Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Syrian Revolution Hijacked

The Syrian revolution—a broad-based, non-sectarian, democratic anti-despot national movement—has failed.

Mass demonstrations never materialized in Damascus and Aleppo.  The military and security forces didn’t crack.  The Alawite on Sunni crackdown (Alawites form the backbone of the army/security forces/irregular goon squads) fomented sectarian divisions, with most non-Sunnis minorities cleaving desperately to the Assad regime.  Prosperous Sunnis have presumably been hedging their bets by donating to the anti-government cause in recent days but have not explicitly abandoned the regime.

The Gulf powers and the West would have welcomed a Ba’athist regime collapse at the hand of domestic anti-government demonstrations.

That didn’t happen.

As the peaceful democratic movement has faltered, there has been no move from the Western/Gulf powers to encourage reconciliation and reforms.

Quite the contrary, in fact.

Whenever Assad makes an offer of reform, the Western powers dismiss it as too late and/or insincere.

Victoria Nuland, the State Department spokesperson, counseled Syrian dissidents to defy the Assad regime’s offer of an amnesty in return for handing in illegal weapons, as the LA Times reported:

Syria accused Washington of "inciting sedition, supporting the acts of killing and terrorism," the official Syrian news agency said, quoting an official source at the Foreign Ministry.

The comments came a day after State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland declared that she would counsel Syrians to reject the amnesty, in which those the government terms arms violators were asked to turn themselves in with their weapons "to the nearest police station" during a one-week period that began Saturday. Those who surrender and have not killed anyone "will be released soon," the Interior Ministry vowed.

"I wouldn't advise anybody to turn themselves in to regime authorities at the moment," Nuland told reporters in Washington.

Nuland, by the way, is married to PNACer and neocon pundit Robert Kagan.  Recalling Dick Cheney's enthusiasm for driving to Damascus post-Iraqi Freedom, maybe we should call the Syria enterprise Clean Break II: The Do-Over.

Anyway, democracy didn't work.  Time for Plan B.

The foreign powers interested in Assad’s fall—and stripping Iran of a regional ally--have made the decision to piggyback a foreign-supported, foreign-funded insurrection on the faltering anti-government movement.  

More accurately, the democratic revolution is now an uncertain and unwilling passenger on the Gulf-funded military machine rumbling toward Damascus.

Havens for anti-Assad fighters have materialized in Turkey, and arms and money are flooding in from all over the place.

Weapons and money for anti-Assad insurrectionists has been trickling in for months, to the blissful disregard of western news outlets fixated on the images of democracy demonstrators struggling against oppression.

Now that the political option is sliding off the table and it is clear a foreign-funded insurrection is needed to remove the Assad regime, the gusher of arms and cash has become too big to ignore.

But the story doesn’t require old-fashioned reporting anymore.

Just go down to a Turkish foreign ministry presser for tea, cookies, and a targeted backgrounder.

Turkey has positioned itself as the indispensable Western/Gulf proxy on Syria’s northern border.

Iran’s IRNA news agency passed on a report in Turkey’s Millyet tabloid a major Turkish news outlet.  IRNA is sometimes selective and/or inaccurate in its presentation of international news, so I’m passing it on with a caveat, but the report as presented passes the smell test for me:

According to Milliyet, as cited by IRNA, France has sent its military training forces to Turkey and Lebanon to coach the so-called Free Syrian Army -- a group of defectors operating out of Turkey and Lebanon -- in an effort to wage war against Syria's military.

The report added that the French, British, and Turkish authorities “have reached an agreement to send arms into Syria.”

The Turkish daily said that the three have informed the US about training and arming the Syrian opposition.

According to Milliyet, a group of armed rebels are currently stationed in Turkey's Hatay Province near the border with Syria.

The report comes as an earlier report had revealed that the British and French intelligence agencies have reportedly tasked their agents with contacting Syrian dissidents based in the northern Lebanese town of Tripoli in order to help fuel unrest in Syria.

Reports also said that French intelligence agents have been sent to northern Lebanon and Turkey to build the first contingents of the Free Syrian Army out of the deserters who have fled Syria.

For those of you who prefer to get your Turkey/Syria news from a reliable Crusader source, here’s an eyebrow-raising item from the Daily Telegraph, albeit via Hurryet on November 27:

Syrian dissidents held secret talks Nov. 25 with Libya’s new authorities and Turkish authorities in Istanbul with the aim of securing weapons and money for their insurgency against Damascus, the Daily Telegraph has reported.

Syrian opposition group requested “assistance” from the Libyan representatives and were offered arms, and potentially volunteers, during the meeting, the daily reported Nov. 25.

“There is something being planned to send weapons and even Libyan fighters to Syria,” a Libyan source said on condition of anonymity. “There is a military intervention on the way. Within a few weeks you will see.”

Preliminary discussions about arms supplies took place when members of the Syrian National Council (SNC) – the country’s main opposition movement – visited Libya earlier this month, said the daily.
“The Libyans are offering money, training and weapons to the Syrian National Council,” said Wisam Taris, a human rights campaigner with links to the SNC. Last month, Libya’s interim government became the first in the world to recognize Syria’s opposition movement as the country’s “legitimate authority.”

Large shipments of weapons have not yet been sent, said activists, mainly because of logistical difficulties.

But proposals for a “buffer zone” inside Syria, monitored by the Arab League, or the likely emergence of an area inside the country controlled entirely by rebels, could solve this problem. “The [Libyan] council’s offer is serious,” said Taris.

Sources in the Libyan town of Misrata suggested that some weapons may already have been sent. Some smugglers were caught selling small arms to Syrian buyers in Misrata, said a man who trafficked guns to Libya’s rebels during the country’s civil war.

Libyans feel closely aligned to the Syrian cause, said Hameda al-Mageri, from the Tripoli Military Council.

The Tripoli Military Council is the creature of Islamist strongman Abdelhakim Belhadj.

Belhadj is the preferred in-Libya muscle of the Gulf States—“proxy” is perhaps not too strong a term.  He recently found it expedient to issue a non-denial denial that Qatar had dispatched nine planeloads of arms to Tripoli for the exclusive use of his forces.

Belhadj was denied a seat in the new Libyan cabinet thanks to Western anxiety over any overtly Islamist tinge to the proceedings. In an inspiring demonstration of the give-and-take of new Libyan democracy, a representative from Zintan was able to leverage his town’s continued and suspiciously prolonged local custody of Saif Qaddafi into a winning bid for the defense slot.

Instead, Belhadj now has the opportunity to pursue profitable mischief in Syria on behalf of the Gulf states and their anti Sh’ia/anti-Iranian counter revolution (and perhaps dissipating the intimidating shadow of Belhadj and a number of his well-trained and hardened fighters from the streets of Tripoli).

In an amusing sideline, Belhadj--presumably on his way to the Istanbul meeting--got a friendly hazing at the airport from his Zintan buddies.  The brief detention was noted by the local Libyan press; the thing about the money was apparently glossed by a pro-Gaddafi website (they still exist!):

The battalion of Zintan men has arrested him after the discovery that the passport is registered with the competent authorities and carrying fake name. 

After the arrest the rebels received a call from the President of the Council Mustafa Abdul Jalil asking the Alzentan and officials at the airport in Tripoli to allow Hakim Belhaj to leave the country, this has been found on the large sum of money inside the bag Khuwaildi Belhadj.

The democratic revolution ship has sailed.  What’s going on today is a foreign-supported insurrection.

The Chinese and the Russians have a clear-eyed understanding of what’s going on.

The PRC is loath to get on the wrong side of Saudi Arabia, its largest energy supplier, by going too far to defend Syria.

Moscow, which has a real stake in its Iran alliance and cares about the fate of Assad’s regime, has shown no such qualms.

A selection of headlines from RIA Novosti gives an idea of what a responsible multi-lateral response on Syria—as opposed to a hurried military ass-kicking enabled by global anti-Iranian forces meant to obscure the failure of a peaceful "color revolution"—would have looked like:

Syria welcomes Russia as intermediary in reconciliation talks 

Syrian opposition should not boycott reforms—Russian FM 

Moscow calls on Arab League to work for peace in Syria

None of this is happening, of course.

As to where this all ends up, I will outsource the increasingly plausible endgame--Turkey is ready to invade Syria--to the estimable M. Badhrakumar of Asia Times (and his personal blog, Indian Punchline):

Turkey and its western allies are transferring the Libyan fighters whom they trained and armed to depose Muammar Gaddafi to Syria. Around 600 Libyan ‘volunteers’ have entered Syria. Daily Telegraph reported that secret meetings were held on Friday in Istanbul between the Turkish officials and the Syrian opposition representatives and the Libyan fighters. Large-scale infiltration of weapons from Turkey and Jordan have been going on for months to create civil-war conditions in Syria, but this is the first move to introduce ‘volunteers’.  

The move is necessitated by the failure to induce defections form the Syrian armed forces, except a mere handful. Turkey and the western powers are desperate to create the myth of a ‘Syrian resistance’ force without which their blatant aggression will be in full display. 
Things seem to be heading for a flash point, indeed. The sure sign is that US V-P Joseph Biden is heading for Ankara in the weekend. It is a major signal of the US giving the go-ahead to Turkey to act on Syria without fear. Again, Jordanian King, Abdullah, travelled to israel. He is Saudi Arabia’s ‘back channel’ to Israel and a key regional ally for the western intelligence. 

Turkey is indeed shedding its fear of the unknown and is coming out into the open on the Syrian situation. Turkish FM Ahmet Davitoglu indicated today for the first time that Turkey is all set for invasion of Syria once it gets the green signal from its western allies. He said this before heading for the combined meeting of EU foreign ministers and Arab League representatives (read Saudi Arabia and Qatar).  

The day Davutoglu spoke, November 29, will stand out as a notable date in the chronicle of the Turkish Republic that Kemal Ataturk founded. Ataturk’s ‘red line’ used to be that Turkey should never get entangled in the affairs of the Muslim Middle East but should instead concentrate on its own ‘modernization’. Evidently, the Islamist government in power today thinks Turkey is today ‘modern’ enough already and can now go back and reclaim its Ottoman legacy. 

