Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Most Dangerous Man in Korea is Not Kim Jung Il

I have an article up on Asia Times titled The Most Dangerous Man in Korea.

The man I’m referring to is South Korean president Lee Myung-bak.

Provocative, n’cest pas?

The point of the article is that Lee wants the U.S. to support his hands-off policy toward the DPRK until the Kim regime staggers off and dies.  Then the ROK can swoop in and reunify the peninsula on its terms.

Of course, any US or Chinese engagement that prolongs the life of the DPRK (or creates conditions conducive to the emergence of an independent successor regime) is anathema to Lee.

Trouble is, North Korea is still in good enough shape militarily to give Lee more trouble than he can handle.

So the North Koreans goad Lee with provocations like the Cheonan and Yeonpyeong incidents—to which Lee apparently dares not respond with anything stronger than moral suasion and a call for more sanctions and military exercises-- in order to demonstrate to the South Korean electorate and the United States government that Lee’s policy of ignoring Pyongyang is not the best way to go.

I concluded my discussion of the situation on the Korean peninsula with the rather prescient passage:

Pyongyang has presumably noted that Lee's approval ratings, which reached a high of over 60% after hosting the prestigious Group of 20 summit, fell to 45% after the Yeonpyeong shelling and the government's tepid response.

The North Koreans may succumb to the temptation to push his approvals down another few notches with another provocation and see if he really pushes back or finally turns to the Chinese to mediate.

Or, for that matter, if the United States decides to abandon its hands-off policy and restart the denuclearization negotiation and food and energy aid circus desperately desired by Pyongyang.

Enter Bill Richardson, ex-governor of New Mexico, who has used his involvement with Korean issues to burnish his foreign policy credentials.

Mr. Richardson was in North Korea last week to do various unspecified stuff and presumably pass a message from the Obama administration that it preferred that the cycle of Nork provocation and ROK chest-thumping to end before something awful happens.

Bill Richardson also figures in a book about the detention and release of two American journalists that came out recently, Somewhere inside: one sister’s captivity in North Korea and the other’s fight to bring her home, by Lisa and Laura Ling (New York: HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010).

Lisa, the captive, was employed by Al Gore’s media operation, Channel One, when she was detained, together with her colleague Euna Lee, by North Korean border guards in 2009.  Laura, her sister, a media-savvy ball of fire (worked on The View, Oprah) took charge of the PR campaign to create and sustain suitable conditions for Lisa and Euna’s release.

Laura climbed the political clout ladder, starting with Al Gore and Bill Richardson.  The North Koreans cagily dismissed them as political small potatoes.

Then, through the State Department, she was able to get the OK for Jimmy Carter to go to Pyongyang..

At this point, I have to believe that Kim Jong Il was running around his office in paroxysms of excitement and telling his doubting diplomats, We’ve got them on the hook!  Go for Clinton! Go for Clinton!

And, indeed, after the US side was told that Carter was too old, wrinkly, and irrelevant, Bill Clinton made the trip in Steven Bing’s private jet, to what we can imagine was the gracefully disguised chagrin of Carter, Gore, and Richardson.

Just so you know that the United States knows exactly what North Korea wants (direct engagement with the United States and to hell with the Chinese), here’s a brief excerpt from the book:

[Richardson] asked me if the State Department had a plan for how to deal with our situation, and I told him that Beijing was being solicited for assistance.  “The North Koreans hate dealing with China!” he tersely warned.  “Trust me, the North Koreans wil become very upset if the U.S. tries to involve China in any way.”

He went on to say something that would be repeated to me by a number of ardent North Korea watchers:  “What they [the North Koreans’ want is to deal directly with the United States.  North Korea is insulted by the six-party talks.”...[Later] he went on to say that he’d told the State Department to cut China out of the process.

By, the way, “ardent” is an obvious flub.  What she really meant to say was “discerning and incisive”.

Happy holidays.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Cancun Wrapup: Is Your Portfolio Ready for the End of the World?

I have an article up at Asia Times, US, China Lead Merry Dance at Cancun.

It makes the case that the invective and verbiage spewed at the climate conference in Cancun reflects a shared but largely unspoken belief that the chances of coordinated global action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions are basically zero.  The key then, is reducing the financial pain and suffering for rich and large developing countries by finding ways to disregard the genuine pain and suffering for small and vulnerable countries.

There have been a few interesting and significant developments since then.

The delivery of the Cancun communique, a towering pile of steaming mush deposited on the world's doorstep, was not one of them.

Here is a more nutritious helping of news nuggets.

Killing Kyoto: The Sequel

Cancun was basically another episode in the excruciating snuff serial, Killing Kyoto, officially inaugurated at Copenhagen and designed to conclude at Durban next year (when Kyoto expires).

The United States is distinctly uncomfortable with the current Kyoto structure.  Beyond the obvious problem of the free ride for Annex II countries like China, there is the profoundly awkward moral issue of carbon reparations.

A lot of countries fundamentally threatened by climate change (represented in the G77 bloc), want the West to own up for chunking the majority of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution.  Kyoto--a global consensus mechanism--has served as a way for them to get their voices heard, together with demands that the industrialized countries take the economically onerous step of drastically reducing their carbon emissions and funneling tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars to the vulnerable countries in climate aid.

The US, on the other hand, is embarrassed by these small, insignificant states that, in the US view, treat their own survival as an entitlement to be guaranteed by the richer nations.

Better to let bygones be bygones, get the important players in a room, and deal with problems as they arise, seems to be the US policy.

In other words, let the poor nations beg for aid, and give it to them only if they satisfy grantors' requirements for convenience, political and diplomatic utility, and overall value for money.

One more thing: better cap the amount of aid, so it’s clearly a Western initiative, rather than open-ended compensation for screwing up the planet with 150 years of industrialization.

How about...$30 billion in fast track aid with a rampup to $100 billion per annum by 2020.

Oh, and one last thing: don’t even agree to disburse the aid until the Chinese yield on MRV—even if the Chinese aren’t receiving the aid--so it’s even more clear the aid is discretionary and not obligatory.

It’s a good deal for the West.  Getting the poorer nations to accept it involves a certain amount of heavy lifting for a certain superpower.

In my article, I touch on the Wikileaks cable reported in the Guardian that describes US outreach to the Maldives.  "Outreach" looks a lot like a bribe of a few million dollars up front to the tiny island nation to support the US position on a post-Kyoto regime.

Todd Stern, the chief US climate negotiator, went distinctly undiplomatic in his effort at Cancun to neutralize the unfavorable effect of the Wikileak.

In an article entitled US envoy rejects suggestion that America bribed countries to sign up to the Copenhagen Accord, the Guardian reported:

Stern added: "We can eliminate any cause or accusation of bribery by eliminating any money."

Stay classy, Todd.

To make it clear that we're talking discretionary grease administered by the US to compliant and deserving allies, and not payment of some carbon blood money out of moral obligation, Stern illustrated his middle-finger posturing with an anecdote of an innocent Western moneybags victimized by an odious Third World beggar (from the same Guardian article):

Speaking at the UN climate summit in Cancun, Todd Stern, the US special envoy on climate change, suggested that countries that wanted climate aid were in no position to criticise.

Citing, with approval, a confrontation at the Copenhagen summit in which a Norwegian official berated a counterpart from a developing country, he said, "he just stood up and blasted the person, 'you can't on the one hand ask for and make a legitimately strong case for the need for the need for climate assistance and then on the other hand turn around and accuse us of bribery'."

The BASIC bloc made political hay from Stern's oafishness by pointing out that they are not candidates for climate aid from the US (they are enthusiastic diners at the trough of Clean Development Mechanism funding for green projects administered by the EU instead), and Stern was only bullying the smaller, vulnerable nations--the same nations the US is trying to wedge off China. 

Per Global Times:

Xie Zhenhua, head of the Chinese  delegation in the talks and deputy director of China's National Development and Reform Commission, stressed that BASIC countries would always stand with the G77 group of developing countries.

Xie, who met with delegates from other BASIC nations, also broached the recent WikiLeaks revelations on how the US and European governments used monetary incentives, threats and even espionage to advance their "climate" agenda at last year's Copenhagen summit.

"Countries and people involved in the information that Wikileaks released should reflect upon their deeds, if the information is true," Xie said.

Gutting Kyoto has turned into a multi-stage process that involves
  • wedging off China and India from the G77 by highlighting their unwillingness to commit to Kyoto-style legally binding emissions 
  • a remarkably crude effort to hold China, instead of the West, responsible for holding back climate aid by linking release of the aid to China's acceptance of onerous "MRV" (monitoring, reporting, and verification) procedures 
  • bribing some of the smaller countries with bilateral aid to support the US position 
  • proposing capped (and suspiciously unfunded) climate aid to vulnerable countries to clear the West’s 150 year overdrawn carbon account as an alternative to open-ended Kyoto obligations 
  • using mighty diplomatic pressure to make sure that the refractory ALBA bloc of left-leaning South American governments is unable to seize the podium and make trouble.

