Thursday, April 27, 2006

King of the Hill?

King of the Hill?

…the outlines of China’s challenge to the United States are already beginning to take shape, and they are nothing less than sweeping.

What [China] proposes as a replacement for the status quo is sometimes called tian xia, or under the heavens. It is an obscure sounding but remarkably simple scheme that places all the nations of the world in a rules-based system that is not strictly egalitarian but would be governed by rules. Note to the United States: there is no room for a global hegemony.

As it evolves on a spectrum somewhere between Nazi Germany and contemporary Scandinavia, China will use its growing muscle in trade and finance to draw developing countries, particularly authoritarian ones attracted by its corporatist capitalism, into its embrace.

So when do the masks drop? When does the challenge become explicit?

Howard French, Letter from China: Is It a Peaceful Rise? US Shouldn’t Bet On It, Herald Tribune, April 21, 2006

Perhaps future historians will regard Hu Jintao’s speech in Nigeria on April 26, 2006 as the day China showed the cloven hoof, and reintroduced the world to bipolar, balance-of-power politics.

China wants a "strategic partnership" with Africa, President Hu Jintao said on Thursday, seeking to add a new political dimension to a blossoming economic romance.

In a speech to Nigerian lawmakers, Hu underlined China's respect for African "independence and sovereignty," which analysts said was a deliberate contrast with the United States' interventionist diplomacy under George W. Bush.

Tom Ashby, China Seeks “Strategic Partnership” with Africa, Reuters

His message is that we’ve probably moved beyond globalization as panacea thanks to the Bush administration’s polarizing zero sum politics and creeping confrontation with China.

Hu is also declaring we’ve moved beyond the rhetoric of the “world’s only superpower” thanks to the worldwide unpopularity of the Bush administration and the United States following our failure in Iraq.

The United States and UK haven’t gotten the memo. Either that, or they got it and are pretending they didn’t read it. They still act on the assumption that the world has reconciled itself to America’s place on top of a global moral and military hierarchy, and the Bush administration can dictate the terms of China’s participation in the world order.

But the idea that America serves as the world’s unquestioned arbiter of proper national behavior has fallen victim to America’s weakened moral and military position.

In retrospect, the rather pathetic farce of Hu Jintao’s reception in Washington, its non-state visit-lunch-only character, with its screaming protester miraculously admitted onto the White House lawn, with the sleeve-tugging, and the snoozing, looks more and more like an intentional and feckless attempt to assert America’s pre-eminence and China’s second-tier status.

But superpower status is not granted, it is earned—or even seized--and Hu took an important step in his direction with his Nigeria speech.

The reportage clearly communicates the hunger of third world countries for an alternative to brusque and unilateral American leadership, and nostalgia for the good old days of the Cold War, when fear of Soviet inroads modified and moderated US behavior and gave small states aid and alignment options. Again from Reuters:

Analysts said Hu's offer of an alternative to the United States' prescriptive foreign policy and "War on Terror" would be welcomed by African leaders.

"China is saying it wants to build a new world order based on consensus and tolerance, not the clash of civilizations," said former foreign minister Bola Akinyemi.

"It is bound to resonate in Africa, where we have 900 years of coexistence between Christianity, Islam and traditional religions."

It is a perverse credit to the current administration that only Bush’s unique combination of folly, incompetence, and cruelty could have made it possible for a rickety Communist state with an out-of-control economy to even think of defying US pretensions to world hegemony.

It’s another clear sign that we’re not in a post 9/11 world anymore. We’re in a post-Iraq world.

How long we stay in this particular world depends on the nature and quality of Bush’s response.

Bush is famously vindictive and short-sighted, especially when his jealously-guarded position and prerogatives as the world’s supreme law-giver are questioned.

Will the US response be petty and self-defeating?

Or will we mount an effective and attractive challenge to China in the battle for Third-World hearts and minds?

The answer will be important to America’s place in the world—and position on top of the heap—in this century.

P.S. The reference to "tianxia" in Howard French's quote strikes me as a reference to a passage in Zhang Yimou's film "The Emperor and the Assassin". One of the conspirators undermines Jin Ke's resolve to kill Qin Shih Huang by writing the characters "tian xia" in the sand. In Zhang's reading, Jin Ke realizes that the emperor has the power to unite the feudal states and turn China into a genuine moral actor "under heaven", instead of a collection of squabbling, self-centered princes and warlords. So Jin doesn't kill the emperor. That's not the way Sima Qian tells it (Jin Ke suffers a cartographic malfunction and his wholehearted attempt to assassinate the emperor fails). Zhang attracted a good amount of unfavorable comment for his variation on this famous Chinese historical theme, since the Qin Emperor is generally viewed as a stand-in for Mao Zedong. To some, Zhang seemed to be excusing Mao's excesses because he had unified the country and elevated it to the status of a world power.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Something Missing from the Solomon Islands Story

Thanks to EastSouthWestNorth for the link

When the Chinatown in a South Pacific nation is burned to the ground, allegations fly that the Republic of China funneled money into the political process and corrupted the elections, the overseas Chinese flee the country and turn to the ambassador of the People’s Republic of China for protection and evacuation assistance, it attracts the China watcher’s attention.