A Turkish army moving into an Arab country - it is a historic point. It is a century after the Turks were driven out by the ‘Arab revolt’. The matrix is dripping with irony. The Arab revolt against the Turks was instigated by Great Britain. And Britain, although a far weaker power today, is still playing a seminal role - except, it is encouraging the Turks to return to the Arab world. One hundred years ago, Britain successfully pitted the Arabs against the Turks. Today, Turks join hands with some Arabs who have a grouse against some other Arabs.  

The Syrian revolutionaries were too weak to get the nation they wanted.

They’ll have to make do with whatever state that Turkey, the Gulf powers, and the western democracies decide to give them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Relics

The Belt of St. Mary Comes to Russia and the Buddha's Tooth Visits Myanmar

One thing that’s pretty clear is that religious movements are, for the most part, conservative and have served as bulwarks of authoritarianism (and a shield against challenges to the wealth and power of the privileged) at least since the days of the Social Democrats.

Authoritarian atheism, after a brief, 20th century heyday under Hitler, Mao, and Stalin, is perhaps headed for the dustbin of history.

Religion is too good for business, billionaires, and bosses, both in liberal democracies and post-Communist states.
Modern plutocracies have rediscovered the fact that there’s nothing like appeals to religious identity to split the electorate and marginalize those obstreperous liberal activists whose political views usually combine irreligious sentiments with enthusiasm for democracy and a nasty penchant for economic justice.

The PRC is having limited success replacing Communism with nationalism and Confucianism as organizing national faiths.  It’s hard to get excited by a quasi-state religion promising little more than order and stability to its followers and offering bland, risk-averse apparatchiks like Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping as its father-figures.  And despite Bo Xilai’s Red surge in Chongqing, I don’t think Mao nostalgia is going to make a comeback.

At the same time, the PRC’s attempts to present itself as a protector of Buddhism by sponsoring a tooth tour to Myanmar look rather unconvincing, especially considering the organized pounding the PRC government is giving to Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in western Sichuan (I write about the Sichuan campaign—which looks like nothing less than an organized effort to eliminate the recalcitrant monastery at Kirti through the most onerous oppression possible—in my most recent piece for Asia Times, Will Aba be the CCP’s Waterloo? Yes, Europop lovers, I constructed that title with care and considerable pride).

I think the Russians under Putin have broken the code.  You can read about it below in the story of the Virgin Mary’s girdle.

Note in particular that the Russian state now works its religious legerdemain through an ultra-conservative, well-financed, firebreathing defender-of-the-faith-esque religious foundation instead of China’s retro-socialist, atheistic, bureaucratic, and broadly disliked government State Administration for Religious Affairs.

What China’s elites need to energize their rule is a shot of that old time religion, feeding off the invincible charisma of Jesus Christ, or for that matter, Buddha instead of relying on whatever technocrat the Politburo burps out every few years. Maybe, in a few years, we’ll see some Chinese leader profess his militantly Christian (or, what the heck, Buddhist) faith, pour state resources into institutionalizing a mass conservative religious base, and create a virtually unassailable bulwark against his political opponents and those pesky democratic activists.

Religion is not just religion when it comes to national politics and geopolitics.

As a current affairs bonus, there’s a passage on a competing Virgin Mary’s girdle held at a Syriac Orthodox Church in the rebellious city of Homs, and a competing Buddha's tooth that Taiwan will enshrine at a complex built at a cost of one-third of a billion US dollars in Kaohsiung on December 25, 2011.

First, from Russia, via RIA Novosti:

A remarkable procession is currently taking place in Russia…

The Belt of the Virgin Mary, otherwise referred to as the Precious Sash, or Cincture, of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos – the holy treasure of the Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece, is travelling abroad for the first time. The Belt is travelling in style. It flies in a private jet, chartered by the tour’s organizer – the influential St. Andrew Foundation, and is accompanied by six Vatopedi monks. In St. Petersburg, it was welcomed by none other than Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. In Yekaterinburg, Russia's fourth largest city, Governor Alexander Misharin and the region’s bishop, Metropolitan Kirill, met the relic with the guard of honor before a procession of some 15,000 people took it to the cathedral.

The numbers are stunning indeed. In St. Petersburg, estimated one million people came to venerate the Belt in three days and nights, according to the local media. People stood in line for twelve to fourteen hours to be able to kiss the silver box containing the piece of camel wool fabric believed to have been woven and worn by the Virgin Mary, and take a small band blessed on the relic. In Yekaterinburg it was 300,000, in Krasnoyarsk – 100,000.  The relic has already been to the country’s Far East – in Vladivostok, and the Far North – in Norilsk, beyond the Arctic Circle. Volgograd and Stavropol in the South are in the days to come. And it is hard to imagine what kind of crowds will gather in Moscow when, by the end of November, the relic arrives in the capital before leaving Russia for good.

According to the Vatopedi Monastery, the Virgin Mary dropped the belt from heaven for St.Thomas:

According to the Sacred Tradition and the history of our Church, the Most Holy Theotokos [Virgin Mary] three days after she fell asleep she rose from the dead and ascended in body to the heavens. During her ascension, she gave her Holy Belt to the Apostle Thomas.  Thomas, along with the rest of the holy Apostles, opened up her grave and didn't find the body of the Theotokos. In this way the Holy Belt is proof for our Church of her Resurrection and bodily ascension to the heavens, and, in a word, at her metastasis.

From AFP, the socio-political angle:

Clerics said they hoped the relic would help more Russian women become mothers as the influential Russian Orthodox Church is actively promoting motherhood to help the government curtail a population decline.

Church officials in several cities plan to take the relic to pregnancy centres that counsel women contemplating an abortion, the Russian Orthodox Church said.

“This event is of huge significance especially when it comes to strengthening people’s faith,” Father Kirill, a spokesman for the Saint Petersburg diocese, told AFP.

“And the fact that this is such a singular relic helping women is especially important for our city and our country, where the demographic situation leaves much to be desired.”

Russian leaders have called the shrinking population a matter of national security.

The country’s latest census released earlier this year showed that the country’s population had shrunk by 2.2 million people since 2002 and now stands at 142.9 million.

There are also photos of Putin and Medvedev solemnly observing the reliquary.   Putin chose to appear in his Action Man uniform (no tie, unbuttoned collar), inviting the question of whether his expression is one of stunned reverence or sullen challenge to a potential rival.

All joking aside, Vladimir Putin  has jettisoned the official atheism of the KGB and has established the Russian state as a vigorous promoter of the Russian Orthodox Church--and vice versa, as Michael Binyon wrote for The Humanist in 2008:

Putin … is fervently and ostentatiously observant in his religious beliefs. As a result, the Russian Orthodox Church, now richer and more powerful than at any time for almost a century, has been at the centre of all state ceremonies, is a strong supporter of Putin’s policies and has resumed its traditional role as the spiritual arm of the Russian state. Restored churches can be seen everywhere. There are now some 28,000 parish churches in Russia, 732 monasteries and convents and thousands of priests training in seminaries. Putin delivers speeches at major religious festivals; in return the Patriarch acts as his agent in extending his control over all sectors of society. Church and Communist Party have become almost interchangeable.

As reported by Ministry Values in 2010, President Medvedev  is equally forthright about playing the religious card:

An icon of Jesus hidden in a Kremlin gate used by Soviet leaders but bricked over in the 1930s during communist times was restored on Saturday to public view.

Russian President Medvedev,  on the day that marks the Virgin Mary being taken into heaven, said the "Saviour Smolensky" icon, which depicts Jesus holding open the New Testament, with Russian saints below him, will provide moral support to Russia. 

"Now that we've got the icon back, our country secures an additional defense." 

The “influential St. Andrew Foundation” cited in the Novosti report—the outfit that sent the private jet to pick up the belt—is a religious foundation run by Vladimir Yakunin, a member of Putin’s inner circle and reputedly a veteran of the KGB’s First Directorate.  He is also president of the gigantic state-owned Russian Railways.

Presumably, Yakunin is there to lock up the support of the Russian Orthodox hierarchy for Putin and whatever subsequent strongman craves well-financed, pervasive, and activist backing from the conservative church.  

In 2010, European CEO breathlessly pegged him as “the man to watch” as a potential successor to Putin:

This ex-KBG spook is discreet, bright and endowed with a potentially huge powerbase. Vladimir Yakunin has a neighbouring lake-side dacha with prime minister (and former president) Putin. He’s often mentioned in the same breath as other successors to his all-powerful boss…

He’s patently bright and has certainly proved himself able and willing to move with the times. After the Soviet Union collapsed he moved into banking and business before being appointed as deputy transport minister in 2000. Many ex-KGB personnel were able to take advantage of new industry licences and Yakunin, along with some physicist friends, were no exception. In time they established Bank Russia, which later financed Putin’s re-election campaign in 2004.

Yet it would be a mistake to label this discreetly influential man as just another power-hungry party apparatchik or ex-KGB “siloviki”, the unflattering term given to describe the network of ex and current state-security officers. He has a fascination with Russia’s religious legacy and has helped launch a foundation that encourages reconciliation of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Yakunin’s “fascination with Russia’s religious legacy”, and his evolution from amoral KGB apparatchik to creepy, "values"-promoting bigot is reflected in remarks like this:

The head of the Council of Trustees of the St. Andrew the First-Called Foundation and JSC Russian Railways, Vladimir Yakunin, believes tolerance to homosexuality is harmful. 

"I think traditional family values and childbearing should not be substituted with some notorious imitations invented by the homosexual propaganda which could be only arbitrarily called attributes of a democratic society," he said at the opening ceremony of the 15th World Russian People's Council held on Wednesday in Moscow. 

Yakunin told that he wanted to address this issue in his speech delivered at the Berlin forum last year, but he was warned that "this country will hardly understand you; and you may have troubles here." 

