China’s Big Data Play

Big Data: Transforming the Design Philosophy of the Future Internet,”
Hao Yin, Yong Jiang, Chuong Lin, Yan Luo, and Yunjie Liu, 
IEEE Network,
July/August 2014 pp 14-19

For proof of how the tendrils of Chinese policy reach into science, five Chinese engineers offer their view of the current design of China’s Internet in this paper from IEEE Network. Most of the discussion is highly technical in nature, but one issue that cropped up is the paper’s complaint how “vendor lock-in” has made the current cost structure of the Internet far too high to be sustainable – a complaint that is surprising given the pervasiveness of the Internet in China, and how hardware and networking costs have been plunging for two decades.

There is more than a bit of politics in this. The study was co-funded by the Chinese government via the Ministry of Science and Technology’s National Basic Research Foundation of China, also known as Project 973 (because of its creation in March 1997), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (directly administered by the State Council), and Intel Corporation. The complaint about “vendor lock-in” is clearly aimed as a broadside against Intel, though in consideration of its role in the study, the authors clearly felt it impolitic to name names.

There is likely much more in the way of technical nationalism to be found in this paper, but this example is sufficient to underscore how China is content to infuse (i.e., taint) scientific research with politics and posturing. That the paper was accepted for publication by the IEEE should not exonerate the authors for their posturing, however well-couched.

If China doesn’t like paying Intel prices only to see the cash flow overseas, Intel’s substantial local investments notwithstanding, that is the right of the nation’s leaders. Injecting what appears to be a political snipe into a scientific paper, however, gives comfort to those who would discount legitimate Chinese research for fear of political considerations that would turn the science into junk.

Behind Tianjin Tragedy, a Company That Flouted Regulations and Reaped Profits – The New York Times

Now, more than two weeks after explosions at its warehouses leveled a swath of that district, killing 145 people, injuring more than 700 and leaving millions here fearful of toxic fallout, Rui Hai has become a symbol of something else for many Chinese: the high cost of rapid industrialization in a closed political system rife with corruption.

Source: Behind Tianjin Tragedy, a Company That Flouted Regulations and Reaped Profits – The New York Times

Why China is Playing Nice in the East China Sea

Analyzing China’s support for a crisis management mechanism in the East China Sea” 
Mathieu Duchâtel
SIPRI

SIPRI’s Mathieu Duchatel offers this short paper on why China went from confrontation to conversation in the East China sea, thus defusing an increasingly tense situation of its own manufacture.

He identifies and evaluates several hypotheses as to why the change has taken place, and underscores why this may – or may not – signal even bigger foreign policy changes in Beijing.

China and the Arctic Long Game

China and the Arctic: Objectives and Obstacles,” Caitlin Campbell, U.S. China Economic and Security Council Review Commission, Washington, April 13, 2012

China’s Arctic Aspirations, Linda Jakobson and Jingchao Peng, SIPRI Policy Paper 34, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, November 2012

China’s New Arctic Stratagem: A Strategic Buyer’s Approach to the Arctic,” Timothy Curtis Wright, Journal of Military and Strategic Studies, Volume 15, Issue 1, 2013

The Dragon Eyes the Top of the World: Arctic Policy Debate and Discussion in China, David Curtis Wright, China Maritime Studies Institute, United States Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island, August 2011

Polar Bearings: China Pursues its Interests in the North” The Economist, July 12, 2014

Race to the North: China’s Arctic Strategy and its Implications,” Shiloh Rainwater, Naval War College Review, Providence, RI, Spring 2013, Vol. 66, No. 2

Will China Purchase a Piece of the Arctic?” Mark Strauss, io9.com, April 29, 2014

 

China holds no territory or coastal waters that encroach upon the Arctic, and the closest the nation gets to being an arctic nation is a point of land in Heilongjiang province some 53 degrees north of the Equator and some 1,500 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle.

Those inconvenient facts have not prevented China from beginning a measured, multi-faceted campaign to establish claims on the region and its resources. There has as yet been no definitive statement on the nation’s policy in the region, but Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) noted in March of 2010 “The Arctic belongs to all the people around the world, as no nation has sovereignty over it. . . . China must plan an indispensable role in Arctic exploration as we have one-fifth of the world’s population.”

The Chinese government has not distanced itself from Admiral Yin’s position, and China’s efforts since – launching two large icebreakers, establishing an Arctic research station in Norway, and politicking hard to get itself admitted (albeit as an observer) to the Arctic Council suggest that his quote may well serve as de-facto policy. That Admiral Yin’s statement is in direct contravention of the United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS, to which China is a signatory) should not be ignored.