There’s something else, something important missing from most of the news stories, however—a discussion of the role of the Australian-led Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI) and its interactions with Solomon Islands political strongman and magnet for corruption charges Sir Allen Kemakeza and his protégé Snyder Rini.

Smoldering indigenous resentment of Chinese economic penetration, and reckless competition between Beijing and Taipei for influence in the South Pacific, both undoubtedly played significant roles in the incident.

The Solomon Islands is one of 25 countries that recognize Taipei, providing this impoverished nation with financial opportunities and dangers otherwise beyond its scope.

A major source of Sir Allen Kemakeza’s alleged graft during his term as Prime Minister was his use of a compensation fund for victims of previous ethnic conflicts as his personal piggy bank in 2001 and 2002.

The fund was underwritten by the Taiwan Ex-Im Bank, and Kemakeza was allowed to control it. That provenance, and the fact that Kemakeza and his secretary received the two largest payouts from the account, lead one to speculate it was set up by the Taiwanese government to serve as his private slush fund.

But that wasn’t all.

Earlier this year, the head of the Solomon Islands’ Labor Party detailed accusations that the Prime Minister’s office used covert “Special Project Funds” from the ROC to bribe politicians:

Tuhanuku said he had uncovered the details of the scheme from information gathered from outgoing members of parliament and intending candidates in this year’s general election.

"Most of them are happy to boast about how easy it is to get money from Taiwan through the prime minister," he said.

He said when put side-by-side the arrangements and circumstances surrounding the funding of these special projects were strikingly similar in detail.

"Together they reveal a pattern of events that establishes a clear connection between the payment of monies by Taiwan and various political maneuverings by the Prime Minister," Tuhanuku said. "What it amounts to is that Taiwan is running a shadow aid program that is being used to corrupt our political processes and the prime minister is fully colluding with them."

"The request is processed and bingo! Taiwan’s dirty money comes flooding forward for the politician or candidate of the prime minister’s choice," he said yesterday.

Amusingly, Kamekeza had shown himself perfectly willing to yank Taiwan’s chain, despite (or because) of Taiwan’s desperate, no-holds-barred attempt to retain diplomatic relations with the Solomon Islands.

In a documentary that described non-swimmer Chen Shuibian’s taking his first ever ocean plunge ever during his state visit to the Solomons in order to demonstrate Taiwan’s interest in the archipelago as a surf-tourism destination, Kamekeza had this to say in 2005 about the People’s Republic of China’s courtship of his regime:

PRIME MINISTER KEMAKEZA: The approached me and my ministers, my officers at the international conferences for bilateral discussion.

CAMPBELL: But there could be a time when the Solomon’s could switch recognition?

PRIME MINISTER KEMAKEZA: Maybe. I cannot predict the future.


The People’s Republic of China escaped political damage in the Solomon Islands crisis, presumably not because of any greater probity—it recently engaged in a successful checkbook slugfest with Taiwan over Vanuatu—but because the Solomon Islands was still too busy nursing dry the Taipei teat to turn its attention to Beijing.

Kemakeza’s chosen successor, Snyder Rini, had the further China connection of belonging to the Association of Independent Members of Parliament (AIM), a political organization apparently under the thumb of its president, “local naturalised Chinese business tycoon” Sir Thomas Chan.

During the run-up to the vote for Prime Minister, Chan apparently grabbed two independent MPs arriving at the airport and attempted to detain them at his Honiara Hotel—which also served as Rini’s campaign headquarters-- for some impromptu coalition building before they were extracted with no little difficulty.

The result of all these alleged shenanigans was that, even though an apparent majority of reform MPs had been returned in this year’s elections, they somehow turned around and voted Rini into power as Prime Minister.

The catastrophic riots of April 16 and 17, 2006 were the result. Not unexpectedly, Chinese interests, regardless of their connection to Taiwan, were targeted and Chan’s Honiara Hotel was torched.

But one interesting element of the story is the setback Australia suffered executing its antipodean version of the global war on terror.

As a useful article in Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian informs us, John Howard took seriously his appointment by George Bush as “sheriff” in Southeast Asia.

When the Solomon Islands sank into ethnic and factional strife in 2002 and Kamekeza called on Australia for help, Canberra abandoned its post-colonial aversion to intervention in the affairs of the neighboring states. There was talk of the dangerous vacuum a failed state in the region would create. What if the next domino to fall were…Papua New Guinea?

Thereupon, the Howard government dispatched RAMSI—the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands—force of about 2000 police and soldiers to restore order.

Though Australian personnel made up the bulk of the force, in the spirit of President Bush’s cry of “What about Poland? Don’t forget Poland”, let’s give a shout out to all the members of the mini-coalition: New Zealand, Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea, Cook Islands, Kiribati, Samoa, Vanuatu and Nauru.

The term “shock and awe” was even employed, proudly and approvingly, as RAMSI forces swept the islands to disarm warlords and confiscate weapons.

For a while it looked like Australia had found the sweet spot in the post-9/11 world of military intervention.

