China’s Uneven Rise

China’s Petroleum Predicament: Challenges and Opportunities in Beijing’s Search for Energy Security | Andrew S. Erickson.

Tip of the hat to Andrew Erickson for catching this excellent essay in Jane Golley and Ligang Song’s new Rising China: Global Challenges and Opportunities (PDF). Kennedy’s chapter focuses on the China’s growing dependence on imported energy, and stands out in this excellent compendium.

As for the book, Golley and Song have made it downloadable, and it is well worth it. Arguably, the most vexing challenges China faces are domestic, but Rising China focuses on the international points of friction that are likely to be exacerbated by domestic politics.

The list of international challenges generated by this work is by no means comprehensive: such an inventory would require a bookshelf, and a full review of China’s security challenges would occupy a wall. Nonetheless, the authors – both Chinese and foreign – have created a catalog of the most critical issues, and one that lacks the demagoguery and angst of less scholarly studies.

China Gropes for Energy Security

China’s Energy Security: Prospects, Challenges, and Opportunities – Jian Zhang – Brookings Institution.

Former Brookings Visiting Fellow Zhang Jian believes that the biggest obstacle between China and its energy security is Beijing’s implicit belief that energy security is a domestic policy question. Zhang disagrees, pointing out that when you are on track to import 60-70% of your petroleum from abroad by 2015, it is time for a rethink.

As a major consumer of a high-demand global resource in an integrated world, Zhang suggests, China can no longer approach energy security on a unilateral basis. Doing so not only puts China and other nations of the world on a collision course, it also threatens a rift in the government.

Zhang is right, of course, but I suspect his imprecations will fall upon unhearing ears. China s not yet at the point where it is ready to trust other countries to have a say in its energy future, and you could make an argument that it should not have to. The challenge is how the world will deal with a China that will be increasingly assertive – if not aggressive – about acquiring the petroleum that it needs.

In truth, this makes China’s energy security our problem as well as China’s. If you approach it from that angle, Zhang’s book is especially valuable.

The Tao of Bill, the Te of Dave

Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built The World’s Greatest Company
by Michael S. Malone
Portfolio, 438pp

Cognizant that saying this may well sound ungracious, if not heretical, the recent well-deserved paeans to Steve Jobs tactfully omit the fact that in all he accomplished, he stood on the shoulders of giants. This is not to belittle what he accomplished. He created one industry, disrupted several others, created products that inspired the fierce loyalty of millions of consumers (myself included), and set in motion careers, companies, and trends that will define the foreseeable future. But Steve Jobs did not spontaneously self-generate. Everything he became, everything he accomplished, he was able to do because other men and women had passed that way before. The Apple II, the Macintosh, NEXT, Pixar, OS X, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad, and iTunes were his products.

But Jobs himself was the product of Silicon Valley: the place, the ecosystem, and the attitudes that combined to give this powerful, unique, and ultimately fragile wizard the place to create electronic magic.

As supporting evidence for my heresy I offer Michael Malone’s engaging biography of the founders of Hewlett-Packard, Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company. It is hard for most of us to recall the days when HP was the glowing heart of Silicon Valley, especially as the latest in a long string of outsiders attempts to save the company from the consequences of misguided leadership. But in telling the story of the two proto-geeks-cum-billionaires, Malone reminds us why Hewlett and Packard deserve to stand above the Silicon Valley milieu as both icons and role models.

To be sure, the environs south of San Francisco have been engineering hotbeds since just after Governor and Mrs. Leland Stanford turned their Palo Alto farm into a college. Stanford Professor Fred Terman and entrepreneurs like Charlie Litton and Ed Varian were the early shoots of the Valley’s transmogrification into the global capital of electronic engineering. But Malone’s narrative suggests that the Valley’s destiny was no given: the region was such a backwater when Bill and Dave graduated from Stanford in the mid ’30s that there was no company in the region capable of hiring either of the talented young engineers: Packard went to work for GE in its test lab Schenectady, New York, and Hewlett, a year behind, stayed in Stanford to work with his mentor Terman. The only way for the two men to get a job that suited them was to start a company. But when they did, right on the eve of World War II, established an enterprise that brought to the region and to the industry an ethos that mixed engineering talent, opportunistic flexibility, and Depression-tempered business sense. That ethos, suggests Malone, was the fertilizer that allowed Silicon Valley as we know it to take root.

