Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Jewel in the Nanotechnology

The lotus symbolizes the co-existence of pure and impure, mundane and eternal, mortal and divine, and offers a promise that earthly things can aspire to perfection.

On a less exalted plane, observers at ponds have always marveled how water droplets skitter across the surface of the lotus leaf like blobs of mercury.

Now, a scientist in Germany has revealed that the secret of the lotus is nanotechnology.

Jewels don’t have too much to do with it.

The Buddhist chant Om Mani Padme Hum, traditionally translated as “The Jewel in the Lotus” (padme is “lotus” in Sanskrit), is perhaps the most common religious invocation on this planet. Every time a prayer wheel is spun, the chant is repeated millions of times through copies of the chant inscribed on paper rolls inside.

I found a website that alerted me to the karmic benefits of an Om Mane Padme Hum screen saver and could even turn my disk drive into a high tech, 5400 rpm prayer wheel.

Another site, stated, “we are asking for your help in two ways, 1) install the OmMaNiPadMeHum files on your computer and every computer you can, 2) contribute financial support as you may so that we can convert internet servers into massive prayer wheels”. Remembering that Arthur C. Clarke short story, The Nine Billion Names of God, I declined to turn my PC and sympathetic servers across the Internet into an Om Mani Padme Hum-chanting machine.

The Jewel in the Lotus mantra invokes the intercession of Avalokitesvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, who renounced Buddhahood in order to take the universe and its creatures under his/her care.

Avalokitesvara appears in a myriad forms, from a multi-tasking thousand armed and headed deity solving everybody’s problems at once; to a feminine form—Kuan Yin—sometimes described as the Chinese Virgin Mary; to the Dalai Lama, whom the Tibetan Buddhists regard as the bodhisattva’s incarnation.

The lotus is one of his/her most commonly-depicted attributes. Buddhists revere the sacred lotus (nelumba nucifera) as a symbol of the Bodhisattva and expression of their creed because it rises from the muck but still retains its purity, just as the soul can arise from the muck of human existence and achieve Buddhahood.

Science now intrudes on the scene.

As reported by Adam Summers in Natural History magazine, the leaf of the sacred lotus is one of the most water repellent materials known to science. Water that strikes the surface of a leaf balls up to a contact angle of 140 degrees—almost a perfect sphere.

But that’s not the whole story.

Wilhelm Barthlott, a German botanist, examined lotus leaves under an electron microscope and discovered that the leaves are not smooth. In fact, exactly the opposite is true. At the microscopic level, the surface is a wild landscape of tiny mountains and valleys that offer water droplets virtually no foothold to cling to.

[A water drop] touches only the peaks of the little wax mountains, leaving such a tiny area in contact with the surface that the adhesive forces between the drop and the leaf’s contours are vanishingly small…cohesive forces…hold the droplet in a nearly spherical shape as it rolls off the leaf.
Adam Summers, Secrets of the Sacred Lotus, Natural History, April 2006

The utility of the arrangement to the lotus is this: when water strikes the leaf, dirt adheres to the water droplet. When the leaf sheds the soiled water droplet, the leaf is cleansed, achieving that wondrous purity that inspires Buddhist practitioners while ensuring that a lotus sitting in a muck-filled pond still has plenty of clean, unobstructed leaf surface available for photosynthesis.

The ingenious Dr. Botthold has patented the lotus leaf micro-pattern as the Lotus-Effect and licensed it to a coatings manufacturer for an exterior paint that needs only dousing with water to keep it clean.

An eye-popping computer visualization of the lotus leaf’s nano-landscape is available here.

You might think That’s the jewel in the lotus.

However, according to Donald Lopez, there never was a jewel in the lotus at all.

In a teaser for his book, Prisoners of Shangri-La: Tibetan Buddhism and the West, Lopez writes:

Here is something for the initiated: The most famous of all Buddhist mantras, om mani padme hum, does not mean "the jewel in the lotus." It means instead, "O Jewel-Lotus." Nineteenth-century European scholars of Sanskrit misread a vocative ending as a locative ending, thus thinking that the jewel (mani) was in the lotus (padme). The mistranslated mantra took on a life of its own, probably because of its sexual symbolism; for instance it has been the title of scores of books, many of which have nothing whatsoever to do with Tibet or Buddhism. The mantra is actually a prayer, calling upon the bodhisattva of compassion—of whom the Dalai Lama is the human incarnation—who is depicted holding a jewel and a lotus in two of his one thousand hands. One of his epithets is thus (Mr.) Jewel-Lotus, so the mantra could be roughly translated, "O, Mr. Jewel-Lotus. Please give us a hand."

But to me, there’s still a jewel in the lotus where science, nature, and spirit intersect.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

China's Military Modernization and the "Second Island Chain"

The current iteration of the Pentagon’s report to Congress on Chinese military modernization is, to me, a relatively moderate document.

It starts off with the Foggy Bottom-approved “responsible stakeholder” trope, another sign that Donald Rumsfeld is sitting on the porch of the Old Folks Home for Defense Secretaries Who Masterminded Utterly Failed Wars and grumbling that Nobody Ever Visits.

It does include the Rumsfeldian riff that “China’s military sector is too opaque to inspire confidence.”

The alarmist high estimate of China’s actual military spending, which attracted some notice, is so risible piece of Powerpoint Rangering I actually wonder if they were laughing as they cranked it out.