"Nothing of the kind. There was not a single protest made and not a single person left the room because I mentioned that the propaganda of homosexuality was the same pollutant for the social environment as other pollutants were for the natural one," he said. 

Getting back to the Cincture of the Virgin Mary, another version of the relic is held by the Jacobite Syrian Church in Homs—yes, Homs, ground zero of the anti-Assad rebellion-- under considerably less glamorous conditions.

The reliquary, and a history of Syria’s girdle and religious art showing its bestowal on St. Thomas, can be viewed on a very interesting Flickr feed by Rhoneil Victor de Leon.

On its website, the Cathedral of St. Mary in Homs claims its belt is the one that Mary dropped to St. Thomas from heaven, was brought to Syria in  476 and hidden in the church, and was rediscovered in 1953.  

Remarkably, a piece of the Homs belt resides in Jacksonville, Florida at the Mother of God Zunoro Syrian Orthodox Church.  The Patriarch of Damascus arranged to bestow a section of the belt on the new church.  The relic was first adored at a sister church in Paramus, NJ, before taking up permanent residence in Florida in 1998.

Any competing claim for the Homs belt is not addressed on the Mt. Athos website, which plausibly traces the provenance of its belt back to the Byzantine Empire in the 12th century and its donation to Mt. Athos by Emperor John the 6th Katakouzinos (1347-1355).

Meanwhile, from around the globe and a religious universe away, via Xinhua:

NAY PYI TAW, Nov. 6 (Xinhua) -- A Chinese Buddha sacred tooth relic was conveyed to Myanmar's new capital of Nay Pyi Taw Sunday afternoon for 48-day public obeisance in the country under the escort of venerable monks.

It is the fourth time that the Chinese Buddha sacred tooth relic was brought to the country for obeisance 15 years after the last conveyance.

Arriving along with the special plane which carried the sacred tooth relic were a Chinese Buddhist delegation led by Director of the State Administration of Religious Affairs of China Wang Zuoan and tooth relic escort team, and Myanmar Religious Affairs Minister Thura U Myint Maung who specially went in advance to Beijing to greet the tooth relic.

Myanmar held a grand ceremony at the Nay Pyi Taw International Airport to greet the arriving tooth relic in accordance with Buddhist practice with national characteristics.

Vice-President Dr. Sai Mauk Kham and other high government officials, representatives of Buddhist circle and followers totaling about 2,000 greeted the Buddha sacred tooth relic at the airport.

The sacred tooth relic is being transferred to colorful floats and white-elephant-decorated vehicles and heading for Nay Pyi Taw' s Uppatasanti Pagoda where President U Thein Sein, along with 6, 000 Buddhist followers, is awaiting for greeting the relic for paying homage.

The Chinese tooth relic will be kept in Myanmar for a total of 48 days for public obeisance from Nov. 6 to Dec. 24 covering three major cities -- Nay Pyi Taw, Yangon and Mandalay.

Of Myanmar's 60-million population, over 80 percent believe in Buddhism. The conveyance of the Chinese sacred tooth relic to Myanmar represents not only a major event of the Buddhist believers but also a fine story of China-Myanmar friendship.

It would seem that this lavish and lavishly costumed exercise was planned well before the recent, orchestrated chill in PRC-Myanmar relations that accompanied the civilian Myanmar government’s recent tilt toward the West.

One would imagine that China decided to proceed with the tooth tour anyway, to show it could be big about the snub.

Buddhism also has its relic-related controversies, sometimes exacerbated by political scraps.

The provenance of China's tooth is relatively secure.  It is generally accepted that only two of Buddha's teeth survived his cremation to exist in the earthly realm: one at Lingguang Temple in China, and another at the Temple of the Tooth Relic in Kandy, Sri Lanka.

In the 1990s, Taiwan had well-funded government pretensions of establishing itself as a world center of  Buddhism, including Tibetan Buddhism, and even luring the Dalai Lama to reside there.  In 1998 a Tibetan Buddhist Rinpoche bestowed a Buddha's tooth (as authenticated by other rinpoches) rescued from the Namgyal Monastery inside Tibet to Fo Guang Shan Temple in Kaohsiung China.

American readers might recognize the Los Angeles branch of the far-flung and absurdly prosperous Fo Guang Shan empire: Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights, California, where then Vice President Al Gore encountered his campaign contribution bundling awkwardness.

It has taken ten years for Fo Guang Shan Temple to complete the facility that will house and reverence what it claims to be Buddha's third tooth, the Buddha Memorial Center.

The BMC is a colossal structure that, by the temple's own calculation, cost NT 10 billion to construct.  That's US $350 million dollars.  I repeat:US $350 million dollars. Its official opening is scheduled for December 25, 2011.  This artist's rendition gives the best idea of the facility's inter-galactic awesomeness.  Those little specs?  People.  That Buddha in the back there?  Largest seated Buddha statue in the world, 108 meters high, roughly the height of a thirty-story building. 

Predictably, the PRC government was not amused when Taiwan first shouldered in on the tooth-relic action, as the BBC reported in 1999:

A third relic in the possession of a Tibetan monk caused great excitement when moved to Taiwan last year, but was angrily denounced by Chinese officials as a false tooth. 

Beijing, which claims Taiwan as part of its territory, said there was no Buddhist scripture to prove its authenticity - a claim rejected as irrelevant by Taiwanese Buddhist leaders. 

Quite possibly, the Chinese government decided to send its tooth on tour this year in order to remind the world once again that the PRC, not Taiwan, possesses a Buddha tooth of widely acknowledged provenance (the Lingguang Temple tooth was sent to Hong Kong for display in 1999, following the Fo Guang Shan bombshell).

Impoverished Myanmar may not be able to match the multi-million dollar spectacle slated for the BMC's Christmas Day 2011 official opening, but it made the arrival of the tooth a national event.

A Myanmar publication, The Village Weekly, depicted the procession on its Facebook page:

 New Light of Myanmar, the China Daily as it were of Myanmar, described the unfolding of the Jumbotron-inflected 24-hour simulcast religious raree, while meticulously recording the financial take and the respectful  obeisances of local and foreign notables (Jon Patrick Barta of the Wall Street Journal!) in breathless daily reports.

Donations appear to be coming in at a rate of around 20 million MMK (Myanmar Kyat) per day.  At the official exchange rate of roughly 6 kyat to the dollar (the rate at which the government will generously sell a visitor its currency), that’s over $3 million per day, or more than $140 million dollars over the 48-day duration of the visit.

The black market rate of the MMK (for people who want dollars but need to buy them illegally) is around 800:1, which makes for a somewhat less impressive $25,000/day.  

The IMF apparently believes an exchange rate of 400-450 MMK is a good reflection of the purchasing power of the kyat.  Assuming that the value of the gold offerings is calculated at the official rate, the take is perhaps $50,000/day or $2 million for the entire visit.

With over 80% of Myanmar's population identified as Buddhist, the Buddhist establishment is a key political player. As one can see from the list of donors and donations, Myanmar’s leaders spare no expense in publicly associating themselves with Buddhism and its most revered symbols.

I imagine the Chinese delegation took careful note of the phenomenon.

New Light of Myanmar’s website is a mystifying relic of an earlier Internet age, when dinosaurs roamed the earth and Usenet represented the pinnacle of human aspiration.  As far as I can tell, it has no useful search engine and no archive beyond retention of the most recent seven days’ stories.  So, at the risk of trying my readers’ patience, and playing fast and loose with fair use, I am reproducing a week’s worth of daily reports below for the sake of posterity, and for Myanmarologists who wish to parse the donation levels of the various military and bureaucratic notables who flocked to the event.

From New Light of Myanmar

Uppatasanti Pagoda packed with pilgrims who pay homage to Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic

NAY PYI TAW, 8 Nov-Pilgrims continued to crowd Uppatasanti Pagoda to pay homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic conveyed for the fourth time from China to Myanmar for Buddhists in Myanmar from dawn to dusk today.

In addition to two elevators installed at southeast and south-west corners of the hill for the sake of public convenience, members of social organizations helped the elders and the disabled climb the hill.

Three pathways are systematically designed in the cave to enable the pilgrims to pay close homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic and sites for those who want to meditate in the cave are created.

The artistes of Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture performed Dhammapuja songs in the accompaniment with harp troupe. Religious associations of ministries and in Nay Pyi Taw Council Area recited religious verses.

Donation boxes and pavilions are opened at the southern arch and the eastern arch on the precinct of the pagoda for accepting donation of cash and jewellery. A total of 24 donors of K 100000 and above emerged today. Chairman of Financial Sub-committee Deputy Minister for Finance and Revenue U Win Than returned certificates of honour to them.

In the evening, Director of Armoured Unit of Commander-in-Chief (Army) Office Maj-Gen Hla Myint and wife Daw San San Aye and family donated one earring with jade and diamond with estimated value of K 650000, US$ 100 and K 100000.

Secretary of Financial Sub-committee Deputy Director- General Dr Lin Aung of Budget Department under the Ministry of Finance and Revenue accepted donations and returned certificate of honour. Cash donation at the donation centres from 7 November evening till 7 pm today amounted to K 16789410 and US$ 207, RMB 23 Yuan, 100 Baht, 60 jewelleries with estimated value of K 3065600, two silver vases worthy of K 350000 and Non Jade Buddha Image worthy of K 500000.-MNA

Pilgrims throng Uppatasanti Pagoda to pay homage to Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic conveyed from PRC

NAY PYI TAW, 9 Nov- A large number of pilgrims thronged Uppatasanti Pagoda, here, to pay homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic conveyed for the fourth times from the People’s Republic of China to Myanmar for public obeisance from dawn to dusk today.

For the convenience of pilgrims, an elevator at south-west corner helps monks, the aged and the disabled climb the hill. Apart from Myanmar people, visitors from Germany and Japan paid homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic.

A total of 14 wellwishers who donated K 100,000 and above and 22, various kinds of jewelries emerged today.

