China Won’t Cut off the Kim Family Regime

Re-Think Chinese Policy Toward DPRK
Bonnie S. Glaser
Freeman Report
Issue 7, February 2013

In this short paper, Bonnie Glaser at the CSIS presents a cogent, well-framed case for China to cut its assistance to North Korea as a means of getting the DPRK to stop its rogue behavior. As much sense as the paper will make on Capitol Hill, it is unlikely to change China’s stance. This is because the paper does not consider the internal logic that drives Beijing’s calculus on North Korea.

While Beijing’s “dog” on the Korean peninsula enjoys biting the hand that feeds it, the dog still guards China’s back door. It remains a buffer designed to ensure that neither the US nor South Korea have forces crouched on the Yalu frontier. Its rogue behavior diverts the heat of international opprobrium as China begins to assert its own strategic posture and build its military. The loyalty Beijing continues to extend to the DPRK is a demonstration to all other allies and prospective allies that Beijing is a reliable friend, even when the going gets tough. Finally, Beijing would hate to have somebody else – Russia, for example – step in and become Pyongyang’s patron.

So Beijing cutting off Pyongyang is probably not in the cards. What is likely to be in the cards, however, is a careful effort by China to prove the the mercurial Kim Family Regime that there are wiser courses of action to pursue, and that China continues to be its best possible benefactor. Whether that will yield any worthwhile results is anyone’s guess.

Whither China’s Nukes

China’s Strategic Capabilities and Intent,” Rebeccah Heinrichs, Issue Brief, No. 4111, The Heritage Foundation, December 18, 2013. Heinrichs summarizes the changes taking place in China’s nuclear defense posture, noting that rather than engage in bursts of effort and spending, China has been slowly and steadily improving its offensive nuclear capabilities for years now. She also lays out a policy program that responds to these developments and reminds us that the US has ignored its own strategic forces for far too long.

A Cybersecurity Moment

Toward a Safer and More Secure Cyberspace
Seymour E. Goodman and Herbert S. Lin, Editors, 
Committee on Improving Cybersecurity Research in the United States
National Research Council

On a day during which many of us are rushing about trying to secure our servers and our identities from the ravages of Heartbleed, we cannot help but wonder how the issue of cybersecurity can be addressed at a macro level.

The National Academies Press has just sent out a reminder that in 2007 it published Seymour Goodman, Herbert Lin’s and the National Research Council’s superb Toward a Safer and More Secure Cyberspace. The book, available free to download if you register, seems only a little dated: most of the fundamental concerns it identifies and addresses are more relevant now than they were seven years ago.

All of this is a bleak reminder that there are a lot of folks out there who are in a position to say “I told you so.” No doubt a few of them are probably having the busiest week of their lives.

The NSA, Snowden, and the Elephant in the Room

Recent revelations from the Snowden-Industrial Complex (SIC) appear to offer evidence that the U.S. National Security Agency hacked into one or more corporate computer systems at Chinese telephone giant Huawei. This was done, ostensibly, to search for evidence to support the suspicion that Huawei was operating in cahoots with the Chinese government to the detriment of US interests.

All of these revelations are fascinating, but there is an elephant in the room that we’re missing amid the outrage. What, if anything, did the NSA find in Huawei’s computers? Was the US, in retrospect, looking for a chimera, or did they find evidence of the complicity for which they were searching?

The fact that the latter has not been addressed suggests that the SIC is being selective about its disclosures, either because of an implicit agenda, or, perhaps, because Snowden has new masters.

On Chen Guangbiao

While we all make merry at the antics of Chinese scrap metal merchant Chen Guangbiao, who has come to America to buy a major national newspaper, we would do well to remember that of such characters history is made. Georges Danton, the great French revolutionary, once said, “il nous faut de l’audace, et encore de l’audace, et toujours de l’audace” (“we need audacity, and yet more audacity, and always audacity.”) Or, as my grandmother said, “you gotta have chutzpah.” He is the harbinger of more such Chinese personalities who will seek to own the great media outlets of the west, and many of them are likely to be better funded and more subtle in approach.