C’mon guys, at least mess with Excel spreadsheet so the whole bar chart doesn’t look like it was stamped out with a cookie cutter!

Demonizing China as irrational and dangerous—a staple of Bush-era good vs. evil pre-emptive foreign policy posturing—is off the menu too.

The document does a good, evenhanded job of analyzing Chinese military priorities and concerns in the context of the PRC’s economics-driven but Taiwan-shadowed foreign policy.

Discussing China’s perspective on attacking Taiwan, the report says on page 40:

Finally, Beijing’s planning must calculate the virtual certainty of U.S. intervention, and Japanese interests, in any conflict in the Taiwan Strait. It views the United States, especially in combination with Japan, as having advantages over China in many scenarios involving the use of military force. China’s leaders also calculate a conflict over Taiwan involving the United States would give rise to a long-term hostile relationship between the two nations – a result that would not be in China’s interests.

The phrase “Japanese interests” is a little clumsy. It sounds like Prime Minister Koizumi and the Japanese people would be sure to set their Tivos to CNN if war broke out in the Taiwan Straits. It’s worth pondering that “Japanese response”, “Japanese opposition” or “Japanese condemnation” or even “Japanese concern” didn’t make it into the text.

The LA Times commented somewhat perspicaciously (in its May 24 article, Chinese Threat is Expanding, Pentagon Says) that a key audience for the report seems to be China's neighbors in the western Pacific. The report talks persuasively about China’s blue water ambitions and a rather interesting graphic lays out China’s purported interest in the “Second Island Chain”.

If the expectation of the report's authors is that Taiwan, terrified by new evidence that the Red tsunami will sweep across the Pacific and scour freedom from the shores of Formosa, will finally get off its butt, pass the immense special budget for arms purchases from the United States, and reoccupy its proper place as our Israel in the Pacific, I’m afraid the result might be just the opposite.

The implication I drew from the report is not that the Chinese intend to contest this perimeter in order to deny the Western Pacific to the United States so that the PLA can have its fiendish way with Taiwan while our carrier groups slug it out with the newly emboldened Chinese navy on the same godforsaken string of islands that we conquered in World War II.

Those islands are as defensible as Dien Bien Phu. They aren't part of any Taiwan invasion strategy.

Quite the opposite.

Consider that line on the map a blueprint for China’s vision of a future peace and prosperity zone in maritime Asia after the Taiwan issue has been resolved to its satisfaction.

Extending China’s reach to those remote, extremely vulnerable islands only makes sense if the Western Pacific is universally accepted as China’s legitimate sphere of influence; in other words if Taiwan has peacefully reconciled with the mainland, turned over its regional security interests to Beijing, and told the US to bug out.

That’s what probably really worries the U.S. government the most: not that the Chinese will suddenly go nuts, attack Taiwan, and start World War III.

Instead, Washington fears that some combination of political disarray and public confusion in Taiwan will provoke a Hong Kong-style accommodation with Beijing--and a disaster for America's prestige and strategic position in the area.

As China redefines and asserts its intentions and capabilities as a “responsible” regional power, the possibility of a modus vivendi between a nominally independent Taiwan and the PRC increases, and with it the odds that the Taiwanese will take the path of least resistance and rapproche with Beijing.

In this case, maybe it’s easier for us to retain the diplomatic initiative if we continue to assert that the Chinese intentions remain opaque, and that its leadership is a hive of irrational dingbats.

After all, when we acknowledge China as a rational actor, we are implying that its goals are understandable, achievable...and perhaps even acceptable.

If the Chinese said it’s time for Asians to take over Asian security because a certain alien, dangerous, distracted, and overstretched superpower is no longer up to the job…

…and the choice is either Co-Prosperity Sphere redux with the Japanese acting as American surrogates…

…or a genuinely independent Asian policy in alliance with the region’s dominant economic and military power…

…we might not get the answer we want to hear.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Farewell to Zoellick?

The Financial Times reports that Robert Zoellick, Deputy Secretary of State, will probably soon leave for the private sector.

The immediate cause of his departure was his failure to get the post of Secretary of the Treasury.

Mr. Zoellick is an acute financial mind. If he was willing to take the job of Treasury Secretary—recognized as the premier impotent scapegoat and albatross position in the Bush cabinet, if I may mix a few metaphors—maybe there is still hope that our galumphing federal deficit, national debt, and trade imbalance are not going to push our nation’s economy (and the career of one ambitious banker-bureaucrat) off the cliff after all.

My uninformed speculation is that Mr. Zoellick is intent on an upward career trajectory. Having pushed for the Treasury job and not received it, remaining in a Deputy Secretary post is a de facto and spiritual demotion.

So he will move to the private sector, possibly, according to the FT, in a post with Merrill Lynch.

Then I assume he expects to return to the next Republican administration as Secretary of State or Secretary of the Treasury.

Mr. Zoellick is a skilled foreign policy realist who recognized the power—but did assume the invincibility—of American arms and understood that diversity of interests between the US and its allies had to be acknowledged and mediated.

Together with Secretary Rice, he has skillfully executed rapprochement with Europe post-Iraq. Recently he pushed through a Darfur settlement that sought to counter growing Chinese influence and prestige in Africa. In Asia, he has worked to reassure the region that callous recklessness is not an integral part of the Bush administration’s strategy against China.

Rightweb has an excellent
profile of Mr. Zoellick.