Among donors were U Myo Myint Aung and wife Daw Khaing Su Yin and son Maung Ye Yint Aung of MRTV in Nay Pyi Taw Tatkon who donated two gold rings worth K 312,000 and U Aye Kyaw and wife Daw Myint Myint Than and family of Natalin in Bago Region, a gold ring worth K 295,200. An official of financial subcommittee received the donation and presented certificates of honour to them.

Today’s donation amounted to K 18,406,511, US$ 39, 500 bahts, 500 pesos and 100,000 Indonesia rupiahs and 47 kinds of jewelries worth K4,034,500.

Uppatasanti Pagoda packed with pilgrims to pay homage to Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic

NAY PYI TAW, 10 Nov - Uppatasanti Pagoda was thronged with devotees who pay homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic conveyed for the fourth times from the People’s Republic of China to Myanmar for making public obeisance from dawn to dusk today.

The Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic was showed on large TV screens for enabling pilgrims to pay close homage to the tooth relic.

Moreover, booklets, pictures of the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic and religious books are on sale at the bookstall of the Department for Promotion and Propagation of the Sasana at the foot of the Uppatasanti Hill.

For the convenience of pilgrims who pay homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic, buses of Nay Pyi Taw Council are providing free-of-charge transportation service to pilgrims on this Fullmoon Day of Tazaungmon.

A total of 64 wellwishers who donated K 100,000 and above and 92, various kinds of jewellery emerged today. Among the donors were Deputy Minister for Communications, Posts and Telegraphs U Tint Lwin and wife Daw Khin Mar Lwin and family who donated K 300,000, U Nyi Nyi Hlaing and wife Daw Khin Myo Myat and family of Yati Min Silk House in Mandalay, K 500, 000, Cambodian pilgrims led by Bhaddanta Vilasa of Tipitaka Maha Gannayon Monastery in Mayangon Township, K135, 200, US$ 365, 1000 Vietnamese dongs, 2000 Cambodian riels and 20 bahts.

Today’s donation amounted to K 34,691,370, US$ 794, 820 yuans, 40 bahts, 1000 Vietnamese dongs, 2000 Cambodian riels, 320 Malaysian ringgits, 10 Indian rupees, two units of FEC and 118 items of jewellery worth K 6,269,460 .

Uppatasanti Pagoda continues to be crowded with BuddhaTooth Relic pilgrims

NAY PYI TAW, 11 Nov-Uppatasanti Pagoda continued to be crammed today with pilgrims who paid obeisance to Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic conveyed from China for public obeisance.

Sky Net family donated LED Display Boards at southern and northern archways to enable pilgrims from around the country to pay close homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic.

U Kyaw Nyunt Yi-Daw Wah Wah Kyaw (Kyaw Nyunt Yi Publishing House) family and U Moe Hsaung- Daw Aye Thuzar Win family donated K 0.3 million each, U Hla Nyunt-Daw Myat Thida Ko and family, three jewellery worthy of K 820000, U Aung Win Htay-Daw Khin Htay Myint family, seven gold rings worthy of K 216000, U Win Khant-Daw Win Pale family, jewellery worthy of K 561500. Members of financial sub-committee returned certificates of honour to 35 donors of over K 0.1 million and 45 donors of jewellery.

Union Minister for Environmental Conservation and Forestry U Win Tun and wife Daw Swe Swe Chit donated K 0.3 million to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic yesterday evening.

Donation at the centres from 10 November till 6 pm today amounted to K 26920909, US$ 551, RMB 110, Baht 20, one Ringgit, 10 Singapore dollars, and 81 jewellery worthy of K 4268700.

Donation at the centres from 6 November till 6 pm today amounted to K 107389987, two FEC, US$ 1961, RMB 953, Baht 660, 500 Peso, 321 Ringgit, 100000 Rupiah, 10 Rupee, 100 Dong, 2000 Riel, 10 Singapore dollars, and 332 jewellery worthy of K 19997160.

Pilgrims add in crowd paying homage to Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic

NAY PYI TAW, 12 Nov- Today is the seventh day on which the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic had conveyed for the fourth time from the People's Republic of China to Myanmar for Buddhists in Myanmar from dawn to dusk.

Pilgrims continued to crowd Uppatasanti Pagoda in which the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic is sojourning in front of Gautama Buddha Panima Yadana Jade Buddha Image in the Pagoda cave for paying homage to it.

Among the crowds this morning, a total of 21 elder persons- four males and 17 females- from Nay Pyi Taw Pyimanna Home for the Aged participated in the donations for the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic, accepting take care of Patron Dr Daw Kyawt Tha Sein and officials concerned of the committee for Home for the Aged.

Pilgrims led by Myanmar Monastery Presiding Sayadaw Dr Bhaddanta Nannisara from Kuthinayon of India donated K 0.4 million, 80 bahts and 20 rupees, Director-General of Energy Planning Department U Htin Aung and wife Daw Cho Cho Win and family, K 0.3 million, U San Shwe Aung from the Ministry of Communications, Posts and Telegraphs and wife Daw Aye Aye Than, K 0.2 million, Warrant Officer Class I Sein Win and Daw Sein Sein Aye, one gold crystal and one gold chain 
estimated amounted K 720,000, CaptainNaing Zaw Oo (Retd) and brothers and sisters, one gold ring estimated amounted K 0.5 million, U Wumsowe and (Daw Lintngar) Shwewa Family rice shop, one gold ring, a pair of gold earrings estimated amounted K 349,000, Brig-Gen Aung Myo Min (Retd) and Daw Thazin Nwe, two gold rings estimated amounted K 310,000, Daw Khin Aye (Latpan Kharhla) of Zabuthiri Township, one gold bracelet estimated amounted K 310,000.

Members of financial sub-committee accepted donations of 18 donors who made donations over K 0.1 million and 76 donors who donated various kinds of jewelries and presented certificates of honour to them.

In yesterday evening, Commanderin- Chief of Defence Services General Min Aung Hlaing and wife Daw Kyu Kyu Hla donated K 0.5 million, Union Minister for Immigration and Population U Khin Yi and wife Daw Khin May Soe, K 0.2 million.

D o n a t i o n s - K 30682186, US$ 100, 112 yuans, 1159 bahts, 20 rupees, 54000 dongs and 90 kinds of jewelries estimated amounted K 7,965,000, were accepted from yesterday evening to this evening.

Sky Net broadcasts live recording of Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic

NAY PYI TAW, 13 Nov-Sky Net launches DTH-system Dhamma Channel on 14 November to bring round-the-clock live coverage of the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic to people length and breadth of the country.

The channel stops airing on 24 December, the date set for conveyance of the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic back to China.

The Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic was conveyed to Myanmar from China for fourth time on 6 November and is displayed in the cave of Uppatasanti Pagoda in Nay Pyi Taw from 7 to 21 November, in the cave of Maha Passana cave on Kaba Aye Hillock in Yangon, and in Maha Atulawaiyan (the unrivalled) Monastery in Mandalay from 8 to 23 December.

To update DTH Receiver, click Menu and select Installation. The DTH Receiver will require you to enter Password plus four zeros. To pay homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic on Dhamma channel, complete Auto Scan.-MNA

Uppatasanti Pagoda packed with pilgrims who pay homage to Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic

NAY PYI TAW, 14 Nov - Today is the ninth day on which the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic had conveyed for the fourth time from the People’s Republic of China to the Republic of the Union of Myanmar for public obeisance.

Pilgrims thronged the cave of Uppatasanti Pagoda to pay homage to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic which is temporarily being kept in front of Maha Manimaya Gotama Buddha Panima Yadana Jade Buddha Image from dawn to dusk.

The compound of the Pagoda and surrounding area of the hill were packed with pilgrims who took a walk from the southern archway on Yazahtani Road to the foot of Uppatasanti Hill and free-of-charge ferries of Nay Pyi Taw Council to pay obeisance to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic.

Among the crowds, Pa-O pilgrims from Phayaphyu ward of Taunggyi led by U Khin Maung Koe donated K 500,000, U Tin Sein-Daw Sandar and family of Thabyegon ward in Zabuthiri Township, K 250,000, U Myint Lwin of ACE Construction and Daw Moe Moe Ngae and family, K 150,000, Managing Director U Hla Thein of No (2) Mining Enterprise and Daw Malar Myo Sein and family and religious association of the Ministry of Home Affairs and staff of Correctional Department and families, K 100,000 each, U Aung Moe Kyaw-Daw Mar Mar Tun and family from Yangon, K 235,000, a family of wellwishers, a block of gold worth K 739, 000, Col San Myint of Command and General Staff College in Kalaw and Daw Aye Aye Mu and family, two pairs of earrings and one gold ring worth K 360,000, U Khin Maung Zaw-Daw Chit Chit Su and family of Mogok, one gold ring worth K 200,000 in memory of Daw Khin Than Myint, Daw Khin Lay Myint (Doh Nyinaung) and family of Takon Township, two gold rings worth K 190,000, U Khun Thein Htut-Daw Nan Lin Lin Aung Win and family, a pair of platinum earrings worth K 150,000 and others, K 100,000 and above and various kinds of jewelleries to the chairman and officials of financial subcommittee who presented certificates of honour to them.

Donations-K 25,922,220, one unit of FEC, US$ 47, 30 yuans, 40 bahts, three Malaysian ringgits, 25 Singaporean dollars and 97 kinds of jewelleries worth K 6,196,600 were accepted from yesterday evening to this evening.

Chinese Vice-Chairman of Internal & Judicial Affairs Committee of the NPC and party pay obeisance to Uppatasanti Pagoda

NAY PYI TAW, 14 Nov - Vice-Chairman of Internal and Judicial Affairs Committee of the National People’s Congress of the People’s Republic of China Mr. Bai Jingfu and party paid homage to Uppatasanti Pagoda, here, this evening.