SSQ: Can We Get Along?

Strategic Studies Quarterly, volume 7, number 4. The Air Force is, unsurprisingly, increasingly fascinated with China, and we reap the benefits again in the Winter 2013 installment of the journal. The lead article asks whether China and the US are looking at an inevitable conflict, or greater cooperation. An op/ed by a retired Air Force lieutenant general delves into whether and how China can join the world’s nuclear arms control regime. Finally, the University of Michigan’s Philip Potter delves into the roots of terrorism in China, and how it is changing China’s approach to security.

David Wolf:

One of the most thoughtful posts I have yet read on politics in China.

Originally posted on Patrick Chovanec:

A surprising number of people in China have been writing and talking about “revolution”.  First came word, in November, that China’s new leaders have been advising their colleagues to read Alexis de Tocqueville’s classic book on the French Revolution, L’Ancien Régime et la Révolution (The Old Regime and the Revolution), which subsequently has shot to the top of China’s best seller lists.  Just this past week, Chinese scholar Zhao Dinxing, a sociology professor at the University of Chicago, felt the need to publish an article (in Chinese) laying out the reasons China won’t have a revolution (you can read an English summary here).  Minxin Pei, on the other hand, thinks it will.

In the midst of this debate, I happened across an interesting set of passages in retired Harvard professor Richard Pipes’ slender volume Three “Whys” of the Russian Revolution.  The first “why” he…

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Standing Committee Splits?

“Splits in the Politburo Leadership?”
Alice L. Miller

China Leadership Monitor
2011, No. 34
Hoover Institution


As a part of our Eighteenth Party Congress series, we will be offering some of the more thoughtful examinations of China’s changing leadership. In this first article, The Hoover Institution’s Alice Miller explains why splits among the Politburo Standing Committee‘s leaders are likely to remain manageable and behind closed doors.

I am inclined to agree with her analysis, simply because the interests that hold the nation’s leaders together are – with the exception of cases like that of Bo Xilai – far stronger than the disagreements which might sunder them. The real fault lines in the Chinese polity lay elsewhere.

The Democracy Dream, Justified

“Why China Will Democratize”
Yu Liu and Dingding Chen
The Washington Quarterly
Winter 2012

Liu and Chen make a strong argument that China’s government and institutions will have little choice but to become increasingly participatory over time. At the same time, they warn that “democracy with Chinese characteristics” may not be recognizable to, or necessarily satisfy, those in the west who harbor the dream that the world’s largest nation will become its largest participatory state.

China is on the cusp of change, and the two scholars suggest that the Party is losing the support of a the “middle class.” Once the moneyed, educated urban elite goes sour on the CCP, the authors imply, the Party will have no choice but to reform. And sour they will go, the authors note, because the government lacks the wherewithal to continue delivering the economic performance that the people have come to believe are its entitlement. They echo an argument that is becoming increasingly common: the Chinese social contract is broken, and the Party will have to produce reform to establish a new one.

None of the arguments are particularly novel, but the reason it is worth reading is the provenance of the authors. Liu is a professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, and Chen teaches  at the University of Macau. For two Chinese scholars to put forth these arguments would have been unlikely if not unthinkable a decade ago. Clearly something interesting is happening in Chinese academia, an indicator that support on the mainland for major change may run deeper than many of us suspect.

Why China Smokes

The Political Mapping of China’s Tobacco Industry and Anti-Smoking Campaign
Cheng Li
Brookings Institution
October 25, 2012

Arguably the most important policy direction laid out in China’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan is health care. Given China’s rising standards of living and the challenges that rising medical costs present even to the developed economies of the west, this came as no surprise.

What gives this focus an edge of urgency are a cluster of looming public health crises that threaten to dwarf anything China’s medical establishment has faced in decades, perhaps ever. Atop that list of impending challenges is China’s smoking problem. Over 300 million Chinese smoke cigarettes every day (versus under 60 million Americans) and the average Chinese daily smoker has a two-pack-a-day habit. Experts estimate that tobacco-related diseases kill 1.2 million people a year in China, and that will increase to 2 million by 2020.