It remains to be seen whether his successor will display similar skill and subtlety in promoting American interests overseas.

And now for something completely irresponsible...

We talk about all the deep strategic, economic, and political factors...

...but maybe there’s a simpler explanation for why President Bush soft-pedals the Chicom menace.


OSS Note: A major European intelligence service is absolutely convinced that when George Bush was a drunken teen-ager in Beijing with his father the Ambassador, the Chinese were able to arrange extraordinarily compromising photographs, including homosexual photographs with his Chinese male tennis teacher (the boy may have been so drunk he had no idea was what happending (sic)). is the corporate vehicle for Open Source Intelligence evangelist and ex-CIA officer Robert David Steele. He is an untiring proselytizer for the intelligence value of unclassified information systematically collected and analyzed.

He’s got a strong

OSS.Net is the leading teacher and practitioner of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). We help our clients …[deal] with the global information explosion, especially in relation to non-traditional threats, especially sub-state tribal and non-state transnational threats, saving them hundreds of thousands of dollars and hundreds of man-hours that can be focused on hard targets. We do this by tapping into global sources in 29+ languages…

But then Steele continues:

…the good stuff is not online, not in English, and not visible to most vendors…

Holy Mother of Mary! Is there any stuff out there better than allegations that George W. Bush was successfully romanced by his Chinese male tennis teacher?

I don’t think so.

Mr. Steele has achieved a certain credibility and visibility in his field, though it isn’t apparent what kind of success has enjoyed in supplying its services to paying customers. However, in today’s highly-politicized procurement environment, I wouldn’t count on a lot of contracts from President Bush’s DNI or CIA.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Beyond Bush: Old Europe's New Take on America--and China

Who’s afraid of the big bad Bush?

Nobody, it seems.

And that’s a problem for China, as was demonstrated during German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recently-concluded visit to China. The rhetoric and symbolism of her visit indicated that Merkel has replaced Gerhard Schroeder’s accommodating posture toward China with her own pro-US tilt.

During her recent visit to Beijing, Chancellor Merkel—who had championed the EU arms embargo against China while in the opposition--made clear Germany’s pro-US stance by harping on Iran and human rights.

Her entourage reinforced the impression by employing what I’m sure Chinese find the incredibly irritating and condescending Robert Zoellick-approved buzzword of the moment for reproaching China: responsibility.

As in:

"The economic role of China has grown and so has its responsibility on the international stage," an official told the news agency AFP, on condition of anonymity. "Based on its economic position, China must take on more responsibilities."

Responsibilities shmesponsibilities.

I have a feeling Wen Jiabao was thinking, Yeah, lady, I’ve got responsibilities. 1.3 billion people, a runaway economy, a political infrastructure teetering toward collapse, US military forces ringing the country, a huge need for imported oil, and what looks like a concerted campaign by the West and Japan to cut me off from hydrocarbon supplies in the Middle East, Russia, and South Asia. I’m not just sitting here worrying that the chef is going to burn the schnitzel.

Essentially, what Merkel was saying that fears of US unilateralism have receded, while concerns about Chinese economic and military expansion—and the unfavorable if not world-ending consequences of Iran and China achieving a win over the US on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program-- have grown.

One of the expected consequences of America’s failure in Iraq has been a decline in American prestige and clout.

But China hasn’t been particularly successful in filling the vacuum, at least in the Old World.

That’s because fear of rampant US unilateralism has faded, and been replaced by a more nuanced concern in Europe about the implications of China’s untrammeled economic growth, the weakness of its moderating democratic institutions, and the unpredictability of Beijing’s willingness to resort to military force in its foreign relations.

Back in 2002, when America appeared ascendant in Iraq, had assembled a complete ideological and legal infrastructure supporting unilateral, pre-emptive war worldwide, and George Bush had the political wind and invincible US armed might at his back and was talking about marching on Damascus and Teheran and militarizing the Malacca Straits and who knows what else, France and Germany banded together to provide a counterweight to the United States.

In international relations-speak, there was an attempt led by France and abetted by Germany to midwife a multipolar system i.e. challenge the US unipolar vision with a constellation of European states centered on the European Union, which would provide diplomatic and economic support to states that didn’t want their foreign policy and regional security arrangements dictated by the United States.

Challenging the US power monopoly would, by implication, allow the creation of a third pole in Asia.

China could have become a pillar of such a multi-polar system, a near-equal partner with Europe, its shortcomings in the areas of human rights, democracy, and Taiwan overlooked in favor of its relatively benign foreign policy driven by domestic economic development.

French President Chirac and German Chancellor Schroeder, while seeking to counter the US on Iraq, conducted ostentatiously pro-Chinese foreign policies.

The European multi-polar effort fell victim to the basic weakness of the EU system, exemplified by French rejection of the EU constitution, and assiduous divide and conquer efforts by Washington, typified by Donald Rumsfeld’s notorious Old Europe crack.

Nevertheless, it was only with the greatest of effort that the Bush administration and John Bolton were able to forestall the symbolically significant lifting of the EU arms embargo to China in 2004.

The EU arms embargo, whatever one thinks about the moral and political advisability of arming Beijing, is a diplomatic anachronism, dating back to the Tian An Men massacre of 1989.

