Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Arthur Waldron Visits China Matters...And Is Not Amused

A while back I posted a lament that the New York Times quoted Arthur Waldron on the matter of Chinese policy activities vis a vis Uzbekistan, without identifying Prof. Waldron as someone whose views on China and the Chinese threat were well to the right and who, in fact, is worshipped as a tutelary deity by the “Blue Team” of distinctly non-Asian-expert conservatives that have found post Cold-War careers in hyping the Chinese threat.

Although I took deliberate pains to ascribe Prof. Waldron’s comments to his rather unique views of China’s role in modern Asia history and in contemporary international relations—and not to any right-wing habit of cherry-picking worst-case assessments at the expense of more plausible and less alarmist explanations—he took umbrage.

For the convenience of the reader, I reproduce my post and Prof. Waldron’s comments below.

Professor Waldron’s dismissive statement that “The Blue Team exists mostly in the mind of those who fear them” will provide food for thought and amusement for us, and possibly dismay for that group of panda-affronted Washington warriors.

After all, the Blue Team seeks to cultivate an aura of mystery and menace concerning its hidden web of connections and virtuous conspiracies inside the Washington national security establishment, possibly to compensate for the limitations of intellect, experience, credibility, and achievement that characterize its non-covert activities:

The impact of the Blue Team still "isn't nearly what this community [of
hard-liners] desires," lamented Richard Fisher…. But he noted with
satisfaction that the Blue Team "strikes terror into the heart" of
Washington's policy establishment

The interesting issue of whether Professor Waldron is choosing to distance himself from the Blue Team as a matter of tactics or of principle could be addressed more easily if he started his own blog and deconstructed the inside-the-Beltway gyrations of the Blue Team from his privileged perspective--something that I encourage him to do, so his views can be better examined and understood in full context as he desires.

Professor Waldron concludes with the canard that my anonymity is a mark against my character and presumably discredits my views.

To clarify: I do not know Prof. Waldron professionally or personally. I have a career far removed from academics or public policy, a career which I choose not to endanger by linking my identity to this blog.

In the unlikely event I decide to make a job of retailing my views on China and decide to use my professional standing to enhance the credibility and visibility of my opinions—as Professor Waldron has--I will paint the bull’s eye on my back, abandon the China Hand nom de plume, and provide readers with the dubious pleasure of directing their comments to a name instead of a persona.

Until then, Professor Waldron will have to satisfy himself with addressing the matters of fact and opinion posted on this blog, instead of the individual behind them.

I remain, respectfully—and anonymously:

China Hand

Arthur Waldron and the Rightward Drift of U.S. Discourse on China

In Joseph Kahn and Chris Buckley’s article in the New York Times, China Gives a Strategic 21-Gun Salute to Visiting Uzbek President, a China expert parses the Chinese desire to cozy up to Uzbekistan as follows:

"Energy is clearly one driver for China in the region," said Arthur Waldron, a China expert at the University of Pennsylvania. "My sense is that they also tend to think that anything that throws sand into the face of the U.S. is a good thing."

Hmmm. Not exactly the way I read it.

In the interests of full disclosure, I think Kahn and Buckley should have identified Waldron as affiliated with the self-identified “Blue Team” of confront-China enthusiasts seeking to permeate the Pentagon and State Department.

Waldron is the former Director of Asian Studies at the American Enterprise Institute; signatory to Project for the New American Century statements on Taiwan and Hong Kong; served on the boards of various right-leaning foundations, and testifies to Congress on the China threat.

In the feisty days when Clinton was president and the Blue Team boasted of its virtuous conspiracy to tilt policy and perceptions toward a harder anti-China stance in the face of panda-hugger persecution, Waldron openly called for regime change in China.

He provides academic credibility and cover for the Blue Team, which is composed largely of anti-PRC enthusiasts with limited backgrounds in Asian affairs, in role similar to the one Bernard Lewis played for the neo-cons over Iraq.

It may be unfair, but I see Waldron, like Lewis, as an academic at best prescribing tough love for his area of study and at worst sounding positively Sinophobic.

In considering 20th century Asia, Waldron has a strong pro-Japan tilt. A flavor of his views, and how he applies them to the current situation, can be gleaned from his piece Japan Emerges, published earlier this year:

So perhaps we should listen to other historians, less well known than those who concentrate on Japanese domestic history {for the origins of the China invasion}, stressing instead a series of completely unexpected developments in the region that even the most liberal Japanese leaders saw as threatening to their country’s security.

Most important of these was a strong but erratically guided rise of Chinese power that saw that country’s government, goading and reacting to the resentments of her people, flout many of the undertakings she had made at Washington {at the Washington Conference of 1921-22--CH}.