First, the visiting delegation led by Mr. Bai Jingfu paid obeisance to the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic which is temporarily being kept in the cave of Uppa-tasanti Pagoda.

After signing visitors’ book, Mr. Bai Jingfu presented K 50,000 to the Pagoda and paid homage to Jade Buddha Image being kept in the cave of the Pagoda.

Then he donated K 50,000 at the donation centre which is kept open for the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic on the compound of the Pagoda. -MNA
Members of Sangha, people pay obeisance to Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic

NAY PYI TAW, 15 Nov-The Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic is temporarily being kept for the public obeisance for the tenth day today in front of Maha Manimaya Gotama Buddha Patima Yadana Jade Buddha Image at Nay Pyi Taw Uppatasanti Pagoda.

The pagoda was crowded with monks and pilgrims and member of the State Central Working Committee of the Sangha of All Ganas Yadanasi Sayadaw Agga Maha Saddhamma Jotikadhaja Bhaddanta Silananda of Loilem in Shan State (South) paid homage to the sacred tooth relic.
Likewise, representatives of Pyithu Hluttaw and Amyotha Hluttaw paid homage to the sacred tooth relic and donated cash.

Bureau Chief Mr Jon Patrick Barta of South-East Asian branch of Wall Street Journal paid homage to the sacred tooth relic this morning and viewed peaceful and happy obeisance of the people to the tooth relic and making donations at the donation centres.

Staff families of the Ministry of Finance and Revenue donated K 401,000, staff families of Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Religious Affairs K 365,000, Maj-Gen Nyan Tun and family of the Commander-in-Chief (Army)’s Office K 500,000, Asia World Co family K 400,000, U Kyaw Swe and family K 100,000, Daw Khin Aye Than-Daw Nwe Nwe Than family and U Aung Mya Thein-Daw Le Yi Moe family K 50,000 each, U Myat Min-Daw Phu Pwint Thwe and family K 30,000 and others. Their donations amounted to K 1,896,000.

Likewise, members of the financial subcommittee accepted K 370,000 by Pyithu Hluttaw representatives, K 375,000 by Amyotha Hluttaw representatives, K 500,000 by reporter U Zaw Min Aung of Kyemon Daily, daughter The Su Hlaing of Ministry of Commerce and family in memory of late Daw Tin Hlaing, K 333,300 by manager and staff of Yaypyar drinking water factory of Myanma Economic Corporation (Nay Pyi Taw), K 300,000 by U Aung Kyaw Thu-Daw Thida Myint (Thida Biriani) family of Lashio, K 237,000 by a family of Ywathit Sub-Township of Bawlake District in Kayah State, K 200,000 each by Col Kyaw Win and family of Commander-in-Chief (Army)’s Office and grandson Thit Htoo San, U Aung Kyaw Moe-Daw Khin Kyi and family and U Htaik Sein-Daw Lily and family of the US, one ring decorated with nine precious stones worth about K 340,000 by U Maung Sein-Daw Mya Kyi Aye, daughter Amyotha Hluttaw Representative Daw Yi Yi Myint of Mawlamyine Constituency, one golden bracelet worth about K 332,000 by U Thein Aung-Daw Than Myint and family of Dawei, two golden rings worth about K 294,000 by Captain Myo Zaw Aung-Ma Yamin Swe Zaw of Nay Pyi Taw Command, one golden necklace worth about K 280,000 by Daw Hla Myint of Hline Township, one pair of golden earplug worth about K 257,500 by Col Aung Myint Oo-Daw Tin Mar Nwe and family of Kyaikto in memory of late father U Kyaw Sein, one golden chain worth about K 250,000 by U Myo Hlaing-Daw Nan Loung Hsai and family of Pyinmana under the patronage of both side parents, one golden locket worth about K 230,000 by Daw Ngwe Kyi and daughter Khin Su Su Htwe of Kyaikto in memory of late U Kyaw Sein, one golden ring worth about K 227,000 by daughter Daw Nan Loung Hsai and family of Pyinmana in memory of late Sayadaw U Vimalasami, one golden ring worth about K 200,000 by U Htay Lwin-Daw Phyu Phyu Lwin and family of Namhsan of Shan State (South) and K 100,000 and above donations by 63 wellwishers and gold, silverware and jewellery by 58 wellwishers.

Certificates of honour were presented to the donors.

Yesterday evening, Director-General U Kyaw Myint Hlaing of Irrigation Department and wife Daw Sanda Khin (Deputy Minister for Culture) and family and Union Minister for Rail Transportation U Aung Min-Dr Wai Wai Tha and family under the patronage of grandfather U Tha Khaing donated K 500,000 each, Union Minister for Religious Affairs Thura U Myint Maung-Daw Aye Aye Tun and family K 300,000, Union Minister for Labour U Aung Kyi- Daw Thwe Thwe Sein and family K 100,000 and Daw Mya Sein and family of Zeyatheikdi Ward K 200,000, US$ 200 and ¥ 1000.
From evening of 14th November to 6 pm today, donations at the centres amounted to K 28,184,207, FEC 10, US$ 479, RMB 203, Thai baht 1010, Indian rupee 62, S$ 20, Korean Wam 500, Japanese ¥ 1000, Sri Lankan rupee 100, 81 items of gold, silver and jewellery ornaments worth about K 6,419,400.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Communist China and the Western Commentariat Finally Get on the Same Page About this Stupid Democracy Thing

It’s finally become clear to everyone the key problem in the current Eurozone crisis is just too much democracy.

Pesky voters opposed to austerity measures get in the way of efforts to cut government expenditures in order to reduce deficits and make repayment of national debts more likely.

China’s Global Times on Greece, November 2:

[E]ven at this critical moment now, the government may still be wavering between the public's demand and the country's long-term future.

At a time of economic difficulty, the government needs to demonstrate more determination to go against popular will.
Exactly one week later, Megan McArdle (via Kevin Drum) has her own authoritarian epiphany: democracy makes even the most advanced, free-est, smartest, most pundit-blessed, whitest countries incapable of doing “the right thing”:

I used to write about developing countries a fair amount. Time and again they would make these bizarre and pointless moves, like suddenly and for no apparent reason defaulting on a bunch of debt....And the other journalists and I would cluck our tongues and say "Why can't they do the right thing when it's so . . . bleeding . . . obvious?"

Then we had our own financial crisis and it became suddenly, vividly clear: democratic governments cannot do even obvious right things if the public will not tolerate it.
Just one week!  The gap between elite attitudes in China and the United States is really not that great.  

And I’m not joking here.

Count the voters of Greece and Italy cowed, if not entirely convinced by media handwringing on behalf of the vengeful gods of the bond market.

Greece, of course, walked back on the referendum plan.  Instead, it has installed Lucas Papademos, previously VP of the European Central Bank, as PM to shepherd the austerity program.

In Italy, Berlusconi is on his way out and a government of “technocrats” i.e. economists focused on deficit reduction and tasked with ignoring public squawking about austerity—will soon be in.

What is perhaps less well understood is that the true nature of many Western governments is being revealed.

The quick and dirty shorthand is that government is like a business.  When it borrows, it’s to bridge the temporary imbalances between the income and the outgo.

Not so.  Western governments today are not businesses managing revenue and expenditures on behalf of their shareholders (the voters) and working to increase business volume (i.e. economic growth) in order to maximize revenues (tax receipts).

The issue is not the deficit (yearly revenue shortfall); it’s the indebtedness (the ability of the enterprise to issue debt).

Many national governments are quasi-state bucket shops for investment banks, providing a flow of debt product to investment banks for packaging and sale--very much like the mortgage brokers who frantically signed up suckers in the free-money era so the investment banks would have plenty of mortgages to securitize, CDO-ize, and pour into the hedge funds.

Now national governments issue the debt, providing the sovereign low-risk imprature that allows investment banks to send debt-backed securities flooding into the market in search of the greatest fool.  

When the naked lunch moment—the time when it looks like the greatest fool is going to wise up, and the wise guy sees it’s time to cash out—arrives, everybody clubs together to make sure that the people responsible for this glorious party, the investment bankers, don’t get hurt.

When debt repayment becomes a problem, governments don’t turn to the prosperity solution; they turn to the austerity fix.

Almost automatically, national governments tilt toward policies that protect the ability of the banks to recover on the debt—and, perhaps more importantly, sustain the viability of the government as a vehicle for continued issuance of debt in the future-- by cutting the expenditures that might prop up personal and national incomes and could be seen to interfere with the flow of interest payments.

In the last analysis, the governments aren’t working for the shareholders (voters), even if examples like Argentina hint that a country might do well by defaulting on its debt.

I don’t even think they’re working for the bondholders, at least not for the dumb sheep who end up getting shorn (“taking haircuts”).

They’re working for the investment bankers who look forward to rolling over, increasing, securitizing, and slicing and dicing government debt—which is the most marketable, available in enormous volume, and is a perceived lower risk because taxpayers are, in the final analysis, hostages of their government when it comes to debt repayment (as long as they can be persuaded they don’t have an alternative).

How governments turned into debt vehicles is a matter for historians to sort out.  But I guess it has something to do with trying to keep the rich happy (by cutting taxes) while keeping the rest of us happy (by spending money on services).

When the bills come due, the rich (who have a perpetual interest in low taxes and an addiction to leveraging their profits through investment banking) turn out to have the most votes in our post-democracy democracies.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Whatever You Do, Don’t Read China’s Global Times…

 …You Might Learn Something

I’m not crazy about Global Times (the house organ of Chinese hypernationalism) but I like the sniggering condescension of Foreign Policy magazine(the house organ of neo-lioberalism) even less.

Actually, Christine Larson’s recent profile of Global Times in Foreign Policy is reasonably even-handed.

FP’s editors, however, couldn’t resist juicing the story—and signaling to its readership that GT and its views are not be taken seriously--by titling the piece “China’s Fox News" and adding a sidebar, “The Top 10 Screeds in China’s Global Times,” with takedowns by Uri Friedman.