In a world awash with arms—and the United States responsible for tens of thousands of civilian Iraqi deaths as a result of the botched occupation, and not only arming India but sanctioning (as in approving) its nuclear weapons program—it seems inconsistent for the European Union to harsh Beijing for the deaths of 3000 people 17 years ago—a massacre that has ushered in a period of unprecedented Chinese political stability and economic growth.

But the EU arms embargo looks stronger than ever.

Part of it has to do with the election of Angela Merkel as the German chancellor—and she probably owes her ascendancy to the fact that American weakness made it impossible for Gerhard Schroeder to replay the anti-Bush card effectively during the recent election.

Part of it has to do with the fact that France—in a development conspicuously underreported by the US press—bereft of a close German partnership and with its EU dream in tatters, has returned to a more productive bilateral relationship with Washington and has been backing American diplomatic moves, particularly in the Middle East.

But I think much of it has to do with the fact that the world is not dealing with American power. It is dealing with American impotence. And that makes a rise in Chinese economic, military, and diplomatic power more disturbing than it would otherwise be.

In the current circumstances, there’s no compelling reason for the Europeans to support the development of Chinese military strength.

Instead, there’s a desire in Europe to move beyond bilateral dealings between weaker individual states and China, and raise its collective profile, without the implication of anti-US confrontation inherent in the term “multipolar”.

The current term of art is an old word: “multilateralism”.

A piece of German thinktankery describes the current zeitgeist:

The European Union should concentrate on remultilateralizing its China policy and in the process seek the greatest possible agreement with the United States.

Gudrun Wacker, ed. China's Rise: The Return of Geopolitics?, SWP Research Paper, Berlin 2006

Rebuffing China on arms and human rights isn’t just the right thing to do. It’s the safe thing to do, and it’s good for relations with the United States.

Interestingly, the EU arms embargo can also play a useful role for Europe in its dealings with Washington, beyond serving as a demonstration of transatlantic solidarity.

It’s one of the few meaningful bargaining chips available to European diplomacy—and it works both ways.

As in: if the US attacks Iran—thereby announcing it has not renounced its dream of a unipolar, America-dominated world—the EU slides closer to China, lifts the arms embargo, and creates a greater deterrent to US adventurism in Asia.

But until then China can dangle in the wind.

So China—the world’s most populous and vibrant economic power, which hasn’t engaged in military aggression since its disastrous border dispute with Vietnam 25 years ago—must still content itself with second-class world citizenship; listen to the self-serving lectures about responsible global citizenship from the same group of nations whose sins of commission and omission created the geopolitical and human disaster in Iraq; and accept that the White Nations’ Club + Japan denies China has the right to arm itself and chart its military and foreign policy destiny without outside interference as befits a world power and Asian empire.

That’s gotta chafe!

But I’ve got to say anything that promotes the demilitarization of foreign policy and forces nations to promote their interests primarily through diplomacy and economics is a good thing.

So, in the realm of unexpected consequences, we can say Thank you to George Bush, for discrediting and destroying the terrifying vision of unipolar, unilateral, war-based American supremacy.

And if that means that China is unfairly excluded from the international arms bazaar as a result, well, that’s collateral damage I think China and the world can live with.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

New Blogroll: More Light, More Heat

There has been an explosion of good writing and reporting about China on the Internet. There’s more translation, research, and reportage that brings new information into the blog process, instead of simple recycling of links and themes. To commemorate this efflorescence, we’re expandin’ the blogroll:

China Law Blog

EastSouthWestNorth Blog

Simon World


China Confidential


China Digital Times

They’re all down there, to the left.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

It's the End of the World as We Know It

And it's not just the dollar slipping below 8:1 against the RMB.

"If you asked me two years ago when [the] yuan could become fully convertible, I would have said it would be in [the] remote future - in 15 or 20 years. But today if you ask the same question again, I'll say this could happen well within 10 years, or even likely three years later," said Lee, who is known as the "godfather" of Hong Kong's financial sector.

Wu Zhong,
The People’s Forex Liberation Army, Asia Times May 16, 2006

To me, the backstory of Chinese currency reform has been memories of the Asian financial crisis of 1999. China escaped unscathed because its currency was not freely convertible and therefore not vulnerable to revaluation, manipulation, or speculative attack.

Now, Wu Zhong’s story indicates a different imperative at work today: the Chinese government is finding the burden of being the virtually exclusive holder and manager of China’s vast foreign exchange reserves excessively onerous.

The result is an opening toward de-regulatation and decentralization--and covertibility, perhaps in a limited sense.

The new slogan is Forex for the People!

Individuals and entities will be permitted to hold foreign exchange reserves and invest them both in domestic markets and overseas.

For “qualified investors”, it’s already begun. Again from Asia Times:

With the approval of the State Council, the National Social Security Fund became the first qualified institutional investor to put money into overseas stock markets, with the Hong Kong market its top priority. The news drove Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index to its highest levels since the former British colony reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. This year, up to $6 billion is expected to flow out of China into overseas securities markets, which is likely to increase to up to $10 billion.

I see two drivers for the program:

First, in a Chinese world of consistently favorable trade balances, compulsory purchase of forex pours RMB into the local economy and stokes inflationary pressures. China can move to a more pro-active and rational macro-economic policy if it doesn’t have to buy every dollar that comes into the country.

Second, the Chinese government feels it already holds enough US dollars and US government debt. Maybe millions of Chinese forex holders will still keep their money in dollars and buy US Treasuries, but maybe they won’t. It’s not the Chinese government’s headache anymore.

