Chinamerica Threat Roundup 6

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Welcome to the latest Chinamerica Roundup! This is a collection of news, analysis, and blogging pertaining to China as an emerging military threat with growing influence in a socialist Latin America.

The index to all related posts is here. Links to individual sections can be created by adding "#N" to the permalink for this page, where N is the section number (e.g., "...-roundup-6.html#2").

Is Venezuela about to get nukes? What are the Gulags of North Korea like? What's China doing in Zimbabwe, Cuba, and Uzbekistan?

The Chinese have failed to get the North Koreans to the six-party talks in a year, but at least they've put a stop to the un-communist practice of eating sushi off the bodies of unclad women! Meanwhile, are some bloggers are getting past the censors?

Read about all this and more in this week's roundup!

(1) China's (Actual) Internal Affairs

Because both nations are huge and becoming more powerful, it is common for observers to compare China and India. The Acorn presents an interesting contrast between the two countries with respect to how their governments react to the phenomenon of blogging.

[The Indian government is] considering providing official accreditation to bloggers and other ‘internet journalists’. ... [This] present[s] an opportunity for interested bloggers to lurk around the corridors of power and ask uncomfortable questions at official government media conferences. With some luck, Indian diplomatic missions around the world too will extend accreditation to bloggers living abroad.

In sharp contrast, China’s reaction to "internet journalism" has been along predictable lines. Blogspot and Blogger are locked out behind the Great Firewall of China.

A very interesting report on blogging in China, "Death by a Thousand Blogs," occurs in the New York Times (via enravanche):

When I caught up with Mr. Li [Xinde, basically a blogger], he was investigating the mysterious death of a businessman who got in a financial dispute with a policeman and ended up arrested and then dead.

All this underscores how the Internet is beginning to play the watchdog role in China that the press plays in the West. The Internet is also eroding the leadership's monopoly on information and is complicating the traditional policy of "nei jin wai song" - cracking down at home while pretending to foreigners to be wide open.

My old friends in the Chinese news media and the Communist Party are mostly aghast at President Hu Jintao's revival of ideological slogans, praise for North Korea's political system and crackdown on the media. The former leaders Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji are also said to be appalled.

A little detour is in order for a moment. Consider this quote from the above: "President Hu Jintao's ... praise for North Korea's political system." And consider this absurd fact: We are counting China as an "ally" in the effort to have a "nuke-free" Korean peninsula.

But back to the blogging scene, such as it is, in China. The article has two interesting vignettes that shed light on how pervasive internet censorship is over there. First, consider what Li has to do to post.

Li travels around China with an I.B.M. laptop and a digital camera, investigating cases of official wrongdoing. Then he writes about them on his Web site and skips town before the local authorities can arrest him.
I can't resist pointing out a silver lining for Mr. Li: He need not fear getting fired for blogging at work!

On internet censorship, which has come up a couple of times in this series, we get to see a demonstration of it at work.

I tried my own experiment, posting comments on Internet chat rooms. In a Chinese-language chat room on, I called for multiparty elections and said, "If Chinese on the other side of the Taiwan Strait can choose their leaders, why can't we choose our leaders?" That went on the site automatically, like all other messages. But after 10 minutes, the censor spotted it and removed it.

Then I toned it down: "Under the Communist Party's great leadership, China has changed tremendously. I wonder if in 20 years the party will introduce competing parties, because that could benefit us greatly." That stayed up for all to see, even though any Chinese would read it as an implicit call for a multiparty system.

Might this last be complicity, or at least moral uncertainty on the part of the censors, like the defection of the Russian military from the hardliner coup against Gorbachev in the last days of Soviet Russia? Maybe. Maybe not.

In any case, I hope the following is an accurate assessment.

I think the Internet is hastening China along the same path that South Korea, Chile and especially Taiwan pioneered. In each place, a booming economy nurtured a middle class, rising education, increased international contact and a growing squeamishness about torturing dissidents.
China, and the rest of the world, could stand for that.

On the lighter side, I have a couple of interesting cultural looks at China, and the indications are mixed! Via Matt Drudge and TIA Daily, I have learned that Western-style consumer culture is catching on in China in the form of enormous shopping malls.

On the other hand, the Gaijin Biker quotes this interesting bit from Kyodo News.

China's State Administration of Industry and Commerce issued a notice this weekend banning meals served on naked bodies, officially canceling the service offered by a Japanese restaurant in southwestern China that served sushi on unclothed female university students, a Beijing newspaper reported Sunday.

