Category Archives: China

The Obama Legacy

Historians will debate the importance of the Obama Administration and its role in American history for decades to come, of course. The legacy which presidents leave behind them is always a concern of our chief executives, and it has been of even more importance to Barack Obama. As he marked a milestone in his tour of duty. leaving on a foreign tour, with a successor he opposed now chosen, he publicly drew his own optimistic record. He carefully picked, of course, in a press conference, what he considered the best interpretation of events over the last eight years. But at least for the time being, when his policies and their repercussions are still relatively fresh, it is hard to draw a balance sheet which is less than disastrous.
Obama, of course, perhaps more than any other recent president, is an ideologue – and he insisted in his political campaigns that he aimed at a “transformation” of American society. His framework for events is a combination of his studies of history but overlaid by the socialist and pro-Communist views of the little social-political group around the University of Chicago who launched his career.
There is no doubt that he has effected changes, whether they are indeed transformations, and whether any have been beneficiary, only time will tell.
But any honest examination of the effects of his strategies is a record of miscalculation and failures. Perhaps the most dramatic ones have been in foreign policy. His campaign to withdraw American power and decision-making from the international scene has demonstrated what had always been apparent to serious students of foreign affairs: the enormous power of the U.S., economic, political and military, has a role in any international confrontation even when Washington chooses to remain neutral or withdraw its influence. A world order without U.S. participation is not only unimaginable to our allies but something our adversaries always question as a possibility.
The Middle East is the most dramatic example of the failure of Obama’s effort to remove American leadership and power in the interelated conflicts there. First, his effort to weaken the U.S.-Israel alliance encouraged the Moslem terrorists in the area. Then, Sec. Hillary Clinton’s courted the brief Moslem Brotherhood regime in Egypt – overthrown by the military through popular demand. Obama and Hillary attempted to boycott the new military rulers thus providing an opportunity for Russian arms sales and influence where it had been expelled a half century ago by pro-Western Egtptians. In Syria, Obama’s initial declaration of opposition to the Basher al Assad regime was followed by withdrawal. Washington’s retreat assured the descent into a bloody, irresolute civil war sending a flood of millions of refugees into neighboring countries and Europe. The threat of force followed by its withdrawal has returned Moscow to a base in the eastern Mediterranean and helped extend Tehran mullahs’ state terrorisn excesses across the Fertile Crescent, even into Latin America. A treaty to curb Tehran’s nuclear weapons, never submitted to the Senate as the Constitution fdemands, is rapidly disintegrating
In East and South Asia, Obama’s ambivalent policies toward Chinese aggression have encouraged Beijing to aggressive territorial claims against its neighbors, discouraged unity among the Southeast Asians against Chinese Communist threats. Again Hillary’s much publicized pivot to the Western Pacific has failed to materialize. Slowly, the rape of the American economy by the Chinese through export subsides and currency manipulation – begun in the Bush Administrations — has become so clear that the Trump Administration qill have no option but a dangerous crackdown.
Obama’s role as the first American Afro-American president was, whether admitted in public discussion, seen as an important opportunity to continue to heal the historic American race problem. But whether in part because his own exotic background linked him neither to the rising black middle class nor the poor of the ghetto, he either took nondefensible positions on individual race incidents or neglected completely the mayhem of his own Chicago hometown. One has to assume that the American black leadership can only see these past eight years as a failure by a president, whatever his color, to contribute to solution of the race problem which appears to most observers to be in an even worse condition than at his entry into office.
Obama’s claim for his Affordable Care solution to long-term U.S. medical care is nearing collapse with skyrocketing costs and failure of the insurance framework which was to support it. His steady stream of executive directives for additional regulation and environmental restraints has contributed toward the slowest and most erratic economic recovery since World War II.
Despite his rhetorical skills and personal popularity as the first black president, Obama’s legacy will be a negative one. As the anti-Obama vote for Donald Trump has demonstrated, it will also cast a shadow on many of the techniques and political forms his very talented political team gave the nation.