It will probably turn out to be a headache for Chinese investors. I am anticipating a tsunami of money, followed by a tidal wave of fraud, and then an avalanche of losses.

It may be a bigger headache for us.

The implication for the US government, of course, is that it can’t rely as much as it did in the past on providing the primary, preferred destination for the overtaxed Chinese bureaucrats seeking to offload tens of billions of dollars of new forex reserves every month.

Weakening the symbiotic relationship between the US government and the Chinese government may modify the behavior of the US government: we may not feel we are hostage to China’s bankers, and may pursue more aggressive trade policies without worrying that the PRC will stay away from the next US Treasuries auction and plunge our economy into a tailspin.

It’s more likely we’ll miss that simpler world where Chinese bankers, trapped behind a wall of policy, regulation, and currency controls, had no choice but to dump their millions in the lap of the US Treasury.

With the US government notching up deficits of about $300 billion a year for the foreseeable future, it can’t be reassuring to see one of the biggest customers for our debt setting limits on the increase in its exposure.

Now we’ll have to compete with a larger spectrum of higher-yielding investment instruments available to smaller, less risk-averse forex holders, probably causing an increase in our borrowing costs and goosing US inflation as a result.

Whether the free flow of forex and a dynamic international currency market for the RMB symbolizes true convertibility—and China’s final mastery of its fears of currency manipulation—is, for me, still an open question.

The program described in the Asia Times looks to me like liberalized, privatized management of forex reserves accumulated under China’s current account—the trade surplus.

Allowing the price of that forex to fluctuate--and creating the financial markets and instruments to enable speculation in that forex--is a logical corollary. That's convertibility, at least in one sense of the word.

It does not look like China has plans for opening the capital account to speculative inflows. The Chinese government would presumably maintain the financial heft and privileged position needed to guide the value of the RMB against foreign currencies.

Hat tip to Simon World for pointing out the Asia Times piece.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Did You Hear the One About the Ferrari, the (Alleged) Gangster, and the Chinese TV Network?

One doesn’t expect China to figure in a story about $500,000 race cars, an alleged Euro-trash gangster, and a titanic Internet-stock boondoggle.

But in LA anything is possible.

Southern California has been atwitter concerning the Ferrari crash case. It began as an ur-California event—an early morning drag race on the Pacific Coast Highway, the Ferrari becoming airborne at 162 mph, bisected by a telephone pole, debris scattered hundreds of feet down the road, the alleged driver, Bo Stefan Eriksson, walking away from the wreck nothing more than a bloody nose…all freedom, fun, and reckless self-indulgence, no victims, and no consequences.

But the case quickly took a turn for the worse for Eriksson. It transpired that he had brought the car to LA illegally, he had wangled bogus cop credentials from a little public bus service for the elderly and handicapped in the San Gabriel Valley, he was an executive of a disgraced tech company, Gizmondo, that blew through hundreds of millions of dollars meant to finance the “Swiss army knife” of handheld computer dervices but seemed to function primarily as a piggy bank to fund the lavish lifestyles of directors and executives…

…and today’s LA Times depicts Eriksson as a sleazy, self-made gangster who created a thuggish persona and career for himself on the not-so-mean streets of Uppsala, Sweden.

The illustration for the front page article caught my eye.

It shows Eriksson squatting awkwardly next to a Formula One race car with the logo CCTV—China Central TV—emblazoned on the body.

A China connection between Eriksson and CCTV? That’s news!

Not too much to see here, however.

The car belonged to Jordan Grand Prix, the Formula One team owned by racing legend Eddie Jordan, which had secured a sponsorship deal with CCTV .

Gizmondo had promised $3 million to Jordan for a sponsorship deal. Gizmondo didn’t deliver, and finally coughed up $1.5 million and some (now worthless) stock to Jordan in an out of court settlement.

Despite Jordan’s distinguished history as F1 team leader and personality, his underfinanced team wasn’t able to achieve the success necessary to capitalize on the longshot deal with CCTV, or ensure Jordan Grand Prix’s survival as an independent. He sold the business and the team now races under another name.

But in 2003, Jordan, CCTV, and Gizmondo were still on the same page, failure and disgrace were still in the future, and a picture in today’s paper unexpectedly captures that far-off time.

The uncropped version of the photo on the LA Times website shows Jordan next to Eriksson, holding what must be the notorious Gizmondo device.

Photo by Russell Batchelor / Batchelor/Sutton Images

Sunday, May 14, 2006

See Dick Sleep

Some people have professed concern that Vice President Cheney has been photographed asleep in public twice in recent weeks, first at Hu Jintao’s briefing during the summit in Washington, and most recently during a
staff meeting.

It seems that the Vice President himself, along with his China policy, is slipping into torpor.

That’s good.

For now China policy appears firmly in the hands of the State Department.

Perhaps the Vice President’s feared and secretive foreign policy cabal had decided that China was too big a mouthful to chew on for an administration already choking on Iraq but still declaring its determination to gorge itself on Iran.

But never count Big Time out.

Diminished capacity is no guarantee of reduced lethality.

When you look at Mr. Cheney, he more and more resembles Ed Woods’ muse and go-to guy for zombie roles,
Tor Johnson.

It is easy to imagine his team employing the newest developments in re-animation technology to awaken Mr. Cheney and send him off with an encouraging slap on the rump to devour the brains of the living at the State Department.