China is playing a long-term game in the Arctic, but its end game should be clear. The only question should be whether the world is prepared to grant China its wish: a major change in the rules governing and protecting one of the world’s last great frontiers.

Is China Playing Straight in the East China Sea?

The Japan-China Maritime and Air Communication Mechanism: Operational and Strategic Considerations
Marta McLellan Ross

Japan Institute of International Affairs

Recent tensions in the South China sea have raised the possibility that confrontational behavior designed to make a point can all too easily escalate into something far more dangerous.

Apparently eager to avoid this scenario, China and Japan have begun developing a series of protocols to ensure that both countries can make their points in the standoff without things spinning out of control. Marta McLellan Ross of the Council of Foreign Affairs suggests in this paper, however, that these ostensibly laudable efforts may be nothing more than a Chinese tactic to neutralize Japan.

A fascinating read.

Greek Vote opens the door for China and Russia

China State Official Hints Beijing May Bailout Greece”
Tyler Durden
Zero Hedge
2
 July 2015

While Europe (and much of the west) shakes their heads at Greece’s referendum vote against the EU bailout offer, in the east, the aparatchiki and the mandarins are likely rubbing their hands together in anticipation of a foreign policy coup.

The always thoughtful and often weird folks at Zero Hedge have hinted that Beijing may be planning to step into the Greek Breach with loans, and recently suggested that Russia and China may together form Greece’s bailout.

My bet is that this has been the plan for some time, and that the referendum has simply been a play to lay the domestic political groundwork for that plan to be put into action. When the time comes that there are no more terms to be had from Europe, Alex Tsipras can present the Asian superpowers as the answer to the EU’s austere terms. It would be a fair wager that the Greek people are unlikely to be too picky, as long as they don’t need to cough up any lifestyle changes.

The geopolitical opportunities of having Greece in either a Russian sphere of influence, an Chinese one, or in both are significant. At the very least it would ensure that the Russian Navy and the PLAN would have forward operating bases in the Mediterranean.

This may not happen overnight, or on this round. But Russia and China are playing a long game with Athens (and vice-versa,) one that the EU will likely not ignore as it debates terms for Greece and contemplates problems in Italy and Iberia as well.

Understanding the South China Sea

Historical Truths and Lies: Scarborough Shoal in Ancient Maps

This essay offers a thoughtful review from the Philippine point of view of the history of territorial claims in the South China Sea. The site, from the Institute of Maritime and Ocean Affairs, was built around a 2014 lecture by Senior Associate Justice Antonio C. Carpio of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.

The Philippines is not a neutral arbiter in the issues surrounding the South China Sea, and even the nation’s Supreme Court is not above nationalistic impulses. Source notwithstanding, the depth of the site demonstrates that the arguments against China’s claims cannot be as casually dismissed as Beijing might wish.

So many books

When we can, we should read for quality’s sake: savoring every book, re-reading the ones that enchant us most. Yet at the same time, not every essential read is worth savoring. Speed reading is useful for the accumulation of necessary knowledge. Slow reading is essential for the appreciation of written beauty. Perhaps our best reading choices lie at the junction of quality and quantity: we can speed read tedious or secondary works, then slowly absorb the masterpieces worth relishing.

via George Vanderbilt & The Reading of Many Books | The American Conservative.

WAPO: Japan has a flag problem, too

Japan has a flag problem, too – The Washington Post.

I have long wondered about Japan flying the rising sun flag on its warships. It always struck me as a near-deliberate provocation, and an oversight that the Maritime Self Defense Force would still fly it, especially now that they are flying on Japan’s new mini-aircraft carrier helicopter destroyer.

Japan has a flag problem, too - The Washington Post

 

I would wager that Japan will hold fast on continuing to use the Rising Sun flag as a naval ensign, just as it will continue to use the angry red meatball on the wings of its planes. The nation is embarking on a new era, one that will see it bearing a greater part of its defense burden than anytime in 70 years, thanks to a rising China and US empire fatigue.

The time to have asked Japan to dump the Rising Sun would have been 40 years ago. Now that the nation is rekindling its martial roots, don’t bet on them dropping what little of its military heritage is left.

 

Beijing’s Belgrade Syndrome

China Matters: How It All Began: The Belgrade Embassy Bombing.