Mr. Kerry in Wonderland

There is a disputed old argument that extensive air travel causes pgysical injury and distorts cognitive thinking. [Stewardesses did remark that during the changeover in mid-20th century from internal combustion and jet-prop engines interrupted their menstrual cycle.]
Perhaps that is the explanationof a recent responses by Secretary of State John Kerry to a group of University of Chicago political science students. Kerry, like his predecessor Sec. Jillary Clinton, is in constant motion, most of it to foreign parts.
Kerry was presenting his case for the success of the Obama Administration’s foreign policy.
Syria, he said, had actually proved that Pres. Obama’s famous red line had been drawn and was a success. He said it had ushered in a program of the export of chemical weapons of the Assad regime. The fact is, of course, that statement would depend on your definition of chemicals since it is certain Assad and his Russian and Iranian and Hezbollah allies continue to use tear gas in abundance. Nor can the Russian delibe air attacks on civilian air targets including medical facilities – nothing as barbaric seen since the 1930s—be ignored.
Obama’s “deal” with Iran to postpone their introduction of nuclear weapons, however, effective it may be, is another of Kerry’s victories. Again he ignores that within weeks Tehran had boasted of developments in intercontinental ballistics missiles tests – their only utility, of course, would be to transport weapons of mass destruction including nuclear. Nor is their any elucidation if the accusation, quietly confirmed by Washington, that billions in payments to Iran at the same time as the release of American citizens would go to fund the world’s number one state terroruist campaign.
Kerry skirts completely the March 2009 highly staged gift of a badge marked “reset” in English and Russian to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in n March 2009 U.S. The red button Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presented Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had the English word “reset”. But the Cyrillic transliteration was “peregruzka”, Russian for “overload”, perhaps a significant mistake!What the Obama Administration believed was to be the beginning of a new cooperative era turned into Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea, his sponsorship of of the Russian-speaking minority toward the destruction of Ukraine, and hints at similar operations in the Baltic states. That was after Hillary Clinton’s State Department approved the transfer of 20% of America’s uranium holdings to Russia [while nine investors in the deal funneled $145 million to the Clinton Foundation]. This was supposed to be another clever maneuver to halt Moscow’s expanding its own production of uranium as a fuel for nuclear weapons.
Kerry claimed the U.S. had preserved freedom of the seas by what must be described by others as a tepid response to China’s claims in the South China Sea. Beijing, despite a fimr denunciation of its sovereignty claims by the Permanent Coiu of Arbigration in the Hague, has moved now from an unsubstantiated claim to negotiations with Washington on how its claims are to be compromised.
Perhaps most egregious of Kerry’s maneuvers has been his courtship of the Vietnamese Communist regime. Ignoring its persecution of Cthe religious and other political prisoners, the argument that a stronger Vietnam in tacit alliance with the U.S. against China’s encroachments in Southeast Asia might be sustained. But the elaborate courtship of the chairman of Hanoi’s Communist Party rather than its government figures reminds us of Kerry’s past. He was, after all, a flamboyant supporter of the cutoff of military aid to a South Vietnam army which had performed well after the American withdrawal. He and his friends assured us there would be no human castrophe. Tell that to the families of a million South Vietnamese who went into fetid political pisons, tens of thousands never to exit, the thousands who lost their lives trying to flee by sea from the new regime and the murder of prominent anti-Communist leaders without trial.
The Mad Hatter told Alice that the truthfulness of his statements was of his own choosing. Kerry obviously has taken that advice.