Money Quote: " Living in an international environment that China temporarily cannot change, we need to be alert to foreign interference as well as keep a sober mind, clean house and constantly improve governance ... No country is fond of interference from the outside. China is no exception. In addition to hostile forces originating in foreign countries, China also has to face the mixed chorus formed by Tibet separatists, East Turkistan terrorists and the Falun Gong cult, who have gone abroad. Inner calm is specially needed when dealing with the collusions of the above-mentioned forces."
Context: The editorial, which reflects on China's rise in a globalized world, sounds a lot like the paranoia about foreign interference expressed by dictators during the Arab Spring. The appeal at the end to "inner calm" may sound tranquil, but one can't help but wonder whether it's a euphemism for a crackdown. 

In case you don't see the out-of-control dingbattery you're supposed to detect in these excerpts, in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’m on Global Times’ side of the fence on about half of the pieces, which concern America’s cynical stirring of the South China Sea pot.

Pop Quiz:

Which nation is more likely to pose a long-term threat to freedom of navigation in the South China Sea?

China, which imports most of its oil through the region?

Or the United States, which routinely uses unilateral and multilateral sanctions as a tool of foreign policy, keeps a carrier strike force on tap in the west Pacific, has something of an obsession with bottling up the Chinese strategic nuclear submarine fleet stationed in Hainan, and adores the idea of building an anti-China bloc around the South China Sea conflict?

If you answered China, well, that puts you squarely in  Foreign Policy’s preferred demographic: people for whom the US system of liberal democracy and free market capitalism a priori put it in the right in any disagreement with China.

Nevertheless, the US model, which has recently displayed a pretty strong bias toward military coercion and financial dysfunction, has its own flaws.

The Occupy Wall Street movement has, I think, generated a certain amount of cognitive dissonance among Chinese democracy advocates.

The Chinese government can, of course, be mocked for its anxious banning of the word “Occupy” from search engines and microblogs.  Crowds of disgruntled, idealistic people showing up in high-profile downtown venues is the ultimate nightmare for the CCP.

At the same time, the OWS movement is a statement that US democracy in the age of Citizens United, runaway corporatism, and abjectly craven politicians is simply not delivering the goods for many Americans.

Hurrah!  Americans can impotently demonstrate against the fact that their system isn’t working!

Global Times has a pretty tough row to hoe, of course.  Authoritarianism and state capitalism are not popular among the Chinese or foreign intelligentsia.

But their writers are trying to make some sense out of the world beyond regurgitating government propaganda.

I was struck by a statement in a Global Times editorial on the OWS movement that I found charming in its awkward truthfulness:

Western countries can withstand street demonstrations better, since their governments are elected.

The editorial, presumably written by editor-in-chief Hu Xijin (according to Larson he keeps an iron grip on the editorial page) continues:

People think the street demonstrations will not lead to the overthrow of the Western political system. They are merely valves that can help ease pressure built up in democratic societies while the pressure and dissatisfaction on the streets could end up helping the opposition party seize office. 

The conflicts may be minor or serious, but it will not bring significant change.

This is a fair argument, but it also reveals one of the core reasons why the western world lacks determination for real change. Political parties have been taking advantage of dissatisfaction in their societies, manipulating them to serve their own short-term political interests, rather than eliminating the causes. 

It’s a worthwhile observation that democracy provides a measure of political stability but may also  serve as an obstacle to political and economic solutions by empowering forces that want to block a solution. 

That’s something that Global Times, which is trying to make the case for the advantages of China’s authoritarian system, is eager to point out; it’s also something that liberal periodicals like Foreign Policy are constitutionally unable to confront.

Like I said, if you read Global Times you might learn something.
I have to admit what really set me off about the article was this passage, which also provided an interesting perspective on where Hu Xijin is coming from:

In 1989, Hu joined the People's Daily as a reporter; from 1993-1996 he was a correspondent in Yugoslavia covering the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina. He returned to Beijing in 1996, and at age 36 joined the new Global Times newspaper as deputy editor. 

"But Global Times has been increasingly relevant since 1999," says Anti, "since the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Yugoslavia." -- i.e., the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy by U.S. and NATO forces, which stirred conspiracy theories in China and happened to take place in Hu's old reporting stomping grounds. 

That “i.e. the accidental bombing” is, to me, redolent of smug ignorance.  How dare China accuse us of bombing their embassy! 

There is plenty of evidence—including an investigative report by England’s The Observer, presumably amply endowed with North Atlantic neoliberal cred in the eyes of FP—that the bombing was intentional and, indeed, was a watershed in elite Chinese attitudes toward the United States.

Because of Foreign Policy’s transgressions, I must perforce repost one of my articles on the Belgrade bombing, with a few minor edits:

Friday, January 26, 2007
Why China Hates Satellite Guided Munitions, Part 1: The Bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade in 1999

China’s first direct experience with satellite-guided munitions occurred on the night of May 7, 1999, when at least five GPS-guided JDAM bombs slammed into the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese nationals and wounding 20.

Now is a good time to recap the Belgrade bombing incident and contribute some new information contained in the memoirs of the Chinese ambassador to Yugoslavia during the bombing, Pan Zhanlin.

The JDAM used in the attack is a very successful and relatively inexpensive concept in ordnance by which dumb bombs are, as it were, sent to college, and equipped with a GPS-corrected guidance system that generates corrective adjustments to movable vanes after the bomb is dropped from a plane, enabling reported accuracies of within 13 meters.

The conventional, though implausible, narrative at the time of the embassy bombing was The Bomb was Smart... But We Goofed!

In testimony before Congress in July 1999, George Tenet explained how they meant to bomb some logistics office of the Yugoslavian army, they used an outdated map, somebody did catch the error but the message didn’t get through, the system broke down, sooooooo sorry.

On October 17, 1999, the Sunday Observer, in cooperation with a Danish paper, Politiken, came out with what would seem to be a blockbuster report: that the United States had deliberately targeted the embassy in order to remove a key rebroadcast station directing the military activities of Slobodan Milosevic’s forces in their struggle to resist NATO forces.

I am embarrassed to admit that my Googling skills haven’t turned up a direct link to the article, but the Observer’s sister publication, the Guardian, ran a story summarizing the article’s conclusions.

As to why the Chinese government dared to take the provocative step of hosting a Yugoslavian military radio facility, the article speculates that Beijing cooperated with Belgrade in order to acquire data on U.S. military capabilities:

Why the Chinese were prepared to help Milosevic is a more murky question. One possible explanation is that the Chinese lack Stealth technology, and the Yugoslavs, having shot down a Stealth fighter in the early days of the air campaign, were in a good position to trade. The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel. Only three people died in the attack, two of whom were, reportedly, not journalists - the official Chinese version - but intelligence officers.

The Chinese military attache, Ven Bo Koy, who was seriously wounded in the attack and is now in hospital in China, told Dusan Janjic, the respected president of Forum for Ethnic Relations in Belgrade, only hours before the attack, that the embassy was monitoring incoming cruise missiles in order to develop counter-measures.

Interesting that, according to this report, the Chinese were geared up to monitor cruise missiles sailing over the horizon, and the U.S. surprised them all of a sudden by dropping a JDAM in their laps on a thirty second trajectory from straight overhead.

Wonder if the choice of ordnance was meant to achieve an objective—or to send a message?

According to the Observer, the behind the scenes U.S. attitude to the embassy bombing was: Mission Accomplished.

British, Canadian and French air targeteers rounded on an American colonel on the morning of May 8. Angrily they denounced the "cock-up". The US colonel was relaxed. "Bullshit," he replied to the complaints. "That was great targeting ... we put three JDAMs down into the (military] attache's office and took out the exact room we wanted ...

This story died the death in the U.S. media (I only saw references to it in the English papers at the time) and, to its everlasting credit, FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting) took the matter up.

In an October 22, 1999 article, FAIR wrote:

So far, the reaction in the mainstream U.S. media has been a deafening silence. To date, none of America's three major network evening news programs has mentioned the Observer's findings. Neither has the New York Times or USA Today, even though the story was covered by AP, Reuters and other major wires. The Washington Post relegated the story to a 90-word news brief in its "World Briefing" (10/18/99), under the headline "NATO Denies Story on Embassy Bombing."By contrast, the story appeared in England not only in the Observer and its sister paper, the Guardian (10/17/99), but also in their leading rival, the Times of London, which ran a follow-up article on the official reaction the next day (10/18/99). The Globe and Mail, Canada's most prestigious paper, ran the full Reuters account prominently in its international section (10/18/99). So did the Times of India, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Irish Times (all 10/18/99). The prominent Danish daily Politiken, which collaborated with the Observer on the investigation, was on strike, but ran the story on its website.

FAIR and its supporters rattled a few media cages, and got dismissive replies from the New York Times and USA Today.

The Times’ Andrew Rosenthal characterized the Observer article as “not terribly well sourced”.

In its rebuttal, FAIR stated:

FAIR contacted journalists at both the Observer and Politiken. According to the Observer's U.S. correspondent, Ed Vulliamy, its foreign editor, Peter Beaumont, and Politiken reporter Jens Holsoe, their sources included the following:

--A European NATO military officer serving in an operational capacity at the four-star level - a source at the highest possible level within NATO--confirmed three things: (1) That NATO targeted the Chinese embassy deliberately; (2) That the embassy was emitting Yugoslav military radio signals; and (3) That the target was not approved through the normal NATO channels but through a second, "American-only" track.

--A European NATO staff officer at the two-star level in the Defense Intelligence office confirmed the same story.--

Two U.S. sources: A very high-ranking former senior American intelligence official connected to the Balkans - "about as high as you can get," according to one reporter -- confirmed that the embassy was deliberately targeted. A mid-ranking current U.S. military official, also connected to the Balkans, confirmed elements of the story and pointedly refused to deny that the embassy had been bombed deliberately.