After a time as a freelance electrical engineering firm, the two men produced their 1st unique product: an audio oscillator, a product that seems prosaic now but at the time was a revelation: the men had figured out a way to use an overlooked principle of electronics to create a device that cost a tenth of the competition’s product, and was easier to use to boot. The result, the Hewlett-Packard 200A Audio Oscillator, not only set the company on its path, it also set the mold for the way the company would do business for the next five decades: tinker, innovate, disrupt, reap, repeat. In the process, Hewlett and Packard established a legacy that the young Turks of the PC revolution could only envy.

For those younger entrepreneurs…many had already failed at least once. And all of that combined to make their respect for Hewlett and Packard ever greater. Those two guys, they realized, had not only already negotiated every step of the career path they intended to follow, often doing so first, but they had done so with breathtaking grace…Even in the virulently competitive world of high technology, even as people measured their own careers against those of Hewlett and Packard, many privately admitted that matching Bill and Dave was beyond their reach. No amount of revenue or percentage of market share would ever match a company that had invented a dozen entirely new industries; no amount of laudatory BusinessWeek cover stories would ever match a company whose employees set historic records for loyalty and commitment’ and no number of trips to Washington would ever equal having a medal for quality named after you.

What is more, Hewlett and Packard had created a series of business innovations that altered forever the world of work. Flex-time, coffee breaks, casual Fridays, beer and pizza busts, open plan offices, profit-sharing, flattened organizational charts, managing-by-walking-around, and the open-door policy are but a few of the practices that HP’s founders created, championed, or popularized. Then they crafted all of these into a form of enlightened management that reinvented work for much of the developed world, and turned conventional labor-management relations on its ear.

Malone began his career as a public relations guy for Hewlett-Packard, which is perhaps why he treads lightly on the shortcomings of HP’s founders. He skims past allegations of Packard’s marital infidelities, soft-pedals HP’s defense work, and lamely excuses HP’s failure to start the personal computer revolution by suggesting that the company was “just too busy” when Steve Wozniak presented his Apple I computer to HP management. These and other tells leave Malone open to accusations of hagiography.

One could argue in Malone’s defense that his treatment of Hewlett and Packard is far less breathless than the fawning prose that too often passes for business journalism. In an age when men of commerce with far less impressive legacies than HP’s founders are lionized and deified by the business-as-a-spectator-sport crowd, Malone’s tribute to his idols is perhaps a measured effort to restore some perspective.

Which brings us back to Mr. Jobs.

A friend and I were lunching in these willow-shaded precincts last week, shivering slightly as the Beijing fall worked its way into our bones. The topic turned to Walter Isaacson’s biography of the late Apple CEO, and my friend asked if I would be reading it. “No,” I replied, “but not because I’m not interested.”

For an aspiring historian, Isaacson’s study has come out a decade or more too soon. I was a teenager when Apple was born, and I grew up watching Steve Jobs, so I don’t need a rehash of his remarkable life or career. What I want to know is whether history will treat him like a Morgan, Edison, Westinghouse, Pullman, Ford, or Watson; or whether, perhaps, he was a transitional figure setting the stage for someone or something even greater.

As for me I believe the former. But as Bill & Dave illustrates, our importance to history, to the bigger picture, is not always what we think it is at the time.

Hunter is Laughing Somewhere Tonight

Hunter S. Thompson, Miami Book Fair Internatio...

Hunter S. Thompson, Miami, 1988 (Image via Wikipedia}}

Book Review: Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone –

In what has to be one of the most enjoyable book reviews I have ever read – and without question the best book review I have ever read in The Wall Street JournalMatt Labash explains why Fear and Loathing at Rolling Stone deserves a spot on the bookshelf of anyone who appreciates new journalism.

Labash is no fanboy. He, too, shakes his head at the self-caricature that Thompson became not long after Ronald Reagan took office, when his antics and legend outshone his writing. But Labash reminds us that underneath all that was a man who, from about 1965 to 1980, was one of the best writers in America.