This is a superb post, and well worth the read. I do agree that we in the United States – including most of our leaders in Washington – underestimate the psychological impact that the bombing of China’s embassy in Belgrade had in certain quarters in Beijing. Nor do we realize, I think, the degree to which this shifted a modicum of power and credibility to the People’s Liberation Army.

That said, to suggest that the Belgrade bombing was the origin point of China’s grand strategy is to overstate, if not ignore history. The plans and doctrine that form the basis of China’s grand strategy were set in motion (at the latest) with the accession of Deng Xiaoping, and more likely traces its roots back to the Zhou Enlai’s Four Modernizations. (Defense, for those who will recall, was the fourth modernization, after agriculture, industry, national defense, and science and technology.)

China has been on this general course for decades. Have specific goals and force structure evolved as they adapted to new circumstances and opportunities? Certainly. But the tune China is playing today was first set on paper fifty years ago.

China and Green Finance

Greening China’s Financial System: Synthesis Report
Zhang Chenghui, Simon Zadek, Chen Ning, Mark Halle

International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD)
March 16, 2005

Making China more environmentally friendly is more than simply a matter of installing scrubbers on factories and catalytic converters on cars. There are systemic issues that run deep, and that must be addressed in order for real, long-term change to take place.

In Greening China’s Financial System, global sustainability guru Simon Zadek teams with Zhang Chenghui, Chen Ning, and Mark Halle to examine how China’s financial system can be revamped in order to enable and support the nation’s shift to a more sustainable economy. Beyond simply identifying the problem, though, the report also offers specific recommendations for change based on current practice in China and best practices from abroad.

For those looking for a realistic, system-wide approach to greening a polluted China, this is an essential read.

Cato Institute on the SH-HK Stock Connect

Hong Kong, as the freest economy in the world, is an ideal place for global capital to enter the mainland. With the further opening of China’s capital account, Shanghai could one day outshine Hong Kong, but only if property rights are protected under the rule of law understood as a meta-legal principle whereby all individuals are guided by what F. A Hayek called “rules of just conduct.”

In all of our excitement about what this might mean for the finance industry, let us keep in mind that there are as many good reasons for staying out of Chinese investments right now than there are for getting in. 

Indonesia is Worried about ISIS

ISIL, a Growing Threat in Indonesia?”
Gwenael Njoto-Feillard

East-West Center
September 23, 2014

Lest we develop the impression that concern about ISIL/ISIS is restricted to the Middle East and select western capitals, this paper by Njoto-Feillard, a visiting scholar at the Institute of South-East Asian Studies in Singapore, makes clear that the entire Muslim world is coping with the disruption in the fertile crescent.

Njoto-Feillard suggests that the way to resist the tsunamis of extremism washing through Muslim communities worldwide is to build resilient societies. Those societies, he notes, would involve stronger cooperation between the state and “all elements of Islamic civil society.” Absolutely.

What we wonder, though, is what happens to non-Muslim minorities in a situation like that. Do you marginalize them for “their own good,” because being marginalized in a moderate society is better than being slaughtered in a radical one? Or do you bring them to the table and incorporate them into the process, finding a role for them in society that makes the entire society stronger?

 

Hong Kong, Police, and a Legacy of the Square

For China, Limited Tools to Quell Unrest in Hong Kong”
Edward Wong and Chris Buckley

NYTimes.com
September 29, 2014

Ed Wong and Chris Buckley explain how China’s leadership has very little at their disposal to mollify the protesters filling the streets of Hong Kong’s financial districts and shopping neighborhoods. Strategically, Beijing may have backed itself into a corner. 

But tactically, Xi Jinping has more, better choices for handling this unrest than his predecessors did a generation ago. 

We know precious little about the decisions that led to the People’s Liberation Army retaking Tian’anmen Square from the Chinese people who occupied it 25 years ago. But we do know that one of the reasons that China formed the People’s Armed Police (Wu Jing) in the early 1990s was to ensure that in the case of severe unrest, the government would not have to turn the guns of the Army on the people ever again.

Today, China has at its disposal the Hong Kong Police, who remain one of Asia’s more professional law enforcement agencies. If the local cops can’t handle things, China has Wu Jing units that it can send in to bolster them – and they probably already have. They have the weapons that are appropriate for the containment of demonstrations and riots – tear gas, bean bag shotguns, water cannons, and other non-lethal means – and that are designed to avoid heavy casualties.