Jobs, jobs, jobs…

In the hot lather of an unusually rambunctious presidential political campaign, more than a little nonsense is being slung about by the rival candidates about ending the current lethargy of the U.S. economy.
First of all, of course, the world’s job market is not a finite number.
When the international economy is robust, it is so intertwined that creation of jobs in one national economy is bound to produce them among their trading partners. That’s why it is wrong to talk of the Chinese and other low priced labor having “stolen” American jobs.
True, China is running a huge trade surplus with the U.S. In 2015, Beijing’s export surplus to the U.S. over American goods to China was a record $365.7 billion. But beyond the statistical review lies a basic consideration for both countries’ economists and officials: China is accepting a debt of an increasingly devalued U.S. currency for its labor and its own resources and imported raw materials sold to the U.S.
One could, indeed, make the argument that while subsidizing its exports and manipulating the currencies, Beijing may be “stealing” foreign employment, But it is also – an essentially poor country – exporting capital. Few of those who are blathering about the current American economic scene are remarking on the low=cost consumers’ goods that these Chinese policies have produced for the American consumer.
The campaign promise made by both candidates to “return” jobs from China and other low wage producers, is equally subject to criticism. If, as is generally assumed, this would be done by erecting tariff barriers against these imports, it would mean higher prices [and presumably less consumption] by the U.S. consumer. That could produce additional revenues for the federal government, of course – indeed, the main source of revenue for the American government before the enactment of the 1913 Sixteenth Amendment to the U.S. constitution permitting a direct tax which did not – as the Constitution requires, a per capita distribution among the States.
But what may be far more important is speculation about what these “jobs” would actuallybne were they “returned” to the U.S. Given the incredible speed with which the digital revolution has revolutionized all phases of American life, including manufacturing and services, it seems likely that any “return” would produce quite different employment than that which departed. Increasingly, perhaps more than the “escape” of jobs abroad,, American unemployment is produced through the introduction of these advanced technologies/ What ever happened to “dispatches” for delivery networks or to the old-fashioned highly trained “cashier” at the retail checkout?
What often seems the logical solution to this problem is the reeducation and retraining of workers for new and different, and usally enhanced, jobs. Enormous sums have been devoted over decades to the problem of reeducating.
But over the decades enormous sums have been expended with out great effect by both the various levels of government and by private employers. Most studies show that displaced factory workers in the United States on the average have lower wages after retraining to other positions This si also true for tiaison jobs which develop from the offshore “escape” of American industry.
These rehabilitation programs have built in handicaps. Often the worker who is to be retrained is in mid-career, older and less amenable to retraining than a young person just entering the workforce. It also presents a difficult problem due to the individual personality of some workers. Researchers estimate that under the best conditions one expensive academic year of such retraining at a community college increases the long-term earnings by about 8%t for older males and by about 10 percent for older females. But in an age of increasing technological tools, that problem appears to be magnified in any future attempt to find employment for these workers.
Rather than talk in terms of “bringing back: jobs which have been outsourced overseas, the politicians – and their economists – had best be working on the expansion of the economy with new more sophisticated jobs and careers, both for the unemployed and those new entries into the workforce.

The whirling dervish

Sec. John Kerry played hooky from the final session of a North Atlantic Treaty Organizationn meeting in Warsaw to attend “Hamilton” in New York City. Apparently seeing with his family and entourage the original cast of the musical was more important that concluding a NATO meeting in one of the central European states increasingly menaced by Russian Tsar Valdimir Putin. The slight to our NATO allies comes at a critical time when both Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for president, and other politicians and security experts, are calling for a remodeling NATO.
The Kerry escapade puts the finishing touch on a routine that begs the question of what are the responsibilities of the secretary of state and how does he fulfill them. Kerry, following in the airflow of his predecessor, Hillary Clinton, is almost always on the road. His brief touchdowns are only exceeded by the flow of state press releases which clutter the same airways.
It is ironic – and a bit perplexing – that at a time when digital communications permit contact in almost every conceivable way [except touch and that is probably coming!] that the secretaries think their mission involves constant foreign travel.
This travel routine is revolutionizing the whole American diplomatic process. And there is good reason to believe that it is not for the better.
The old method of maintaining foreign relations had its flaws, of course. Political appointments handed out by newly elected presidents for elections support often went to unqualified or inattentive candidates. But, for the most part, these were to the major European fleshpots – London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, etc. – which had long and intimate relations with Washington and important lines of communication through business and cultural interests.
Then, too, there was the often arrogant attitude of the U.S. Foreign Service, the professionals in the State Department, recruited, first, through highly touted formal written examinations as well as personnel scrutiny. In the past, too often this had been a coterie from elite families and the Ivy League schools, isolating the service from the American public, and even from elected officials. Too often they became part of an international elite with interests and sometimes even attitudes closer to their foreign colleagues than to the American public they were supposed to serve.
But more recently, Madeleine Albright, who because of her foreign birth and her father’s role as a Czechoslovak diplomat and American professor of foreign affairs, already was a member of that international diplomatic elite. Albright, with the coming of faster jets and more accessible routes began to set the pattern of increasing personal visits abroad.
This Secretary-on-the-stoop role has elbowed out the ambassador on the spot, supposedly either a career professional steeped in the local political culture, or a political appointee with his own relationships. We have a strong suspicion that what happens, naturally enough, is that the local ambassador’s knowledge and reporting, gets drowned out by the parachuted-in secretary’s horseback judgments.
We can’t believe, either, that the secretary doesn’t have enough to keep him busy at home rather than gallivanting around the world. With a budget of $65.9 billion [FY 2015], 13,000 Foreign Service Officers, 11,000 Civil Service employees, and 45,000 local Foreign Service Local employees, the secretary of state has an enormous bureaucracy to police. In addition, the U.S. Agency for International Development [overseas economic aid] with 3,797 U.S. employees and a $35.6 billion budget [FY 2014] reports in to the Secretary. Having gobbled up the former U.S. Information Service [to its functions detriment according to many media observers], the flow of paper out of Foggy Bottom is endless and requires some supervision at the highest level.
That’s why we think there is a growing necessity for the secretary to stay home and attend his knitting rather than the near hysteria of constant foreign travel. [Those weekends in New York could, by the way, be better managed from Washington than Warsaw.]