The trend, at least for the United States and a majority of Kyoto Annex I signatories and a certain number of vulnerable states that, for whatever reason, choose to cleave to the US position seems to be: scrap Kyoto, get the small nations out of the room, and let the grownups (at least those with money) manage the climate change inconvenience through the mechanism of the G20 or its climate change affiliate, the MEF (Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate).

One might think that putting this matter in hands of the nations responsible for the problem, able to cope with the local effects of the problem with relative ease, willing to bribe vulnerable countries for peace, quiet, profit, and advantage, and fundamentally averse to sacrificing their economies in order to solve the problem they caused is not going to yield an outcome that the smaller nations will find satisfactory.

But that's where we are.

US on PR Defensive

From a public relations standpoint, things did not quite go the US way at Cancun.

The climate is headed for a trainwreck.  Based on the current scenario--lack of significant emissions action but plenty of self-congratulatory greenspeak--global warming is going to be well north of what is considered to be very bad but maybe manageable--2 degrees--and might be as high as 5 degrees.

The fact that the United States is trying to cripple Kyoto, the only binding treaty dealing with this situation, and replace it with a multilateral rich-nations circlejerk is beginning to attract some attention.

The US came in for a lot of adverse comment from climate change NGOers at Cancun, and it even filtered into the New York Times.

Nevertheless, the US is committed to demonstrating the dysfunctionality of the Kyoto process.  If the inability of the world's nations to forge a meaningful and binding concensus is due in part to American obdurancy, well so be it.

China--which gained a lot of kudos for its relatively aggressive greenhouse gas policies--can happily watch the United States under Obama once again take the majority heat, as it did under Bush, for roasting the planet.

The other big Wikileaks noise related to climate change was a breathless piece in Der Spiegel entitled The US and China Joined Forces Against Europe (in an interesting example of the synergies--a.k.a. big media tail wagging Julian Assange dog--between Wikileaks and its media partners, as far as I can tell, Wikileaks has not yet released the cable Der Spiegel is reporting).

The article, by Gerald Traufetter, seized upon an embassy account of a visit by John Kerry to Beijing in summer 2009 to assert:

The dispatches reveal that the US and China, the world's top two polluters, joined forces to stymie every attempt by European nations to reach agreement.


During his visit to China, Senator Kerry, a former presidential candidate for the Democrats, told the Beijing leadership that the Europeans were determined to push through their goal for agreement on concrete cuts in emissions for the US and other industrialized countries. However, nothing would change for China. Together with the other "developing countries" the Chinese would merely have to say they would "work hard to reduce emissions."

The quid pro quo for the joint US-China collusion against Europe was allegedly trade in green goods like US nuclear reactors.

This article is a bookend to a much more interesting article in Der Spiegel from May 2010 based on a leaked recording of a heated Copenhagen discussion between world leaders that also pushes the Everybody's Stabbing Deutschland in the Back theme: How China and India Sabotaged the UN Climate Summit.  President Obama was identified as a co-conspirator in the body of that article, if not the title.

The Der Spiegel Wikileaks article is pretty weak beer.  The US position in summer 2009 was a matter of public record long before Wikileaks

On May 28, 2009, the Guardian reported on Kerry's trip:

In their formal positions, the two sides remain far apart. China wants developed nations to make a 40% cut in emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels, far above the goal set by President Obama's administration.

The United States wants China to set voluntary but verifiable goals to reduce its energy use and, in the longer term, to join richer nations in cutting overall emissions.

But Kerry said senior Chinese politicians had shown a willingness to compromise, particularly over the 40% target that he described as politically impossible in the US at present.

By sharing know-how and conducting joint research into renewable and energy-saving technology, he said China would realise that it can go beyond its current target of a 20% cut in energy intensity of its economy - the amount of carbon released per dollar of GDP.

It is rather clear that China and the US, though both fundamentally uninterested in accepting legally binding cuts, were at each others throats in Copenhagen, not colluding.

What happened between Kerry's trip and Copenhagen was the bruising US fight over health care, and the realization that President Obama could carry no genuine commitments on US emissions cuts to Copenhagen that could somehow finesse a consensus approach to Kyoto.

China pretty much has put its eggs in the EU basket--the Clean Development Mechanism funnels a lot of money into China--and wants to keep some kind of Kyoto arrangement going.

The United States has apparently decided that it won't be able do anything on climate change until it drives a stake through the heart of Kyoto and starts over with the Annex II countries compelled to adhere to the same regime as the EU, Japan, Russia, Canada, and the US.

But nobody believes that, once Kyoto is thrown under the bus, the United States will possess sufficient political will to legislate genuine domestic emissions reductions, let alone bankroll a massive global transition to a low carbon economy.

The inability of the US to lead on climate change, coupled with its desire to control and drive global climate change policy notwithstanding, is the source of a lot of the US-China acrimony that obscures the general developed-world paralysis on the climate change problem.

Something You'll Be Hearing More About:  Adaptation

Adaptation is the climate change measure that dares not speak its name.  Adaptation means dealing with the consequences of global warming.

Nowadays, it is still much more politically correct to talk about Mitigation--the noble crusade to reduce greenhouse gases in order to prevent the intensification of global warming.

The window for mitigation, however, is rapidly closing.

So expect to hear a lot more about adaptation aid, investment...and business.

Take it away, Katie Fehrenbacher via Reuters!

The Hot New Sector in Greentech: Adaptation

The modest agreement that came out of the Cancun climate talks this weekend points tells me one thing: It’s time to start talking a lot more about adaptation to climate change. ..

Adaptation technology has long been a slightly taboo subject, with the idea that technology should be used to stop global warming, not help humans deal with it. But more and more scientists, companies and pundits are taking the subject seriously in recent weeks, including an excellent article in The Economist last month. As The Economist article points out, the world will warm by 3.5 degrees C by 2100, and that’s if countries hit the emissions reductions targets put forth in the Copenhagen Accord.  The much-discussed 2-degree safe temperature rise is now a joke we can’t realistically hit.

So, in the face of us all crying into our pillows every night, here are 10 technologies we’ll need to help the world adapt to climate change over the next century. In Cancun, governments agreed to supply $100 billion via a Green Climate Fund for climate change adaption by 2020. Many of these technologies will be used by the world’s poorest, by farmers, and by country’s that already are facing droughts or extreme weather conditions:

1. Innovations around infectious diseases. ..

2. Flood safeguards. ...

3. Weather forecasting technologies...

4. Insurance tools. ..

5. More resilient crops. ..

6. Supercomputing. ..

7. Water Purification. ..

8. Water Recycling. ..

9. Efficient Irrigation Systems. ..

10. Sensors. ..

Yeah, stop crying in your pillows, bitches!

The "Green" in "Greentech" means money!

The Maldives are perhaps not the best Global Warming Poster Child

Finally, the Maldives.

In the ecospirit of recycling, here’s something I posted in November but didn’t circulate at the time:

The textbook image of the threat from global warming and rising sea levels is the precarious city/island of Male, capital of the Maldives island nation in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the dazzling images of its tourist resorts, the Maldives is not an unspoiled Eden with underwater cabinet meetings.

As a  fascinating photoessay by Francesco Zizola on the Maldives revealed to me, the Malidives is in many ways an artificial human construct.  The capital city, Male, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

In a quest for lebensraum, the island was expanded by filling in the surrounding sea floor to the encircling coral atoll and beyond.  A 3.5 meter high, six kilometer sea wall was constructed with Japanese aid to protect the island (mostly 1 meter above sea level).  Another atoll a few miles away, Hulhumale, was filled in to a height of 2 meters above sea level to serve as a new home if Male becomes unviable.

The least edifying piece of geoengineering in the Maldives is Thilafushi Island.  Zizola writes:

Thilafushi island, also known as a rubbish island, was originally a vast lagoon. It was reclaimed in 1992 using waste as the filling material to solve Male's unmanageable refuse problem. Few Bengali immigrants work at the waste disposal centre in Thilafushi. Their job basically consists of indicating to the numerous dump trucks where to unload the waste. They then incinerate part of the waste or bury the majority of it in landfill sites. No recycling is carried out and hazardous wastes are not sorted from common rubbish.

Maldives Live reports that 330 tons of rubbish make it to Thilafushi each day, some generated by the thousands of tourists visiting the Maldives, the rest coming from Male.

There are many good reasons for a concerted global effort to mitigate global warming.  However, enabling the Maldives to continue its high population density/atoll-filling/trash-dumping/tourism-based lifestyle one meter above sea level is perhaps not one of them.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Wikileaks is Bullsh*t

 Note: This post as e-mailed contains no Wikileaks excerpts.  In order to spare readers who work at universities, companies, and other organizations the potential heartache of having undeclassified Wikileaks material in their e-mail archives, I will remove direct quotes from Wikileaks cables from e-mails I send out from now on.  Material on the China Matters website will be full text.

I’ve come to the conclusion that Wikileaks, more specifically the national security handwringing and pantswetting that has accompanied “Cablegate”, is bullsh*t.

