heat-trapping gases than any other country. Yet the Chinese argue that their per-capita emissions are only a sixth of America’s and that they have been poisoning the atmosphere for only two decades while the United States and Europe have been at it for two centuries.

Whatever one thinks of the concept of global warming or the Kyoto Protocol—the conference seeks a replacement for this failing agreement—Beijing’s arguments fall flat for many reasons. Most importantly, China’s Communist Party is hell-bent on economic growth and will not take any meaningful measures to limit ecological harm. To their credit, the country’s leaders talk about renewable energy and energy efficiency, but they’re not doing much to further their initiatives. They adopted a “Green GDP” index to measure the effect of environmental degradation, but dropped the effort when it revealed embarrassing results: some areas, for instance, showed negative growth after subtracting out the effect of environmental damage.

Moreover, China’s environmental sinning has affected other nations, both near and far. As Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations has graphically noted, Chinese rivers run black. Black rivers flow into the bays and oceans, and the discharge washes up onto others’ shores, especially South Korea’s and Taiwan’s. The Chinese airmail mercury to Hawaii and even Massachusetts.

It is in everyone’s interest that humankind does not accelerate natural climate change, of course. Yet, as a practical matter, there can be no collective action until all nations agree to accept the pain of solutions. The Chinese, more than any other people, suffer from a polluted environment. Each year bad air and water cause 750,000 premature deaths in China. So they should want to be the first to take action.

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A Blow for Democracy in Hong Kong

The slow-moving but steady struggle for democracy in Hong Kong—which China promised in 1997 when taking over the territory from the British, but without specifying a date—took a major step forward with today’s swearing-in of newly-elected Anson Chan to the Legislative Council.

Chan’s victory was a major setback, ten years into rule by Beijing, for the Chinese scenario, according to which the city is to be de-politicized gradually and democracy made to disappear while Hong Kong remains an economic center. By electing Chan by 54 percent over her pro-Beijing opponent, the voters of Hong Kong dealt a deadly blow to that plan.

Chan, a highly respected former civil servant born in Shanghai and educated in Hong Kong Catholic schools and at Tufts University in the United States, had avoided politics for years since her resignation in 2001 from the number two post in the first Chinese-run administration. (She had been the first ethnic Chinese to hold the analogous post under the British).

Chan stepped forward, however, when the death of Ma Lik, leader of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), opened up a key seat in the city’s Legislative Council. Chan’s opponent for this seat was prominent politician Regina Ip.

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The slow-moving but steady struggle for democracy in Hong Kong—which China promised in 1997 when taking over the territory from the British, but without specifying a date—took a major step forward with today’s swearing-in of newly-elected Anson Chan to the Legislative Council.

Chan’s victory was a major setback, ten years into rule by Beijing, for the Chinese scenario, according to which the city is to be de-politicized gradually and democracy made to disappear while Hong Kong remains an economic center. By electing Chan by 54 percent over her pro-Beijing opponent, the voters of Hong Kong dealt a deadly blow to that plan.

Chan, a highly respected former civil servant born in Shanghai and educated in Hong Kong Catholic schools and at Tufts University in the United States, had avoided politics for years since her resignation in 2001 from the number two post in the first Chinese-run administration. (She had been the first ethnic Chinese to hold the analogous post under the British).

Chan stepped forward, however, when the death of Ma Lik, leader of the pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), opened up a key seat in the city’s Legislative Council. Chan’s opponent for this seat was prominent politician Regina Ip.

DAB leader Ma Lik will probably be best remembered for remarks in May of this year dismissing the Tiananmen massacre: “We should not say the Communist Party massacred people on June 4 . . . it was not a massacre.” Attempting to play the anti-foreign card, he added that the government should decide what really happened, not “gweilos” (a derogatory Cantonese word for foreigners).

Ma also criticized democracy, arguing that universal suffrage should not be introduced until 2022, when more Hong Kongers will have gone through “national awareness education.”

Regina Ip had, like Ma, made herself suddenly controversial through comments that were ill-judged at best. In 2002, when China proposed an “Anti-Subversion Law” that would have greatly increased Beijing’s already tight control over Hong Kong, Ip sprang to the defense of the measure, stating “Hitler was elected by the people. But he ended up killing seven million people. This proves that democracy is not a cure-all medicine.” (Faced with massive public protest, Beijing withdrew the legislation the following year.)

So this by-election was a high-stakes grudge match, with plenty of mudslinging, between two of Hong Kong’s most powerful female politicians and between the mutually hostile pro-democracy and pro-Beijing political organizations. It took place against a background of ten years’ tug-of-war, with China seeking to kick democracy into the indefinite future. With pro-Beijing standard bearer Ma Lik now dead and Regina Ip trounced at the polls, Chan’s victory is all the more significant.

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“Intraparty Democracy”?

Newsweek’s Melinda Liu, in an article dated Saturday, gushes over Xi Jinping, the cadre just designated as the first in line to succeed Communist Party boss Hu Jintao five years from now. The desire to praise young communists—Xi is a relatively spry 54—is an unfortunate tendency common to China watchers whenever the Party unveils a “new generation” of leaders. I will spare you all the good things she has to say about Xi because they’re predictable—and wrong. (I also have a strong aversion to helping Beijing spread its hagiography.)

But Liu, in her article, also praises the minor “reforms” that the Party is implementing to improve its internal workings. Xi “got the highest vote” in a secret internal Party poll, she notes. Because that political organization is now attempting to gauge sentiment within a small circle of its most senior members, Liu sees important progress. “China’s new heir apparent is a surprise pick, suggesting that ‘intraparty democracy’ is no joke,” Newsweek writes. Liu’s thesis is that, absent these changes, some other aspiring tyrant would have been selected front-runner for the Communist Party’s top post.

Of course, we do not know enough about the Party’s internal maneuverings to make such a judgment. And it’s important to note that intraparty democracy is by no means democracy. Xi was still picked by an extremely small group of senior cadres in backroom negotiations inside a closed political organization. And Newsweek considers this progress?

So here’s some advice for Ms. Liu: hold off cheering China’s Communists until they allow the Chinese people to decide who should lead the country—in free and fair national elections.

Newsweek’s Melinda Liu, in an article dated Saturday, gushes over Xi Jinping, the cadre just designated as the first in line to succeed Communist Party boss Hu Jintao five years from now. The desire to praise young communists—Xi is a relatively spry 54—is an unfortunate tendency common to China watchers whenever the Party unveils a “new generation” of leaders. I will spare you all the good things she has to say about Xi because they’re predictable—and wrong. (I also have a strong aversion to helping Beijing spread its hagiography.)

But Liu, in her article, also praises the minor “reforms” that the Party is implementing to improve its internal workings. Xi “got the highest vote” in a secret internal Party poll, she notes. Because that political organization is now attempting to gauge sentiment within a small circle of its most senior members, Liu sees important progress. “China’s new heir apparent is a surprise pick, suggesting that ‘intraparty democracy’ is no joke,” Newsweek writes. Liu’s thesis is that, absent these changes, some other aspiring tyrant would have been selected front-runner for the Communist Party’s top post.