We don’t want that.

Sleep, Dick, sleep.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Foggy Bottom in the Driver's Seat on China Policy

In significant testimony before the House International Relations Committee on May 11, 2006, Robert Zoellick clarified that the American snub of Taiwan president Chen Shuibian—shunted off to remote US transit points en route to South America--was no accident.

He also made it clear that expectations and priorities of the US State Department are driving US policy toward Taiwan, something that is not likely to please fans of President Bush and Vice President Cheney.

From the
Taipei Times:

In answers to questions about Chen, Zoellick seemed to say that the limits placed on the president -- he was offered stopovers only in Anchorage, Alaska, or Honoloulu, Hawaii -- were in retaliation for what the US administration considers Chen's reneging on the so-called "five-noes" promises he made in his two inauguration addresses, along with his efforts to fight Washington's "one-China" policy.

The five noes policy was a promise by Chen to avoid taking steps toward independence so long as the PRC did not use force to attempt to achieve unification. One pillar of the policy was a pledge not to abolish the National Unification Council.

However, Chen did exactly that.


On 27 February 2006 Chen dismantled the National Unification Council saying it "will cease functioning and the budget no longer be appropriated", effectively breaking the promises made in 2000. In the week prior, he told U.S. Congressman Rob Simmons that the Council and Guidelines were "absurd products of an absurd era.”

Probably the key element in the Wikipedia entry comes next:

Chen has revealed he planned to draft a new constitution, which many conjectured would be pro-separatist, before he stepped down in 2008.

Taiwan independence is geopolitical dynamite, and the US government doesn’t want the Taiwan government pursuing it without close direction from Washington.

Chen understandably feels that Taiwan independence is central to his political identity and covenant with his followers, and he has an obligation and desire to pursue it, and not soft-pedal it in deference to the priorities of the United States.

He probably also has the somewhat cynical realization that if he pushes for Taiwan independence, the US will be unable to abandon Taiwan.

This idea that the US is to a certain degree hostage to Taiwan’s policy on independence, which is in turn an existential matter in DPP politics, would account for Washington’s asperity in its response to Chen’s desire for welcoming, higher profile transit privileges.

So Chen’s getting slapped around a bit.

China watchers will be very interested by Zoellick’s desire to avoid confrontation with China over Taiwan at this time. Again from the Taipei Times:

At another point, as Zoellick was giving an animated defense of the US transit action, he seemed to link it with the fear that Chen's recent actions could provoke a war in the Taiwan Strait between the US and China.

"There are big stakes here where lives could be lost," he said.

"This is the balance ... we want to be supportive of Taiwan while not encouraging those that try to move toward independence. Because let me be very clear: independence means war. And that means American soldiers ..." he said before being interrupted by a questioner.

Admirable views, and ones which I agree with, but seemingly totally out of step with the inexorable triumphalism practiced by the Bush/Cheney administration.

To imply that anxiety over the loss of American lives might be dissuading America from its crusade to bring God’s gift of freedom to the world—or indicate to the Chicoms that we are anything less than eager to nuke it out with them over the Taiwan Strait--is close to political heresy.

This situation implies that the State Department is firmly in control of China policy, at least for the time being, and Zoellick—fresh from his Darfur triumph--is at the heart of it.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Where's the Anger?

You'd think that a president flat on his back in the polls would find time for some righteous panda-baiting.

But in two cases--Chen Shuibian's hegirah of humiliation and the most recent round of jawboning on the RMB--Washington has passed on two chances for some feel-good, base-pleasing, high-profile China-bashing.

It is interesting to speculate what foreign policy objective compels President Bush forgo the pleasure of whacking the panda across the snout, at least rhetorically, after his antics during Hu Jintao's visit and the largely successful effort to steal Hu's thunder in Africa with the Darfur peace settlement.

It is difficult to believe that Washington's restraint is reward for expected Chinese cooperation on Iran at the UN. But what else could it be?

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Darfur Gambit: Countering China While Winning Hearts, Minds, and Wallets in Africa

It appears to me that the sudden Darfur settlement has little to do with the moral challenge of confronting genocide, aroused public opinion, or even the personal and political magnetism of George Clooney…

…and everything to do with the Bush administration’s desire to one-up a certain pasty Oriental potentate.

It is surely no coincidence that the hasty agreement rushed to conclusion by Robert Zoellick of the US and Hilary Benn of the UK provided a spectacular riposte to Hu Jintao’s high-profile, politically charged trip to Africa.

I also have little doubt that the Darfur master stroke was the culmination of a painstakingly choreographed campaign to belittle both Hu and China as unworthy pretenders to power parity with the United States on the world stage.

It started with Hu’s non-state visit to Washington, with the planned and ostensibly unplanned slights, the sleeve-tugging, the screaming protester miraculously unsilenced by the Secret Service, and the ostentatious snoozing by Dick Cheney during Hu’s briefing.

It concluded with the Darfur settlement, trumpeted throughout the world just as Hu was wrapping up his worldwide trip, contrasting American responsible diplomacy in the Third World with China’s oil-grubbing moral turpitude.

The haste in which the flawed Darfur agreement was wrapped up also indicates that political objectives, rather than genuine policy or humanitarian goals, were at stake.