Thompson was a musician in prose, his words his rhythm section. He was Buddy Rich and Tito Puente and John Bonham rolled into one. His paragraphs kept perfect time—never laying a false beat. He often wrote to music, which he called “fuel.” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” was written entirely to a live version of the Rolling Stones’s “Sympathy for the Devil.” Thompson felt writing should resemble a great song, that, like music, it should move people through the ear. Frequently, he would have guests at his Woody Creek, Colo., compound read passages aloud, telling them to slow down and just how to punch the emphasis, as he enjoyed the sound of his sentences hitting like blunt rocks. As a young writer, he’d gone so far as to re-type the works of Dos Passos and Fitzgerald, just to feel their cadences vibrate through his fingers.

I won’t take a stance either way. I’m biased, as Thompson more than any other writer inspired me to write.

Before I go and put the book in my Amazon shopping cart (for delivery when I make it back to my own writer’s retreat in December), though, I cannot help but imagine The Good Doctor’s mirth if he could only read the plaudits written about his Rolling Stone writing in the Wall Street Journal of all places.


China and International Norms

China’s International Norms – Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

One of the issues I’ve been researching lately is the extent to which we can expect China’s corporations to play by global rules if and when they begin leading in international markets.

Six of the leading experts on China at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute debate the matter, focusing more on international relations and global security. Nonetheless, the debate is worth reading through.

Chinese science fiction: A podcast and reading list

Chinese science fiction: A podcast and reading list.

Danwei has moved to a magazine format now, shifting from the site that has been its home for a decade to, with more of a magazine format. I like the new site a lot better, and I keep hoping Jeremy and Company will come up with a way for all of us to peruse the site offline.

Nonetheless, there are treasures in the archives of that are timeless, and one of those treasures is this one, with a link to the Sinica Podcast on Science Fiction in China, and a list of Chinese science fiction resources.

Those who say that the Chinese culture and science fiction just do not work together should read this post, listen to the podcast, and follow the links. In truth, Chinese is in its formative stage, similar to where the craft was in the West before World War II. It is the realm of a small but growing core of fans, has yet to go mainstream, and operates on the edge of the Chinese literary world (sound familiar?)

For a first taste, download Joel Martinsen‘s well-reviewed translation of an excerpt from Liu Cixin’s Ball Lightning from Paper Republic.

So Much for “Chindia”

E-Notes: China And India: A Rivalry Takes Shape – FPRI.

Harsh Pant from King’s College London delves into how China’s rivalry with India is taking shape, moving the region beyond speculation about “Chindia” and tracking how China’s rise is compelling India to kick its own investments in its military into high gear.

In play are relationships with every other country in the region, from Iran to Indonesia, and again, the proximate cause of the growing trans-Himalayan tension is domestic politics in China.

An excellent review of the challenges in the region, and a superb compliment to Glaser and Schaffer’s analysis.

Yi Yun Li on Villages, Ghosts, and William Trevor

From the Vault: Yiyun Li | Tin House.

Yiyun Li’s engrossing essay on village literature, William Trevor, and family ghosts from Tin House. My favorite quote: “It was the mid-1970s, and Beijing was a village the size of a metropolis.” Funnily, it still feels that way sometimes.

For those who do not know Li, she is the Beijing-born writer and novelist (The Vagrants), a professor of English at my alma mater, UC Davis, and is a 2010 recipient of a MacArthur Foundation genius grant. She has been named one of America’s top 20 writers under age 40 by the editors of The New Yorker.

Li’s stories capture the essence of Beijing better than anyone I know who is writing in the English language. Stories like “Alone,” and “Gold Boy, Emerald Girl” will give you an idea of how effortlessly she pulls you into her stories, and how subtly she conveys the rhythms and tiny tragedies that mark life in China.

How Does China See the U.S. Security Threat

A Shifting Balance: Chinese Assessments Of U.S. Power | Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In a concise summary of the single most important international relationship in the world today, Bonnie Glaser deconstructs how China sees the U.S. and its changing role in global security.