Of course, we do not know enough about the Party’s internal maneuverings to make such a judgment. And it’s important to note that intraparty democracy is by no means democracy. Xi was still picked by an extremely small group of senior cadres in backroom negotiations inside a closed political organization. And Newsweek considers this progress?

So here’s some advice for Ms. Liu: hold off cheering China’s Communists until they allow the Chinese people to decide who should lead the country—in free and fair national elections.

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All You Really Need to Know About China

This morning, China’s Communist Party revealed its new Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. Gone were three senior cadres. In were four new faces. Almost all of the attention in the run up to this grand announcement has focused on two of the newcomers, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Xi, close to former leader Jiang Zemin, is acceptable to all the factions in the Party. Li is the favorite of current supremo, Hu Jintao. One of them is expected to replace Hu five years from now. Xi, by virtue of his ranking in the new hierarchy, is now the front-runner.

But more important than the elevation of Xi and Li is the retention of Jia Qinglin, 67, the fourth-ranking official. Jia served as the Party boss of coastal Fujian province during the most serious corruption scandal in the history of the People’s Republic. His wife, Lin Youfang, was the head of the province’s main import-export company at the time, and was viewed to be connected intimately to customs fraud. She was investigated, and so were officials close to Jia. The pudgy cadre survived the incident only because of his close relationship with Jiang Zemin, the Chinese leader at the time. Jiang was even able to engineer Jia’s elevation to the Standing Committee in 2002—not surprising at that especially corrupt period in China’s history.

Hu Jintao, as a means of putting distance between himself and Jiang, has said consistently that his administration is determined to root out official venality. At a time when corruption undermines the stability of the Communist Party, Jia’s ability to maintain his position at the apex of power says that the political system has lost the ability to deal with critical problems. In a sense, that’s all we need to know about governance in China. It certainly is more important than knowing which cautious bureaucrat is scheduled to become the next head of the Communist Party in 2012. After all, there is not much future for a political organization that cannot deal with the most serious threat to its existence.

This morning, China’s Communist Party revealed its new Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing. Gone were three senior cadres. In were four new faces. Almost all of the attention in the run up to this grand announcement has focused on two of the newcomers, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang. Xi, close to former leader Jiang Zemin, is acceptable to all the factions in the Party. Li is the favorite of current supremo, Hu Jintao. One of them is expected to replace Hu five years from now. Xi, by virtue of his ranking in the new hierarchy, is now the front-runner.

But more important than the elevation of Xi and Li is the retention of Jia Qinglin, 67, the fourth-ranking official. Jia served as the Party boss of coastal Fujian province during the most serious corruption scandal in the history of the People’s Republic. His wife, Lin Youfang, was the head of the province’s main import-export company at the time, and was viewed to be connected intimately to customs fraud. She was investigated, and so were officials close to Jia. The pudgy cadre survived the incident only because of his close relationship with Jiang Zemin, the Chinese leader at the time. Jiang was even able to engineer Jia’s elevation to the Standing Committee in 2002—not surprising at that especially corrupt period in China’s history.

Hu Jintao, as a means of putting distance between himself and Jiang, has said consistently that his administration is determined to root out official venality. At a time when corruption undermines the stability of the Communist Party, Jia’s ability to maintain his position at the apex of power says that the political system has lost the ability to deal with critical problems. In a sense, that’s all we need to know about governance in China. It certainly is more important than knowing which cautious bureaucrat is scheduled to become the next head of the Communist Party in 2012. After all, there is not much future for a political organization that cannot deal with the most serious threat to its existence.

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Unrest in the Chinese Army

Western observers tend to assume that the Chinese Army and the Communist Party are as close as the proverbial “lips and teeth.” However, a number of troubling, but largely unremarked upon, reports in the Chinese media raises nagging doubts about just how close the two really are. This is an important question for the United States, as the People’s Liberation Army is the rock upon which the structure of Party dictatorship rests.

China Central Television (CCTV) recently reported that, according to a September 21 article in the authoritative newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily, the military has been exhorted to:

“[A]dvance the Party’s construction in the army, persist in the Party’s absolute leadership of the army, uphold the Party’s flag as the army’s flag, and take the Party’s will as the army’s will.”

Hortatory articles like this one have appeared regularly for years in the Chinese media. Last summer, however, the tone of such standard articles began to change, becoming more insistent, even panicky.

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Western observers tend to assume that the Chinese Army and the Communist Party are as close as the proverbial “lips and teeth.” However, a number of troubling, but largely unremarked upon, reports in the Chinese media raises nagging doubts about just how close the two really are. This is an important question for the United States, as the People’s Liberation Army is the rock upon which the structure of Party dictatorship rests.

China Central Television (CCTV) recently reported that, according to a September 21 article in the authoritative newspaper People’s Liberation Army Daily, the military has been exhorted to:

“[A]dvance the Party’s construction in the army, persist in the Party’s absolute leadership of the army, uphold the Party’s flag as the army’s flag, and take the Party’s will as the army’s will.”

Hortatory articles like this one have appeared regularly for years in the Chinese media. Last summer, however, the tone of such standard articles began to change, becoming more insistent, even panicky.

I noticed the shift and began to puzzle over it. Others have noticed it, too; James Mulvenon, for instance, has written an important essay called “They Protest Too Much” about demonstrations by demobilized soldiers. The new tone was clear in a lecture by President Hu Jintao on June 25, during which he told an audience at the Central Party School that they must guard against “arrogance and rashness,” and remain “ideologically sober-headed.” What, I asked myself, could have prompted such strong language?

Then on July 15 and July 16, according to Hong Kong reports, Hu spelled out for more than 80 top commanders at the Central Military Commission in Beijing the eight problems that most concerned him. These were a daunting list:

1. Decreasing sense of military responsibility.
2. Disconnect and lag in building the political ideology, organization, and in the PLA’s self-development.
3. Weakened fundamental belief in the Party’s absolute leadership over the military.
4. Decreased ability to resist westernization, segregation, and corruption.
5. Changed organizational and disciplinary principles.
6. Worsening relationships among various military rankings and internal departments.
7. Questionable ability to win a war in the modern era.
8. Increasing and sometimes severe conflicts between the military and local government and residents in certain regions.

Reading this list, I finally grasped the point. The Chinese army has serious problems with morale, competence, and political loyalty. That is what Hu is telling the army, and us.

Some Chinese military officers are undoubtedly corrupt, but others likely despise the present political leadership. They probably discuss among themselves what is to be done to save their country from the looming disaster of corruption, pollution, and unrest. The West tends toward an optimistic view of China’s future, with reform and stability both assured, and no danger of breakdown in civil-military relations. President Hu seems not to share our optimism. Perhaps it is time for us to reconsider.

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Thabo Mbeki, Fellow Traveler

Reading Thabo Mbeki’s weekly letters is alternately a mind-numbing and revelatory experience. Mind-numbing because of their length and monotony; revelatory because they really do give the reader an insight into the paranoid and aggrieved mind of the South African President.