The coming clash with China

Then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the fall of 2011 used the buzz word “:pivot” three times to announce a major shift in the Obama foreign policy, putting major emphasis on South and East Asia Asia. But the reality – as detailed in a report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies commissioned by Congress – is that the Administration’s rebalance effort may be insufficient” to secure American interests. Clinton herself, in her campaign for president, has reversed her stand on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact, one of the major diplomatic and economic initiatives after spending years working on it.

Whether or not Clinton makes it to the presidency, what is becoming increasingly clear is that China, itself, is headed for a crash which will not only threaten her Communist regime but the U.S. – and its allies – ability to deal with it.

A similar breakdown of the Chinese state occurred in the 19th Century. But in the heyday of European colonialism and American expansion into the Western Pacific, it came piecemeal. And however catastrophic for the Chinese people, its effects largely were relegated to the sidelines of world history.

But in the 21st century, as China and its 1.3 billion people again appear likely to crash, a failed state with all its new and intimate trade and political relation ships to the rest of the world will also be catastrophic for its partners.

The signs of the approaching crisis are not that hard to discern. But precisely because they carry such weight, they are being studiously ignored in Washington’s political corridors in favor of much more publicized domestic and international events.

The evidence for a prediction of a Chinese crash is stark:

Xi Jinping, China’s Communist Party head and chief of state and government, is failing in his attempt to make himself an all-powerful reincarnation of Chairman Mao Tse-tung. His increasing repression, despite the new environment of the digital revolution with its pervasive social media, been Maoist in its aspirations. But a recent conference on China’s growing economic, political and social problems sponsored by Xi’s Prime Minister Li Keqiang dramatically excluded Xi’s participation. It was immediately seen that contrary to a general perception abroad, the struggle within the Party for control continues, to the detriment of governance in a time of rising economic and political crisis.

That crisis arises from the fact the raison d’etre of the regime stripped of its Marxist ideology in all but name, has been sensational economic growth, is under siege. The increasingly suspect Chinese statistics claim its gross national product is still growing at 6.7 percent, a long way from 2003 to 2008, when annual growth averaged more than 11 percent,

But this growth is at the cost of a rapidly escalating debt. Beijing borrowed its way out of the 2007-8 world financial crisis with a massive stimulus program. The ratio of such continued borrowing is rising rapidly. This year it has taken six yuan for every yuan of growth. China’s money supply is now 73 percent higher than in the United States, an economy about 60 percent larger. Furthermore, that debt is being incurred disproportionately by the giant inefficient state enterprises through their Party allegiance rather than the small but entrepreneurial semi-private sector. China’s export oriented economy is not as virtually all informed observers suggest ranging toward domestic consumption, and the political season makes it almost certain the U.S.] new administration, whichever candidate wins, will move toward curbing Beijing’s violations of fair trade.

Meanwhile, whether as a result of its growing influence on government or as an attempt to detract from domestic issues, Beijing is pursuing a more and more aggressive foreign policy. Sensing the Obama Administration’s attempt to reduce overseas American committeemen’s, it has ploughed ahead with flimsy claims to shoals in the South China Sea thousand miles from its Mainland. By militarizing them at a rapid rate, it has openly challenged that most hallowed of I.S. foreign policies, freedom of the seas, straddling athwart one of the world’s most important waterways.