The question now comes down to tactics. How will the commanders go about dispersing a protest that is not only peaceful, but polite as well? Because Wong and Buckley make clear that the concessions required to send the people home are not forthcoming, and Beijing’s patience with disruption is not infinite.

 

The New Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere

Professor Seiichiro Takagi of the Japan Institute of International Affairs (JIAA) explains how Xi Jinping’s “New Asian Security Concept,” introduced by the Chinese president in May, is designed to place China in the dominant position in Asia, not only from a security standpint, but on political and economic bases as well.

Reading between the lines (Japanese scholars are not always as blunt as they could be), Takagi is suggesting that the NASC is little more than a Chinese version of the Warsaw Pact, brought to Asia. It suggests, therefore, that China is attempting to stake out a share of the world over which it exercises dominance, if not control.

As a Japanese scholar, Takagi is hardly a disinterested third party: Japan and China have been squaring off with increasing regularity, and Tokyo is seen by many in Beijing as America’s running dog. At the same time, Takagi’s point is worth noting, and it invites closer scrutiny of exactly what Xi Jinping is trying to accmplish with his NASC.

 

 

Understanding “Tao Guang Yang Hui”

A phrase that is making the rounds among China watchers is “tao guang yang hui.” I will not attempt to explain the concept: any brief explanation would hide too many nuances, and nuances are important here. I just watched an online debate amongst some of my more scholarly friends, and the battle was about different interpreteations of of the phrase.

One interpretation of the phrase is captured in Deng Xiaoping’s maxim “keep a low profile and bide your time, while also getting something accomplished.” Given the noises China has been making in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the Indian frontier, and Hong Kong, it appears to some that China has abandoned the tao guang yang hui strategy altogether.

Others, however, suggest that the strategy was not abandoned, but that Deng’s intention all along was to wait for a time when China was ready to assert itself in the global sphere, not simply lay low forever.

Yang Wenchang, President of the Chinese People’s Institute of Foreign Affairs, offers his interpretation in “My Views about ‘Tao Guang Yang Hui.” It is a worthwhile read, and an important one: not only does he provide an erudite explanation of the idom’s roots, his interpretation of the phrase seems to be at odds with China’s current foreign policy.

The entire debate may seem a petty tempest among the cognoscienti. If China is becoming more assertive globally, what does it matter whether this is Xi’s own policy or a continuation of the past?

In truth, it does matter: the answer to the question of whether this is part of a long-standing plan or whether this is Xi rejecting Dengist strategy would help us better predict where China is likely to jump next. We are unlikely to get clarification from the leadership compound at Zhongnanhai: Xi will want to seem unpredictable so as to keep his percieved opponents, both at home and abroad, guessing as to his intentions, leaving him with the initiative. Hence a better understanding of his strategic approach is essential to ensure that Asia and the west are not caught unawares by China’s next Great Leap Outwards.

 

China and the Limits of History

Some things we used to know about china’s past and present but, now, not so much” 
Alice Lyman Miller
Proceedings of the USC US-China Institute Symposium, “History and China’s Foreign Relations: The Achievements and Contradictions of American Scholarship”,
Feb. 16-17, 2008

Stanford’s Alice Miller is one of those China scholars who prefers not to mince words. Whether it was her sixteen years with the CIA or the cumulative effect of four decades studying China, she is direct and still unfailingly scholarly in her assessments and, as a result is, a joy to read.

Her paper at a USC symposium above is an excellent example. There is a school of China scholarship that attempts to parse Beijing’s politics and foreign policy through a prism of China’s imperial past. To those scholars, the CCP is just another dynasty in China dynastic cycle, its current leaders just emperors in new clothes, and China wants to turn the rest of the world into tributary powers.  As a history buff with late-life aspirations to historianship, these parallels are appealing to me, and they are clearly appealing to others, else Miller would not feel the need to debunk the approach.

And debunk she does. Offering ample examples from current scholarship and public discourse, she makes a convincing case that while the history has some general value as background in understanding Chinese strategic thinking, past behavior is no template for current or future action.

A must-read for any China-watcher, it surprises me that this paper has not received more attention, but perhaps it shouldn’t: as a longtime purveyor of the “China is more nuanced than that” approach, I know that people are not looking for nuance: they’re looking for easy. Miller makes it clear that this sort of intellectual laziness is a hazard to be avoided.

History, however, is not the bunk that Henry Ford thought. I side with Cicero: ignorance of history is the hallmark of intellectual immaturity. Miller is correct in saying that we should not rely on history too much. It is important to caution that we ignore it at our peril.

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.