The lead item in this week’s missive—”Che Guevara—a fond farewell forty years later!”—sounds exactly like what it is: Stalinist propaganda. Mbeki calls Guevara “our beloved hero,” remarking that he died soon after former ANC president Albert Luthuli. This is an absurd juxtaposition: Luthuli was a man of unimpeachable reputation who preached reconciliation with whites and multiracial democracy. He was also an ally of the novelist Alan Paton and his anti-Communist Liberal Party. Luthuli himself was a strong anti-Communist who feared that Communists would tarnish the reputation of the anti-apartheid movement (which they later did). Nor did Luthuli ever call for his political enemies to be executed.

In today’s South Africa, it is considered gauche to bring up the ANC’s historic ties to the Soviet Union, just as it was considered pro-apartheid to write about these ties during the years of the nation’s struggle for freedom. To do so apparently reveals one’s anachronistic anti-Communism. Contemporary South Africa, after all, is hardly going Red, in spite of the continued influence of its domestic Communist Party.

But just because the Soviet Union is dead does not mean that its admirers are, or that they have significantly altered their ideologies of governance. As the South African blogger Michael Kransdorff explains, effusions of the above kind are par for the course when it comes to the missives of Mbeki and his top associates. It is far too soon to conclude, as so many are wont to do, that post-apartheid South Africa is on stable, democratic, liberal footing. It says something ominous about the political temperament and ideology of South Africa’s leading politician when he praises Che Guevara and denounces the United States.

Reading Thabo Mbeki’s weekly letters is alternately a mind-numbing and revelatory experience. Mind-numbing because of their length and monotony; revelatory because they really do give the reader an insight into the paranoid and aggrieved mind of the South African President.

The lead item in this week’s missive—”Che Guevara—a fond farewell forty years later!”—sounds exactly like what it is: Stalinist propaganda. Mbeki calls Guevara “our beloved hero,” remarking that he died soon after former ANC president Albert Luthuli. This is an absurd juxtaposition: Luthuli was a man of unimpeachable reputation who preached reconciliation with whites and multiracial democracy. He was also an ally of the novelist Alan Paton and his anti-Communist Liberal Party. Luthuli himself was a strong anti-Communist who feared that Communists would tarnish the reputation of the anti-apartheid movement (which they later did). Nor did Luthuli ever call for his political enemies to be executed.

In today’s South Africa, it is considered gauche to bring up the ANC’s historic ties to the Soviet Union, just as it was considered pro-apartheid to write about these ties during the years of the nation’s struggle for freedom. To do so apparently reveals one’s anachronistic anti-Communism. Contemporary South Africa, after all, is hardly going Red, in spite of the continued influence of its domestic Communist Party.

But just because the Soviet Union is dead does not mean that its admirers are, or that they have significantly altered their ideologies of governance. As the South African blogger Michael Kransdorff explains, effusions of the above kind are par for the course when it comes to the missives of Mbeki and his top associates. It is far too soon to conclude, as so many are wont to do, that post-apartheid South Africa is on stable, democratic, liberal footing. It says something ominous about the political temperament and ideology of South Africa’s leading politician when he praises Che Guevara and denounces the United States.

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Tempest over Tibet

Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

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Today, Beijing issued a warning to Washington over the planned award of the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama. “The move will seriously damage China-U.S. relations,” said Liu Jianchao, a Foreign Ministry spokesman. He also noted that his country hoped that the United States would “correct its mistakes” and cancel the “relevant arrangements.” Those arrangements include President Bush’s receiving His Holiness at the White House today and House Speaker Pelosi’s presenting the award tomorrow at the Capitol. The increasingly visible Laura Bush will attend tomorrow’s ceremony. And so will her husband, who will be speaking at the event. He will be the first sitting President to appear publicly with the 1989 Nobel laureate.

The Chinese government has already shown its displeasure at American defiance of its wishes. Beijing diplomats have raised the issue a number of times at the ambassadorial level. Furthermore, earlier this month Beijing put off a visit by Wu Bangguo, the second-ranked Communist Party leader, to the United States. Beijing has also pulled out of a meeting, scheduled for tomorrow in Berlin, to talk about Iran.

On Sunday, the German government announced that China had canceled upcoming human rights talks (supposed to take place in December) with Chancellor Angela Merkel. The German foreign ministry refused to give any reason for the change in plans, yet an explanation was unnecessary. Beijing’s diplomats have been complaining publicly for weeks that Merkel had met with the world’s most famous refugee last month. In fact, they had been protesting the visit before she received His Holiness, and the cancellation announced Sunday is only the latest in a series of meetings the Chinese have aborted with their German counterparts since last month.

Unfortunately for the Chinese, they’re rapidly losing their ability to intimidate Western leaders over Tibet. All of them recognize Beijing’s sovereignty over Tibetan homelands, but increasingly few of them are willing to shun the Dalai Lama. In addition to Merkel, Australia’s John Howard and Austria’s Alfred Gusenbauer met with him over the course of the last few months. Canada’s Stephen Harper will receive the famous Tibetan this month.

Chinese diplomats are ramping up their threats, but few are listening. Nobody believes that human rights dialogues with Beijing are effective, and Wu’s trip to the United States was more for China’s benefit than ours. It’s a shame that China won’t attend the Berlin meeting on Iran, but that will be rescheduled—and in any event Chinese attendance would only complicate matters.

Who cares if the Chinese authoritarians huff and puff? They need the West more than the West needs them. So let them threaten all they want. Why should we prevent the Chinese from creating a diplomatic disaster for themselves?

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Party Games

The New York Times reports that, just days before the start of a major conclave, the senior leaders of China’s Communist Party are deadlocked on choosing the organization’s next set of bosses. At stake is the future of the world’s most populous—and potentially dangerous—state. The Times repeats rumors that General Secretary Hu Jintao, the country’s current supremo, is thinking of threatening war with Taiwan to help him obtain the support of the generals so that he can prevail in the increasingly unpredictable succession struggle. After years of relative political calm, the Party now appears headed for a period of heightened internal stress.

China watchers are fond of saying that Deng Xiaoping picked three of the four leaders of the People’s Republic. Deng picked himself and his two successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu. Hu now wants to choose his successor in Deng-like fashion. He is in favor of elevating Li Keqiang to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in today’s China. Many others, however, are trying to thwart Hu by promoting Xi Jinping. Li is a modestly talented cadre known to be totally loyal to Hu. Xi, on the other hand, is closer to Jiang and is thought to be more acceptable to other elements of the Party.

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The New York Times reports that, just days before the start of a major conclave, the senior leaders of China’s Communist Party are deadlocked on choosing the organization’s next set of bosses. At stake is the future of the world’s most populous—and potentially dangerous—state. The Times repeats rumors that General Secretary Hu Jintao, the country’s current supremo, is thinking of threatening war with Taiwan to help him obtain the support of the generals so that he can prevail in the increasingly unpredictable succession struggle. After years of relative political calm, the Party now appears headed for a period of heightened internal stress.

