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Tag: "china"

Anyone Notice the Summit Thing?

[ 3 ] June 18, 2013 |

Back from Kansas City, but still running behind… this is last week’s Diplomat column, on the differences between summiting in the Cold War and in the Era of Sino-American Ambivalence:

Early indications suggest that last week’s Sunnylands summit will have few lasting impacts on US-China relations; beyond a couple of minor embarrassments, the summit appears to have neither created any breakthroughs nor been marred by any significant gaffes. In the United States, national security leaks largely overwhelmed interest in the summit, overshadowing genuine concerns about cyber-conflict between China and the U.S.

This is a far cry from the great summit meetings of the 1980s, when every interaction between the U.S. president and the Soviet premier was covered in exhaustive detail. Of the many differences between the China-U.S. and U.S.-Soviet relationships, perhaps the greatest is that the former involves nearly constant interaction across a great variety of commercial, social, and political fields, while in the latter the moments of confrontation and dialogue were concentrated, sharp, and newsworthy.

One implication of this difference is that the summits between the U.S. and the USSR represented critical opportunities for shaping the superpower relationship in consequential ways, if only within the confines dictated by ideology and power. These were the only moments in which, so to speak, the two men on the train could communicate clearly. By contrast, the Obama-Xi summit was a more managerial affair, in which the two leaders essentially shared information on the performance of their respective outreach teams.

Overextension

[ 2 ] May 1, 2013 |

In this week’s Diplomat column I concern troll China:

Nevertheless, it is not clear why China has determined to assertively pursue both of these disputes at the same time. Historically, states with wide-ranging security problems are best advised to resolve those problems one at a time, hopefully in isolation with one another. In this case, it’s not completely clear that the same people are making decisions on policy in both the Himalayas and the East China Sea; the Chinese foreign and military policy-making process is sufficiently complicated that local authorities have some influence over border policy.  However, it hardly makes sense for China to antagonize both of its powerful neighbors at once, even if it is in the right in both cases.

It doesn’t take a genius to see the strategic logic of a strong India-Japan relationship. Tokyo and New Delhi have each other on speed dial, and in any case Washington is surely eager to connect the call . Some Indian commentators have already called for more robust responses, including calibrating Indian support for China’s maritime disputants in accordance to the situation on the border.  Japan’s moves to negotiate its long-running border disputes with Russia put the Chinese problem into stark relief. Whether or not Japan and Russia manage to finally secure a peace treaty, the effort indicates that Tokyo takes seriously the need to make its international crises manageable.

 

Book Review: China’s Search for Security

[ 31 ] April 25, 2013 |

I reviewed Andrew Nathan and Andrew Scobell’s China’s Search for Security for H-Net:

Nevertheless, Nathan and Scobell argue that, despite its growing power, China’s international position remains almost uniquely precarious. China borders more countries that any nation on earth, and continues to have border disputes with several of the most powerful. Other strong states, such as the United States and Japan, threaten China’s littoral. Internally, political discontent threatens Beijing’s control of outlying areas, including Tibet and Xinjiang. Concerns about political discontent and the maintenance of economic growth continue to draw the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) focus inward.

On a related point see here, although I suspect that there are some translation issues regarding the terms “invasion” and “occupation.”

The End of Fish

[ 60 ] April 8, 2013 |

It’s a good thing the Chinese don’t eat fish because this would be a problem:

However, over the past few years, fishery resources in the river have witnessed a severe decline, with the river’s ecological system currently on the verge of collapsing, according to Zhao Yimin, head of a fishery resource office with the Ministry of Agriculture.

According to statistics, the Yangtze River used to have some 1,100 species of wild aquatic animals, including more than 370 fish species of which 142 were unique to the river and some 20 had been categorized as endangered animals.

In recent years, however, the amount of fish has sharply declined, with particular species, such as the shad and blowfish, not spotted for several years.

This is believed to be the result of excessive fishing, the construction of water conservancy projects, water pollution and unregulated drainage.

Currently, most fish caught in the Yangtze River are only six months-old and some are even less than two months old, leaving them with no chance at any offspring.

Oh wait, you mean fish is central to Chinese food? And that this is really just a somewhat worse version of a worldwide phenomenon? Oh dear.

Once again, our children will think of most fish as they do the passenger pigeon. We will have to explain to them what a “fish” is. There will be some examples in the Museum of Natural History.

Sea Control: The Evolutionary Approach

[ 11 ] March 27, 2013 |

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at China’s approach to naval aviation:

Ranging from the Colossus class carriers distributed across the world at the end of World War II, to the Spanish Dedalo, to the modern Hyuga class Helicopter Destroyer, the USN could and can depend on allies to conduct escort missions. The USN could also rely on access to airbases worldwide in order to support land-based sea control aviation.