It appears unlikely that either of these three trends will be reversed in the near term. Not only do they threaten U.S. interests, but those of China’s neighbors – whether a rearming Japan, or the more vulnerable Southeast Asians whom Beijing attempts to dominate one by one. Again, whether by direction or at their own initiative, Chinese naval and air units are challenging the international waters. The likelihood of a clash, perhaps one that cannot be managed short of war, appear likely in the offing.


Obama’s Mideast muddle

The U.S.’ strategic position in the Middle East is becoming increasingly muddled by internal conflicts in the Obama Administration’s strategy.
For one thing, Washington finds itself engaged in a conflict with the Russians through surrogates in the complex Syrian civil war. Moscow supports the regime of Basher al Assad whose ruthlessness against its internal enemies now seven years ago turned popular peaceful demonstrations into an escalating armed conflict.
Obama gave tepid support, if from time to time withdrawing behind red lines he had drawn. to a small democratic position to al Assad. But it has been virtually annihilated in the growing conflict against the regime led by various terrorist groups, including Daesh [ISIS or ISIL] and al Qaeda. The most recent episode has been a devastating attack by Russian aircraft on a splinter of the democratic moderates ostensibly supported by Washington. The growing success of Daesh in Syria, of course, becomes a problem on the larger screen for Washington who is still pondering how to curtail its growing worldwide influence, including on so=called American “lone wolf” terrorists.
A minor crisis ensued when the Russians a few days ago bombed a group of anti-al Assad rebels backed by Washington. Moscow, apparently attempting to avoid a more open conflict with the U.S., claims its bombers were not informed adequately about the nature of the largely civilian population it attacked. But that seems a lame excuse given the access of the Russians not only to al Assad’s intelligence but the increasingly active participation of the Tehran mullahs, now cozying up to the Russians.
The U.S. position, too, is becoming less transparent and more committed with its alliance to the Saudis who support rebel Syrian groups. Inferentially, the U.S. Sec. of State John Kerry’s solution, a negotiated settlement which would see the departure of al Assad, seems further away than ever. Negotiations among all the parties in Geneva have achieved little more than a further definition of their varying positions.
The American position has become even more confused with the denunciation of the earlier aspects of the problem by a memorandum signed by 51 career foreign service officers. Leaked to the mainstream media, it blames the Obama Administration for refusing to pursue a policy of destruction of the al Assad regime. Aside from a violation of the unspoken code of ethics among career appointees to contain their opposition to policy within official channels, the memo seems tries to shut the barn door after the horse had long been stolen. That may have been a solution early on in the Syrian Civil War, but with al Assad at least temporarily improving his position with growing Russian and Iranian assistance, it hardly seems an answer to the present difficulties.
Critics of the American diplomats’ position point out it offers no solution to the current military impasse. The danger, of course, is that Vladimir Putin, up against European and American opposition in his seizure of Crime, and efforts to dominate Ukraine, and his threats to the Baltic States, may overplay his hand. A further escalation by Russian forces in Syria, with the likelihood they could defeat al Assad’s internal opposition, would help solve the growing problem of Islamic terrorism, a threat to Moscow as it its to other powers. But it would likely require an American response rather than see the Russians – with their new Tehran mullahs’ assistance – reestablish a strategic hold in one of the Mideast’s most important states.
The Russian threat, in part, has already forced the Israelis – on not very good terms with the Obama Administration – into a series of personal negotiating trips to Moscow by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. How far Netanyahu is coordinating these negotiations with the Obama Administration isn’t altogether clear. Nor is the Chinese position, although of lesser importance, apparent.
One thing does seem obvious. The Obama Administration is rapidly losing any ability to influence the outcome of the Syrian civil war. With so many players – and such enormous potential impact on its Arab neighbors – that becomes another major defeat for Obama’s foreign policy and another hot potato he is leaving for his successor next year, whoever he may be and however qualified to deal with the situation.