China watchers are fond of saying that Deng Xiaoping picked three of the four leaders of the People’s Republic. Deng picked himself and his two successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu. Hu now wants to choose his successor in Deng-like fashion. He is in favor of elevating Li Keqiang to the all-powerful Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of political power in today’s China. Many others, however, are trying to thwart Hu by promoting Xi Jinping. Li is a modestly talented cadre known to be totally loyal to Hu. Xi, on the other hand, is closer to Jiang and is thought to be more acceptable to other elements of the Party.

The lineup of the Standing Committee will be revealed when seven to nine men walk from behind a curtain onto the stage of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing at the 17th Party Congress, scheduled to begin on October 15. We are certain there will be great applause when they appear. What we don’t know is their identity or the order in which they come out, an indication of their rank. When the men emerge, we will learn who is the favorite to succeed Hu, scheduled to step down five years from now at the 18th Congress.

A half-decade ago most China watchers had said that the organization’s succession troubles were a thing of the past. Yet the transition from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao looked smooth only because it had been decided in 1992 by Deng. Now, Deng is gone and Party members are on their own. Whoever prevails later this month—Li, Xi, or some other official—will face years of infighting. The risk is that the struggle could spill out beyond China’s borders and end the long spell of peace in Asia.

Of course, if the Communists find it hard to pick their next chieftain, they could hold a free election. That would be better for everyone (except a handful of men who do not, frankly, deserve to lead a great people).

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“The Smartest People on Earth”

Are Mainland Chinese becoming anti-Semitic?

The question arises because one of the hottest books in China is Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars. According to Song, the owners of international capital create financial crises, start wars, degrade the environment, and control the world. These financiers are responsible for the defeat of Napoleon, the deaths of half a dozen American presidents, the rise of Hitler, and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. All of this, Song contends, is ultimately tied back to the Rothschilds. Worrying theory, no?

“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” says the American-educated Song. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.” That perception helps explain why there are an estimated 200,000 copies of the book, published by a commercial arm of the Chinese government, and another 400,000 pirated versions floating around the Mainland today. Worse, senior leaders in Beijing are lapping up Song’s theories.

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Are Mainland Chinese becoming anti-Semitic?

The question arises because one of the hottest books in China is Song Hongbing’s Currency Wars. According to Song, the owners of international capital create financial crises, start wars, degrade the environment, and control the world. These financiers are responsible for the defeat of Napoleon, the deaths of half a dozen American presidents, the rise of Hitler, and the Asian Financial Crisis of 1997. All of this, Song contends, is ultimately tied back to the Rothschilds. Worrying theory, no?

“The Chinese people think that the Jews are smart and rich, so we should learn from them,” says the American-educated Song. “Even me, I think they are really smart, maybe the smartest people on earth.” That perception helps explain why there are an estimated 200,000 copies of the book, published by a commercial arm of the Chinese government, and another 400,000 pirated versions floating around the Mainland today. Worse, senior leaders in Beijing are lapping up Song’s theories.

China’s Communist Party has long persecuted the few Jews in the Mainland, but that was part of a broader effort to eradicate religion. Today, Christians and the Buddhist-inspired Falun Gong bear the brunt of Beijing’s wrath. Most analysts note the lack of an anti-Semitic tradition in Chinese history and a strong admiration for Jewish culture and accomplishment, as Song’s own words reveal. Shalom Salomon Wald, author of China and the Jewish People, believes that the Chinese find common cause with the Jews, as both of them were the subject of persecution. Moreover, most sons and daughters of the Yellow Emperor admire other peoples with old cultures, and many Chinese perceive that the two oldest belong to them and the descendants of Abraham.

Even with these mitigating factors taken into account, Song’s book (which manages to be zany and offensive at the same time) is a manifestation of a worrying trend. Many Chinese at this moment perceive that others are conspiring to contain their nation’s rise. Song, after all, has written a self-help manual to deal with American efforts to force a revaluation of the renminbi, the Chinese currency. Chinese nationalism has turned especially ugly in recent years, and any conspiracy theory—even ones not grounded in malice—could be used to justify the most reprehensible conduct.

“The Chinese believe the Jews are a big people. It makes no sense to tell them we’re not,” says Wald. “It also doesn’t help to tell them this is anti-Semitic.” He may be correct, but it is perfectly logical to tell the Chinese that they shouldn’t adopt crank theories of history—and they should stop blaming other peoples, including ones they may otherwise admire.

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Two Collapses

Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.

The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.

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Japan, according to Thursday’s New York Times, is in “disarray.” Its government, rocked by a series of resignations, has fallen apart. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister, in office for only a year, checked himself into a hospital for stress after announcing his intent to step down. The country may be on the verge of a historic transfer of power: the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has governed the country almost continuously for a half century, looks exhausted after its crushing defeat in elections at the end of July. There will undoubtedly be a period of extended infighting, even after a new prime minister is finally selected. The financial community seems to think the stock market will fall and the economy will stumble. Foreign investors look as if they will flee. The outlook for Japan is grim.

The country’s prospects may be even darker than that. Yuichi Yamamoto, a Tokyo blogger, thinks Japan has already collapsed. The old system has failed, he notes, and the nation resembles the Soviet Union in the late 1980’s. If he’s right, then the only reason the Japanese aren’t surrendering to neighboring China is because they’re too moribund to raise the white flag.

The Chinese, in comparison, look full of vim and vigor. They are also heading to a political transition. The so-called Fourth Generation leadership, led by General Secretary Hu Jintao, is beginning to select the Fifth. The Communist Party will hold its elaborately staged 17th Congress next month. When the last speech is finished to great applause—as such speeches inevitably are—we will know the lineup of the Politburo Standing Committee and thus be able to guess who is in the running to succeed the inscrutable Hu at the 18th Congress, scheduled for five years from now.

Although their governments are completely different in structure, both Japan and China will pick their next leaders in backroom deals arranged by heads of factions wielding immense power. Both governing systems are rotten in their own ways, and both are fragile. The only difference is that the breakdown of Japan’s “1955 System”—yes, it’s that old—is taking place in public view and change will eventually come at the ballot box. In China, the Communist Party will not give up power without the loss of even more life.

So Japan only looks like it’s failing. We are seeing the regeneration of politics in Japanese society as the old is reluctantly making way for the new. In China, the transition to the next form of governance—coming soon—will not be as smooth.

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Chinese Corruption and its “Cure”

On Thursday, China’s State Council announced the appointment of the first head and deputy head of the National Corruption Prevention Bureau. People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, called the bureau “a brand new and first ever anti-corruption agency.” Once it establishes its headquarters, the organization will set up units around the nation.

The Party already maintains the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a multitude of local anti-corruption units at its lower levels. Furthermore, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate also has prosecutorial offices around the country. It’s not clear how the new bureau will relate to these other nationwide organizations.

China is infested with venal officials not because it lacks ministries, departments, or bureaus. Corruption has reached new levels in China because of the Communist Party’s insistence on political monopoly. Such rampant corruption nearly guarantees that problems will not be dealt with effectively.