China has none of these advantages. No Chinese ally is likely to devote treasure to the construction of sea control ships in the near future (Pakistan might be the best long term bet), and China lacks access to good bases for counter-sea aviation.  For sea control beyond China’s littoral, the PLAN has few, if any, good options.

In a structurally similar position to China (although much less dependent on foreign trade), the Soviet Navy started with what amounted to Sea Control Ships, in the form of the Moskva class helicopter carriers and the Kiev class “heavy aviation cruisers.” Although these ships weren’t designed specifically with commerce protection in mind, they were specialized for anti-submarine warfare, with allowance for air superiority and surface warfare in the Kiev class. Moreover, Soviet naval aviation evolved over time, with new platforms benefitting from experiences earned with older vessels.

China has been determined to leap several stages, with consequences for training that are already becoming apparent. But perhaps more importantly, by skipping ahead the PLAN has left itself bereft of the kind of low cost, medium size platforms that can support sea control operations at a distance from home.

 

Well, It Does Sound Appropriately Baffling

[ 24 ] March 22, 2013 |

I wanna see how this turns out:

Struggling to stand upright against a howling wind, Bragi Benediktsson looked out over his family’s land — a barren expanse of snow and ice that a Chinese billionaire wants to turn into a golf course — and laughed. “Golf here is difficult,” said Mr. Benediktsson, a 75-year-old sheep farmer.

It was 11 a.m., and a pale sun had only just crawled sluggishly into the sky. The snow, which began falling in September, will probably continue until May. Even for Icelanders accustomed to harsh weather and isolation, Grimsstadir is a particularly desolate spot.

But thanks to a poetry-loving Chinese tycoon with a thing for snow, it has become the setting for a bizarre Icelandic saga featuring geopolitical intrigue, tens of millions of dollars and a swarm of dark conspiracy theories. At the center of the drama is Huang Nubo, a former official in the Chinese Communist Party’s Propaganda Department who, now a property developer in Beijing, wants to build a luxury hotel and an “eco golf course” for wealthy Chinese seeking clean air and solitude.

Extra points for working in the phrase “Icelandic saga.”

Light Pollution

[ 29 ] March 20, 2013 |

This piece on Hong Kong’s out of control light pollution is a good reminder of one of the least controlled means of pollution. While maybe it isn’t as damaging as water or air pollution, humans have made evolutionary adjustments for night and constant light could potentially have long-term damage on human health. In the short-term, the absence of night can be devastating for many animals, as we may well be seeing in the Hong Kong area with fireflies and other insects.

Cornucopia of Asian Food Links

[ 87 ] February 25, 2013 |

A few interesting pieces on Asian food and history.

1. This is an interesting discussion of the origins of pad thai, a dish that is fairly minor within Thai cooking but is the singular dish of Thai food overseas. It’s connections are closely related to a nationalistic, modernizing project developed by Field Marshal Plaek Pibulsongkram in the mid-20th century:

In between surviving multiple point-blank-range assassination attempts and a failed kidnapping in which he emerged alive from the burning wreckage of a battleship his own air force had just bombed, Pibulsongkram decided that Thailand needed noodles that would advance the country’s industry and economy. After all, he had already changed the name of country from Siam to Thailand as part of a series of mandates meant to shroud its people under a modernized Thai identity. Forks and spoons would be used instead of hands. More European-style clothing must be worn. Thai products should be preferred above all others. Pibulsongkram wanted to create a new Thai diet while making more rice products available for export. According to his son’s suppositions in the 2009 Gastronomica article “Finding Pad Thai,” the codified modern variant of Pad Thai may have originated in Pibulsongkram’s household, perhaps the devising of the family’s cook. Its recipe was disseminated throughout the country, and push carts were sent into the streets to make this newfangled on-the-go meal available to the masses. To eat Pad Thai would be a patriotic act. Thus was born the Volksnoodle for an emerging Thai nation-state.

The name Pad Thai, however, negates the considerable non-Thainess of the dish. Noodles were the domain of Chinese immigrants in Thailand, and pan-fried rice noodles like Pad Thai likely arrived with them hundreds of years ago when Ayutthaya had been the kingdom’s capital. The thin rice noodles used in making Pad Thai is also similar to Vietnamese noodles, like the ones used in making pho. It’s no coincidence that the Saen Chan noodle used in many Pad Thai recipes took its name from Chanthaburi, an eastern province close to Vietnam and Cambodia. Had Pibulsongkram been more purist about his nation-unifying dish, Pad Thai should have been a clump of rice smothered and fried with fiery Nam Prik chile paste, arguably the most Thai of all Thai food. His nationalist ideals of Thailand weren’t deeply rooted in reverence for the past; they were synthesized new from whatever was most expedient.

His choice of a noodle dish is all the more curious in light of his policies against the Chinese ethnic population—immigration quotas, bans on Chinese associations, and the seizing of Chinese businesses. Pibulsongkram had not only decided to curtail the growing Chinese influence in Thailand (China, at the time, sheltered his political rival) but also to subsume its culture under the Thai umbrella. He would later choose to ally with the U.S. in its nascent war against communism, and just a few decades later, GIs on R&R leave would be part of the first wave of Americans to taste Pad Thai.