As I followed the Wikileaks archive as it was chivvied across the Internet, I gained the distinct impression that its daily post of cables was not fresh produce in its original packaging.

All that stuff had already been pawed over, repackaged and spun by Wikileaks international media partners—the Guardian, Le Monde, El Pais, Der Spiegel, and through the Guardian, the New York Times.

As the AP reported a few days ago:

The diplomatic records exposed on the WikiLeaks website this week reveal not only secret government communications, but also an extraordinary collaboration between some of the world's most respected media outlets and the WikiLeaks organization.

Unlike earlier disclosures by WikiLeaks of tens of thousands of secret government military records, the group is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material.

"They are releasing the documents we selected," Le Monde's managing editor, Sylvie Kauffmann, said in an interview at the newspaper's Paris headquarters.

WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it obtained to Le Monde, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times, and the five news organizations have been working together to plan the timing of their reports.

They also have been advising WikiLeaks on which documents to release publicly and what redactions to make to those documents, Kauffmann and others involved in the arrangement said.

"The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it," WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian's website Friday. "The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working."

Each publication suggested a way to remove names and details considered too sensitive, and "I suppose WikiLeaks chooses the one it likes," El Pais Editor in Chief Javier Moreno said in a telephone interview from his Madrid office.

As stories are published, WikiLeaks uses its website to release the related cables..

‘Nuff said.

To take the story a step further, the United States government declined to cooperate with Wikileaks directly to vet and redact the material.

That’s understandable.  The US government doesn’t want to give theft of its confidential communications the USG stamp of approval.

So Uncle Sam outsourced the censorship job to “some of the world’s most respected media outlets”.

It makes you wonder if the Guardian really brought in the New York Times so that juicy bits could be brought to public notice without worrying about the UK’s stricter libel laws.

Or maybe the US government passed the word that the NYT would be a more convenient, eager, and reliable censor than the Guardian.

Anyway, it appears Assange is playing along.

Even as politicians call for his head, he’s still slowly dribbling out the cables to meet the journalistic needs of his media partners.

The other shoe that apparently has yet to drop in punditland is the burning question:

If Assange is a high-tech terrorist, what does that make the NYT, Guardian, et al.?  Why isn’t the US government going to court to shut down their reporting and publication activities?

The answer, I think, is this:

Any case against the papers is hopelessly tainted by the fact that the US government consulted on the redactions before publication.  In other words, the US took a pass on shutting down Wikileaks and decided to manage and contain it instead.

In court, you could argue that’s a de facto declassification.

Also, if the US government goes up against the papers—not just the NYT in US jurisdiction, but the other papers in Europe—the papers might decide to choose martyrdom and wrap themselves in the First Amendment or whatever they have over there.

In that case, the US would be facing the release in an antagonistic environment, with the papers much less cooperative about protecting Uncle Sam from embarrassment or worse.

Even as the US State Department and the world press collude to massage the Wikileaks problem, a scapegoat is needed to terrorize other prospective leakers.

That scapegoat is, of course, Mr. Assange.

I wonder how serious the campaign is.  He has proved remarkably elusive to arrest, rendition, or whatever other rough justice national security patriots demand, even though security services in England apparently know of his whereabouts.

Assange, in the spirit of Dr. Strangelove, has left a Doomsday device: an encrypted archive of all of the quarter million cables with the promise of distributing encryption keys to the world if anything happened to him.

Maybe the plan is just to cover him with self-righteous spittle while a vigorously argued and vetted subset of the cables make their way into public view in parallel with US and foreign damage control.

Then, after the papers have made enough hay, the story disappears.

More from the AP article:

Although WikiLeaks has said it will ultimately post its trove online, The Times said it intends to publish only about 100 or so of the records. And the other news organizations that have the material said they likely will release only a fraction.

"We are releasing only what is interesting," Le Monde's Kauffmann said. "I couldn't tell you the proportion, but the vast majority of these documents are of no journalistic interest."

She said there was "no written contract" among the organizations and WikiLeaks on the use of the material.

"The conditions were that we could ourselves — that's to say our journalists and those at the other newspapers — do our own selection, our own triage," and select which documents to withhold from public view, Kauffmann said.

The media outlets agreed to work together, with about 120 journalists in total working on the project, at times debating which names of people cited in the documents could be published.

"With this, I really think we have taken all the possible precautions," Kauffmann said. "At times, it comes up that we'll discuss it between us, with the other papers, on some points. One of us struck too much out and another said 'Come on, it's about a high official, we can leave his/her name in. There won't be any reprisals.'"

Le Monde and El Pais came into the media partnership late, about a month ago. The Times, Guardian and Spiegel had already done quite a bit of work on the documents and shared it, El Pais' Moreno said.

I wonder if and when the full Wikileaks trove will appear on-line.

I suppose it will have to do with the outcome of the bizarre rape case (I guess you could call it Condom-gate) that Assange is fighting in Sweden, the continued US efforts to villanize him, the invulnerability of his encrypted archive and whether the US, as Alexander Cockburn speculates, decides to end the Wikileaks kabuki by pitching Assange out of a window.

As an interesting sidebar, somebody in the Middle East is apparently capitalizing on the Wikileaks furor to insert some other illicitly acquired diplomatic cables into the public eye.

The leak doesn’t fit in with Assange’s media strategy.  I suppose some freeloader decided, Assange is getting enough heat already, a little more won’t matter.

The leaks were obtained by a pro-Hezbollah newspaper in Lebanon, Al Akhbar.

Apparently, they show America’s favorite Cedar Revolutionaries in a less-than-flattering light.  So it doesn’t appear to likely that the leak is the work of the Middle East’s pre-eminent black ops outfit, Israel.

Here’s a link to Al Akhbar’s Wikileaks page, which forces the reader to demonstrate his or her knowledge of Middle Eastern national flags in order to pick out the relevant subset of cables.

Here’s also a link to the blog of a sympathizer of the Cedar Revolution who is aggrieved by the leak.  The comments provide the usual contentious back-and-forth chewing, and also shed some light on the cables and their impact.

In passing, it is interesting to note that US diplomatic cables are popping up all over the place.  One can speculate that a lot of foreign intelligence services are able to get their hands on material of this sort.

Now, thanks to Wikileaks, the environment and political cover exists to release them into the wild.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Wikileaks: Burn Before Reading

I have an article up at Asia Times on the perspective the Wikileaks diplomatic cables provide on the North Korea situation.

Don't read it if you work for the U.S. government and don't have the appropriate clearance.  You're improperly accessing classified material.

I also have an article in the Counterpunch print edition on the Koreas that quotes from a Wikileaks cable.

Please subscribe to the Counterpunch print edition.

But don't comment on my piece on Facebook or Twitter if you're in school and hope to work for the State Department. 

A Columbia University grad working at the State Department warned his alma mater that things could get sticky if a background check by the State Department revealed that a prospective employee had been dipping his or her beak into the Wikileaks cornucopia.

I was going to write about a funny cable sent by the US embassy in Bishkek, but I decided against it--at least in the stuff I e-mail around.

No point in making trouble for people.

In fact, that e-mail that I sent out a couple days ago--Whose Core Interest Is It Anyway?--better go and delete it.

It quotes from a Wikileak cable.

But you should read this piece by Alexander Cockburn: Julian Assange, Wanted by the Empire Dead or Alive.

It talks about how large swaths of the public and media organizations have eagerly bought into the US national security mindset.

Don't worry.

It doesn't have any Wikileaks stuff in it.

So it's OK to read.

I have friends who are uncomfortable with the idea of posting classified documents on the Internet.

I understand that.

But I'm also uncomfortable with how comfortable so many people are with surrendering their right to know.

It's the government's job to keep the secrets.

But it's not our job to make it easier for them.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Whose Core Interest Is It Anyway?


From an April 2009 US Embassy Beijing cable in the Wikileaks dump as reported by the Guardian:

The United States had its core interests, VFM He asserted, such as U.S. naval vessels that had operated near the Chinese coast.

Now, as anybody with a memory more than a nanosecond recollects, in 2010 the world’s press was filled with reports like this one from the April 23, 2010 New York Times:

China is also pressing the United States to heed its claims in the region. In March, Chinese officials told two visiting senior Obama administration officials, Jeffrey A. Bader and James B. Steinberg, that China would not tolerate any interference in the South China Sea, now part of China’s “core interest” of sovereignty, said an American official involved in China policy. It was the first time the Chinese labeled the South China Sea a core interest, on par with Taiwan and Tibet, the official said.

I should comment that I had previously thought the core interest claim had first surfaced in a July Kyodo News Service dispatch; but there it is.

China never publicly declared a “South China Sea = core interest” policy, raising questions about what it had actually said and meant, but the story acquired unstoppable legs through US government backgrounders to Washington journalists and served as the subtext for the whole “US defends freedom of navigation in the South China Sea” story.

The Wikileaks cable provides some interesting nuance to the core interest angle.

The US Navy continually sails through China’s Economic Exclusion Zone to map the ocean floor and track movements out of China’s submarine base at Hainan, thereby degrading China’s fighting capabilities in the event of a Taiwan scrape and also undercutting the undersea leg of China’s strategic nuclear deterrent.