The Saturday pronouncement forbids the service because it "insults people's moral quality," according to the Beijing Times. Serving food on women's bodies also "spreads commercial activity with poor culture," the paper said, citing the administration's notice
If China is becoming more Westernized in one respect, it seems about to become more more puritanical in another.

(2) North Korea

The San Diego Union-Tribune has a shocking feature on the gulags of North Korea. Two aspects of this brutal system in particular exemplify the total lack of regard for individual rights on the part of the communist regime there. First, leaving aside the question of whether some of the individual prisoners actually deserve to be sent prison at all, the policy of collective guilt ensures that most of the prisoners aren't even criminals. (And then, in case you were wondering about the question I set aside....)

The most striking feature of the gulag system is the philosophy of "guilt by familial association" or "collective responsibility" whereby whole families within three generations are imprisoned. This policy has been practiced since 1972 when Kim Il Sung, the founder of communist North Korea, stated "Factionalists or enemies of class, whoever they are, their seed must be eliminated through three generations."

Another characteristic of this oppressive policy is that those arrested are not detained, charged or tried in any sort of judicial procedure. The victim, along with his immediate family, is shipped off in the early hours of the morning to an interrogation facility. He is only permitted to bring the clothes on his back. The presumed offender is then tortured in order to make him "confess" before being sent to the political penal-labor colony. On arrival at the camp, the victim is issued a pick and shovel, simple cooking utensils and a used army blanket. All contact with the outside world is blocked: he is now a non-person; no question will be asked about him by friends or relatives.

Second, the conditions there are positively inhuman.

Prisoners are provided just enough food to be kept perpetually on the verge of starvation. They are compelled by their hunger to eat, if they can get away with it, the food of the labor-camp farm animals, as well as plants, grasses, bark, rats, snakes and anything remotely edible. In committing such desperate acts driven by acute hunger the prisoners simultaneously incur the extreme risk of being detected by an angry security guard and subjected to a brutal, on-the-spot execution.
And the ACLU is mad about the "gulag" at Gitmo?

Meanwhile, as the regime seeks to expand its ability to brutalize human beings -- with nuclear weaponry -- to the world beyond its borders, our officials have caved in to North Korea's desire to hold "bilateral talks" -- in order to tell them that they must resume the dubious six-party talks to continue getting the same concession.

The United States on Wednesday promised expanded bilateral engagement with North Korea if the communist state returns to the long-stalled six-party talks and pledges to abandon its nuclear weapons program.

"All North Korea has to do is commit to resuming the six-party process and we could have as many bilaterals as they want within that process," said Joseph DeTrani, U.S. envoy to the talks.

Yeah! They're quaking in their boots now!

(3) Cuba

Before commenting on recent events in Cuba, I note an interesting item from the Miami Herald, always an excellent source for news on Latin America in general and Cuba in particular. The paper recently printed excerpts from a speech Rafael Di­az-Balart delivered to Cuba's congress in 1955 against granting Fidel Castro amnesty for attacking the Moncada army barracks. Too bad no one apparently listened to him.
Fidel Castro and his group want only one thing: power, and total power at that. And they want to achieve it by means of violence, so that total power may allow them to thoroughly destroy every vestige of the Constitution and the law in Cuba, to install the most cruel, most barbaric tyranny; a tyranny that would teach the people the true meaning of tyranny, a totalitarian, unscrupulous, thieving and murderous regime that would be very difficult to overthrow for at least 20 years.

Fidel Castro is nothing but a fascist psychopath who, in power, would make pacts only with the forces of international communism, because fascism already was defeated in World War II, and only communism would give Fidel the pseudo-ideological garb to murder, rob, violate all rights with impunity and destroy outright the entire spiritual, historic, moral and judicial heritage of our republic.
Di­az-Balart died recently, with Cuba still ruled by the tyrant he opposed.

News Concerning Cuba has been mixed as of late. On the one hand, I blogged about a dissident meeting held in Cuba, which resulted in a ten-point plan for democratic reform. While this might indicate a weakening of Castro's grip on power, two other developments indicate that at least two nations I've focused on in this series, China and Venezuela [Link may be bad.], are more than willing to help prop him up.