One of the few upsides of oligarchy is the relative ease with which you can legislate such problems away, and Beijing has done so often enough in the past that when a problem arises (like air pollution,) Chinese and foreigners alike wonder why the government isn’t doing anything. So it is with smoking. Here is a problem that the government could fix easily, following a path well-trodden in the west: why doesn’t it?

In his highly-readable but awkwardly-titled monography, Cheng Li lays out the institutional framework that feeds this national habit. The critical importance of tobacco to China’s tax revenues, potential resentment from poor smokers, and an intricate web of shared interests that tie China’s leadership with the industry all stand in the way of far-reaching anti-smoking campaigns.

All of this would make stimulating reading at any time, but given the report’s release on the verge of a major change in leadership in Beijing, the tale is particularly juicy. Among the report’s revelations are ties between Vice-Premier Li Keqiang, who holds the State Council‘s public health portfolio, and the State Tobacco Monopoly Administration. The revelations here are startling, yet one can only wonder about what Li knows but cannot put to paper.

China’s Oil Politics

“China and the Politics of Oil”
Jacqueline N. Deal

Foreign Policy Research Institute
May 2012

An essay based on a speech by FPRI Senior Fellow Deal, this paper explains the basis of China’s mild paranoia about access to energy supplies. A superb primer to the problem.

China’s Aircraft Carrier in Perspective

Beijing’s “Starter Carrier” and Future Steps: Alternatives and Implications – Andrew S. Erickson, Abraham M. Denmark, and Gabriel Collins

via U.S. Naval War College | 2012 – Winter.

In this excellent review essay the Naval War College’s excellent team of China Watchers give offer a balanced view of the significance of China’s new aircraft carrier and, more important, what it portends.

David Wolf:

An excellent list for someone looking to build core knowledge about what is happening in Africa.

Originally posted on U.S. Africa Command Blog:

"Things Fall Apart" coverMaintaining up-to-date information and deep knowledge about Africa is critical to the team at the U.S. Africa Command. To that end, a reading list was compiled to provide suggestions. Here are some top picks. Check the blog next week for the full list.

Thanks to the AFRICOM Research Library for providing us with this list. Look for an upcoming story on the library, new to Kelley Barracks.

1.  “The Fate of Africa or The State of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence,” Martin Meredith (2005).  A narrative history of Africa over the last fifty years, with a focus on people and key events.  This is a great start point for those becoming acquainted with the African continent.

2. “Things Fall Apart,” Chinua Achebe (1958).  An African literary classic that captures the cultural intrusions represented by colonialism.  This book is one of the most well-known African novels, and as…

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The Misty Poets: An introduction

David Wolf:

Read this superb introduction to one of the first literary movements to emerge in China in the wake of the Cultural Revolution.

Originally posted on Seeing Red in China:

This great guest post comes from a friend. Over the next few days she’ll be introducing her research on the Misty Poets. If you are a grad student working on a China related topic please contact Tom about the possibility of introducing here.

“Misty”is the title conferred upon a group of poets known during the Democracy Movement (1976-1980)for their unique style. Some, such as Ai Qing, Ai Weiwei’s father, called their work “obscure” (古怪), even poisonous.[1] At the very least, it was certainly daring.

So daring, in fact, that three of the leading Misty poets were exiled for inspiring the Tiananmen youth. Misty poet Bei Dao was not even in China when the demonstrations occurred, but he was nonetheless not allowed back for twenty years, since his poems appeared on banners at Tiananmen Square. Other well-known poets include Gu Cheng, Mang Ke, Shu Ting, and Duo Duo, all of whom…

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Who will Win? India, or China?

see Images name

Image via Wikipedia

Forecasting the future is a tricky business, but it is not an altogether unrewarding one. Get it right, and you can remind people forever. Get it wrong, and most people will forget. Less fraught, however, is the habit of making business and policy decisions based on such prognoses: bet the farm on somebody else’s forecast, and your posterior is on the chopping block, not theirs.