I’m not an expert on southeast Asian history, but I do have some knowledge and this passes the smell test. It’s really almost a prefect 20th century nationalist project, combining stealing ideas from minority populations while demonizing those very people.

Also, as the article states, most of the pad thai served in the United States is an abomination.

2. Who was General Tso? Zuo Zongtang. And at least according to this article he was the Chinese version of William Tecumseh Sherman, although I have no idea what that means. He also seems to have loved pork, though the dish named for him is a chicken dish. Also, Henry Kissinger shows up in this article.

3. Korean death soup. I lived in Korea for a year. The idea of a place serving a soup so spicy that it causes most customers to vomit, yet is extremely popular, makes a whole lot of sense to my experiences.

Chinese Environment

[ 158 ] February 21, 2013 |

We all know that the Chinese environment is just a bit degraded.

And then there’s this of course:

But luckily the Chinese government has a hot new plan to solve at least the air problem:

Ah, yes—the Chinese government will stop at nothing to reduce pollution that has enveloped parts of the country in a toxic soup. First, Chinese cities restricted the number of cars on the road and scrapped old vehicles. Then the government asked citizens to give up a time-honored tradition of setting off thousands of firecrackers before and on Chinese New Year. Beijing’s next ambitious measure? Banning barbecue.

At least that’s what China’s state media is reporting, though it scrimps on details. China’s environmental watchdog has now issued draft legislation calling on cities to ban “barbecue-related activities.” (Does that include just eating barbecue, looking at barbecue, or thinking about barbecue? We don’t know!) One blogger on Sina Weibo indelicately commented in response, “Soon they’ll ban farting in order to clean up the air.”

Serious efforts here my friends. Meanwhile, there is real grassroots resistance to the environmental degradation in China that has created real pressure on Chinese politicians, for whatever that’s worth in a totalitarian state.

And remember, a major part of why China developed this way was that American companies decided that labor and environmental regulations in the United States were cutting into profits too much and so decided to replicate the paradise of the U.S. Gilded Age somewhere else.

You Say Proliferation, I Say Diffusion

[ 18 ] January 16, 2013 |

I have some thoughts on the diffusion of anti-access military technology over at The Diplomat

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union had a strong political incentive to maximize diffusion of its military capabilities.  Proxies with Soviet technology could fight the United States and its proxies on their own. Consequently, states from North Korea to Vietnam to Cuba to Syria, Iraq, and Egypt gained access to the many of the most advanced Soviet fighter, submarine, and missile systems. Often, these systems overwhelmed the capacity of recipients, with buyers lacking the ability to put pilots in planes, sailors in subs, and mechanics in either. Nevertheless, these systems still forced the United States to act cautiously; the combination of a couple Nanuchka class missile boats, some Foxtrot subs, a few MiG-23s and a reasonably sophisticated air defense system could give the US Navy or Air Force a bad day.

Russia doesn’t see much of an upside in this kind of diffusion today.  States get the equipment they can pay for, without political subsidy . China has displayed little interest in developing proxy relationships of the type seen in the Cold War. Moreover, few states have an interest in devoting resources and attention to making life difficult for a superpower.  Still, given the rapidly advancing capabilities of China’s anti-access forces, questions of diffusion and proliferation bear consideration.

 

Foreign Entanglements: Pull Back or (Carefully) Lean Forward?

[ 4 ] January 15, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Justin Logan and I talked retrenchment:

The Japanese Counter-Insurgency Experience in China

[ 11 ] January 12, 2013 |

This week’s Diplomat column takes a look at COIN in the Second Sino-Japanese War, based on the Murray-Mansoor edited volume Hybrid Warfare:

Yamaguchi suggests that elements of the Japanese Army and a variety of hybrid civil-military organizations took the problem of COIN quite seriously from a strategic point of view, appreciating that the only way to victory in China was the establishment of a self-sustaining, pro-Japanese Chinese government.

However, the Japanese Army suffered from problems of focus and resources.  Rather than concentrating on counter-insurgency operations, the Army needed to prepare for conventional operations against Chiang Kai Shek’s Nationalist Army, defensive operations in jungle and island theatres against British and American forces, and finally the long-anticipated Soviet invasion of Manchuria.  These threats all posed radically different challenges, making training haphazard and incoherent. The Japanese also faced unity of effort challenges, with civilian and military agencies organized around pacification and institution building losing out in intra-agency battles against conventionally oriented officers.

Long story short, the history of Japanese operations in China was more complicated in process, if not in effect, than the “Kill All, Loot All, Destroy All” that has come to characterize the war*.

*Standard caveat: I trust that readers are bright enough to understand that this does not constitute an apology for the Japanese Imperial Army.

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