(4) Taiwan

Did the recent visits to the mainland by Taiwanese political leaders affect the recent Taiwanese election? Apparently not.
[The]Taiwanese in the end seem largely unmoved. The polls for the National Assembly showed no significant discernible shift in the political balance within Taiwan itself. If anything, the visits may have increased adherence to the extremes of pro-and anti-unification forces, and reduced the middle ground occupied by a majority of Taiwanese.
Nevertheless, within some of the preelection commentary, there were some interesting tidbits. For example:
One after the other, Lien and Soong paraded through China like provincial governors of old [italics mine], visiting historic sites and ancestral homes before arriving in Beijing where they performed symbolic kowtows [italics mine] before the Dragon Throne, this time bearing the trappings of the Chinese Communist Party.
Hmmm. And I thought I was just lampooning Lien at the end of this post!

There's more.
[Lien and Soong] were feted and applauded at every turn, Lien telling reporters that "we have been warmly received by the central committee of the Communist Party."

The Chinese even offered Lien two pandas to take home.

While the government-controlled press in China acclaimed the visits as a "historic moment bringing springtime" and polls in Taiwan were generally favorable, not everyone in Taipei was happy. Protesters asserted that Lien and Soong were traitors who had sold out to Beijing. President Chen accused Soong of breaking an agreement calling for self-determination for Taiwan.

The president, seeking a counter, invited Chinese President Hu Jintao to visit Taiwan "to see for himself whether Taiwan is a sovereign, independent country and what our 23 million people have in mind."

At one point, I thought Chen had gone wobbly, but I apparently misinterpreted his invitation to Hu to visit Taiwan.

(5) USA and China

The biggest story over the past couple of weeks concerning relations between the United States and China concerns China's practice of pegging its fiat currency to ours. I had hoped by now to do a bit more reading on this matter, but time has been anything but on my side lately.

I'll offer my $0.02 anyway and invite comments.

Reason 1,261,439 to have a gold standard: Our economy might be at the mercy of China's currency policy.

My initial gut reaction to China's practice of pegging their fiat currency to ours is, "So what?" I recall our old "trade deficit" with Japan as being an over-hyped nonissue, with Japan reinvesting its "surplus" into our economy. This is not quite the same for two reasons. First, Japan was, as I recall, allowing the Yen to trade freely against the dollar, and was actually buying assets in America. China is, primarily I think, buying our fiat currency and keeping theirs "weak" by comparison. In this respect, we're benefitting from their very low production costs every time we go to Wal-Mart and so their dollar purchases are keeping our cost of living lower over here. (See also note on inflation below.) I think the mechanisms are slightly different, but result in the same effect: a transfer of capital back into our economy from the trading partner. Second, China is not necessarily an ally. Japan depends on us to provide it protection from China. (A Chinese coworker of mine who'd been to China during the recent riots told me that he thought there'd be war with Japan were it not for America.) So Japan didn't have any compelling reason to toss a monkey wrench into the works unexpectedly. But the fact is that China is not our ally. She obviously has designs on some of our Asian allies and is competing with us for natural resources in the third world. A sudden change in her monetary policy could conceivably wreak considerable havoc with our economy. That might be a useful threat to hang over our heads at some point. Beyond that impression, I am not clear on exactly how suddenly "unpegging" the Yuan would hurt our economy. Had we a worldwide gold standard, though, such manipulations (and the threats they pose) would be impossible. But we have fiat currency instead and so now find ourselves at China's mercy -- I think.

Congress's idea of how to "solve" the "problem" presented by cheap imports is to impose tariffs. Bush's idea is to somehow cajole China into letting its currency float. I dislike both ideas.
The administration has come under increasing pressure as America's trade deficit with China has soared to record levels, hitting $162 billion last year, the biggest deficit ever recorded with any country.

Until recently, the administration had insisted its efforts at financial diplomacy were working to get China to allow its currency's value to be set by currency markets rather than controlled by the government.

However, last month, the Senate by a lopsided 67-33 vote cleared a procedural hurdle that sets the stage for a vote on legislation that would impose across-the-board 27.5 percent penalty tariffs on all Chinese imports into the country unless China changes its currency system.

Fearing the erection of protectionist barriers, the administration then began taking a tougher approach in its public comments.

On the currency issue, Paul Krugman seems to think that China's policy is essentially functioning as a source of low-interest loans to the U.S. Government, insulating us from the effects of our increasing federal budget deficits.