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On Thursday, China’s State Council announced the appointment of the first head and deputy head of the National Corruption Prevention Bureau. People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s flagship publication, called the bureau “a brand new and first ever anti-corruption agency.” Once it establishes its headquarters, the organization will set up units around the nation.

The Party already maintains the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection and a multitude of local anti-corruption units at its lower levels. Furthermore, the Supreme People’s Procuratorate also has prosecutorial offices around the country. It’s not clear how the new bureau will relate to these other nationwide organizations.

China is infested with venal officials not because it lacks ministries, departments, or bureaus. Corruption has reached new levels in China because of the Communist Party’s insistence on political monopoly. Such rampant corruption nearly guarantees that problems will not be dealt with effectively.

Take lead-coated toys and antifreeze-laced toothpaste, for example. Almost everyone thinks China should enact tougher laws and tighten its regulatory system. Yes, these technical fixes will help, but they’re no real answer, especially in the long term. It is no coincidence that the Soviet Union, too, was known for its shoddy products. The one thing the two regimes share is Communism. Communism makes it impossible to maintain the rule of law or democracy. And without the supervision of courts and the people, it is not possible, over the long run, to stop corruption, which is the root cause of the food and product safety problem. Moreover, many Party cadres personally profit from protecting offending factories; such officials often own parts of the factories. These officials in turn buy protection for themselves from higher-ups in the Party’s vast patronage system. The Communist Party, in reality, is like Boss Tweed’s Tammany Hall.

Beijing is now reduced to imposing death sentences on corrupt officials and announcing four-month campaigns to stop bad products. But we know that corruption makes all these efforts meaningless. And adding another sprawling bureaucracy won’t help. After all, the most corrupt organization in China—the Communist Party—cannot discipline itself.

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Wen to Merkel: Mind Your Own Business

Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to do more to stop climate change. “The Chinese wish, like all people, for blue skies, green hills and clear water,” Wen said at a joint news conference in Beijing. Then, the “People’s Premier” told the Germans—and by implication, everyone else—to mind their own business. He essentially said that China must finish its industrialization before it can consider minimizing its impact on world climate. “China has taken part of the responsibility for climate change for only 30 years while industrial countries have grown fast for the last 200 years,” he said.

China does not have a severely degraded environment—the world’s worst—because it is industrializing. And it’s not because of a shortage of money—China possesses the world’s largest pile of foreign currency reserves, now in excess of $1.3 trillion. Nor is it due to a lack of technology: China already possesses much of the know-how, and foreign governments and companies are tripping over themselves to supply what it does not now have.

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Today, German Chancellor Angela Merkel encouraged China’s Premier Wen Jiabao to do more to stop climate change. “The Chinese wish, like all people, for blue skies, green hills and clear water,” Wen said at a joint news conference in Beijing. Then, the “People’s Premier” told the Germans—and by implication, everyone else—to mind their own business. He essentially said that China must finish its industrialization before it can consider minimizing its impact on world climate. “China has taken part of the responsibility for climate change for only 30 years while industrial countries have grown fast for the last 200 years,” he said.

China does not have a severely degraded environment—the world’s worst—because it is industrializing. And it’s not because of a shortage of money—China possesses the world’s largest pile of foreign currency reserves, now in excess of $1.3 trillion. Nor is it due to a lack of technology: China already possesses much of the know-how, and foreign governments and companies are tripping over themselves to supply what it does not now have.

The country has polluted its land, water, and air because its political system has prevented its disgusted and frustrated citizenry from stopping the damage. The Communist Party’s bottom-up patronage system rewards economic growth at any price, providing an incentive to dump raw sewage, scatter industrial waste, and release toxic smoke. Beijing’s leaders are afraid that an economic slowdown will lead to the collapse of the one-party state.

Wen Jiabao can, of course, put off the German chancellor for the moment. but the People’s Premier one day will have to listen to his own people. According to Zhou Shengxian, Beijing’s top environmental official, Chinese people took to the streets an astonishing 51,000 times in 2005 to protest environmental degradation. In other words, during that year the Communist Party failed almost a thousand times a week to mediate conflict between ordinary citizens on the one hand and polluting factories and colluding local governments on the other.

There is, however, hope in China. Either Mr. Wen will figure out a way to clean up the nation’s environment—or the Chinese people will. I’m betting it won’t be Wen.

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A Different Kind of Danger

Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 30.49 points. Yet both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite posted gains, and market signals indicate the Dow will turn back up today to continue the advance started on Friday. But even with the recent uptrend, no one thinks the global sub-prime lending crisis is over.

The recent turmoil in the world’s equity markets is a symptom of greater dislocations. There are many causes for the recent problems—such as the mispricing of risk caused by too much liquidity—and none of them have been solved by the recent gyrations in global markets. At some point, the great economic bull run following the fall of the Soviet Union must end. There is a rhythm to economies that governments can moderate, but not eliminate.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has taken the lead in developing mutually supporting systems—embodied by multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—to ensure prosperity. Yet, if the shocks to this global system are too great, the network’s interconnectedness, normally a strength, becomes its weakness, as one part brings down another. As in an overstressed electrical grid, problems can first ripple and then cascade. So, for the first time in history, virtually all societies can move in sync due to the very nature of the international system we have created.

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Yesterday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average ended down 30.49 points. Yet both the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite posted gains, and market signals indicate the Dow will turn back up today to continue the advance started on Friday. But even with the recent uptrend, no one thinks the global sub-prime lending crisis is over.

The recent turmoil in the world’s equity markets is a symptom of greater dislocations. There are many causes for the recent problems—such as the mispricing of risk caused by too much liquidity—and none of them have been solved by the recent gyrations in global markets. At some point, the great economic bull run following the fall of the Soviet Union must end. There is a rhythm to economies that governments can moderate, but not eliminate.

Since the end of World War II, the United States has taken the lead in developing mutually supporting systems—embodied by multilateral institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank—to ensure prosperity. Yet, if the shocks to this global system are too great, the network’s interconnectedness, normally a strength, becomes its weakness, as one part brings down another. As in an overstressed electrical grid, problems can first ripple and then cascade. So, for the first time in history, virtually all societies can move in sync due to the very nature of the international system we have created.

If a serious global recession hits the world now, how will it affect geopolitics? For one thing, governments will have fewer resources to pursue their ambitions. A general downturn, for instance, might accomplish what Democrats in Congress and insurgents in Baghdad have failed to achieve so far: an end to the American involvement in Iraq. The war, costing about $2 billion a week, has been affordable in a booming economy. In a recessionary one, it could become a burden the public might not be willing to bear, at least at present levels. Other members of the international coalition, whose commitments already are not firm, undoubtedly would pull out. Funding for the conflict in Afghanistan could be scaled back to unacceptably low levels.