Almost simultaneously came political splits and then civil wars in a China that at the time of the Conference had seemed politically stable and set on a course of peaceful economic development. These wars threatened continental interests that Tokyo considered vital, and when the allies who had promised at Washington to consult on such threats and act to protect legitimate interests failed to do so, Japan attempted to do so herself—in a catastrophic way that saw both democracy and millions of Japanese people perish.

One element of a parallel to these developments is already in place. North Korea’s nuclear capability has deeply unsettled Japan

Translation: The Chinese were asking for it in the 1930s and now they’re asking for it again today.

Most students of the period tend to blame Japanese belligerence and imperial ambition for the catastrophe of the Pacific War, not Chinese provocation.

As Waldron himself admits, he’s in the minority in his reading of modern Asian history.

So it seems to me a sign of the rightward drift in the popular discourse about China that he nevertheless appears to be a go-to guy for the New York Times when some academic insight about the PRC is called for.

When Waldron depicts China’s outreach to the Uzbekistan regime primarily as a move touching on the mother of all American strategic interests—oil—and a provocative nose thumbing at the United States…

…instead of a clumsy embrace driven by China’s fear that weakening of authoritarian regimes in Central Asia will give the Muslims of Xinjiang a thirst for the same kind of populist, anti-government activism and promise of democratic self-determination that has roiled Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan…

…it makes me wonder if he’s trying to create a pressing issue for America in China’s relationship with Uzbekistan that really isn’t there.

If anything, China may be using its ostentatious show of support for Karimov to signal to the United States that China is fully vested in the survival of this pro-American tyrant and the U.S. government should not feel there is any need—or compelling alternative—to abandoning him.

Arthur Waldron’s Comment

Dear Colleagues--

I am still squinting from the limelight your blog has directed on me. A few

First, no one who spends thirty plus years of his life on classical and modern
Chinese can have anything but a very high opinion of Chinese civilization. No
one who knows me would question that.

Second, no one who is named for a young American who died fighting in the
Philippines in May 1945 could be pro-Japanese.

Third, the only point of being an intellectual--and I am, in the sense that I am
paid, for life, to think about things and comment, is to CALL THINGS AS YOU SEE

Fourth, while I am pleased to see the great changes in China since 1976 I don't
see much eagerness to attack the fundamentals: freeing the press, freeing the
prisoners, allowing elections and opposition parties, making the currency
convertible, etc. The longer this is put off, the more difficult change
becomes, the more opportunities are wasted amd the more difficult the problems
are when the inevitable crash comes.

Fifth, I note a distinct unwillingness on the part of many colleagues to face
directly the worrying aspects of China such as internet censorship,
surveillance, and wasteful military buildup.

Having these views does not make you anti-China. And I would hate to think that
supporting democracy, freedom, and dignity now places me on the "right." Note
that the real hard line communists in China are conservatives. Those like me
who are against them are also called conservatives. This makes no sense.

The Blue Team is not a team and is very loose, it exists mostly in the mind of
those who fear it.

As for your comments on the one phrase extracted from a long interview, they do
not adequately convey my full views on a subject I have studied for many years.
Read my books and articles, not just the stuff that turns up on the net. I am
difficult to pigeonhole.

Rather than follow personalities, follow the facts. As Zoellick's fine speech
made clear, these are not ideal.

I have never sought to be an intellectual leader. I just try to say what I
believe and stick by it, damn the torpedoes. I have taken some hits. What do
you do?

Lets get back to the facts. They provide plenty to discuss.

And here is my name: Arthur Waldron. You know where to find me. The person
behind this blog does not even have the guts to admit who he is. That is NOT
how I operate. Even if it is a negative tenure letter, I write it so that I
could present it in person to the subject. It might be difficult, but the words
would be straight.

Best to All Arthur Waldron

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

The Willkie/Soong May-ling Affair

Taiwan intellectual, legislator, firebrand, and free spirit Li Ao acquired a further distinction--dingbat--during the 2000 presidential election by alleging an affair between Mdme. Chiang Kai-shek (Soong May-ling) and U.S. political figure Wendell Willkie during the Chungking years.

Turns out, he was right.

In The Soong Dynasty, author Sterling Seagrave had already cited John Service's on-the-scene but anodyne reports on the apparent mutual interest between Willkie and Soong May-ling, which led to Willkie paving the way for Mdme. Chiang's triumphal visit to the United States in 1943.

The story was taken a step further in Jonathan Fenby's recent biography of Chiang Kai-shek.