Beijing scores again

Communist China has scored another significant blow in its expansionist drive to establish sovereignty – and military bases – athwart the critical South China Sea naval passage.
Beijing’s game was subtle but it could be decisive in blocking a joint effort by the Southeast Asians backed by the U.S. to resist further Chinese penetration.
It’s generally believed in Asia that the Chinese used powerful persuasive weapons to force the Southeast Asians to back off a public statement condemning Chinese policy and action. Foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Countries [ASEAN] withdrew their prepared statement which was to conclude their annual meeting with the Chinese in Kunming in south China,
The statement had expressed concern over developments [initiated by the Chinese although they were not named] that had “eroded trust and confidence”. It also stressed the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight of the South China Sea. The statement insisted that resolution of the Chinese claims to reefs a thousand miles from the China Mainland, which it has been enhancing and expanding into military bases, should be submitted to international arbitration. The whole process recalls Soviet [and Chinese] “salami” tactics by first establishing themselves in disputed areas and then forcing acceptance of Chinese sovereignty, as part of a new bargain to be negotiated.
The Philippines has taken its protests against further Chinese expansion to The World Court in The Hague. The move had the general support of the other ASEAN states – Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Burma – in an effort to halt further Chinese construction and expansion over their own claims. But China [with support from Russia] has refused to acknowledge the Court’s jurisdiction.
Malaysia’s foreign ministry announced the statement had been retracted only a few hours after it had been issued. The statement had made the continuing arguments of ASEAN backed by the U.S. that argued for the importance of freedom of navigation and overflight of the South China Sea, and called for disputes to be resolved in accordance with international law.
There was a consensus that China had put pressure and made overtures bilaterally to the individual countries – using its growing economic and political penetration of the region – to force withdrawal of the statement. Chinese spokesmen were quick, however, to deny that there had been Chinese pressure to withdraw the document.
In fact, the unity of the ASEAN countries on the issue has been constantly eroding over the last few months despite Washington’s efforts to support a united front against Chinese aggression. As far back as the 2012 annual meeting of the ASEAN group, they disbanded without a final statement because members could not agree on wording regarding the China issue. Some have seen the $2.3 billion acquisition of Malaysian State Fund’s 1MDB energy assets by China General Nuclear Power Corp as part of the background for Kuala Lumpur’s taking the lead in backtracking from the statement.
ASEAN’s original statement had the full backing of the Obama Administration which has sought Southeast Asian unity as a hedge against Beijing’s expansion into the area. And it could only be seen as another defeat for the Obama Administration in its effort to pursue a general strategy of withdrawal from what the President views as the U.S. record of provocation and overseas overextension. Washington has been counting on ASEAN to maintain a unified front against Beijing even though there are contradictory claims among them over the disputed territories.
Among the interpretations of this diplomatic coup for the Chinese will be an increasing perception of weakening American power in the western Pacific despite the U.S. long-term insistence on freedom of the seas.