Not all the foreseeable consequences of a severe recession would be bad, however. A fall in oil and gas prices most likely would dent the plans of Russia’s Putin, Venezuela’s Chavez, and Iran’s Ahmadinejad. A decline in global consumption could mean that China’s export markets might dry up, the Chinese economy might spiral downward, and the Communist Party might lose power. The Doha Trade Round would probably fail, and globalization would stop for a long pause—as it has done so many times in the past. Countries would insource and international commerce would decline.

The biggest imponderable is how people around the world will react in a deteriorating economic environment. In today’s hyper-connected society, private citizens have more say in what goes on, even under rigidly authoritarian governments. At this point, no one knows what the mood of global citizenry would be. All we know is that if a severe recession comes, the world will still be dangerous, but the dangers will differ from the ones we face today.

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Dirty Olympics

Next year, at eight seconds after 8:08 on the evening of August 8, the most important event in the most populous country in the world will begin. At that moment, the Olympics in Beijing will start—and the People’s Republic of China will announce its arrival in the century it believes it will own.

Today, to mark the one-year countdown to the XXIX Olympiad, Beijing staged a grandiose nighttime ceremony in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese nation and the scene of mass murder in 1989. China’s Leninists are good at organizing gargantuan rallies glorifying themselves, and this extravaganza, which included International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, was no exception. The anthem for the event was “We’re Ready.”

Will Beijing’s leaders be ready a year from now? Amnesty International, in a report issued yesterday, urged Communist Party officials to stop repressing the Chinese people. In an accompanying statement, Amnesty said “time is running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of improving human rights in the run-up to the Games.” The report came out on the same day as one from Human Rights Watch and another from the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Monday in the Chinese capital, Reporters Without Borders unfurled a banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs. Beijing authorities detained and roughed up journalists who had staged the protest. Yesterday, activists at the Great Wall displayed a large banner reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.” They were detained as well.

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Next year, at eight seconds after 8:08 on the evening of August 8, the most important event in the most populous country in the world will begin. At that moment, the Olympics in Beijing will start—and the People’s Republic of China will announce its arrival in the century it believes it will own.

Today, to mark the one-year countdown to the XXIX Olympiad, Beijing staged a grandiose nighttime ceremony in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese nation and the scene of mass murder in 1989. China’s Leninists are good at organizing gargantuan rallies glorifying themselves, and this extravaganza, which included International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge, was no exception. The anthem for the event was “We’re Ready.”

Will Beijing’s leaders be ready a year from now? Amnesty International, in a report issued yesterday, urged Communist Party officials to stop repressing the Chinese people. In an accompanying statement, Amnesty said “time is running out for the Chinese government to fulfill its promise of improving human rights in the run-up to the Games.” The report came out on the same day as one from Human Rights Watch and another from the Committee to Protect Journalists. On Monday in the Chinese capital, Reporters Without Borders unfurled a banner showing the Olympic rings as handcuffs. Beijing authorities detained and roughed up journalists who had staged the protest. Yesterday, activists at the Great Wall displayed a large banner reading “One World, One Dream, Free Tibet 2008.” They were detained as well.

China was not ready to host the Games in 2001, when they were awarded, and it is not ready now. The Beijing Olympics organizing committee is already trying to lower foreign expectations. “We can’t please everybody,” said spokesman Sun Weide. In response, the International Olympic Committee should live up to its principles and think about criticizing the Chinese government. President Rogge, however, has consistently maintained that Beijing’s detestable political system is none of his organization’s business. “Any expectations that the International Olympic Committee should apply pressure on the Chinese government beyond what is necessary for Games preparations are misplaced, especially concerning sovereign matters the IOC is not qualified to judge,” he recently said. Some activists argue the IOC should take away the Olympics from China. I say keep the Games in Beijing to maintain the spotlight on the Communist Party—and a complicit International Olympic Committee.

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The PLA at 80

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.

This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)

Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.

The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)

On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.

Yesterday was the 80th anniversary of the founding of the world’s largest private army: China’s. The biggest misconception about China’s military is that it belongs to China. Yes, the Chinese state pays for the People’s Liberation Army, but the PLA reports to—and pledges to defend—the Communist Party. On this Army Day, Beijing’s propaganda saluted (as it always does) the army’s 2.3 million members in their capacity as employees and defenders of China’s leading political organization.

This year’s ritualistic expressions of mutual party-army appreciation seem more numerous and passionate than on past anniversaries. President Hu Jintao mentioned the party’s total control over the military at least 15 times in his Army Day speech. Some foreign observers speculate that the excessive declarations are meant to cover up rifts in the military’s leadership or the failure of Hu—who is also the party’s general secretary—to consolidate control over his generals and admirals. (Others say that he is already in charge.)

Here’s a shortcut for those who do not want to devote their lives to studying this impenetrable issue: Beijing operates an abnormal political system and maintains an abnormal relationship with its armed forces. And here’s something else: because the party controls the army (or at least tries to do so), our attempts to establish military-to-military ties are bound to end in failure. It is not just that the Chinese generally believe in secrecy as a powerful military tool (though they do): secrecy lies at the heart of China’s political system, and of its peculiar government-military relationship.

The Bush White House should know this by now. It has done all it can to try to build functional military-to-military relations with China, but has not succeeded. The Chinese continue to ask for assistance—their more recent requests included the arresting gear of aircraft carriers and the training of carrier crews—but they are not willing to reciprocate. We let them tour our navy’s most important base—in Norfolk, VA—in April of this year, but they were not willing to let our Chief of Naval Operations, Mike Mullen, make a visit to a comparable Chinese naval facility. (In response, Mullen, departing from the Bush administration’s renewed emphasis on military ties with China, canceled his planned trip to Beijing.)

On this anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army let’s send the Chinese our birthday greetings—but let’s stop making gifts of our know-how and technology.

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My Father at 90

Today, my dad turns 90. Our family marked this milestone by getting together in Ithaca, his first home in the United States of America. My father came to this country from China by design, but stayed by happenstance. He won a scholarship to study here, and planned to return as soon as he earned his masters degree in civil engineering, which he did in 1946. By then he had seen his homeland tear itself apart in the civil war between the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist Party of Mao Zedong. As we know, Mao won, taking power in 1949. Many idealistic Chinese returned to build New China, as the Communists called it, but my dad wanted to stay in his adopted land. An open America let him.

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Today, my dad turns 90. Our family marked this milestone by getting together in Ithaca, his first home in the United States of America. My father came to this country from China by design, but stayed by happenstance. He won a scholarship to study here, and planned to return as soon as he earned his masters degree in civil engineering, which he did in 1946. By then he had seen his homeland tear itself apart in the civil war between the Kuomintang of Chiang Kai-shek and the Communist Party of Mao Zedong. As we know, Mao won, taking power in 1949. Many idealistic Chinese returned to build New China, as the Communists called it, but my dad wanted to stay in his adopted land. An open America let him.

And he made a new life in the United States. He learned English by reading the Wall Street Journal, became a citizen in the early 1960s, and raised four children. He started a business—a Chinese takeout—that grew into an eatery, which became a big restaurant. He bought a building, renovated it, and sparked the rejuvenation of the main street of his town in suburban New Jersey. He never misses an opportunity to vote (or to tell me how great his adopted country is).