Fenby quotes virtually verbatim (and fully cites) Mike Looks Back, a privately published memoir (1985) by Gardner Cowles, scion of a publishing empire that included Look magazine. Cowles was Willkie's supporter and confidant during Willkie's political career, which culminated with a presidential run against FDR in 1940.

In 1942, FDR dispatched Willkie on an around-the-world fact-finding trip accompanied by Cowles. During a brief stay in Chungking, Willkie and Mdme. Soong became powerfully enamoured of each other.

On one occasion they slipped away from a government reception, leaving Cowles to divert the attention and wrath of Chiang Kai-shek. Later that evening, the Generalissimo appeared at Cowles and Willkie's quarters and searched it from top to bottom in a vain effort to find his wife.

At 4:00 am Willkie returned, in Cowles' words "cocky as a young college student after a successful night with a girl...giving me a play by play account of what had happened"--though Cowles is too much the gentleman to reveal the details himself.

Then Wilkie announced to an astounded Cowles that he wanted to bring Soong May-ling back to Washington with him.

Cowles convinced Willkie such an escapade would doom his political aspirations. As repayment Cowles was delegated to deliver the bad news to Mdme. Soong. Her reaction created an indelible impression on him:

Before I knew what was happening she reached up and scratched her long fingernails down both my cheeks so deeply that I had marks for about a week.

When Mdme. Soong eventually made her historic trip to the United States the next year, she summoned Cowles to her suite in the Waldorf and proposed that he devote himself exclusively to obtaining the Republican presidential nomination for Willkie, spending whatever was necessary--with his expenses to be reimbursed by Mdme. Soong:

...she wound up her sales talk with a remark I shall never forget: "You know, Mike, if Wendell could be elected, then he and I would rule the world. I would rule the Orient and Wendell would rule the Western world." And she stressed the word rule.

After the war, Cowles repeated the story to his wife, sophisticate/socialite/inveterate name dropper Fleur Cowles. While deriding Mike Looks Back as ghost-written and inaccurate, at least as it pertains to the launch of her legendary style magazine Flair, she retells the Mdme. Chiang/Willkie story herself in her own 1996 memoir She Made Friends and Kept Them, confirming more explicitly that the encounter was a secret tryst between the two and not simply a tete a tete about absolute world domination:

On this historic trip, Mme Chiang had her dangerous, short-lived affair with Wendell Willkie ...This brief love affair...had taken place in Mme Chiang's secret apartment on the top floor of the Women's and Children's Hospital. Mme Chiang was so besotted by Willkie she asked to see Mike Cowles privately before they left China, pleading with him to make sure that Willkie would beat Roosevelt in the next election for the Presidency. She offered to pay any costs! [Emphasis in original]

The conversation concluded with her agitated promise: 'If Wendell could be elected, he and I would rule the world, I the Orient, Wendell the rest.'

Gardner and Fleur Cowles divorced, apparently not on the best of terms, in 1955. By conflating the two conversations between Mdme. Chiang and Gardner Cowles, she seems to be relying on her own recollections of 40-year old events--indeed she recollects that her husband told her the story "shortly after we were married"--and not regurgitating Gardner Cowles' disparaged memoir.

Amusingly, Fleur Cowles seems unaware of what must have been Mdme. Chiang's resentment at Gardner Cowles for interfering with her plans for the ultimate, world-conquering power couple romance, and for failing to catapault Willkie into the White House in 1944.

When Fleur Cowles unexpectedly passed through Taiwan in 1953, Mdme. Chiang dropped her off at her accommodations--a fog shrouded, cliffside concrete aerie with "hideously primitive" sanitation, originally used as a final residence for Japanese kamikaze pilots--and told the snake-phobic Cowles sharply:

Don't worry about rats, Fleur. My housekeeper keeps a boa constrictor.

A bemused Cowles concludes:

...I used to reason that, in all likelihood, neither snake nor housekeeper really existed, that the snake had been conjured up as a mischievous form of revenge by Mme Chiang for 'dropping in' on her but...I just couldn't sleep. By the time I left, I had decided that insects, whether flying or crawling, and the hole in the floor for sanitation, were horrible enough to make the snake merely another ingredient in a nightmare.

Gardner Cowles' recollections, complete with claw marks, can't be dismissed as hearsay or third-hand tittle-tattle. And it was a story he regaled his wife with shortly after the event, before age, imagination, and fading memory had taken their toll.

The question that interests me is What did Li Ao know--and when did he know it? Did he glean allegations from the otherwise obscure memoirs of Gardner and Fleur Cowles? Or are there other voices?