Was the context of China’s remark, “The South China Sea is a core interest for the US Navy, goshdarnit it’s a core interest for us, too”?  Or were the Chinese saying, “The South China Sea is our core interest, so butt out”?

Maybe an ensuing tranche of Wikileak documents will provide further data.

Since the Wikileak site is apparently hacked to pieces, I suppose we’ll have to rely on the good offices of the Guardian, NY Times, et al to extract further nuggets from the trove of Beijing Embassy cables (apparently some 8000).

The relevant passage from the April 2009 cable is reproduced at the end of this post. [I deleted the cable text; it's on the temporary site China Matters WL Special Edition].

Careful readers will note that the US declines to confirm Tibet as a Chinese “core interest” in other words an area in which it agrees to eschew activities (like providing an international platform for the Dalai Lama) that adversely affect China’s control of the region.

The US Charge d'Affaires, Dan Piccuta, acknowledges that “Tibet is part of China” but reserves the right to meet with the Dalai Lama and otherwise give aid and comfort to the increasingly militant Tibetan émigré community.

In March 2010 the U.S., after much nudging from the Chinese, Messrs. Steinberg and Bader visited Beijing and finally upgraded assurances on Tibet with a categorical statement (as reported by the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs) that the US would not support Tibetan independence:

The US side reiterated that it considers Tibet to be a part of China and does not support independence for Tibet.

In return, China agreed to join the UN sanctions-writing process on Iran that the US was so keen about.

This, of course, was the same meeting that the Chinese purportedly made the South China Seas = core interest assertion.

I always was puzzled that the Chinese would screw up their hard-won reset in US-China relations—they even trotted out Henry Kissinger to emphasize they were simply looking for a reaffirmation of the traditional Tibet and Taiwan foundations of US-China relations—by introducing a new, ambiguous, and incendiary claim concerning the South China Sea.

It is also interesting that, in the Chinese Vice Foreign Minister’s formulation, a “core interest” is not a matter of right, but of necessity—a crucial bit of national interest that must be defended even if it isn’t particularly pleasant or logical.

Like US Navy vessels crisscrossing China’s EEZ.

But, if Wang’s report was accurate, by March 2010 the Chinese were contradicting their stance of 2009 by demanding that the US Navy sacrifice a US core interest by departing from the South China Sea.

I wonder.

Maybe Wikileaks will provide the answer.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Ozawa Factor and the DPJ’s Pro-US Tilt

I’ve written quite a bit about Japan’s Foreign Minister, Seiji Maehara, in the context of his “China-hawk” policies.

He’s a firm believer in the U.S. security relationship and, I think, sees himself as the Asian Tony Blair:
Youthful, intelligent, agile, sophisticated in the modern diplomatic discourse, but also possessing the clarity and cojones to push/follow the United States into bold, new, and effective paradigms for the projection of military and soft power into East Asia.

Or, from a more cynical perspective (which, I confess is the habitual posture of this blog), one might view Maehara as an ambitious politician who has hitched his wagon to hyping the China threat, upgrading the security relationship with the United States, and revising the peace constitution to permit overseas military operations in order to position himself as a pre-eminent neo-liberal hawk.

Be that as it may.

I have an article up at Asia Times, Re-enter the Dragon, concerning the DPJ government’s awkward attempts to deal with Maehara’s efforts to amp up the contradictions between China and Japan.

The article contains a perspective on DPJ politics and China policy that I don’t think you’ll find anywhere else, at least in the English-language press, so I’m going to excerpt it here:

China's unwillingness to cut Maehara any slack extends beyond questions of global strategy and national relationships to matters of internal politics in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ).

China's designated friend in the DPJ is the "shadow shogun", Ichiro Ozawa. In contrast to Maehara, Ozawa has advocated closer relations with China and a distancing from the US. The DPJ has chosen to cast aside Ozawa, the most effective interlocutor with China, for reasons of policy and politics.

After the fall of prime minister Yukio Hatoyama in September, Ozawa lost the contest for DPJ party head (and prime minister) to Kan; however, his disciplined faction in parliament controls almost half of the DPJ votes. Kan and Maehara - who has conducted a strategic vendetta against Ozawa for years - have been united in their desire to reduce Ozawa's influence.

Ozawa has been successfully tarred as a throwback representative of Tanaka-style money politics. Maehara and his ally, Katsuya Okada, have been badgering Ozawa to appear before the Diet (parliament) to answer embarrassing questions concerning some piece of fundraising skulduggery. On November 9, Yomiuri reported that 55% of respondents to its poll want Ozawa to resign his Diet seat since a panel has recommended his indictment.

Unsurprisingly, the DPJ has consistently expressed frustration that it lacks good channels to Beijing. Cabinet secretary Yoshito Sengoku has tried to establish himself as the go-to guy for China, with little apparent success.

China has little motive to enable the political careers of Kan and Maehara as they proceed with the political destruction of China's most important ally within the DPJ. So China may take some satisfaction from the finding that approval ratings for the Kan government have sunk to 35%, driven in large part by widespread dissatisfaction with the government's handling of the Diaoyutai/Senkaku fracas.

Kan and Maehara's campaign against Ozawa may have had important strategic consequences as well.

It is not unreasonable to assume that Kan's political strategy involved turning to the US to help Japan manage China in a more adversarial way, since it was actively foreclosing the conciliatory route represented by Ozawa.

Indeed, it is tempting to interpret Maehara's elevation to foreign minister, and his enthusiastic exploitation of points of antagonism with China, as the Kan government's way of tightening relations with the United States in order to compensate for its institutional difficulties in managing the China relationship alone.

It’s important to remember that Maehara served as head of the DPJ while it was in the opposition.

He crashed and burned spectacularly when he continued hyping an e-mail alleging dirty money activities by an LDP bigwig even after he knew it was bogus, and had to resign.

But he wants to make a comeback, and he probably wouldn’t mind pushing aside Naoto Kan, who represents the more old-fashioned leftwing/labor roots of the DPJ.

From Kan’s point of view, putting Maehara into the foreign minister slot to pursue a pro-US policy makes a lot of sense as an anti-Ozawa move.

But by letting Maehara carry the flag for the pro-US policy, Kan has also put Maehara in the hot seat because the paramount issue in US-Japan relations—the relocation of the US Naval Air Station at Futenma in Okinawa—looks like it will be a total fiasco.

Keeping the base on the island—either at Futenma or a new site at Henoko—is opposed by around 70% of Okinawans. 

Both candidates for governor have gone on record opposing the continued presence of the base on Okinawa, and they can block new construction at Henoko in a number of ways.

If the base issue remains a continued source of friction in U.S.-Japan relations and a bold re-boot onto 21st century terms for the US-Japan security relationship doesn’t happen, Maehara’s political platform and clout would presumably be compromised.

As for China, Kan probably does not have the intense commitment to a close relationship with US that Maehara exhibits and, as a more peaceable fellow, prefers to keep relations with China on a more even keel.

He already cut Maehara off at the knees by releasing the captain of the misbehaving Chinese fishing vessel back to China when Maehara wanted to try him in Japanese court.

And Kan has apparently made it known that he’s not very pleased that he can’t get meetings with Chinese leaders because they are blowing him off to show how much they disapprove of Maehara.

However, Maehara is a clever fellow and I wonder if Kan—whose approval ratings are currently in the basement—can outmaneuver him.

Maehara also has a potential trump card: the Diaoyutai/Senkaku Islands are administered by Okinawa.  If security friction between China and Japan in the East China Sea continues, maybe Okinawan opposition to US military basing could be transformed into support for Japanese and US military facilities on the island as a keystone of Western monitoring and containment of China.

And, in good news for Maehara, continued friction is virtually guaranteed by the heightened attention both sides are eager to give matters in the South China Sea in the aftermath of the fishing boat kerfuffle.

On November 10, an interesting article appeared in the Japanese press concerning plans to expand the military monitoring network in the East China Sea.  Here’s an excerpt from the Yomiuri report, and the map:

China threat prompts plan for new GSDF unit

The Defense Ministry plans to establish a new military unit to bolster this nation's ability
to monitor the Chinese Navy, which has been increasingly active in waters off Japanese territories, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

A ministry official said the unit will consist of about 200 Ground Self-Defense Force personnel and most likely be based on Yonagunijima, Okinawa Prefecture, this country's westernmost island.

In its budgetary requests for fiscal 2011, the ministry asked for 30 million yen to research the plan, the official said.

The unit's main job will be to monitor via radar the movements of Chinese warships in the East China Sea, including the waters around the Senkaku Islands--which are Japanese territory but are claimed by China--and around the Nansei Islands, which stretch across Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures.

The unit will exchange information with the U.S. military, thereby strengthening bilateral security cooperation in the waters.
Ah, the Senkakus.

From one perspective, a worthless pile of rocks off Taiwan.

From another perspective, an invaluable flash point illuminating the security conflicts between Japan and China.