The Solomon Islands is a rough, corrupt place and the appearance of a powerful, prosperous “honest broker” to take law and order in hand was apparently welcomed at first. Local troublemakers dispersed and the RAMSI forces could soon be drawn down to a few hundred people.

But according to a left-wing regional website—and apparently the Solomon Island’s own bishop--Australia might have avoided an Iraq quagmire but found itself in something like Haiti: an impoverished, factionalized nation cracking along class lines, where the temptation for the occupier to simplify matters by choosing sides may have proven too strong:

Writing in the January 18 Solomon Star newspaper, Solomons Anglican Bishop Terry Brown, who had initially supported the RAMSI intervention, observed that “there is a major disparity between RAMSI’s rhetoric of staying for ten to 15 years in the Solomons, bringing peace and prosperity, and the reality of re-emerging violence, increasing poverty and unemployment, high school fees, a downward-spiralling economy, higher inflation and lower incomes, declining medical services, ongoing corruption in government ministries, lack of planning and implementation of how Solomon Islanders will competently run all parts of their own government, crumbling infrastructure, millions and millions of RAMSI funds spent on Australians with the money going back to Australia with minimum cash benefit for Solomon Islanders, continued centralizing of everything in Honiara, etc.”

Doug Lorimer, Solomon Islands: Howard Props Up Corrupt Regime, Green Left Weekly, April 26, 2006

The Solomon Islands had been run by allegedly corrupt bastards, one of whom, Kemakeza, had invited the RAMSI forces in. Corruption had not been cleared up while the economy continued to limp along and government officials continued to enrich themselves and their friends. RAMSI ignored the issues of graft and entrenched power, and settled into the role of the bored and not particularly friendly cop on the block.

From David Stanley’s South Pacific Travel Blog:

RAMSI appeared to be propping up the Kemakeza government through military and economic aid. The Australian High Commission even pressured opposition politicians like Fred Fono to support Kemakeza, to give the appearance of stability so European Union aid money would be released.

The Australian RAMSI contingent was unpopular among Honiara residents. They appeared sullen and hostile, wouldn't say hello on the street, sped around in official vehicles without regard for other traffic, refused to allow their helicopters and planes to be used for humanitarian purposes, and hung out among themselves in expensive Chinese restaurants, most of which were burned down last week. The RAMSI presence led to a sharp jump in rental accommodation prices and an increase in prostitution.

Stanley also makes the very interesting allegation that the deciding factor in the RAMSI intervention was that Kemakeza had been shopping his country’s security needs to Indonesia as well as Australia. This consideration may have compelled Australia to be sensitive and flexible in response to Kemakeza’s priorities, in order to ensure that peace and progress in the Solomon Islands would remain part of the white man’s glorious burden and not get outsourced to Jakarta instead.

With such a background—and Kemakeza’s bargaining power--it would be understandable if the invitation to Australia to intervene would include the understanding that any aggressive law enforcement would be directed at Kemakeza’s enemies and not at his party.

This April the parliament elected the current allegedly corrupt bastard, Snyder Rini (Kemakeza’s anointed successor and ex-Finance Minister), as Prime Minister amid allegations that he had obtained money from the local Chinese businessmen (and they perhaps had received the money from the ROC) in order to buy the votes of opposition MPs—some of whom had been elected on a reformist ticket.

The capital city exploded and, as we all know, Chinatown got burned to the ground as punishment for colluding in Rini’s re-election.

But RAMSI was there taking the heat as well as it secured the parliament building and provided protection to Snyder Rini. Again, from David Stanley’s blog:

But the spark which actually ignited the rioting and led to the burning of numerous Chinese businesses scattered around the capital was tear gas fired by Australian members of RAMSI into a restive but still non-violent crowd waiting for answers outside the parliament building in Honiara. Later, RAMSI and local police they had trained stood by on the left bank of the Mataniko River and took no action as a mob of around 1,000 Solomon Islanders looted and burned Chinatown on the river's right bank. Honiara's Chinese community, a large majority of whom took no part in the corruption and exploitation practiced by a few of their fellows, was forced to flee.

RAMSI forces were treated roughly for their role in defending Rini and his discredited order, suffering injuries though thankfully no fatalities in the fracas, and having their vehicles burned.

What fueled the angry outburst in Honiara was something new and sad: the dangerous intersection of foreign money, muscle, and diplomacy.

Solomon Islanders felt they were losing control of their political as well as economic destiny.

From the Green Left Weekly:

“This is worse than the ethnic crisis last time”, Solomon Islands Labour Party leader and former MP Joses Tuhanuku told the Australian. He said that “people feel they have lost control of their country” and that “the Solomon Islands is no longer in the hands of Solomon Islanders, it is now in the hands of the Chinese”, who “control the economic life of the country, and now they are working on taking over the political life of the country”.

The crisis illustrates the perils of intervention, in their military and monetary forms.

On the Australian side, it shows how easy it is for foreign powers embedded in near-failed states to give up on the very difficult job of nation-building and backslide to the easier and lazier habits of occupation and factional politics.