What leaps out of Glaser’s summary is that even as China defines itself in terms of the U.S., for all of the U.S. military’s transparency, China is still split in how it sees U.S. intentions in the wake of the global financial crisis. We can ascribe that to one of two things: a lack of sophistication about the U.S. among America-watchers in China (which I don’t deem likely,) or, more likely, that it is in the political interest of different parties inside of China to interpret U.S. moves in different ways.

Glaser, for her part, tracks these internal differences and offers ides for how the U.S. should respond. Excellent analysis.

Will North Korea Start a New Cold War in Asia?

The New Cold War in Asia? | Center for Strategic and International Studies

Victor Cha at the CSIS explores several scenarios for how a crisis over North Korea in 2012 might turn into a larger standoff. Cha’s concise albeit unsurprising analysis correctly identifies Beijing as the reluctant party in a Sino-US-Korean partnership to contain the problem, because China wants stability rather than change on the peninsula.

The buried lede in the story, however, is Cha’s assertion that it is Chinese domestic politics, rather than calculation based on grand strategy, that compels China’s standoffish attitude toward Washington and Seoul. Indeed, Cha notes, Chinese domestic politics are what constrains the PRC from forming a grand strategy in the first place.

This is an assertion that begs for further exploration. What are the domestic political dynamics around the Korea issue? What could change inside of China – or inside of North Korea – to shift China toward the role of strong-armed peacekeeper? To what extend is China already using its leverage to quietly moderate North Korean behavior? What more could/should it do?

Clearly constrained by space, Cha leaves us with these questions. That should not keep the penny from dropping at Pacific Command in Honolulu or the State Department in Washington. The stratgy-making dynamic in China bears a growing resemblance to our own, and a shrinking resemblance to that of the USSR. Until we shift our understanding, it is we as much as the Chinese who risk making Northeast Asia the center of a new Cold War.

How India Sees American Power in Asia

Continued Primacy, Diminished Will: Indian Assessments of U.S. Power | Center for Strategic and International Studies.

The great challenge in India’s foreign policy is trying to figure out what role the U.S. wants to play – and what it can play, in the Asian security environment. The U.S. and India have grown closer in the wake of the Cold War, but the relationship is far from an aliance.

Terisita Schaffer at CSIS does a superb job examining how India’s views of the U.S. have changed, how the Indians do not see the United States as a power in decline, and how the growing relationship between America and the Subcontinental power is changing the calculus in the regions’s international security.

If you read or plan to read Robert Kaplan‘s excellent Monsoon, this is a superb introduction or companion piece.

The MoC, the PBOC, and the RMB

China’s Exchange Rate Politics | Center for Strategic and International Studies.

In a study subtitled “Decoding the Cleavage between the Chinese Ministry of Commerce and the People’s Bank of China,” Charles Freeman and Wen Jin of the CSIS explain how those two ministries are the lead protagonists in the battle over both currency revaluation and the restructuring of the economy.

The scholars do not reach any specific conclusions, but they do lay out the respective views of the two agencies, their roles in the debate, and in so doing attempt to determine how the debate will translate into concrete policy.

If you read the headlines in China, the PBOC seems to be winning: the RMB is on a gradual devaluation path, and factory owners in eastern China (especially Wenzhou) are feeling the pain. What makes this study particularly interesting, though, is the hints it offers as to how currency policy might change in the face of major domestic dislocations.

What I like best about this short but sweet piece is that it properly frames the debate over the valuation of the RMB as a domestic Chinese debate, not a global one. The government is not a monolith, and Americans who seek the devaluation of the RMB have allies in China.

Brookings on China’s Development and the 12th FYP

China’s Approach to Economic Development and Industrial Policy – Brookings Institution.

In testimony to the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on June 15th, Brookings Institution Senior Fellow Eswar Prasad discusses China’s 12th Five Year plan and the challenges China will face in restructuring its economy.

Where he and I differ somewhat is in his belief that the transition will slow China’s “rebalancing” program. As I’ve argued in Silicon Hutong, the policy dislocations in China’s modern leadership transitions are actually less extreme than those in the past or elsewhere. I suspect movement will proceed in most of the directions Prasad discusses, and several he skips in the interest of brevity.