Two years of protracted negotiations under the auspices of the African Union were wrapped up in less than a week of brisk arm-twisting by Zoellick and Benn. It is interesting to speculate what special superpowers of logic and persuasion these First World Solomons could bring to bear in such a short period of time.

Per the Sudan Tribune:

The rebels said only the United States had the power to win concessions from Sudan’s government, though it was unclear what bargaining chips were being used by Washington

I don’t think I’m out of line in suggesting that financial inducements, perhaps of a personal as well as a government-to-government and government-to-rebel nature, played a role in the sudden acceptance by two of the parties (out of four) of the four pages of US-proposed revisions to the AU-brokered 86-page draft agreement.

Two of the three rebel groups refused to sign the agreement, something that Zoellick, the western press, and humanitarian organizations professed to shrug off. The resistance of the rebels might have been due to issues of principles or because the gravy train of concessions simply wasn’t piled high enough.

Well, there’s always somebody ready to make a deal :

The Nur faction walked out of negotiations in the Nigerian capital before dawn Friday, as had another rebel group, the Justice and Equality Movement.

But one of Nur’s top negotiators, Abdulrahman Moussa, said he was walking out on Nur to form his own Front for Liberation and Renaissance. He said was taking half Nur’s camp with him and they supported the peace agreement.

Nur "is not compromising and I don’t think he is seeking peace, especially after the generous offer from Zoellick," Moussa said.

Either way, one would think that negotiations devoted to tying up these loose ends would have been conducted more vigorously and responsibly if the desire to upstage Hu Jintao on the eve of his departure for China had not been paramount.

From partial press reports, it appears that the US-brokered compromise on the key bone of contention—the number of rebel troops to be integrated into the national army—wasn’t even accepted by the Sudan government. Instead of disagreeing, as we say, they agreed to disagree.

No surprise that the adjective “flawed” appears not infrequently in analyses of the deal. From the Reuters articleDarfur conflict seen continuing despite peace deal” :

Many analysts doubt the sincerity of the government, which holds the key to implementing the deal, because Khartoum has undermined so many agreements in the past.

Furthermore, the Sudan regime and its lethal Janjaweed militias seem to be getting a free pass: no sanctions, no war crimes, no commission of national reconciliation, no hard looks in the UN canteen etc. Instead, if the deal holds, Khartoum gets to hand off the burden of pacifying, securing, rebuilding, and developing Darfur to a well-heeled crowd of First-World troops and do-gooders. Not a particularly onerous outcome, in my book.

The kid-glove treatment meted out to the Sudan regime is something that the Western press and opinion have been remarkably silent about.

But the Bush administration’s stance of moral hostility and righteous confrontation toward Khartoum--as contrasted with the amoral and mercantilist Chinese position--has always been vastly overstated.

An eye-opening article in the November 3, 2004 Sudan Tribune stated: Sudan Prayed for Bush Re-election .

Let’s repeat that.

Sudan Prayed for Bush Re-election.

Because Clinton had been—and it was feared Kerry would be—too aggressive in applying sanctions to Sudan. The article also contains the interesting nugget that Sudan’s strongman, in addition to harboring bin-Laden, supported Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait—a rogue-state two-fer distinction I believe Sudan only shared with Taliban Afghanistan.

As I argued in a previous post , the Bush administration has willingly engaged with Sudan, not necessarily because of its vital assistance in the war on terror, but because Washington was keen to counter Chinese influence and access in that country. And of course, there’s oil there.

In this context, China can at least congratulate itself on keeping its powder dry and ignoring calls from the Bush administration, Nicholas Kristof, and outraged never-againers to sanction Sudan in the UN. Any such action would have merely alienated Sudan, and with no practical benefit.

John Bolton’s soft-pedaling of sanctions at the UN—limiting the list of Sudan bad guys to four irrelevant second bananas--indicates that the real action on Darfur was, as it has been for the last two years, in the African Union negotiations—which the US intended to butt in on anyway.

That’s another indication to me that the Darfur settlement was part of a carefully thought-out program both to belittle and one-up Hu Jintao during his world tour, and also to puncture Chinese pretensions to challenging the US for a leadership role in the Third World.

How successful will America’s new focus on countering China be?

The vindictive aspect of the campaign—the desire to publicly humiliate Hu and China—is of a piece with Bush’s well-documented knee jerk hostility to leaders and countries that do not pay him sufficient tribute as the world’s moral and military hegemon, usually expressed in impulsive, self-defeating actions like the fiasco of Hu’s Washington visit.

Symbolically kicking sand in Hu Jintao’s face may have satisfied President Bush’s tender ego and also provided some political haven from the storm of bad news battering his administration and poll standings.

The PR and spin gods seem to be smiling on the Bush administration once again after a long absence.

The most amusing element of this story has been the credulous cheerleading of the western press and the humanitarian organizations. A mishmash agreement that lets the Khartoum regime off scot-free is greeted with such hosannas that one must believe there is a deep hunger after Iraq for the West to seize the moral ground, vis a vis China at least, regardless of the facts.

Human Rights Watch's statement is all of a piece. From Chinese president ends oil safari, to mixed reactions:

But angry critics have accused Beijing of doing business with undemocratic regimes, notably Sudan, an oil-rich nation that has for several decades used oil revenues to wage deadly successive wars on dissent.

"When Western governments try to use economic pressure to secure human rights improvements, China's no-strings rule gives dictators the means to resist," Human Rights Watch's executive director Richard Roth said recently.