I expect the United States will muddle through its economic and geopolitical difficulties somehow.

The US isn’t leaving Asia, China will continue to test the limits of Japanese forbearance in the East China Sea, the political and security conditions for a contain-China policy will remain, and I suspect Seiji Maehara isn’t going anywhere either.

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Maldives are perhaps not the best Global Warming Poster Child

The textbook image of the threat from global warming and rising sea levels is the precarious city/island of Male, capital of the Maldives island nation in the Indian Ocean.

Despite the dazzling images of its tourist resorts, the Maldives is not an unspoiled Eden with underwater cabinet meetings.

As a  fascinating photoessay by Francesco Zizola on the Maldives revealed to me, the Malidives is in many ways an artificial human construct.  The capital city, Male, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world.

In a quest for lebensraum, the island was expanded by filling in the surrounding sea floor to the encircling coral atoll and beyond.  A 3.5 meter high, six kilometer sea wall was constructed with Japanese aid to protect the island (mostly 1 meter above sea level).  Another atoll a few miles away, Hulhumale, was filled in to a height of 2 meters above sea level to serve as a new home if Male becomes unviable.

The least edifying piece of geoengineering in the Maldives is Thilafushi Island.  Zizola writes:

Thilafushi island, also known as a rubbish island, was originally a vast lagoon. It was reclaimed in 1992 using waste as the filling material to solve Male's unmanageable refuse problem. Few Bengali immigrants work at the waste disposal centre in Thilafushi. Their job basically consists of indicating to the numerous dump trucks where to unload the waste. They then incinerate part of the waste or bury the majority of it in landfill sites. No recycling is carried out and hazardous wastes are not sorted from common rubbish.

Maldives Live reports that 330 tons of rubbish make it to Thilafushi each day, some generated by the thousands of tourists visiting the Maldives, the rest coming from Male.

There are many good reasons for a concerted global effort to mitigate global warming.  However, enabling the Maldives to continue its high population density/atoll-filling/trash-dumping/tourism-based lifestyle one meter above sea level is perhaps not one of them.

Dreams Die Hard

I have an article up at Asia Times about the Fed's "quantitative easing" a.k.a. QE2 (QE1 was the TARP-era liquidity jolt to the financial system) entitled US allies take hit from QE2.

Overseas, QE2 is not seen as a Hail Mary attempt to goose the U.S. economy by using a gush of liquidity to induce inflationary expectations.

Instead everybody sees it as a surefire method to devalue the U.S. currency by driving interest rates down and, more importantly, sending a few hundred billion dollars galloping overseas to drive up the value of other peoples' currencies and boost US exports while cutting imports.

It doesn't seem that President Obama was prepared for the global firestorm of criticism this move ignited.

Bear in mind that the currencies of most countries have strengthened over 10% against the dollar in 2010.  Brazil, 34%. 

That's a lot.  And, with QE2, there will probably be more.

Paul Krugman leads the chorus of US econo-wonks defending QE2 as a) an unavoidable domestic measure and b) justified in any case by the inability of the nations of the world to sort out the "global imbalances" mess.

Not so.

The United States, as issuer of the world's de facto reserve currency, has certain responsibilities.

We're pretty much allowed to print as much currency as we want to cover our deficit.  In return, pretty much everybody else gets to have a trade surplus with us (not just China and OPEC; the EU, Japan, South Korea, etc.).

You could say that Treasury's real job is matching money creation to global GDP conditions, not just America's.

Our position as the world's demand engine elicited the loyalty of the world's democracies, and the respectful attention of China.

It's the most effective and efficient way of projecting American power, using the energy, creativity, and omnipresence of the marketplace.

Also not terribly expensive if you look at the alternative: trying to project power militarily in money pits like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Per B.B. King, call it Paying the Cost to be the Boss.

The flip side is we're not supposed to dump liquidity in the global market and put appreciative pressure on everybody's currency just because Congress can't pass a stimulus package.

And, most importantly, we don't do it unilaterally.

Clearly, the United States wants to get out of the "engine of the world economy" business.

It could be reasonably argued--and I think President Obama is obliquely making the case-- that our trade partners should suck it up and let our exporters make a few billion dollars of hay overseas as partial repayment for the fifty years we've put in as the world's last-resort purchaser of underwear, cars, and crappy toys.

But the Obama administration has spent the last year methodically kicking the ass of the country positioned to turn into the world's best customer--China--in every available diplomatic forum.  So Beijing is not in the mood to do Washington any favors.

And, instead of continuing to isolate and attack China for its undervalued RMB, the United States undertook a de facto devaluation that has gored everybody's ox--our allies as well as China.

And, beyond devaluing our currency, the United States has conceded that it is out of the stimulus business.  We're not going to grow the pie.  We're going to fight with everybody--the EU, Japan, etc. as well as China--to get a bigger slice.

Trade War!

Now a lot of countries--Japan, Thailand, Philippines, South Korea, Brazil to name a few--are trying to limit the rise in the value of their currencies against the dollar and maintain their export competitiveness.

At the G20 summit in Seoul, the other nations tried to deal with the consequence of the US devaluation and put the brakes on the currency war by issuing a statement deploring "competitive devaluations".

I've done a quick scan of the US media and I haven't found anybody yet that recognizes that the "competitive devaluation" statement was a direct repudiation of the train of events set in motion by the US monetary easing.

Also, nobody seems to have picked up on the quixotic nature of the rejected US proposal: a condemnation of "undervaluation".

Everybody's trying to undervalue now.  It's not just China.  Nobody wants to sacrfice their exports in a noble quest to find out how low the dollar can go.

I sympathize with President Obama and his difficulties.

The Republican agenda seems designed to achieve a failed presidency and forestall President Obama's re-election: no economic recovery, legislative gridlock, no peace in the Middle East, and plenty of grinding, unproductive conflict with Iran and China.

But it looks like QE2 was a self-inflicted wound, born of domestic political and economic calculations that gave inadequate weight to its global impact.

I hope President Obama doesn't go into history as America's Gorbachev, the guy who took the politically devastating step of admitting that the imperial equation no longer computed.

But dreams die hard.

And waking the dreamer has its cost.

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Killing Kyoto: Preening Pigs and Climate Change

I have an article up at Asia Times with the rather odd title "A Pig Preening Before a Mirror".

It addresses China's well-publicized international PR problems relating to its effective exploitation of the "Clean Development Mechanism", a Kyoto Treaty process for funneling global warming mitigation investment to developing countries.

A context for the flurry of criticism, some justified apparently justified and some apparently not, for China's alleged CDM-related transgressions, is enviro frustration with China and frustration with China's actions on climate change. 

But I think the real Western frustration is with Kyoto, and CDM as one of its fruits.

There is a certain enthusiasm in the U.S. for killing the Kyoto treaty.  If that happens, expect CDM abuses--and China--to be part of the story.

Because the alternate story is pretty grim, and doesn't show the U.S. in an especially flattering light.

Early this year, I wrote that the debacle at Copenhagen was attributable in fact to the U.S. need to find a scapegoat for lack of progress in creating a legally binding successor to Kyoto.

A U.S. commitment to mandatory national carbon caps was indispensable in order to strongarm China, India, and Brazil (plus South Africa these countries formed the so-called "BASIC" bloc) into taking the extremely unpalatable step of accepting carbon caps (and limits on economic growth) themselves.

The U.S. had opted out of Kyoto under Bush II.  President Obama, a genuine enthusiast for climate policy, had unfortunately scheduled the carbon bill to come up after he finished with health care.  Health care turned into a protracted, politically draining ordeal and President Obama headed off to Copenhagen without the keystone U.S. commitment.

Recognizing that the achievement of a true successor regime at Copenhagen was impossible, the U.S., in my view, decided to dodge the political fallout by painting China into the obstructionist corner instead. 

So, at Copenhagen, the U.S. made a great piece of political theater out of threatening to withhold billions of dollars in global warming funding for poorer countries unless China submitted to its demands for "transparency" in the process of documenting greenhouse gas mitigation activities.

Copenhagen was a train wreck, and the U.S. was happy to see China take the rap, underservedly so, in my opinion.

Back in the Obama-walks-on-water period, this was not a particularly popular view. 

The consensus in the West was to blame China for what Australian PM Kevin Rudd characterized as administering a Copenhagen "ratfucking".

Fast forward a year--and a notable lack of serious action by the U.S. on climate change while China is chugging along with some serious clean energy initiatives--and views on the climate change dynamic are somewhat more nuanced, at least for anybody paying attention.  In contrast to the global circus at Copenhagen, this year's conference in Cancun will pass virtually unnoticed by the public at large..

In my Asia Times piece I draw on an on-site report by Angela Hsu of the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy.  Hsu attended a Tianjin preparatory meeting for Cancun.