It was with that slightly cynical thought in mind that we undertook to review China and India, 2025: A Comparative Assessment. Comparisons between China and India and their prospects are almost as common as all other forms of future gazing. At the very least, we are told, these will be two of the powers who will determine the course of the 21st century. The only question is which country has the economic model and political resilience necessary to take and hold the lead.

But the authors of this particular study place little stock in such predictions of global dominance. They recognize that there are too many uncertainties to make a prediction either way: what they are interested in discovering is which of these countries seems most likely to beat the other?

Spoiler alert: they are betting on India.

Since I’ve let that little tidbit out of the bag, I will not explain why, because that’s the fun of reading this report: understanding not just the rhetoric but the math behind their reasoning that makes India such a good bet over the next 15 years.

There are a ton of qualifications along the way, and the authors all but tell the reader “hey, don’t make any bets based on this conclusion, because, you know, anything could happen.” All of which sort of undermines the point of reading through it. But push these disclaimers out of your head and follow along with the reasoning, because the framework they use to analyze the two countries is worth considering at length.

Daily Post 02/22/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Air Power and the Fight for Khe Sanh

We are probably some time away from being able to assess fully any battle of the Vietnam War. Indeed, we are still learning more about major engagements of World War Two some sixty years after the fact.

The urgency around learning (or relearning) the lessons of Vietnam, though, is enough to reopen the books on many engagements that have gone ignored, forgotten, or unreviewed for some time. Near the top of that list must be the Battle for and the Siege of the U.S. Marine Corps firebase at Khe Sanh.

Khe Sanh LAPES C-130

Image via Wikipedia

While nothing approaches Michael Herr’s Dispatches for an account of the battle from inside the wire at

Khe Sanh, Herr offers a memoir rather than history. And while he told with wit and empathy the stories of the men on the ground, the effort in the air to stave off a massive force of North Vietnamese regulars begs for review.

Here, in the words of the U.S. Air Force, is that story. While certainly told from the service’s point of view, no other source gives quite the same appreciation of the scope and magnitude of the critical role that air support, resupply by air, aeromedical evacuation, and airmobility played in keeping Khe Sanh from turning into a replay of the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu thirteen years before.

If nothing else, this account is a critical starting point for any examination of air power and the ground war in Vietnam.

Also available from Amazon here.

Air Power and the Airlift Evacuation of Kham Duc

This book offers a brief but gripping account celebrating the role air power played in the successful evacuation of 1,500 U.S. and Vietnamese servicemen from a trap laid by the North Vietnamese Army in Vietnam in 1968.

While crediting the personal heroism of U.S. aviators in the effort, historian Alan Gropman (a Tufts Ph.D. and Air Force colonel) does not whitewash the “severe” losses suffered in crews and aircraft the Air Force suffered, and calls commanders for task for poor coordination and control of the effort.

George Bush’s Last Economic Report

Despite the temptation to condemn the veracity of this publication because it originated from the Bush White House, in Dubya’s defense, I have a hard time trusting any economic work coming out of 1600 Pennsylvania regardless of who is sitting in the Big Chair. There are other arms of government, such as the Congressional Budget Office, that tend to do more rigorous, less politically tainted analysis.

Nonetheless, this document is of historic interest because it describes a perspective that can be retroactively balanced against the facts. Just how much did the Bush Administration understand – or admit to understanding – about the nature of the economy in the wake of the financial crisis?

A quick read.

ASEAN-China Documents Series, 1991-2005

This PDF book compiles some important primary sources on the evolution of the relationship between China and ASEAN over the past two decades. China has attempted to interpose itself into ASEAN, and the effectiveness of that ongoing effort, will determine whether Southeast Asia becomes a regional power in its own right, or whether it simply becomes another sphere of influence wherein China, India, Europe, Japan, and the U.S. play an updated version of The Great Game.