At the end of June the Senate blocked President Bush’s immigration bill, largely due to public opposition to its amnesty provisions. Like millions of other Americans, I am deeply uneasy about these provisions, which would inevitably encourage more illegal immigration and unfairly treat aliens seeking residence through legal channels. But it is of crucial importance that we not let legislative gridlock kill the discussion and impede our movement towards a sensible immigration policy. In the long run, there may be no other issue more important to this country.

When I hear the fierce debate on immigration I think of my dad. At 90, he’s not able to travel back to his birthplace, a farming hamlet across the river from Shanghai. I’m sure he returns there in his dreams, but he’s an American now. This is where he calls home.

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Piracy Bust

This morning, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities, working with the FBI, seized more than $500 million of counterfeit Microsoft and Symantec software and arrested 25 people involved in the counterfeiting operation. “This is a real milestone,” said David Finn, Microsoft associate general counsel. Finn is right. The Chinese deserve great credit for busting a ring that looks as if it were responsible for at least $2 billion of pirated software sales. (As Gao Feng, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, has said, profit margins for software piracy exceed those for drug trafficking.)

Unfortunately, with those enormous profits, counterfeiters have been able to buy off the political system maintained by the Communist Party. Officials at the lowest rungs of that organization personally profit from protecting counterfeiters and often own part of the counterfeiting factories. The officials then buy protection for themselves from their superiors in the Party’s entrenched patronage system. The upshot of all this? Piracy in China is not going away anytime soon.

So what can foreign owners of intellectual property do? For one thing, they can publicly demand that Beijing protect their rights as vigorously as it has protected the five Fuwa, the cutesy mascots for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China has stopped counterfeiters from knocking off Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. Yes, the latest raid reported by the Times is good news indeed, but there’s a lot more the Chinese government can—and should—do.

This morning, the New York Times reported that Chinese authorities, working with the FBI, seized more than $500 million of counterfeit Microsoft and Symantec software and arrested 25 people involved in the counterfeiting operation. “This is a real milestone,” said David Finn, Microsoft associate general counsel. Finn is right. The Chinese deserve great credit for busting a ring that looks as if it were responsible for at least $2 billion of pirated software sales. (As Gao Feng, Deputy Director General of China’s Ministry of Public Security, has said, profit margins for software piracy exceed those for drug trafficking.)

Unfortunately, with those enormous profits, counterfeiters have been able to buy off the political system maintained by the Communist Party. Officials at the lowest rungs of that organization personally profit from protecting counterfeiters and often own part of the counterfeiting factories. The officials then buy protection for themselves from their superiors in the Party’s entrenched patronage system. The upshot of all this? Piracy in China is not going away anytime soon.

So what can foreign owners of intellectual property do? For one thing, they can publicly demand that Beijing protect their rights as vigorously as it has protected the five Fuwa, the cutesy mascots for the 2008 Summer Olympics. China has stopped counterfeiters from knocking off Beibei the fish, Jingjing the panda, Huanhuan the Olympic flame, Yingying the Tibetan antelope, and Nini the swallow. Yes, the latest raid reported by the Times is good news indeed, but there’s a lot more the Chinese government can—and should—do.

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Mao, Coming Soon to the Big Screen

Earlier this week, Variety magazine reported that Robert DeNiro and his Tribeca Productions partner Jane Rosenthal have obtained the rights to Roy Rowan’s Chasing the Dragon: A Veteran Journalist’s Firsthand Account of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Rowan, a former correspondent for Time and Life, will be a consultant on the film.

I probably will not be asked to help on this project, so I thought I should make some notes for DeNiro. The late 1940′s were heady times for Mao Zedong. He defeated a vastly superior adversary, Chiang Kai-shek, who enjoyed substantial American support. Yet Kai-shek was corrupt, weak, and incompetent. It’s no wonder that a ragtag army of rebels led by an assistant librarian with literary aspirations defeated him—Chiang had simply lost the hearts of the Chinese people. Mao did not win, so much as he occupied a vacuum after his opponent’s forces disintegrated.

The young Mao went on to preside over the early successes of the People’s Republic. So DeNiro’s film might end up making him look pretty good. Should we complain if Mao is portrayed as a hero during the revolution and the first few years of New China?

Actually, the better Mao looks on the big screen, the worse it is for his successors, especially the ones in power now. Hu Jintao, the current General Secretary of the Communist Party, will not like moviegoers making comparisons between the charismatic Mao of the early years and the drab and corrupt leaders who infest Beijing today. Hu knows that the Party has lost the hearts of the Chinese, and someone in the audience may just get the idea that it is time for another revolution in the great nation of China. Chinese idealism, after all, did not die with Mao Zedong.

Earlier this week, Variety magazine reported that Robert DeNiro and his Tribeca Productions partner Jane Rosenthal have obtained the rights to Roy Rowan’s Chasing the Dragon: A Veteran Journalist’s Firsthand Account of the 1949 Chinese Revolution. Rowan, a former correspondent for Time and Life, will be a consultant on the film.

I probably will not be asked to help on this project, so I thought I should make some notes for DeNiro. The late 1940′s were heady times for Mao Zedong. He defeated a vastly superior adversary, Chiang Kai-shek, who enjoyed substantial American support. Yet Kai-shek was corrupt, weak, and incompetent. It’s no wonder that a ragtag army of rebels led by an assistant librarian with literary aspirations defeated him—Chiang had simply lost the hearts of the Chinese people. Mao did not win, so much as he occupied a vacuum after his opponent’s forces disintegrated.

The young Mao went on to preside over the early successes of the People’s Republic. So DeNiro’s film might end up making him look pretty good. Should we complain if Mao is portrayed as a hero during the revolution and the first few years of New China?

Actually, the better Mao looks on the big screen, the worse it is for his successors, especially the ones in power now. Hu Jintao, the current General Secretary of the Communist Party, will not like moviegoers making comparisons between the charismatic Mao of the early years and the drab and corrupt leaders who infest Beijing today. Hu knows that the Party has lost the hearts of the Chinese, and someone in the audience may just get the idea that it is time for another revolution in the great nation of China. Chinese idealism, after all, did not die with Mao Zedong.

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Banned in China

Yesterday, it was revealed that authorities on July 4 had ordered China Development Brief, a Beijing-friendly newsletter published in the Chinese capital since 1995, to cease publication. It was shuttered for conducting “unauthorized surveys,” a violation of a 1983 statistical law. Nick Young, the founder of the newsletter and the editor of its English version, had tried to keep the news secret so that he could negotiate with the authorities, but a former colleague leaked the news to the international media. Young, referring to the closing, noted in a statement, “My hope is that these actions have been precipitated by zealous state security agents, and that more senior figures in the government and Communist Party will realise that actions of this kind are not in China’s best interest.”