She writes:

Su’s comments in the corridors of the Tianjin Meijiang Convention Center reflect his obvious frustration with what he feels is hypocrisy on the part of the U.S. in the climate negotiations. During a press conference, Su criticized the United States for failing to meet its UNFCCC commitments, particularly in terms of pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to provide financial assistance to developing countries. He said it was unfair for the United States to criticize China and make them the scapegoat in the climate debates when the United States itself “isn’t doing anything,” Su said. His remarks were counter to a speech Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change in the United States, gave at the University of Michigan Law School in which he said that China was “spurning” commitments made in Copenhagen, acting as if the agreement “never happened.”


Despite these efforts, the US still pushed China on the MRV [monitoring, review, and verification] issue in Tianjin, which I think could have been a negotiating tactic on the part of the US to deflect attention away from the fact that the Washington still has been unable to pass national legislation on energy and climate change.

In his report on Todd Stern's rip on the Chinese, Bloomberg's Jim Efstathiou reached out to Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists for a comment.

“I don’t know what the grounds are” for the Obama administration to say China is “not being serious about its commitment,” Meyer said in an interview. “They agreed to carry out that pledge. They’re not willing to make that legally binding.”


Nations also agreed to negotiate independent monitoring to verify their commitments. China has historically balked at such measures, Meyer said.

“The agreement on paper makes no sense unless you have actual guidelines,” for verification, Meyer said.


“China is not very impressed by what the U.S. is doing,” Meyer said. China has been “more clear on the steps they will take to meet their target by 2020 than the U.S. is on Obama’s pledge to meet the 17 percent cut without legislation.”

In contrast to its grand plans for Copenhagen, the United States has subsequently adopted a remarkably dismissive tone concerning Kyoto.

At the Major Economies Forum--a climate gabfest that the US and EU envisage as a successor to the current process, stripped of those irritating and self-righteous third world countries and giving the U.S. its deserved podium space--Todd Stern weaseled determinedly on the issue of Kyoto's future:

QUESTION:  Svenning Dalgaard from TV2, Denmark.  In Copenhagen we saw particularly the G77 insisting that the Kyoto protocols would carry on and that all negotiations should be led on that basis.  Don't you meet the same demands here in your own forum?

MR. STERN:  The Kyoto protocol question is a very difficult one, I agree with you.  And there was some discussion of the Kyoto protocol here in the MEF meeting.  The parties have very different views, very different views on that.

The U.S. is uncharacteristically not, as compared to all the other issues, we aren't really a player on that issue because we're not part of the Kyoto protocol.  So we are a very actively interested observer rather than real participant on the Kyoto issue.  But it is very difficult and you still do have a lot of parties in the G77 who are keen on having a second commitment period.  And you have a number of the industrialized parties who are resistant to that.

And by the way, it's not so hard to understand the concerns about it.  The Kyoto -- the representative from Australia actually passed around a little chart that showed that Kyoto covers 28 percent global emissions.  The Copenhagen Accord, at the moment, if you look at the parties who have made submissions, covers over 80 of global emissions.

It is also true that Kyoto -- I refer to what I've described as the Kyoto paradigm a little earlier, where all the action comes from developed countries and not from developing.  And I think that there are as many people, and this certainly includes the United States as a general matter, who believe that you can't possibly solve this problem on the back of 40 or 45 percent of global emissions, that you have to solve the problem on the back of 85 or 90 percent of global emissions.

So it is a -- again, we aren't a direct participant in that debate, but it is an ongoing and difficult debate and very much unresolved.

"Weaseling" is not a fair word, I guess.  The G77 were right at Copenhagen.  The United States and EU want to kill Kyoto.  That--not Chinese resistance to intrusive inspections--is the story.

If Kyoto--which is set to expire in 2012--dies, the cap exemption for China, India, and Brazil dies with it.  The embarrassment of America's retreat from Kyoto is forgotten.  Time for a new deal!

Trouble is--back to square one--no global greenhouse cap system is going to instituted without binding U.S. participation. 

U.S. national cap and trade legislation was a forlorn hope even before the mid-terms; after the midterms, even President Obama abandoned his plans.

At the end of the Asia Times article I did the math on global warming.

To have a 75% chance of averting the 2% rise in global average temps that is supposed to be a catastrophe, the world should pump no more than 750 billion tons of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere by 2050. 

The current emission rate is about 30 billion tons per year.

To meet the budget, everybody would have to cut back at least 30%.  Right now. 

Not gonna happen. 

EU may do it's share, as part of its rather noble effort to try to solve the world's problems by itself.  China's stated policy is to cut intensity as a ratio of energy to GDP, but the absolute number is going up.  India and Brazil are expected to keep increasing emissions also.  United States--well, I guess we can ask President Boehner what he thinks.

Back of the envelope-wise, we'll probably miss the target by several hundred billion tons.

It's the end of the world, baby.

On a lighter note, the title of the AT article comes from a widely reported diss administered by China's chief climate negotiator at Tianjin, Su Wei, to the United States.

Thanks to Angela Hsu, we know the Chinese phrase:


Zhu Bajie looks in the mirror; he doesn't see anything human inside or outside it.

Zhu Bajie is an important character in the famous Chinese novel, Journey to the West a.ka. (in Arthur Waley's translation) Monkey.

Taking the historical journey of the Chinese monk Tripitika (in Sanscrit; Xuan Zang in Mandarin) to India to pick up Buddhist scriptures as a point of departure, Journey to the West is a mythological spectacular, a ten-thousand mile battle against gods and demons, starring the Monkey King as Tripitika's raffish supernatural protector.

Zhu Bajie (usually referred to as "Pigsy" in English) is another member of the Tripitika posse. 

He's half-man, half-pig, the result of a botched heavenly punishment.  His name means "Pig of the Eight [Buddhist] Precepts".

Zhu Bajie spends much of the book violating these Buddhist commandments and providing comic relief. 

He also represents the overpowering, earthy nature of man (his characteristic weapon is a lethal manure rake) that Buddhist practice is supposed to overcome through eons of reincarnation, meditation, and proper practice, and is a character whose struggle with his flaws readers can sympathize and identify with.

You can see Pigsy on the Sohu Internet channel  in the faithful, 57 episode (20+ hours) adaptation that recently aired on Chinese TV.

Remarkably, the Pigsy character was also the hero of two popular, for lack of a better term, TV supernatural rom-com soap operas, 春光灿烂猪八戒 Glittering Spring Light on Pigsy and  福星高照猪八戒 Lucky Star Shines on Pigsy.  In addition to appearing in the traditional swineface, Pigsy is incarnated on earth as a rather amiable and attractive young man searching for his true love.  Production values, acting, and special effects are best described as "enthusiastic".  You might not be up for the combined 78 episodes, but the opening credits here are well worth the click.

The anecdote about Zhu Bajie and the mirror doesn't occur in Journey to the West.  Maybe it came out of some later play, story, or opera.

Remarkably, nobody seems to know (and I did some serious reaching out to try to find out, believe me) where the mirror story arose and what it originally meant.

The most common account I came across was that Zhu Bajie came across a mirror.  He was repelled by the hideous reflection and broke the mirror; then he was confronted by multiple reflections of the same offending image in the mirror shards.


Today, apparently the phrase "Zhu Bajie looks at the mirror" is a commonly-used  xiehouyu--(歇後語)--a two-part allegorical saying, in which the second, explanatory part (in this case, "doesn't see anything human inside or out") is usually not spoken.

It has a variety of implied meanings.

The most commonly accepted one appears to be "tried to do something about a problem but ended up just making it worse".

I would expect that Su wanted to make the statement that the United States was trying to obscure its allegedly ugly record on climate change by attacking its detractors; instead, through its actions, it simply multiplied unfavorable perceptions of its behavior held by others.

That's rather subtle and almost impossible to convey in English.  So we have to settle for "pig preening itself in front of a mirror".

Friday, October 29, 2010

Lower Temperature of Chinese Relations with Japan and the U.S. from "Nippy" to "Chilly"

China's Assistant Foreign Minister, Hu Zhengyue--who seems hold the bash-Japan brief--expressed umbrage that some Japanese officials somewhere had made inappropriate statements to the media concerning the Diaoyutai/Senkaku dispute,

Apparently there will be no fence-mending meeting between Wen Jiabao and Naoto Kan at the ASEAN get-together in Hanoi

What China is probably really angry about is this exchange at a press availability featuring Japanese Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Hawaii a day or so earlier:

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) (Inaudible) Deguchi with Kyodo News Service. First a question for Secretary Clinton, and this is about security. Recently – this is about Senkaku Islands, which has (inaudible) spat between Japan and China. And I wonder if the security treaty between Japan and the United States will be applied.

SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, first let me say clearly again that the Senkakus fall within the scope of Article 5 of the 1960 U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This is part of the larger commitment that the United States has made to Japan’s security. We consider the Japanese-U.S. alliance one of the most important alliance partnerships we have anywhere in the world and we are committed to our obligations to protect the Japanese people.

It provides the context for Hu's sputtering in Hanoi and the rare deployment of the word "cahoots" in Chinese diplomatic discourse:

However, the truth was that the diplomatic authority of Japan, in cahoots with other nations, tried to create noises on the issue of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in the lead-up to the summits between ASEAN and its partners. On top of that, during the summits, the Japanese side frequently made use of media outlets to make statements and comments that violated the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China, Hu said.