It also shows how rapidly resentment of a foreign military presence, no matter how benign, can serve as a rallying point for a political movement…and inflict collateral damage on a largely innocent non-indigenous population.

On the Taiwan side, it also demonstrates how foreign money, disbursed carelessly, cynically, and with lax controls, can corrupt and perhaps even overwhelm the political system of a small country.

The Solomons experienced the worst of both worlds, afflicted by the recklessness of local political assets confident they had Chinese money (in this case from the ROC) and first-world muscle (RAMSI) backing them up.

Thanks to the one-night spasm of violence, the Solomon Islands’ commercial and investment base has been destroyed and it is now unfortunately another decade behind in its desperate struggle to regain the 1970s levels of personal income and services it enjoyed at independence.

That’s a disaster, and should stand as another object lesson of the dangers of applying the big money and the big guns to fragile nations and societies.

Of course, that’s not the takeaway for the Australian government and press, now happily reporting Rini’s resignation and the return of RAMSI-supervised democracy to the Solomon Islands

Let’s turn to The Australian for the conventional wisdom instead:

There are many lessons from this week's tragedy. One is that Australia desperately needs a larger army. As Neil James of the Australian Defence Association points out, the horror scenario is a crisis in PNG which the Australian army is not big enough to deal with. One way or another, the Australian military, police and broader institutional involvement in the South Pacific is bound to increase.

On to Papua New Guinea! That’s the spirit!

That’s what’s missing from the Solomon Islands story: common sense, that’s all.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Are Liberals Failing the China-Darfur “Test”?

"I was in Darfur 20 years ago and people were killing each other then. It's an ancient battle between nomadic people and settled people, between Arab Africans and black Africans, between Islam and Christians ... The reason why it has not been resolved is because of China," Geldof said.
AP, Geldof Blames China for Problems in Darfur, April 20, 2006

An ancient African struggle that the Chinese are to blame for? Am I the only one for whom Sir Bob’s remarks elicit the spoink of cognitive dissonance?

Probably so, because dumping on China for its cynical Sudan policies is the cause du jour, especially on the liberal side of the blogosphere.

Nicholas Kristof’s call for 13 million Chinese internet users to rise up and flex their atrophied moral muscles with a call for China to confront its Darfur responsibilities has been linked to with approval by Asia-centric bloggers.

I’m not one of the chorus, because I regard a lot of the Darfur talk as an attempt to counter China’s highly successful economics-driven foreign policy in the third world.

And there may be a local tactical aspect to Washington’s ostentatious outrage as well.

The best thing I’ve read recently on China has been Howard French’s analysis of the covert “Beijing consensus” of economic penetration, contrasted with Washington’s increasingly unpopular reliance on the grim mathematics of zero-sum confrontation to rally allies outside of Europe and Japan.

As I recently posted, Washington’s rhetorical riposte to Beijing’s foreign policy thrust has been the relatively toothless epithet of “mercantilism”. Robert Zoellick has contributed the concept of the “responsible stakeholder”, which is so bloodless and corporate that the Chinese wonk establishment has appropriated the term as its own.

Given the way Beijing has been cleaning our clock in the Third World hearts and minds department in the last three years, by far a more effective way for America to assert that what’s wrong with the world is China’s amoral pursuit of economic advantage is to abandon doctrinal hairsplitting and simply point to Darfur.

Nick Kristof’s op-ed is of a piece with this thinking. He declares that Darfur is a test of China’s obligation to engage in “increasingly responsible behavior”. And right now, China is, according to him, “failing the test”.

After all, China has formed a close reliance with the Sudanese regime in order to obtain access to its oil, which reportedly accounts for 6 to 7% of China’s imports. The PRC reportedly provides military assistance to the regime as well as diplomatic cover at the UN.

All bona fide bad guy stuff.

But one also has to believe that the Sudan would still be pretty screwed up without China.

As the invaluable Wikipedia informs us, the Darfur crisis is the second civil war in recent years between the Arab Muslim regime and other ethnic groups in Sudan. The first civil war, with the non-Muslim south, was settled with a truce and sharing of oil revenues between the central government and the local forces.

The second war, between non-Arab Muslims of Darfur and the central government, commenced in 2002 with attacks by rebels of the Sudan Liberation Movement and Justice and Equality Movement. The central government, apparently uncertain of the loyalty of its conventional ground troops (predominantly of Darfur origin), took the disastrous tack of turning to air attacks and an ethnic cleansing campaign against Darfur villages conducted by an Arab irregular militia, the Janjaweed, in order to counter the rebel strength in the area.

As a result, divisions between Arab pastoralists and non-Arab agriculturalists in the Darfur regime have been exacerbated and, one would expect, rendered permanent.

Peace negotiations between the rebels and the central government, a refugee crisis, a state of belligerence between Chad and Sudan, mediation through the offices of African states and organizations, arguments about whether the incendiary and politically useful charge of “genocide” can be applied to Sudan (answer, according to the UN, No, and according to George Bush and John Kerry, Yes), half-assed peacekeeping initiatives by the African Union, and bloviating by the Great White Fathers of Europe and the United States through the U.N. seem to have had little effect on the Sudanese regime’s determination to proceed with the ethnic cleansing of Darfur and create the “facts on the ground” it deems necessary to its security before the world community takes any meaningful steps to stop it.