A superb summary, though, and highly readable at that.

Editorial: Letters Ex Manhattan

One of the great blessings of American literature is that, unlike that of many less diverse nations and cultures, ours benefits from the inspiration offered in the geographic diversity of the land. It is sad, therefore, that so many intelligent champions of American letters would prefer that we have but a single literary Mecca. A nation can only have one intellectual capital. As France has Paris, so must America have New York. To defend such a proposition, and perhaps to justify living in a city that is as likely to brutalize an author as it is to celebrate him or her, some of New York’s most ardent boosters go to great pains to make the case that for the writer or the book-minded, there is no place to be but New York City.

In an article entitled “City Lights,” writer and biographer Stefan Kanfer offers us a notable example of such Metropolitan hyperbole. To support his point, he gives endless examples of writers from Washington Irving to Jonathan Franzen who have made New York their home.

Kanfer is most loquacious when answering the infidel literati who rejected the Big Apple:

Ernest Hemingway found the literary city repulsive; in Green Hills of Africa, he called New York writers “angleworms in a bottle.” And H. L. Mencken demanded, “Have you ever noticed that no American writer of any consequence lives in Manhattan? Dreiser tried it (after many years in the Bronx), but finally fled to California.”

Mencken, notorious for his contrarian screeds, was wrong. So was Hemingway. In addition to Singer, five recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature have found New York’s attractions too powerful to resist: Sinclair Lewis, Eugene O’Neill, John Steinbeck, Saul Bellow, and Toni Morrison. Philip Roth and John Updike took apartments there; Norman Mailer never left town. Along the way, The New Yorker stopped being quite so closed and began to publish the likes of J. D. Salinger, Ursula K. Le Guin, Alice Munro, and Vladimir Nabokov.


This is exactly the kind of defensive self-justification cum effusive self-congratulation for which New York must own the patent given its frequent use by the city’s fanboyim. A steady flow of this tiresome spew has poured from the pens, typewriters, and laptops of Gotham for over a century, and the sole effect outside of New Amsterdam’s legion of besotted admirers has been a roll of the eyes and a turn of the page.

I submit that there are far simpler and less mystical reasons for New York’s role as a literary gravity-well than Mr. Kanfer’s pean would seem to suggest. Those include:

  • New York is where the publishers are, and most writers find it convenient to be near the largest critical mass of markets for their work, whether they want to be there or not. One of Kanfer’s Nobel Laureates, Toni Morrison, came to New York to be an editor in a publishing house, not because of some mystic magnet.
  • Writing is a lonely profession, and the proximity of a sympathetic support group of peers, both more and less talented, is a comfort to all, especially the struggling and the poseurs, (the latter whom find it much easier to justify their unpublished status to their loved ones and themselves because at least they are in the center of the action.)
  • New York is home to an overlarge community of grossly wealthy idle and nouveau riche, especially from among the financial community, who patronize the belles letters as a means of embellishing their unearned or under earned lucre with a patina of culture.
  • Writers are celebrated, tolerated, and venerated in New York like nowhere else on the planet. Such ego infusions are heady, addictive stuff.

Hardly the stuff of impassioned tributes, I know, but without doubt more reflective of some basic truths that reflect the uglier side of the vocation of letters.

As for me, I side with Mencken, Hemingway, Drieser, Hunter Thompson, Raymond Chandler, and all of the others who had the fortitude and dignity to ply their craft far from the shores of the Hudson. How much greater the triumph of a writer laboring without the support of editors, agents, patrons, and fellows in close proximity.

And, for the record, New York has no especial claim on Nobel Laureates in Literature: Steinbeck did his best work in California, Lewis in Washington, DC, Bellow in the Midwest and Boston; Hemingway, Pearl Buck and Joseph Brodsky avoided the place.

The truth is, America is blessed to have a geographically diverse literary tradition, so much so that one could almost make a lifetime study of the literature of New England (less New York City), of the South, of the West, and California.