Dollar purchases by China and other foreign governments have temporarily insulated the U.S. economy from the effects of huge budget deficits. This money flowing in from abroad has kept U.S. interest rates low despite the enormous government borrowing required to cover the budget deficit.
If our government is covering the debt by printing more money, we are perhaps being protected from inflation by China's dollar purchases. (Krugman does not say this.) Inflation, as Ayn Rand pointed out, is a means of government confiscation of savings: The creation of more money makes each unit worth less. But perhaps China is sucking up a lot of this money via dollar purchases.

I suspect I'm on the right track here, but I must reiterate that I haven't gotten to think this through as much as I'd like. (Not that I'd necessariy figure it out even then.) Your thoughts are more than welcome on this. At least Krugman agrees that this is confusing: "Stories about the new Treasury report condemning China's currency policy probably had most readers going, 'Huh?' Frankly, this is an issue that confuses professional economists, too."

(6) Venezuela

There has been a lot of news concerning Venezuela over the past couple of weeks, ranging from the comical through the curious to the very bad.

First comes the comical news: Chavez hopes to give the United States a political black eye by seeking extradition, on Cuba's behalf, of a recently-arrested airline bomber according to the Houston Chronicle. I blogged about this last week. Dick Morris discussed a proposal for an exchange of terrorists with Cuba while I said we should send him to Gitmo. This would satisfy Castro's desire to have him returned to the island while we keep him from performing any more acts of terrorism.

A curious news appeared in the American Thinker about the growing influence of El Loco in France. Yes. France! Here's an excerpt.
It's incredible that a fully Westernized country - a benchmark Western country like France, with a highly centralized educational structure, could so allow the teaching of this Chavista intellectual debris. Venezuela's oil despot looks like he's trying to make France an ideological colony. And it's not just textbooks. The talk of Paris is that Le Monde Diplomatique, a French newspaper facing the same tough pressures as other newspapers, has suddenly come into a lot of money to buy a huge building in Paris and some think it could be Venezuelan money.

If it's not true, it's a sign of the mood in Paris.

The bad news is that Chavez has, according to Douglas MacKinnon, been talking with Iran about acquiring nuclear weapons!
To the minute number of people who understand the threat Chavez poses to the United States, his recent hosting in Caracas of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami was disturbing enough. But a high-ranking official for a Latin American government has disclosed to me details about that visit that should send shock waves throughout our government.

During a private meeting between Chavez and Khatami, I was told, Chavez made it known to the Iranian leader that he would like to "introduce nuclear elements into Venezuela." My contact said "nuclear elements" meant "nuclear weapons."

It will be easy for many to dismiss such talk as false or the fantasies of a madman, but that would be a critical mistake. I have no doubt that Chavez is mentally disturbed, and I also have no doubt that his hatred of the United States and President Bush in particular is dictating his erratic behavior. High oil prices have made Chavez an antagonist to be reckoned with, and we ignore such a menace at our peril.

Time to get tough with Venezuela and Iran, Mr. Bush!

Aside from this latest reach for nuclear weapons, I have already noted that Chavez has been engaged in a buildup of conventional arms and attempting to spread his brand of statism to neighboring Latin American states. He is already allied with Fidel Castro and Mexico may align with him if Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador wins its upcoming presidential race. According to Glenn Reynolds, he may also be contributing to the current chaos in Bolivia.

This is in our own back yard, Mr. President.

(7) China and Japan

Apparently, tensions between China and Japan are heating up again.

(8) China's Zombie Empire

As reported previously, China is interested in establishing its presence in Africa to obtain access to its natural resources. In particular, it seems that Zimbabwe, after kicking out its white minority (which has refused a request to return), needs propping up by China (via TIA Daily):
One local academic joked that Mugabe had "yellow fever" since he can only see allies in Asia, which he knows will not criticize his oppressive policies. But the academic also raised a more serious point: Mugabe is throwing his own political cronies off tobacco growing land and oppressing street hawkers in towns to make way for the Chinese; and he is selling out his country to the Chinese in order to cling to power. So far, the West has done nothing to stem the tide of human rights abuse in Zimbabwe and has steadfastly refused to push for a UN resolution or any military solution. But what of Chinese influence in a destabilized region, is that a possible national security threat? Perhaps it's time the State Department took another look at Zimbabwe's new colonialists.
Ummm. Yeah.

Meanwhile, Glenn Reynolds points out that the authoritarian regime in Uzbekistan is cozying up to China: "Karimov is cozying up to China, whose leaders are understandably disturbed by the spread of democracy in the region, and untroubled by Karimov's Tiananmen-like massacre."

-- CAV


6-5-05: Fixed a typo, HT Adrian Hester.

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