Unless one is infected with terminal win-win optimism, there doesn’t appear to be any good solution to the Darfur problem.

The Sudan regime has taken its fateful bite of the ethnic cleansing apple, and there’s no easy return to whatever previous state of grace the nation enjoyed.

Given the orgy of rape, murder, and pillage that the Janjaweed have conducted in Darfur on behalf of the Sudanese government, a return to the status quo ante of somewhat peaceful coexistence and low-level friction between Arab and non-Arab Muslims seems impossible.

The Sudanese government’s probity and political and moral stature are fatally compromised by its encouragement of the ethnic cleansing campaign. A sealed report delivered to the International Criminal Court by the UN in 2005 reported includes a list of 51 war crimes suspects, including many high officials of the Sudanese government.

So it looks like the way forward for Sudan is 1) the world and the regime grits its teeth as a bloody, unjust, and criminal policy is applied successfully in Darfur or 2) Sudan staggers along, an imperfectly punished outlaw state in diplomatic limbo 3) Western troops and money establishes a safe haven in Darfur or 4) Western power forcibly impose a new, advantageous security arrangement on Sudan like we did in Yugoslavia: the outlaw state is attacked, its leaders imprisoned, and sovereignty is divided between various ethnic stakeholders subservient to the West.

Re Option 3, there was some agitation from the Madeleine Albright quadrant last year for using NATO to augment the woefully undermanned and underequipped African Union troops to protect Darfur. However, “Kurdifying” (create an ethnic enclave that was autonomous, permanent, and de facto independent) would simply take the responsibility for Darfur security off the shoulders of the Sudan government while creating a First-World funded buffer between Chad and Sudan—to my thinking, more of a gift to the Sudan regime rather than a punishment.

Also, it has a whiff of that open-ended Clinton incrementalism that the Bush administration repudiated in Iraq when it announced its disdain for “managing” the problem through sanctions, no-fly zones, and containment, and “solved” the problem instead through an invasion.

Finally, one thing that is totally unambiguous is Sudan’s fear and suspicion of an effective military force, be it American, UN, African, NATO, Chinese, or whatever, operating independently in the Darfur region and challenging the regime’s military and political supremacy.

However, Option 4, a Yugoslavia-style regime change undertaking is, given the global outrage over Darfur, somewhat surprisingly not on anybody’s drawing board.

NATO has apparently decided that it does not want Darfur as its first test case to flex its military muscles as world supercop outside the confines of Europe.

Invasion and regime change seem to be off the table, not only for NATO and the EU, but for Washington as well.

Sudan’s Arab Muslims seem to be rather strongly behind the Khartoum regime, and inside the Beltway martial fantasies of decapitating strikes and third-world thugs bending knee to righteous democratic conquerors is probably tempered by images of Black Hawk Down, a Muslim quagmire in Africa to bookend the fiasco in Iraq, and expectations that a new Arab Muslim warlord would probably arise from the rubble of a half-hearted regime-change adventure to reprise the role of the current strongman, Omar al-Bashir.

So, we have a situation in which the West is unwilling to select what might be the best option to end the humanitarian crisis through creation of an expensive and exasperating buffer zone between Darfur and the Sudan and an immense, open-ended effort to construct, fund, protect, and maintain refugee camps for the isolated population.

Military action—the seductive alternative for the great powers—to change the regime and its behavior, and reconstruct a shattered society so that the warring ethnic factions can be reconciled—is a job too big, dangerous, African, and Muslim for the US, UN, or NATO to consider, let alone the Chinese.

So we’re down with Options 1 and 2, which both depend on Darfur somehow becoming a small enough problem, either through the bloody efficiency of the Sudan government or the exhaustion of its enthusiasm for ethnic cleansing, for the West to comfortably ignore it.

That’s before the Chinese come on the scene and cynically cozied up this regime to make oil deals.

So, contra Sir Bob and Nick Kristof, although the Chinese might have plenty of Darfur blood on their hands, China doesn’t represent the origin of, or necessarily the solution to, the Darfur crisis.

In fact, Darfur may be simply another arena in which the Great Game between China and the US is acted out.

Undoubtedly the Chinese don’t like being in the Western bullseye on Darfur.

But they are stuck there.

Chinese oil interests are hostage to the Sudanese government.

The most likely consequence of a harder, more human-rights friendly line against the Sudan by China is the Chinese getting thrown out on their ear and Sudan turning its allegiance and exports over to the West.

Because, in my view, Sudan is not helplessly and exclusively dependent on Chinese support.

An oil exporting nation is never bereft of friends, leverage, or options.

And Sudan is probably no exception.

A rational pariah state might accept aid and support from China; but it would buy insurance by keeping channels open to the West.

And that’s exactly what I believe is happening.

Ever since early 2005, the Bush administration has been ratcheting down the pressure on Sudan over Darfur.

The administration has backed away from calling the ethnic cleansing “genocide”.