--A NATO flight controller based in Naples and a NATO intelligence officer monitoring Yugoslav radio broadcasts from Macedonia each confirmed that NATO's signals intelligence located Yugoslav military radio signals coming from the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. When they informed their superiors, they were told that the matter would be handled further up in the chain of command. Two weeks later, the embassy was bombed.

--An official at the U.S. National Imagery and Mapping Agency told the reporters that NATO's official explanation, which involves a faulty map of Belgrade, is a "damned lie."

Finally, the Times, still coasting on its Pentagon Papers reputation in those halcyon, pre-Judy Miller days, replied to one correspondent:

"There is nothing in the distinguished history of the Times -- where reporters have risked their lives, been threatened with jail and indeed gone to jail to protect the public's right to know things the government does not want to get out -- to suggest that we would withhold such a story."


A 1999 report by the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom discusses how the U.K. media spun the war, notes in passing:

Equally, when the Chinese embassy was hit, resulting in several deaths, the true consequences the action were hidden. Television pictures illustrating the structural damage to the building were shown, the bodies of two passing Serbian school children were not. The media played along.

Certainly, the media was willing to give NATO forces the benefit of the doubt and provide them not only with enthusiastic cheerleading but active image management during the Kosovo intervention.

The fact the New York Times was unwilling to pick up the Observer story cannot be attributed solely to the Gray Lady’s irreproachably high standards in journalism.

When weighing the credibility of the Observer report, it is also worth recalling that, by CIA Director Tenet’s own admission, of the 900 targets struck during the Kosovo war, the CIA was responsible for only one targeting package—the bombing that was ostensibly meant to take out an insignificant Yugoslavian paper-shuffling operation and ended up destroying the Chinese embassy’s intelligence directorate instead.

Another investigative report confirmed that, not only was the target selected by the CIA, the entire mission was flown by the United States outside of standard NATO channels (NATO, of course, was the vehicle for European and American intervention in the Kosovo conflict; it was not a U.S.-directed war).

This is not my day for coming up with direct links to original reporting, but I found a posting on Venik’s Aviation of what looks like an accurate transcription of a May 2000 article from Air Forces Monthly, a European publication, detailing the mission.

It delivers the goods on what actually struck the Chinese embassy (not “guided missiles” or “laser guided munitions” as other outlets reported):

In the early hours of May 7, 1999, a USAF B-2 Spirit bomber, escorted by EA-6B defence suppression aircraft and F-15C fighters, dropped three GPS-guided Joint Defence Air Munition (JDAM) bombs on the Chinese Embassy in the Novi Beograd district of Belgrade.

As to how the targeting “error” slipped by NATO:

It should be noted that, in an interview with the author, NATO spokesman Lee McClenny confirmed that the targeting information did not go through JTF NOBLE ANVIL, or any other NATO structure, in contrast to Tennet's [sic] official public statements. Instead, the co-ordinates were passed directly from the CIA to Whiteman Air Force Base, the home of the 509th Bomb Wing, where it was programmed into the JDAMs. Mr McClenny asserted that the entire process had remained 'Stateside', hence the failure of NATO staff to 'scrub' the target to check its accuracy, authenticity and location.

When asked, the CIA again asserted that the story given by Tennet [sic] to the House Committee was true, but claimed that the targeting information went from the CIA to the Pentagon to be processed. The Pentagon was only prepared to say that "some of the F-117 and B-2 missions were used as 'national assets' and therefore did not pass through NATO command structures", despite the requirement under the NATO charter to clear all missions carried out under NATO auspices with the NATO general council...

As to whether the United States would take the radical step of bombing a Chinese embassy simply to disrupt Milosevic’s peripatetic radio network, the article speculates that not only was the embassy’s spook contingent acquiring Elint (not Internet-ready lint, but electronic intelligence) on U.S. cruise missile launches, as had been reported in the Guardian article cited above; it was also field testing a passive sensing device that could detect Stealth aircraft.

The article posits that the system may have worked, it may have been provided targeting information to Yugoslavian air defenses, and may have been responsible for the shoot-down of an F-117 Stealth fighter two weeks before the bombing.

The new Passive Coherent Location System (PCLS) ...is capable of acquiring stealth platforms and is also un-jamable, due to the lack of any emissions from the monitoring system. As a result, the PCLS is also immune to Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARMs) and conventional Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD). ..

In the light of this, it would seem to be relevant to consider that the F-117 lost over Serbia was lost two weeks prior to the strikes on the Chinese Embassy. On the same night that the F-117 was lost, another returned to base with extensive damage. If the PCLS was to be on the verge of deployment, then the Kosovo campaign would have presented the Chinese military establishment with an unprecedented and un-missable opportunity to validate the system in the field. It should also be noted that Belgrade and Beijing have close military ties and it is probable that, were the system in operation, the targeting locks provided by the PCLS would be relayed to Serbian air defences.

The author poses the interesting possibility that the Chinese had compromised US Stealth technology, and that’s why the Stealth bomber that struck the embassy was accompanied by conventional, radar visible escorts:

Furthermore, if the stealth assets were as 'low-observable' as is claimed, the US would have seen no necessity in escorting these assets with non stealth defensive aircraft such as EA-6Bs and F-15Cs as they would not only have been redundant, but would have provided conventional air defence radars with a track on the overall package.

In July 1999, a Hong Kong magazine, Kai Fang, described Chinese intelligence operations in Belgrade in circumstantial detail, with particular attention to the military attache Ren Baokai (whose name was rendered in the Observer article as Ven Bo Koy), who headed a 12-person PLA team in Belgrade. Apparently, Ren’s contributions to Chinese knowledge of U.S. military secrets was so great his fate attracted the personal attention of China’s highest leadership:

...on 23 June, Guangming Ribao carried a report entitled "Chinese Military Attaches amidst the Flames of War." According to the practice in mainland China, this report was apparently a routine "report of positive propaganda." However, it also gave up, unintentionally, a very important secret: After the CPC embassy was destroyed in a missile attack on 8 May, what concerned the CPC top leadership the most was the fate of Ren Baokai, a Chinese military attache in its embassy in Yugoslavia.

As a matter of fact, when the news of the bombing of the Chinese embassy first came out, except for two persons who were already confirmed dead, a dozen of people were reported missing. However, according to this report, the CPC's "relevant departments" had already been informed of the missing of Ren Baokai by that time, "the leading comrades of the party Central Committee, the State Council, and the Central Military Commission showed great concern over the matter," and the PLA Headquarters of General Staff and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs jointly issued a secret order that "Ren Baokai has to be sought out at whatever cost." It was not until over 8 o'clock local time that Ren Baokai was found injured from under the ruins. After he was rushed to the hospital, the CPC made an unusual request that Yugoslavia do all it could to save Ren Baokai; meanwhile, the CPC also asked the Yugoslav Military Medical University to provide medical support for Ren Baokai's treatment. Four days later, Ren Baokai was taken back to China by a special plane, and was received by Jiang Zemin and other leaders.

The Kai Fang article also proposes that the key role of Ren’s team in the Yugoslav shootdown of the F117 drove the United States to the momentous step of attacking China’s embassy in Belgrade.

Therefore, the only conclusion that one can draw to explain why the Chinese embassy was attacked by the United States with missiles is that the CPC's military espionage operation carried out inside the embassy had already constituted a realistic threat to the NATO.

The author of the Kai Fang piece described the US attack as a complete success:

It has been disclosed that before the bombing incident, the CPC had already obtained a host of electronic information on the NATO's air strikes, and had stored a considerably rich amount of combat reference data. However, all the information and data it had gathered was destroyed by US-made missiles, and the important equipment used for further monitoring the NATO's military operational methods was no longer in existence. This apparently made the CPC burning with a frenzy of rage...

Certainly, if the United States believed that intelligence assets within the Chinese embassy had contributed materially to the downing of any U.S. aircraft, whether Stealth or conventional, a savage strike on the embassy, both to disable the operation and put the Chinese on notice, is certainly not out of the question.

But I, for one, wonder if China actually possessed the wherewithal in 1999 to crack the Stealth puzzle, or if they would take the near suicidal risk of passing targeting information to the Yugoslavs if they had it.

We can now bring some more recent, first-hand information to the mix.

China’s Ambassador to Yugoslavia at the time, Pan Zhanlin, has written a Chinese-language memoir entitled My Encounter with War .

Perhaps since it is largely a rather turgid and uninformative recounting of the chronology of the Kosovo crisis and offers no tell-all details about what China was really up to in the Balkans, it’s available free on-line.

Nevertheless, his account does offer some interesting and perhaps important details.

Living in Belgrade during the NATO bombing campaign, Ambassador Pan became something of an expert on precision-bombing tactics, and he reports on the effect of the five bombs in detail:

The first bomb entered the side of the building at an angle near the roof and tore through to the first floor and detonated at a bottom corner at the dormitory, tearing a pit several meters deep. One of the fatalities and many of the injuries occurred here. The second bomb hit the middle of the roof and went through to the first floor auditorium, causing no fatalities but giving Ambassador Zhan food for thought by incinerating his office and melting the frame of his day bed. The third bomb hit the northwest corner and blasted through several floor, killing two people. The fourth bomb came in a window of the half basement, exploded, destroyed the embassy clubhouse and shattered the building’s structural members. The fifth bomb crashed through the roof of the ambassador’s villa. Fortunately for Ambassador Zhan, who was there at the time, it didn’t explode. Since B2s drop their bombs in even numbers to keep the plane balanced, there was speculation that perhaps a sixth bomb had also entered the basement; but it was never found.

Venik’s website has a photograph of a fragment of a JDAM recovered from the Chinese embassy which is on display at the Museum of Yugoslav Aviation near the Belgrade airport. He identifies it as a 2000 pound MK 84 bomb, the biggest bang in the JDAM arsenal.

As to the damage the embassy sustained, news photos and reports show that the facade was blown off one side of the building from roof to ground, and extensive damage and injuries resulted (rescue teams did not find and extract Ren Baokai until more than 8 hours after the attack) but the building did not pancake.