The Chinese probably considered the statement a double slap in the face because only one day previously Maehara had been in Hanoi making happy talk with Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

After the meeting with Yang, Maehara told reporters:

"I believe it is likely that the leaders of China and Japan will hold a meeting here in Hanoi."

Amid the diplomatic rubble, the Chinese presumably took some satisfaction in demonstrating that Maehara--a China hawk detested by Beijing--has nonexistent powers of diplomatic prognostication vis a vis China.

What has the Chinese really upset, I would imagine, is that China was hoping that Sino-Japanese relations could tend toward normalization on a bilateral basis.

"Bilateral", of course, always has a whiff of "divide and conquer" in Chinese diplomacy, as in China trying to convince Japan its best interests lie in occupying a middle ground in Asia, rather than lining up as a U.S. strategic ally against China.

Clinton's statement formally multilateralized the Diaoyutai/Senkaku issue by explicitly placing the Senkakus in the scope of Article 5--something that the Obama administration was previously loath to do.

Also, Clinton's statement may perhaps embolden Vietnam to cobble together a united front to confront China over the Paracels.

From the Chinese point of view, perhaps there seemed to be little point in meeting with Prime Minister Kan--whose enthusiasm for confrontation over the Diaoyutai/Senkakus is apparently somewhat more tepid than Maehara's--and having their nose rubbed in the fact that the U.S. had chosen to line itself up with Japan formally on the issue.

Also, China is trying industriously to drive a wedge between moderates and China hawks in Japan.

Their efforts might get some purchase as Kan reflects that, in a remarkable coincidence, Foreign Minister Maehara managed to make the most important Japanese foreign policy statement over in Hawaii just in time to scupper Kan's get-together with Wen Jiabao in Hanoi.

Photographs of Kan and Wen and Maehara and Clinton shown at the top of the post provide an interesting juxtaposition of images.

As is a common Chinese practice, Japan served as a target of intemperate Chinese remarks, while the U.S.--obviously a nation that Japan was cahooting with--was treated somewhat more gently:

China Friday voiced concern over and strong dissatisfaction with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent remarks concerning China's Diaoyu Islands.

"The Chinese government and people will never accept any word or deed that includes the Diaoyu Islands within the scope of the U.S.-Japan Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu.

It is hard to imagine any magical emollient oil that Hillary Clinton will be able to apply to Sino-American relations during her visit with Dai Bingguo in Hainan.

It is probably clear to Beijing that Chinese opinions on matters of equity and interest, and the possibility of Chinese economic or military retaliation, apparently do not concern the United States very much.

For the Chinese leadership, which has seen the PRC's international standing drop from respected superpower to virtual pariah in less than a year--and the diplomatic environment for sanctioning China on its currency becoming ever more favorable--the U.S. willingness to go to the mat for Japan on the Senkaku/Diaoyutai islands provides a lot of food for thought.

Expect a chilly winter.

Also, I wish to issue a mea culpa.

I am willing to grant that China disrupted rare earth shipments to Japan over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku incident.

That's a distinction I should have made in my Asia Times article, Japan spins the anti-China merry-go-round, and I regret not doing so.

Given the quota system/smuggling structure of China's rare earth trade, it would be easy to slow or stop exports simply by ordering heightened vigilance by customs, perhaps with the instruction that the validity and authenticity of export documentation such as licenses had to be reconfirmed at a higher level.  Keith Bradsher's article in the October 28 New York Times provides a detailed and plausible picture of a slowdown in Chinese rare earth exports.

The purpose would have been to send a pointed rebuke to Maehara, point out to Japan's business community that Maehara is not the best steward of Japan's relationship with China, and remind Japan that business with China is as important as Japan's security relationship with the United States.

In other words, a discrete use of enforcement power to send a message of dissatisfaction, not an embargo that could be construed as a violation of WTO regulations, damage China's image as an exporter, or threaten Japanese industry (given the significant stockpiles it holds), let alone a declaration of economic war against the West using rare earths as a weapon (considering the inevitable and expected entry of non-Chinese producers into the market as most of Chinese rare earths disappear into Chinese end-uses and exports dry up).

Of course, the effect was the exact opposite.

Maehara skillfully parried an attack on his brinkmanship over Diaoyutai/Senkaku and repurposed and escalated it into declarations of a Chinese attack on Japan, Europe, and the United States; and the U.S. government and the Western media dove in.

The point of my article--that the rare earths issue has been knowingly, dishonestly, and cynically inflated into an incident of anti-Chinese hysteria--still stands.

But it would have been a better article if I had addressed the Chinese action that probably triggered the firestorm.

My apologies.

Photo of Maehara and Clinton in Hawaii from the U.S. State Department website
Photo of Wen Jiabao and Naoto Kan in Hanoi from AP 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Maybe It’s Time to Stop Listening to David Shambaugh on China


I am willing to grant that China disrupted rare earth shipments to Japan over the Diaoyutai/Senkaku incident.

That's a distinction I should have made in the Asia Times article, and I regret not doing so.

Given the quota system/smuggling structure of China's rare earth trade, it would be easy to slow or stop exports simply by ordering heightened vigilance by customs, perhaps with the instruction that the validity and authenticity of export documentation such as licenses had to be reconfirmed at a higher level.  Keith Bradsher's article in the October 28 New York Times provides a detailed and plausible picture of a slowdown in Chinese rare earth exports.

The purpose would have been to send a pointed rebuke to Maehara, point out to Japan's business community that Maehara is not the best steward of Japan's relationship with China, and remind Japan that business with China is as important as Japan's security relationship with the United States.

In other words, a discrete use of enforcement power to send a message of dissatisfaction, not an embargo that could be construed as a violation of WTO regulations, damage China's image as an exporter, or threaten Japanese industry (given the significant stockpiles it holds), let alone a declaration of economic war against the West using rare earths as a weapon (considering the inevitable and expected entry of non-Chinese producers into the market as most of Chinese rare earths disappear into Chinese end-uses and exports dry up).

Of course, the effect was the exact opposite.

Maehara skillfully parried an attack on his brinkmanship over Diaoyutai/Senkaku and repurposed and escalated it into declarations of a Chinese attack on Japan, Europe, and the United States; and the U.S. government and the Western media dove in.

The point of my article--that the rare earths issue has been knowingly, dishonestly, and cynically inflated into an incident of anti-Chinese hysteria--still stands.

But it would have been a better article if I had addressed the Chinese action that probably triggered the firestorm.

My apologies.

CH 10/29/10

I usually discount China-bashing rhetoric pretty heavily.

But then I read a quote from David Shambaugh in the New York Times.

“This administration came in with one dominant idea: make China a global partner in facing global challenges,” said David Shambaugh, director of the China policy program at George Washington University. “China failed to step up and play that role. Now, they realize they’re dealing with an increasingly narrow-minded, self-interested, truculent, hyper-nationalist and powerful country.”

When Dr. Shambaugh says something like that, one has to think about it.

Shambaugh is one of the deans of modern China political studies.  I have appended his gigantic resume to the end of this post because it’s too long to include here.

Dr.Shambaugh definitely has the ear of the media, and I assume his counsels hold sway in the White House as well.  Jeffrey Bader, the administration’s China man, and Shambaugh share membership in the same Brookings Institute boffin brotherhood.

And if the Chinese have lost David Shambaugh, the U.S. China policy is headed for the deep freeze.

The issue, as I see it, is that Shambaugh is a serious “responsible stakeholder” proponent and analyzes Chinese foreign policy in terms of its difficulties in conforming to the “responsible stakeholder” paradigm.

In June 2010, as China’s foreign policy problems snowballed, he wrote:

Another reason for Beijing’s tentativeness likely derives from China’s not sharing the liberal values and norms that underpin most international institutions and system, although China has benefited enormously from them. It is difficult to be a “responsible stakeholder” – to use Robert Zoellick’s famous phrase – in an international system with which one does not share and practice the operating values at home and was not “present at the creation” to shape the system in the first place.

Meaning that China is finding it difficult to live up to certain norms in order to be recognized as a member in good standing of the international system win the approval and active support of the United States for its geopolitical goals, playing  ball on human rights, global warming, nuclear non-proliferation, trade, Iran…you get the picture.

Basically every area of U.S.-China disagreement.

Chinese editorial pages tend to harp on the deficiencies of the international system—two big wars and a global financial collapse in the last decade—and  pontificate furiously on the subject of whether insisting that the Chinese acknowledge the universal validity of Western values and liberal democracy is borderline racist or maybe even misguided.

These arguments are usually dismissed in the West under the “Commies are afraid of democracy” rubric.

Let’s leave that question to the philosophers.

As a practical matter,  Dr. Shambaugh’s ire towards China can, I think, be traced to his preference for “responsible stakeholderism” as the desirable alternative to a U.S. foreign policy of containment.

There is a significant military, national security, and political constituency for containment, especially within the United States.