Ironically—or significantly—depending on how you construe it, Robert Zoellick, US Assistant Secretary of State and current proponent of the “responsible stakeholder” role for China, was called upon to visit Khartoum in April 2005 and skate away awkwardly from the genocide assertions previously made both by the US Congress and Colin Powell.

The US government reportedly welcomed a top Sudanese official, Major General Gosh—an architect of the ethnic cleansing program, no less--to Washington.

Rightwing fireeater John Bolton has promoted limited, toothless, and ineffectual sanctions and condemnation in the United Nations.

The official backstory is that Sudan has played the War on Terror card and Washington recognizes it as a valuable though unsavory asset in the battle against al Qaeda.

I have my doubts.

Sudan is far enough beyond the pale as an outlaw, radical Muslim state that stands accused of genocide, that its contributions against al Qaeda in the heart of Africa should not be sufficient to gain it an alliance with the United States.

Sudan’s other civil war, between the central government and the Christian tribes to the south, may have played a role in Washington’s rapprochement with Khartoum.

This conflict had made confronting Sudan a hot-button issue for the Christian evangelical movement in the United States and the Bush administration. According to the LA Times, notorious Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff had unsuccessfully solicited the stupendous sum of $18 million dollars from the Sudanese government in 2002 for his good offices in pleading Sudan’s case with Ralph Reed and the Christian Coalition.

However, a peace treaty concluded this conflict in 2005 and partial, sub rosa normalization of relations between Sudan and the United States might have been a quid pro quo for an outcome that mattered deeply to President Bush’s evangelical base.

The United States, perhaps not unhappily engaged with the Sudan regime at last and with a diminished emotional stake in the Darfur tragedy, may have seen it primarily as an opportunity to discommode China.

A genuinely aggressive campaign by the United States of condemnation, ostracization, and destabilization on the issue of Darfur would simply drive Sudan irrevocably into the Chinese camp.

On the other hand, accommodating Sudan offers the US the chance that the Chinese can be expelled from one of their most precious spheres of influence—that’s a gambit in the Great Game that’s worth playing.

If this analysis is correct, then Sudan is playing a double game, relying upon Chinese economic, military, and diplomatic support while at the same time encouraging American hopes that it may eventually veer to the West.

American equivocation and Sudanese opportunism have placed China in the awkward position of having too much at stake and too little leverage in Khartoum.

So, if Chinese bloggers unite behind a campaign to support sanctions against Sudan (sanctions which Kristof himself derides as “the most feeble sanctions possible”), one likely outcome is that China gets kicked out of Sudan, Sudanese oil ends up in US gas tanks, and ethnic cleansing in Darfur continues without respite.

If this was a test for unintended consequences--blind promotion of a supposedly high-minded and moral foreign policy that yielded a catastrophic result--China would indeed “pass the test”: the same test that Nick Kristof and the New York Times and interventionist liberals in general passed when they condoned the invasion of Iraq.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Paging Maltese Security: More About that FLG Blip on the White House Lawn

In the course of cataloging the Bush administration’s series of intentional and unintentional slights to Hu Jintao, the Washington Post reveals that the White House security apparatus does not wish to be judged by the rigorous standards of…Malta (emphasis added):

But as protocol breaches go, it's hard to top the heckling of a foreign leader at the White House. Explaining the incident -- the first disruption at the executive mansion in recent memory -- White House and Secret Service officials said she was "a legitimate journalist" and that there was nothing suspicious in her background. In other words: Who knew?

Hu did. The Chinese had warned the White House to be careful about who was admitted to the ceremony. To no avail: They granted a one-day pass to Wang Wenyi of the Falun Gong publication Epoch Times. A quick Nexis search shows that in 2001, she slipped through a security cordon in Malta protecting Jiang (she had been denied media credentials) and got into an argument with him. The 47-year-old pathologist is expected to be charged today with attempting to harass a foreign official.

What the article reveals is a pattern of intentional Bush administration behavior meant to exhibit its lofty disdain for the Chinese Communist Party regime.

There are strategic and political reasons for giving Hu less than a warm welcome. We also can't rule out the demands of President Bush's ego. He does not like to acknowledge equals or near-equals on the world stage, and China's unwillingness to acknowledge absolute US pre-eminence on Iraq, Iran, and other issues is surely a sore point.

Add to this the fact that Bush’s brief visit to China last year did not go well. The lasting memory of that trip is the historic series of photographs on the front page of the New York Times of Bush trying to blunder through a locked door trying to escape unwanted questions.

Given what we know of Bush’s prickly pride, maybe he passed the word that he wanted Hu to have as unpleasant a visit in Washington as Bush had experienced in Beijing.

Whether or not the campaign to discomfit China included maliciously admitting a known Falun Gong activist into Hu Jintao’s presence, or whether the climate of hostility to China simply encouraged some cavalier White House grunt to engage in a piece of free-lance anti-diplomacy, perhaps awaits the revelations obtained by our bulldog White House press corps.

Another great line from the article:

It took so long to silence her -- a full three minutes -- that Bush aides began to wonder if the Secret Service's strategy was to let her scream herself hoarse.