The Chinese were forced to abandon the embassy because of the unexploded and as yet unlocated bomb. Nobody dared redevelop the site and the derelict embassy became an eyesore. Finally the Serbian government raised the funds for the expensive and complex job of removing the bomb.

On July 3, 2004, People’s Daily carried a brief item:

Defense Minister of Serbia and Montenegro Prvoslav Davinic said on July 1 that an unexploded missile has been dug out from the ruins of the Chinese Embassy. At midnight May 7, 1999, the NATO led by the United States launched a missile attack on the Chinese Embassy, with five missiles hitting the embassy, leaving three Chinese reporters dead, more than 20 diplomats wounded and the embassy building devastated. One of the missiles did not exploded [sic].

The article includes a picture of the unexploded bomb in situ, and an exterior shot of the place where the bomb was found.

I leave it to structural engineers and ordnance enthusiasts to assess whether this damage is consistent with an assault of five JDAMs meant to destroy the entire embassy; a surgical strike to take out the military attache’s office; or the aftermath of a dud-studded fiasco.

Concerning the importance of Ren Baokai, Ambassador Pan states that Ren’s fate was indeed the subject of urgent queries from Beijing in the eight hours before he was found.

Taken together with the Guangming Ribao report cited above by Kai Fang magazine, we can safely make the inference that, yes, China’s military attache on the spot monitoring America’s latest high-tech war with China’s most secret and sensitive military technology was probably a pretty important guy.

Was the high-level attention to Ren’s fate was prompted by the institutional concern that the CCP reserves for its most capable and productive operatives, or was Chinese intelligence desperate to get Ren back alive in order to obtain some crucial information that Ren had somehow forgotten to write down and transmit to Beijing while he was sitting in an embassy full of secure communications equipment?

I lean toward the former explanation, but I suppose we could ask Ren himself. The last I was able to find, he was back in Belgrade serving as military attache to China’s embassy to Serbia-Montenegro.

Ambassador Pan is anxious to characterize the American attack as intentional and motivated by pure cussedness: to break the back of the Milosevic regime by demonstrating to its allies that diplomatic support was not only useless but positively dangerous.

He carefully if awkwardly debunks the scenarios that the embassy was bombed because Milosevic was sheltering or visiting there, or that it was rebroadcastingYugoslav military communications.

No reference is made to any electronic intelligence activities by China that might have provoked the strike.

Concerning the shootdown of the F117, Pan reports that the scuttlebutt in diplomatic circles was that the plane was located using the Czech Tamara anti-stealth system. His informants told him it couldn’t detect the Stealth aircraft, but that the passage of the plane through sensor coverage left a distinctive “hole” in the CRT display. The Yugoslavs noticed this anomaly and used it to unleash a barrage of 30 SAM missiles at the place where they guessed that the fighter would be, bringing it down.

Pan might be peddling disinformation but, given the fact that not only China but the United States have been interested in acquiring Tamara systems, I would take issue with the conclusion of the AFM and Kai Fang articles that China was field testing a major breakthrough in anti-Stealth detection in Yugoslavia and using it to shoot down American planes.

It seems more likely that Yugoslavia was using the Tamara equipment rather than deploying some Chinese beta version. The Czech system would have been a vital piece of technology that the Yugoslavs owned and were sharing with the deeply interested Chinese, instead of the other way around.

Also, from my layman’s point of view, the Tamara system (or anything like it for that matter), requiring multiple sensing locations linked to a central processor by microwave, does not look like something that could be installed in somebody’s office in the embassy.

If this is correct, the idea that the United States would destroy the Chinese embassy because its military attache was kibitzing with the Yugoslavian army over an Eastern European anti-Stealth system installed somewhere else in Belgrade—or because we wanted to decapitate China’s military intelligence network in Yugoslavia to make sure that data on successful Stealth countermeasures did not make it back to China--seems to be rather implausible.

There is a third possibility, in addition to the rebroadcast and Elint scenarios: the F-117 wreckage story.

And it has a radically different outcome.

The Chinese Internet is rife with urban legends concerning the Belgrade strike. Nobody regards it as accidental, and many Chinese seem willing to ascribe all sorts of shenanigans to the Chinese embassy that provoked the attack.

The most interesting scenario is one that the poster attributes to “a private encounter with a Chinese naval officer who was slightly tipsy”.

According to this informant, the Yugoslavian government had recovered the wreckage of the shot-down F-117 and sold key pieces of it to China. The navigation system, fuselage fragments with the Stealth coating, and high temperature nozzle components of the engine were spirited into the basement of the Chinese embassy. Unfortunately, there was a locator beacon inside the INU powered by a battery and, before the Chinese could discover and disable it, the U.S. military was alerted to the location of the F-117 fragments.

In this version of the story, at least, there is a happy ending for the Chinese. The U.S. attacked the embassy with a laser-guided bomb meant to penetrate to the basement and destroy the embassy and the F-117 prize, but it didn’t explode!

The wreckage made it to China (in the special plane Beijing dispatched to carry home the survivors and the bodies of the victims of the attack, according to other accounts).

In the reported words of the officer (“who spoke with tears in his eyes”):

“Although some of our people sacrificed their lives, we gained no less than ten years in the development of our Stealth materials. We purchased this progress with our blood and international mortification.”


This is an interesting story.

In certain respects—the laser-guided part and the basement stash—it conflicts with more creditable reports.

The embassy’s sub-basement, which served as an all purpose cafeteria, recreation center, and bomb shelter—an unlikely hidey hole for F-117 parts--was hit once, possibly twice, and it seems unlikely that anything could have been recovered from there.

But conspiracy theorists can draw solace from Ambassador Pan’s description of the four cases of “important state materials” that two brave embassy workers ran up to the fifth floor of the burning embassy to extract. Pan stated:


“They knew these materials were more important than life.”

Standard-issue cypher equipment and secret files?

Special Elint monitoring equipment?

Or the crown jewels of America’s Stealth program?

I lean toward the third explanation, because glomming onto some secret airplane parts and then sneaking them out of a burning building is the kind of low tech triumph that fits in with my sense of China’s capabilities and interests inside Yugoslavia at the time.

The United States may have felt that by purchasing the wreckage, China had crossed the line from diplomatic support for Milosevic and conventional military-attache espionage to a more overt intelligence alliance with Yugoslavia in a deeply sensitive areas of U.S. military technology, and needed to be taught a lesson.

I also wish to explore a pyschological element, which perhaps affects China’s outlook to this day.

You can see hints of it in the F 117 in the basement story. It has a touching, almost child-like wish-fulfillment element: the evil empire destroyed our embassy but we escaped with the plans to the Death Star!

The embassy bombing was quite traumatic to China.

However, when the attack occured, triggering official and popular anger within China, the West was disbelieving, dismissive—and defensive.

It was considered rather churlish of the Chinese to intrude their crude and manufactured nationalistic outrage into our “good war” narrative of the Kosovo conflict by trying to make political capital out of our honest mistake.

And even if we were willing to entertain the possibility that the bombing was intentional, the “precision bombing” meme offered the comforting idea that we had simply given a misbehaving office in the embassy an admonitory plink.

In this context, it is interesting to point out an inaccuracy in both the Observer and Air Forces Monthly accounts.

From the Observer: “The Chinese may have calculated that Nato would not dare strike its embassy, but the five-storey building was emptied every night of personnel.”

From AFM via Venik: Despite the fact that the embassy building was evacuated of all nonessential personnel during the hours of darkness to avoid any potential casualties, three Chinese were killed and more than 20 injured.

As both the casualty reports and Pan’s account makes clear, the embassy was filled with people at night, including members of the staff who were afraid to go home because their residences were too close to NATO bombing targets in Belgrade.

The strikingly similar nature of these inaccuracies indicate that they came not from on the scene reporting but from the correspondents’ military sources.

It could have been a situation in which bad intel ( “Mr. President, we‘ll bomb the place at night, nobody’ll be there but those damn spooks!”) morphed into behind the scenes spin (“Yeah, we did it but there was nobody in there but them spooks!”) and finally mutated into a public excuse for an operation that might otherwise be viewed as excessively reckless ("In a piece of high-tech derring-do, the U.S. staged a daring but successful assault targeting Chinese intelligence assets inside the otherwise empty building".)

I, for one, find it more likely we went in at night simply because we wanted to make sure that Ren Bokai’s meddling team was in the embassy, in its vulnerable fifth-floor office, and huddled over its equipment monitoring our bombing raids when we unleashed the attack.

In any case, both investigative reports erred on the side of credulity in minimizing the human cost of the attack—and the impact it might have on Chinese perceptions and policy.

Today, with further information on the attack and the benefit of perspective, it is difficult to dismiss the shock the Belgrade bombing inflicted on the Chinese.

Post 9/11, Ambassador Pan’s description of the attack is depressing familiar, and more difficult to disregard.

Pan’s plodding prose reawakens dark memories of our own as he conveys the shock and fear as the embassy explodes into flames, “the loudest sound I ever heard”. Survivors found the stairwells blocked by rubble and fire and desperately improvised escapes down the exterior of the building using knotted drapes. Pan saw his friends and colleagues stagger from the ruins of the embassy dazed and bloody, crying out for help.

Amid the chaos everybody ducked in fear of a follow-up attack as NATO bombers thundered overhead (May 7 was one of the busiest nights for aerial bombing). Then came the frantic ad hoc attempts to rally the survivors, account for the living, and search for the missing.

First responders were at first unable to enter the compound because the electric gate was disabled when the bombing cut the power; ambulances race up to the shattered structure with sirens howling to rush away the injured willy-nilly; embassy staffers mounted a frantic search through the local hospitals for the injured.

Finally, there was the extraction of the dead, consoling of the wounded;the grieving; and the defiant patriotic oration.

Again viewed through a post-9/11 lens, Pan’s account also paints a picture of a privileged elite that has been stripped of the illusion that it is immune to attack, and realizing with anger, shame, and disgust that at that moment it is helpless, vulnerable, and unable to retaliate.