Review Essay: An Unbetter China

Chinese armies defeating the Dzungar prior to the genocide.

There is a growing chorus of voices, mostly Sinophilic or Russo-philic, who attempt to bestow upon China a mantle of moral superiority in its dealings with the wider world for the sole reason that it has not waged any form of expeditionary warfare in its recent history.

This forum and this writer have criticized many of America’s forays into overseas military engagements over the past 50 years. That said, there is no moral standard of which this writer is aware that bestows moral ascendancy upon a country that systematically slaughters its own citizens over another country that engages in misguided adventures abroad.

It is possible to deplore most or even all major exercises of American military power abroad since the cessation of hostilities in Korea in 1953, to see them as misguided and their outcomes to be awful, and yet to acknowledge that with a few exceptions the intentions were neither evil, nefarious, nor malicious. As an historian, you judge the decisions of the past in the context of the times, on that basis this writer would argue that that on the balance the US mostly acted in good faith, with notable and egregious exceptions in Chile, Iraq and Afghanistan.

China’s history leaves the nation much for which it must answer, including the “red on its ledger” from the nation’s imperial period that has not been entirely expunged by decades of foreign incursion, Republican rule, civil war, and Communist rule. Indeed, in the period following the revolution, the Chinese Communist Party has continued some of the tendencies that characterized the worst behaviors of its emperors.

Explore, if you will, how a middling agrarian kingdom actually managed to expand to dominate the continent. I’ll give you a hint: they weren’t invited by their subject peoples, Han or otherwise. Dig, if you dare, into the the gritty details of China’s imperial tributary system, which was outwardly peaceful but often ugly and violent, involving the stationing of military forces beyond China’s borders. Ask the Koreans, Mongolians, and Russians how their histories see China as a “ good neighbor.”

Consider the forcible takeover of the Tibetan region in the 1950s, China’s war with India, and its attack on Vietnam in 1977. And finally, look at the background of the 20+ territorial disputes in which China is currently engaged, including China’s extraordinary claim to the overwhelming majority of the South China Sea, and it’s effort to buy vast swaths of land in Africa and elsewhere. China has been, and is once again, an Imperial Power with 21st Century Characteristics.

Both China and the US have done great things, and both have done atrocious things. But we do ourselves and those countries a disservice by exaggerating the good or whitewashing the bad of either. And if China appears to be under more of a microscope at the moment, there is good cause. For if we accept the premise proffered by scholars both within and outside of China that America is entering a period of relative decline in its international power and China is in a period of relative ascendancy, we must use extreme care in bestowing moral superiority over a nation whose record is distinctly mixed. Doing so only grants it license to engage in much more of the same.

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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.

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.

 

Toward a More Humane PLA

The PLA and International Humanitarian Law: Achievements and Challenges
Lt. Col. Wang Wenjuan
Institute for Security and Development Policy
Stockholm
October 2013

English: A Chinese soldier with the People's L...

English: A Chinese soldier with the People’s Liberation Army waits to assist with American and Chinese delegation’s traffic at Shenyang training base, China, March 24, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even leaving aside the tragic events of June 1989, speaking of the humanitarian record of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seems almost an oxymoron. We simply do not think of the PLA in those terms.

Wang Wenjuan does, though, and in her paper she makes a clear case that China’s military leaders are at least going through the motions. She documents the understanding international humanitarian law (IHL) at the highest levels of command, the degree to which it is integrated into PLA training and indoctrination programs, and the fact that the PLA is even engaged in “research” into humanitarian law.

What matters, of course, is the behavior of the force on the battlefield and in the administration of areas captured and occupied in combat, or areas administered under a peacekeeping mandate. In the two decades during which Wang suggests that the PLA has been in compliance with IHL, the force has never faced a true test of its resolve. And there lies the rub.

In language designed carefully not to place her career in jeopardy, LTC Wang makes clear that more effort is needed to ensure that the PLA behaves in the field according to its professed ideals. History has proven that this is a tall order even for the armed forces of democratic powers (Amritsar, My Lai, and Abu Ghraib, for example.) The PLA has much to prove, and Wang understands that the PLA has a long way to go before it can face such a test.

Friday Special: The FBI Investigation Manual

English: The Seal of the United States Federal...

English: The Seal of the FBI. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines (MIOG)

I’m on a plane somewhere over the Pacific at the moment, but thought I would share this.

From the wonderful people over at the Black Vault, without question one of the world’s top two sources of documents released under the Freedom of Information Act, the complete Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines used as the core textbook by the FBI.

Hold onto your hats if you decide to start downloading – the manual is some 3,700 pages long and will comfortably occupy a little over 180mb of storage. But if you are a serious otaku or just really curious, this is a little treasure.

Justice in North Korea After the Kims

Start Thinking Now About Transitional Justice in a Post-Transition North Korea
Oknam Yi, David Sungjae Hong
Center for Strategic and International Studies

July 11, 2013

If and when the Korean peninsula reunifies – or when the Kim Family Regime gives way to a new form of government – there is going to be a fair sum of Hell to pay for the family and its collaborators.

Yi and Hong argue with force and conviction that we need to think about these issues in advance if we are to avoid a tragedy of a different kind when Kim’s Hermit Kingdom finally returns to the light.

Are Chinese Intellectual Property Courts Fair?

Lan Rongjie, “Are Intellectual Property Litigants Treated Fairer in China’s Courts? An Emprical Study of Two Sample Courts,” Indiana University Research Center for Chinese Politics and Business, Working Paper #16, January 2021.

The world is abuzz about how Chinese courts have found against Apple’s claims of the iPad trademark in the PRC, and what it will mean for both Apple and IPR in China in the future. Against what we see happening this week, it is useful to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

In an empirical study of two courts in China, Lan Rongjie finds that for several reasons, you are more likely to get a fair trial in an IPR case in Chinese courts than in any other type of civil action.

Apparently, judges are more likely to defer to experts in such cases, and they are likely to be much more careful in rendering a verdict, especially when foreign parties are the plaintiffs.

The paper will be of scant comfort to Apple’s attorneys this week, but it does remind us that companies as varied as Louis Vuitton, Starbucks, and Lego have all won intellectual property cases against local Chinese businesses.