It’s rather remarkable that we live in a burgeoning national security state dedicating to pre-empting threats before they occur, but when someone apparently becomes unhinged and starts screaming in front of the president, it takes three minutes for the Secret Service to get the memo and move in on her.

Maybe the War on Terror has burned them out and we need some fresh blood.

Paging Maltese security!

Not a Good Day

Thanks to Peking Duck for the link. More about Dr. Wang's outburst here.

Not a Good Day for Relations Between China and the Bush Administration

The revelation that the White House granted a Falun Gong activist, Dr. Wang Wenyi, a temporary press pass in the name of the Epoch Times, whereupon she hectored Chinese president Hu Jintao at length on the White House lawn on April 20 during the welcoming ceremony, is unlikely to elicit a forgiving shrug from the Chinese government.

Dr. Wang is not a journalist. She is a pathologist, and the lead researcher on Falun Gong's current hot-button issue--the alleged vivisection of Falun Gong practitioners by the Chinese government at a facility in Shenyang, and the sale of their organs for transplant purposes.

The Epoch Times is widely known as an organ of the Falun Gong spiritual practice movement, which has been at loggerheads with the Chinese Communist Party ever since the Chinese government suppressed its practice in 1999.

An analogous situation would have been if the Chinese government had granted a credential to Jose Padilla's mother as representative of “The Newspaper of Record for Increasingly Desperate and Infuriated Relatives of Detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo” and permitted her to participate in President Bush’s visit to Beijing last year.

This quote from the AP report pretty much sums it up:

"It's hugely embarrassing," said Derek Mitchell, a former Asia adviser at the Pentagon and now an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
China "must know that this Bush administration is good at controlling crowds for themselves, and the fact that they couldn't control this is going to play to their worst fears and suspicions about the United States, into mistrust about American intentions toward China."

It will be interesting to see how this spins out. Initial US news reports concentrated on Dr. Wang’s dire—and legally more problematic statements—along the lines of “President Hu, your days are numbered!”

Subsequent reports concentrated on the more civil disobedience-styled Let My People Goisms such as “President Bush, stop him from persecuting Falun Gong!”. More recent reports merely described Dr. Wang as “pleading with Bush to stop the Chinese president from persecuting the Falun Gong”.

Ming Pao reported more categorically that Dr. Wang declaimed in a piercing voice, shouting exhortations such as “Heaven will destroy the Chinese Communists”, “Leave the Party”, “10 million heroes have left the party, when will you leave?”, “Judge Jiang Zemin, Luo Gan, Zhou Yongkang” and “Falun Practice is Great”.

Apparently Dr. Wang’s outburst continued for two minutes—which, one can confidently assume, felt like an eternity for the White House staff—before she was hustled from the scene.

The Epoch Times professed itself as flummoxed as Hu Jintao. The paper waited several hours before issuing a statement apologizing for Wang’s outburst and declaring the paper had nothing to do with it. As a mitigating circumstance, it also stated that Wang and the movement are incensed by horrific reports that the Chinese government is vivisecting Falun Gong supporters and harvesting and selling their organs.

From a domestic Chinese perspective, the image of Falun Gong as an organization of extraordinary reach and resource—after all, these were the same people who hacked into a Chinese TV satellite twice in 2003—has been reinforced.

And part of that image will now include the idea that Fa Lun Gong has penetrated the White House.

Bush administration apologies for sloppy security procedures will gain little traction.

It is difficult to believe that an administration that is so fetishistic about message control that it salts the White House press conferences with hustler-shills like Jeff Gannon to ensure favorable coverage did not understand that Epoch Times is the house organ of Falun Gong and could be expected at least to embarrass Hu Jintao if given the opportunity , if not verbally assault him.

It is also difficult to believe that the Epoch Times sought accreditation for Dr. Wang—who they describe as the key activist and researcher on the vivisection issue—for the White House ceremony with the idea that she would be fulfilling some conventional journalistic function.

I don’t know if Epoch Times has a regular Washington correspondent, but the fact that concerns about security and decorum relating to the admission of an unorthodox representative of an intensely hostile group—moreover, the point person for an issue described as “desperate”-- didn’t set off any alarm bells in the White House does seem kind of fishy.

Maybe there was some kind of nod-and-a-wink going on between a sympathetic party in the White House and Falun Gong to give the movement a platform to get its message out.

If there was, we’ll probably never know.

The takeaway, intentional or inadvertent, is that the Bush administration simply doesn’t care enough, either about Hu Jintao’s face--or about relations with his regime--to take care to prevent such a humiliating incident.

It also leaves the Bush administration open to the accusation that it lacks the skill, discipline, and credibility to conduct a carefully modulated policy of confrontation and conciliation with Beijing on behalf of the free world.

Altogether, not a good day.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


The administration’s focus on China’s quest for oil was signaled when it published a revised National Security Strategy last month, approved by Mr. Bush, that contained a pointed new entry about China.

That country’s leaders, the document declared, are “expanding trade, but acting as if they can somehow ‘lock up’ energy supplies around the world or seek to direct markets rather than opening them up, as if they can follow a mercantilism borrowed from a discredited era.”