I think Dr. Shambaugh is upset at China’s obstreperous non-stakeholderism because it is empowering the backwards-looking and destabilizing containment narrative.

His disappointment may be exacerbated if he himself was promoting that "one dominant idea” of responsible stakeholderism to the incoming Obama administration and takes its unraveling as a personal reproach.

The biggest problem is that some of our key allies don’t really follow these values either.

Again, I will leave the question of whether an idealist Hegelian construct like a global norm merely masks the continual and ineluctable pursuit of material interests to the philosophers.

Let’s just talk about the nitty-gritty of some of what’s been going on in the last year.

Narrow-minded? Self-interested? Truculent? Hyper-nationalist?

Pretty good descriptions of President Lee Myung-bak of South Korea and Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara of Japan.

You can also call them “aggressive, resourceful, and determined in advancing their national interests using the tools at hand”.

For Japan and South Korea to stand up to China to pursue their national interests, U.S. support is needed, whether it comes in the guise of anti-Communism, democratic solidarity, or “responsible stakeholderism”.

So, whatever the United States is selling this geopolitical season, Japan and South Korea have to be buying.

South Korea cares about reunification with North Korea on the most favorable terms possible.

Japan cares about having the United States as a credible and committed ally to counter China’s growing economic and military influence in East Asia.

In fact, I would argue that, especially for Japan, the U.S.-ally dynamic doesn’t represent shared commitment to advancing universal norms.

I think it’s just the opposite: national particularism on the model of Israel’s relations with the United States.

In 2009, the Obama administration  tried to leverage a post-Bush perception of the United States as an honest broker with the Muslim world to deal directly with Tehran and craft a win-win resolution to the Iran stand-off.

However, the U.S. government was outmaneuvered by Israel and its allies inside the United States.

 Instead, the U.S. has acquiesced to a narrative of the existential threat to Israel from Iran and its nuclear program, so nothing gets done in Middle East diplomacy without the a priori requirement of allaying Tel Aviv’s insatiable security concerns.

As a result, the Obama administration’s signature foreign policy initiative, its bedrock norm, if you will, nuclear non-proliferation, has been forced to take a back seat to Israel’s insistence that its nuclear arsenal not be acknowledged, let alone regularized within the structure of the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

U.S. relations with Japan incorporate a similar dynamic.

The United States argues that its presence in the western Pacific is a necessary and highly desirable pre-emption of the Japanese government’s willingness to restore a regional role to its military and trigger an arms race with China.

Japan, like Israel, is deeply suspicious of U.S. staying power in the region and doesn’t want to be the helpless victim stuck holding the bag  if Washington decides to cut a deal with its enemy for the sake of the global good.

So, this year, East Asia has seen a string of incidents that have forced the United States to acknowledge Japanese security concerns, while pitching China relations in the deep freeze.

On the issue of the Daioyutai/Senkaku Islands, the Obama administration notified Japan in August that it was not interested in explicitly supporting Japanese sovereignty over the islands.

One month later, Seiji Maehara took the deliberately provocative step of ordering the arrest and trial of a Chinese trawler captain under Japanese law for a collision in Diaoyutai territorial waters—over the reservations of his cabinet—and triggered an epic row with China.

The United States had no alternative but to stand with its main Pacific ally--albeit in ambiguous and unenthusiastic terms whose significance escaped the Western press.

 It is safe to say that engagement with China by the United States on the Diaoyutai/Senkaku issue—and any possibility that the U.S. could be recognized by China as an honest broker on the other island issues, such as the Paracels—is dead as a doornail.

Also in 2010, South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak used the Cheonan outrage to reset the North Korea issue away from the China/Six Party Talks track onto a West vs. Kim Jung-il and China track.

To be fair, if North Korea did sink the Cheonan, as appears likely, Lee was responding to an identical Nork tactic: generating a polarizing incident that would force reluctant ally China to stand by Pyongyang.

In any event, after the U.S. backed South Korea’s desire to wave the Cheonan bloody shirt at the Security Council, Beijing doubled down on its support of Kim Jung Il.

The chances for the U.S. and China to get together, great-power style, to negotiate a North Korean endgame on terms that might please Beijing more than Seoul have presumably diminished significantly as a result.

Maybe the Obama administration entered office with the idea of “win-win” international system accommodating Chinese interests and aspirations but its allies have driven it into “zero-sum” territory.

It’s not just China.

The lesson is, national interest always trumps universal norms, for our allies as well as our enemies.

China, Japan, and South Korea are all “responsible stakeholders” in terms of their national interests…and “irresponsible stakeholders” in terms of the global norms that the Obama administration wants the world to uphold.

And the Obama administration is, I would assert, guilty of the same vice.

I think the Obama administration realizes it got punked by Maehara on Diaoyutai/Senkaku…but that didn’t prevent a repeat of the same pattern of Japanese provocation and U.S. escalation on the manufactured issue of China’s rare earth exports.

The criticisms of China may be unfair and hypocritical but Gosh, it is an election year in the United States and China-bashing sure is popular…

So I would say that to understand what’s going on, we should stop listening to the norms-based criticisms championed by David Shambaugh…and actually watch the national-interest related antics of the various parties involved.

Perhaps we should recognize that a foreign policy that primarily serves the national interests of the U.S. and its allies while using the rhetoric of global norms to deny China the same right to advance its interests is unlikely to be productive of anything except continued friction.

Actually, Dr. Shambaugh obliquely conceded the point in a thoughtful op-ed he wrote for China Daily in March 2010.  Just substitute “United States” for “China”.  And for “abroad”,  “Many countries” and “world”, substitute “China”.

Does Chinese diplomacy offer a unique "model" in international affairs? Here, the answer is yes-at least rhetorically. ..Unfortunately, despite years - even decades -of promoting these concepts, they mainly fall on deaf ears abroad. Many countries do not wish to emulate and practice these concepts. The world is now more interested in what China does on the world stage, not what it says.

Speaking of what people do, I go after Japan’s Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara in two articles.

One digs into the Diaoyutai/Senkaku dustup at The Asia-Pacific Journal: High Stakes Gamble as Japan, China and the U.S. Spar in the East and South China Seas,The Asia-Pacific Journal, 43-1-10, October 25, 2010.

The other addresses the rare earth ruckus at Asia Times: Japan Spins Anti-China Merry-Go-Round.

On a less contentious note, I use Xie Chaoping’s history of the San Men Xia Dam fiasco, The Great Relocation, to explore the convoluted modern history of Yellow River hydrology in an article for the upcoming print edition of Counterpunch.  The subscribe link is here.

Dr. David Shambaugh’s cv:

Professor of Political Science and International Affairs
Director, China Policy Program, Elliott School of International Affairs
George Washington University

Professor Shambaugh is recognized internationally as an authority on contemporary Chinese affairs and the international politics and security of the Asia-Pacific region. He is a widely published author of numerous books, articles, book chapters and newspaper editorials. He has previously authored six and edited sixteen volumes. His newest books are China's Communist Party: Atrophy & Adaptation; American and European Relations with China; and The International Relations of Asia (all published in 2008). Other recent books include Power Shift: China & Asia's New Dynamics (2005); China Watching: Perspectives from Europe, Japan, and the United States (2007); China-Europe Relations (2007); Modernizing China's Military (2003); The Odyssey of China's Imperial Art Treasures (2005); and The Modern Chinese State (2000). Professor Shambaugh is a frequent commentator in international media, and has contributed to leading scholarly journals such as International Security, Foreign Affairs, The China Quarterly, and The China Journal.

Before joining the faculty at George Washington, he taught at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies, where he also served as Editor of The China Quarterly (the world's leading scholarly journal of contemporary Chinese studies). He also served as Director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (1985-86), as an analyst in the Department of State Bureau of Intelligence and Research (1976-1977) and the National Security Council (1977-78), and has been a Nonresident Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Studies Program at The Brookings Institution since 1998. He has received numerous research grants, awards, and fellowships -- including being appointed as an Honorary Research Professor at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (2008- ), a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars (2002-2003), a Senior Fulbright Research Scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences Institute of World Economics & Politics (2009-2010), and a visiting scholar at institutions in China, Germany, Japan, Hong Kong, Russia, Singapore, and Taiwan.

Professor Shambaugh has held a number of consultancies, including with various agencies of the U.S. Government, The Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Foundation, The RAND Corporation, The Library of Congress, and numerous private sector corporations. He serves on several editorial boards (including International Security, Journal of Strategic Studies, Current History, The China Quarterly, China Perspectives) and is a member of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, National Committee on U.S. China Relations, the World Economic Forum, The Council on Foreign Relations, Pacific Council on International Policy, Committee on Security Cooperation in the Asia Pacific (CSCAP), The Asia Society, Association for Asian Studies, and International Studies Association.

Professor Shambaugh received his Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Michigan, an M.A. in International Affairs from Johns Hopkins University Paul H. Nitze School of International Studies (SAIS), and B.A. in East Asian Studies from The Elliott School of International Affairs at The George Washington University. He also studied at Nankai University, Fudan University, and Peking University in China.