Of course they are not, but the Communist Party almost never does what’s good for China. And now, the Party seems intent on delegitimizing its friends—and itself. Young had often pointed to Beijing’s tolerance of his publication as proof that the one-party state was reforming. “I have spent the last decade telling foreigners that China is not as repressive and totalitarian as Western media often portray it to be,” he said in his statement. “At the end of the day, I hoped that if we had an open, intelligent conversation, we would be accepted,” he told the New York Times. “But I think we miscalculated, or they miscalculated.”

If anyone made a mistake, it is Young, for being optimistic. The mission of China Development Brief was “to enhance constructive engagement between China and the world.” How do you do that when you’re dealing with insecure autocrats? The truth is that the Communist Party has gone into reverse.

We should all be grateful to Nick Young: he’s shown that, for all of China’s efforts at mustering international goodwill, it still hasn’t let go of its deep-rooted authoritarian tendencies.

Yesterday, it was revealed that authorities on July 4 had ordered China Development Brief, a Beijing-friendly newsletter published in the Chinese capital since 1995, to cease publication. It was shuttered for conducting “unauthorized surveys,” a violation of a 1983 statistical law. Nick Young, the founder of the newsletter and the editor of its English version, had tried to keep the news secret so that he could negotiate with the authorities, but a former colleague leaked the news to the international media. Young, referring to the closing, noted in a statement, “My hope is that these actions have been precipitated by zealous state security agents, and that more senior figures in the government and Communist Party will realise that actions of this kind are not in China’s best interest.”

Of course they are not, but the Communist Party almost never does what’s good for China. And now, the Party seems intent on delegitimizing its friends—and itself. Young had often pointed to Beijing’s tolerance of his publication as proof that the one-party state was reforming. “I have spent the last decade telling foreigners that China is not as repressive and totalitarian as Western media often portray it to be,” he said in his statement. “At the end of the day, I hoped that if we had an open, intelligent conversation, we would be accepted,” he told the New York Times. “But I think we miscalculated, or they miscalculated.”

If anyone made a mistake, it is Young, for being optimistic. The mission of China Development Brief was “to enhance constructive engagement between China and the world.” How do you do that when you’re dealing with insecure autocrats? The truth is that the Communist Party has gone into reverse.

We should all be grateful to Nick Young: he’s shown that, for all of China’s efforts at mustering international goodwill, it still hasn’t let go of its deep-rooted authoritarian tendencies.

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A Tale of Two “Doctors’ Plots”

What is the difference between an Islamic Doctors’ Plot and a Jewish Doctors’ Plot?

It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not.

So far, in the Islamic Doctors’ Plot now being unraveled by Scotland Yard, eight people have been arrested in connection with two failed car-bombings in London and a third at the Glasgow airport. Seven are doctors, and the eighth is a laboratory technician. They are all suspected of planning or participating in a mass casualty attack, using gas canisters, gasoline, and nails to inflict maximum carnage on innocents civilians, as part of a broader worldwide campaign of terror in the name of Islam.

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What is the difference between an Islamic Doctors’ Plot and a Jewish Doctors’ Plot?

It sounds like the opening line of a joke, but it’s not.

So far, in the Islamic Doctors’ Plot now being unraveled by Scotland Yard, eight people have been arrested in connection with two failed car-bombings in London and a third at the Glasgow airport. Seven are doctors, and the eighth is a laboratory technician. They are all suspected of planning or participating in a mass casualty attack, using gas canisters, gasoline, and nails to inflict maximum carnage on innocents civilians, as part of a broader worldwide campaign of terror in the name of Islam.

We do not yet know the nature of the evidence against all of those arrested, and presumably there is the possibility that some of them might be innocent of the charges on which they are being held. But, of course, the evidence against one of them, Dr. Khalid Ahmed, who was shouting “Allah, Allah” as he punched a British policeman and was burned over much of his body while attempting to pour gasoline on his burning Jeep Cherokee as it was lodged in the entranceway of Glasgow airport, would appear to be rather strong.

The Jewish Doctors’ Plot is another kettle of fish altogether. On January 13, 1953, the Soviet Communist party newspaper Pravda published an article under the headline “Vicious Spies and Killers under the Mask of Academic Physicians.” It told of a vast plot by a group of doctors who “deliberately and viciously undermined their patients’ health by making incorrect diagnoses, and then killed them with bad and incorrect treatments.”

The participants in the plot, continued Pravda,

were bought by American intelligence. They were recruited by a branch-office of American intelligence—the international Jewish bourgeois-nationalist organization called “Joint.” The filthy face of this Zionist spy organization, covering up their vicious actions under the mask of charity, is now completely revealed . . . .

Unmasking the gang of poisoner-doctors struck a blow against the international Jewish Zionist organization. . . . Now all can see what sort of philanthropists and “friends of peace” hid beneath the sign-board of “Joint.”

The victims of this alleged terrorist conspiracy were high-ranking Soviet officials. All but two of the nine doctors who were arrested for their part in the purported plot were Jewish.

The arrests were evidently the opening salvo of a vast new purge that was only interrupted by the death of Joseph Stalin on March 5, 1953. By April 1953, the charges against the doctors were retracted and a handful of mid- and low-level officials were arrested and executed for having fabricated them. The high-ranking associates of Stalin who had actually set the campaign in motion at his behest escaped unscathed. Seven of the doctors were released. Two had already perished while incarcerated. A fascinating “top-secret” CIA analysis of the episode, produced in the days when the CIA knew what it was doing, has just been declassified and made available on the web.

A notable sidelight is the reaction at the time—actually, the non-reaction—of the British medical establishment to the obviously trumped-up charges. As the Israeli scholar A. Mark Clarfield has pointed out, neither the British Medical Journal nor the Lancet, the country’s two leading medical journals, deigned to make any mention of the episode until after the doctors were already exonerated.

After the seven doctors finally were set free, the British Medical Journal issued an absurd statement, noting that as “doctors we felt disturbed by the assault upon the professional integrity of our Russian colleagues” and especially disturbed “by the probable effect of the accusation on the trust patients universally have in the doctor-patient relationship.”

Another notable sidelight is the contemporary reaction of CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, to the Islamic Doctors’ Plot. It has posted on its website a statement from the Association of Muslim Health Officials that juxtaposes the events in the United Kingdom with a number of other greater and lesser crimes, including “unethical research for profit”:

If found to be guilty, these men will not be the first doctors to plan or perform heinous acts. If British justice system finds them guilty of these crimes, we put them in a pantheon of heinous physicians performing acts that go against the grain of all we believe in as Muslim Health Professionals. Josef Mengele, Mike Swango, Harold Shipman, and in the UK, John B Adams are small list of psychopaths with medical degrees who have harmed countless numbers of people in defiance of their professional oaths. We make no difference between health professionals who use their skills contrary to the human rights of any individual. Whether it is serial murder or genocide, medical torture for the military, or unethical research for profit, these people are not from us and we are not from them.

A question that emerges from all of this: is the world better off facing an Islamic Doctors’ Plot or a Jewish Doctors’ Plot? I doubt CAIR will be holding a contest to answer this question anytime soon.

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