It is to laugh. The Sudan regime is considerably richer and stronger and legitimate today, but little thanks to China. More thanks to Washington and its desire to counter Beijing in Africa.

But the painstaking planning and successful execution—and the focus on the Third World--argues that the overarching strategy was planned by the State Department and not the White House press office or Dick Cheney’s cabal, and has a chance of enduring, just as the State Department’s anti-Russian initiatives have persisted and flourished.

The welcome news for Africa may very well be…

Checkbook diplomacy is back, baby!

American policy seems to be moving away from the coercive insistence on US strategic priorities and moral imperatives justified by our self-assumed leadership role in the Global War on Terror.

We haven’t abandoned American unilateralism and returned to the flabby bosom of the UN, but at least the United States is now competing for the attention of Third World states, instead of merely demanding and compelling it.

African states can look forward to a profitable cycle of playing off Beijing against Washington.

All I can say is, it’s better than people shooting at each other.

And if the rickety Darfur agreement survives, we’ll be grateful for that, too.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

The Thousand Days

Liberals groan at the thought of another 1000 days under the reign of George W. Bush.

China, on the other hand, probably considers that 1000 days a precious, slowly closing window of opportunity.

China has 1000 days to promote cautious and self-serving multi-lateralism as an alternative to detested Bush administration unilateralism.

China has 1000 days to promote the establishment of a nuclear, friendly Iran as a counterweight to US influence in the Gulf.

Currently, the world community appears to be unwilling to frame the Iran debate in any terms that will give the Bush administration any opportunity to claim a UN, diplomatic, or moral mandate for military action or even a position of leadership against Teheran.

And with good reason.

Too much has been revealed of the bankrupt intellectual and practical foundations of the Bush preventive war doctrine, the Bush administration’s incapacity for self-examination and self-correction, and its breathtaking mendacity and arrogance in furthering its foreign policy agenda for the world to trust President Bush’s word or his judgment.

Add to that the President’s dismal political ratings, and reports that his handlers believe that confrontation with Iran is the best way to get his poll numbers up.

Ratchet up the rhetoric against Iran too much, and President Bush might take the bit in his teeth again and drag the world into another foreign policy debacle.

As somebody said, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, well…won’t get fooled again.”

What we see now is a grudging containment of the Bush presidency by a bizarre constellation of allies and enemies.

The world community will be happy to close the books on the Bush administration.

Once George W. Bush leaves the White House, the new president, be it Clinton, McCain, Allen, or whoever, will have the opportunity to renew the natural covenant between the United States and the prosperous world powers.

The hearts of the Europeans and Japanese do not flutter ecstatically at the idea of Hu Jintao serving as the spokesperson for the global consensus against reckless US adventurism—and they do not look kindly upon Iran’s pretensions to becoming a regional nuclear power.

In the forthcoming honeymoon, they might even let the new US president bomb Iran to his or her heart’s content—or, what’s more likely, back up Washington’s bellicosity with real sanctions and ostracization--as a sort of friendly bouquet welcoming America back to its position of leadership on the world stage.

But not yet.

Now is the time, with America sidelined, that China can really do something for Iran.

“Something” means stalling UN efforts to sanction Iran, diluting the atmosphere of crisis, and making Iran’s surreptitious march toward a nuclear weapons program appear more of a normal, ongoing element in our stress-filled world.

Currently, the Chinese have the best of both worlds.

Either Iran emerges from the current tension thanking China for making the world grit its teeth and accept Teheran’s careful crawfishing toward a nuclear weapons program as part of the global status quo…

…or the Bush administration bombs the stuffing out of Iran and the Middle East remains violently hostile to the United States for a generation.

I can’t say I blame China too much. After all, turnabout is fair play.

As Robert Dreyfuss wrote in The American Prospect, the Cheney view on foreign policy which his minions so ruthlessly and effectively imposed not only on President Bush but on the entire US foreign policy and intelligence establishment is based on a zero sum calculation against China in the Middle East.

As in Occupy Iraq: we win, Chinese lose. On to Iran.

Dreyfuss writes:

Two of the people most often encountered by Wilkerson were Cheney's Asia hands, Stephen Yates and Samantha Ravich. Through them, the fulcrum of Cheney's foreign policy--which linked energy, China, Iraq, Israel, and oil in the Middle East--can be traced. The nexus of those interrelated issues drives the OVP's broad outlook.

Many Cheney staffers were obsessed with what they saw as a looming, long-term threat from China.


For the Cheneyites, Middle East policy is tied to China, and in their view China's appetite for oil makes it a strategic competitor in the Persian Gulf region. Thus, they regard the control of the Gulf as a zero-sum game. They believe that the invasion of Afghanistan, the U.S. military buildup in Central Asia, the invasion of Iraq, and the expansion of the U.S. military presence in the Gulf states have combined to check China's role in the region. In particular, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the creation of a pro-American regime in Baghdad was, for at least 10 years before 2003, a top neoconservative goal, one that united both the anti-China crowd and far-right supporters of Israel's Likud. Both saw the invasion of Iraq as the prelude to an assault on neighboring Iran.

It is more than a little ironic that Cheney’s headlong pursuit of an anti-China policy in the Middle East has given China, Iran, and their allies and sympathizers 1000 precious days of breathing space before America can resume its position of active world leadership and revive the alliance of powers seeking to limit China’s economic, political, and military reach.