Mercantilism was a post-feudal doctrine of national economic health through protectionism, foreign trade, and exports, but administration officials have repeatedly used it to describe China…

…Mr. Greene…recalled a visit from a senior Chinese official who tried to explain that China was only seeking business deals…”He used the example of Sudan and he said, ‘Look, you know, we don’t care about internal issues like genoicide, we only care about the oil because we need the resources.’”

“And I said, ‘Well, look, that’s mercantilism.’ And the Chinese translator had trouble translating “mercantilism” and they had a big debate about it, and we figured it out. And then they had a big debate about whether I meant that as a good thing or a bad thing.”

David Sanger, China’s Big Appetite for Oil is High on U.S. Agenda, New York Times print edition April 19, 2006

The confusion is understandable.

I would characterize “mercantilism” as post-feudal, post-Renaissance, and post-Reformation, a creature of the Enlightenment, an attempt to apply rational scientific principles to the national economy, and the doctrinal mainstay of the British Empire during its glory years of the 18th and 19th century.

The Chinese have an intimate experience with one of mercantilism’s signature moments and most significant expression: the development of the Chinese opium trade.

The British crown was appalled at the outflow of specie occasioned by England’s thirst for Chinese tea in the 18th century, at a time when the Chinese famously declared no need for British manufactures.

The British response was to stimulate the Chinese demand for opium cultivated in India, and promote and protect that commerce through a series of wars in the 19th century that not only opened up China completely to the trade, but caused the Chinese to lose control both of its customs regime and its revenues and experience a serious balance of trade deficit as its silver poured out of the country. Then, as they say in Hollywood, much craziness ensued, culminating in the Communist takeover in 1949.

Yes, that mercantilism.

The “Mr. Green” referred to in the New York Times quote is Michael J. Green, former Senior Director for Asia at the National Security Council, a very bright fellow, fluent in Japanese, and presumably one of the chief architects of the Bush administration’s China policy.

That policy is predicated on the hope that Japan’s current steadfastness in support of U.S. policy aims in Asia and the Middle East will be rewarded with a giant kablooie in China, instead of witnessing a trend of growing Chinese influence and waning American presence that will send Japan sliding ineluctably into the Chinese camp.

That’s why President Bush seems to spend more time on his trips to Asia communing with Donald Rumsfeld’s lonely pony in Mongolia than he does engaging with the Chinese leadership.

But I digress.

Anyway, Mr. Green surely knows the meaning and connotation of the word “mercantilism”, and that using it to describe an unprincipled grubbing for oil in Sudan very similar to what we do in Saudi Arabia is less than accurate.

For that matter, the death knell for the possibility of a global consensus in favor of laissez faire and the international free trade of oil—and the slide into “mercantilism”--was probably sounded by two US actions: the invasion of Iraq and the US political fracas that led to the abandonment of CNOOC’s bid for Unocal and its offshore, free-market oil resources.

What I think Mr. Green is trying to deal with is an “epithet deficit”.

We want to discommode China, we want to wrongfoot it, we want to frame China in a negative and unwelcome way.

But we’re running out of good epithets.

“Axis of evil” and “rogue state” aren’t available, not for a country that seems to be playing the 21st century economic game almost as well as we are.

“Protectionism” might accurately convey China’s solicitude in not opening its economy wholeheartedly to foreign capital flows and business participation, but “protectionism” isn’t scary. It brings to mind a country trying to protect its economy, not the specter of invading Oriental hordes that elicits steely, desperate resolve on freedom’s front line and justifies multi-billion dollar defense budgets.

To justify the political, economic, and military risks of confronting China--and wean Taiwan, Australia, Indonesia, and India away from the dangerously seductive idea that peace, prosperity, and coexistence might go hand in hand--China’s policy is best described in aggressive, expansionist terms.

At the very least, we hope to characterize China as an immoral and inimical actor on the world stage, greedily playing footsie with dictators in Iran, Burma, and Sudan while the US valiantly tries to build a better, freer world.

How about “global oil hog?”

Nah. Too much “pot calling the kettle black” there.

But I’m afraid “mercantilism” is not going to send shivers down anybody’s spine.

All it does is conjure up the vision of a Chinese foreign policy that’s amoral and refuses to address any ethical issues beyond the win-win math of trade and economic development.

An accurate expression of China’s current policy might be “aggressive globalization of its economy enabled by the United States idiotically shoveling government debt onto the world market to finance an irresponsible national lifestyle.”

We’ll leave that question to the philosophers--and the economists.

Today, with America’s freedom crusade mired in a failed war of aggression in Iraq and seemingly bereft of foreign policy alternatives vis a vis Iran other than infuriated saber-rattling, China’s stance doesn’t really suffer by comparison.

In fact, people might get the opposite idea: that we might advance goals of security and prosperity by welcoming states into the family of nations through trade, rather than ostracizing them.

By the way, the correct Chinese translation of “mercantilism” is “zhong-shang zhu-yi”, “giving the highest priority to commerce”.

And today I guess it’s a “good thing”.