Dismount your horses, Tribunes of Gotham. You are all wonderful and do great work. To pretend that literature begins and ends in your precincts does an injustice to literature and an injustice to New York.

Climate Change: What About the Crops?

Rice Farmer, Cambodia

Image by Jonathan Burr via Flickr

Food Security and Climate Change in the Pacific: Rethinking the Options
Asian Development Bank
September 2011

In the debates around climate change, one of the frequently overlooked issues is what will happen to the food security of specific nations should temperatures rise enough to dislocate cultivated crops and alter fishing and livestock patterns. It would, indeed, seem a minor matter compared to the nightmare scenario of inundation.

Yet apocalyptic Waterworld predictions aside, crops and livestock are sensitive to temperature changes, and this is a matter of concern for countries of all sizes, even landlocked ones. This book offers some basic policy suggestions to help the nations of the APAC region, from the Pacific islands states to mainland Asia, prepare for the uncertain consequences of climate change.

The Battles Inside the US Navy in World War II

Mark 14 Steam Driven Torpedo

Image via Wikipedia

Administrative histories of military forces rarely make for scintillating reading. Accounts of the activities of command bureaucracies are, however, treasure chests for the military historian. Without taking from the fighting men and women or their commanders, it is usually the force that has its stuff together in the rear and in the higher echelons of command that wins the battles. Administrative histories show us the terrain on which the bureaucratic battles were fought.

Some of those fights were spectacular and were felt on the battlefield. The fight between the OSS, the FBI, and the armed forces, for example over control of strateic intelligence; the denial of the Navy bureaucracy that there was something seriously, fatally wrong with the Mark 14 torpedo; the Army Air Corps’ struggle for independence from the ground forces that made tactical air support and battlefield interdiction permanent poor cousins to strategic bombing and air superiority; and the countless internal fights that determined the way the war would be fought and by whom. These conflicts not only dictated the nature of the battle, but cast the shape of the US armed forces for the remainder of the 20th century. And they are all chronicled in so-called “administrative histories.”

Thus, the Guide to United States Naval Administrative Histories of World War II is a bibliography of the internal accounts of these battles in the Department of the Navy. They serve, therefore, as glimpses into the birth and early growth of modern naval forces, as well as the conduct of the war itself. The resource is indispensible for the serious historian, and, if nothing else, serves as a guide when pursuing research into any significant naval topic.

The Unexpurgated Pentagon Papers

Report of the Office of the Secretary of Defense Vietnem Task force (The “Pentagon Papers“).
U.S. Department of Defense

In June of 1971, Daniel Ellsberg leaked significant portions of this report, blowing the lid off of the way the United States had conducted the war in Vietnem.

Today, thanks to the National Archives, the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library, and the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library, the entire, original, unredacted seven thousand page report has been declassified and made available to the public. It also includes background documentation and a complete account of the peace negotiations, none of which were previously available.

That this release will become one of the most important documents in the study of the war is axiomatic. What is better, it is available at no charge to anyone with the desire and bandwidth to download its 1.5 gigabytes of PDF files. Whether you have read the original edition published by the New York Times or not, historians, political scientists, and Vietnam War buffs will want to grab this. I’m scheduling it for when I am back in the US, or someplace with really fast download speeds.

Preventing Childhood Obesity: China’s Next Great Health Challenge?

Crop of Children with various body composition...

Image via Wikipedia

Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies
Institute of Medicine
The National Academies Press
October 2011

As a nation that is still developing and remains largely poor, China has not yet had to contend with the challenge of early childhood obesity. A walk along the shopping avenues in Beijing or Shanghai during a national holiday, watching prosperous urban parents walking with their youngsters, is enough to make one realize that China’s reckoning with fat kids is coming, and right soon – at least for prosperous urban dwellers.

The United States is already dealing with a serious early childhood obesity problem, a matter that affects not only parents and health officials, but physicians, child care providers, and the folks in charge of providing children with lunches and meal programs. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science has produced a blueprint to prevent and reduce early childhood obesity.

China’s Ministry of Health would do well to tap this resource. As fast foods proliferate and diets in China get richer, children here will start to face the same challenges as their counterparts in the US.