America’s growing China problem

The U.S. and China are facing a collision on a wide spectrum of issues, from economic to a gamut of political and military concerns.
The arguments flew thick and fast at the annual Shangri-la discussion in Singapore last weekend. Curiously enough, China has a new defense against economic protests from the Europeans as well as the Americans. Finance Minister Lou Jiwei in the annual bilateral meeting of the two countries’ cabinet ministers this week in Beijing asked where foreign suppliers were when China was in full expansion a few years ago. Why didn’t they see the oversupply [and consequent dumping] coming?
Lou also argued that China is no longer a centrally planned economy with its private sector now going full blast, producing a disproportionate amount of the surpluses. That seems unrealistic given the tendency of the huge government monopolies with their preferred access to capital to go their own way whatever market conditions. Hidden in Lou’s explanation, of course, is Beijing’s call on the U.S. and the other members of the World Trade Organization to call label it a “market economy’, thereby loosening even more strings on production.
The truth is that Chinese Soviet-style planners have, indeed, lost control of their model. True enough, a private sector has arisen which is contributing disproportionately to the total production in many industries. That’s especially true for steel which the Chinese are dumping in Europe and the U.S. at below costs on already embattled Western industries.
China’s four government banks, under political pressure from local Communist Party officials, are overextended. In the process, with the usual Chinese commercial genius, debt centers and private banking has further extended credit to failing manufacturers creating overcapacity throughout the economy. Export subsides and currency manipulation send these surpluses on their way to foreign markets, especially with China’s own once fast growing economy now in the doldrums.
Equally troubling are the growing Chinese claims for regional naval dominance. Building military outposts on enhanced reefs in the South China Sea a thousand miles of the China mainland appear a challenge to nearer neighbors, the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia. Beijing adamantly rejects Manila’s approach to the World Court for a decision on conflicting claims, seeking support from Moscow who faces similar threats over its actions in Ukraine.
The Chinese threaten to declare a zone of international air control in the area as they did – with foreign rejection – in the East China Sea near Japan. It’s true that Chinese export manufactures and imported commodities such as Mideast oil make up the largest part of the region’s traffic. But the U.S.’ traditional advocacy of freedom of the seas throughout the world going back to its earliest days of its first foreign wars against the Barbary Pirates – is at stake.
Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of the U.S.-China encounter is its relationship to the internal politics of China’s ruling party. Pres. Xi Jinping is trying to make himself into another all-powerful Mao Tse-dung. Differences with the U.S. are used by his opponents in the intra-Party scuffles. His domestic concerns were reflected in a comment at the annual Sino-US Strategic and Economic Dialogue: “Some differences can be solved through hard work. [But] Some differences cannot be solved at the moment.”
Xi may have been referring in part to the growing difficulties in cutting back on overproduction at the regional and local levels. A warning in the People’s Daily, the official voice of ruling Party, about high levels of debt was widely interpreted as a signal to Mr Xi from Party opponents not to waver from making difficult economic reforms. However, analysts doubt local governments’ willingness to close plants and lay off workers in oversupplied industries such as steel. That comes at a time Beijing is increasingly coming down on foreign investors, apparently in another effort to placate local Party and industry interests.
As Xi argues, the relationship between the world’s largest developed country and the world’s largest undeveloped economy may be the most important in the world. Mired in the continuing Mideast crisis and its resultant refugee flow, it has taken second place at best for the Obama Administration. That isn’t likely to be the case for the new executive taking over January 2017.


Southeast Asia heats up –again!

Whispers of

a secret arms conference in Vietnam with U.S. suppliers attending is one more sign that events in Southeast Asia are again heating up. The fundamental issue is, of course, Beijing’s effort to build a series of military bases on excalated shoals which lie across one of the world’s most important ocean commercial arteries.

Chinese activity in the South China Sea also impinges on claims of the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia to these waters and their miniscule islets.
The Vietnam symposium, closed to the media and with no public announcement, is part of Hanoi’s effort to get the U.S. to lift its arms embargo against the Communist victor in the long and bitter Vietnam War which cost some 54,000 lives. In fact Washington partially lifted the embargo in 2914 but warned that more progress would only come with improvement in Vietnam’s human rights record. The U.S. official who presides over human rights policy, Tom Malinowski, is in Hanoi this week, apparently taking an on the spot look at Vietnam’s continued suppression of opposition to the Communists and to persecution of religious groups.
Although Russia continues – as it did during the Vietnam War – to be Hanoi’s principal supplier of military equipment, the Vietnamese want access to American fighter jets, helicopters and maritime patrol aircraft, often considered superior technology to Moscow’s exports. Vietnamese Vice Defense Minister Lt-Gen Nguyen Chi Vinh was quoted in the official media saying that Vietnam’s relationship with the United States lacked defense industry cooperation, but that Hanoi wanted Washington “to provide modern, suitable and adaptable technology”.. Already buying weapons from India and Israel as well as Russia, Hanoi is aiming at a strategy of not depending on one single country suppler.
.Hanoi has recently purchased six modern Kilo-class submarines from Russia equipped with Klub cruise missiles, Russian-built S-300 surface-to-air missile batteries, and from Israel, and Jerusalem’s Galil assault rifles and AD-STAR 2888 radars. Vietnam also has Tarantul-class corvettes, known as Molniyas, modelled on Russian designs equipped with 16 missiles with a range of 80 miles..
Some decision may be forthcoming after Pres. Barack Obama’s visit to Vietnam starting May 22. With a growing dispute between Hanoi and its old ally in Beijing over claims to the Paracel and Spratly Islands and more than one report of minor clashes over the last few years between the two East Asian powers, the enemy of my enemy is my friend law of geopolitics seems to be invoked by Washington.
Access to American technology is only part of the new Hanoi courtship with the U.S. producers. The Vietnamese, increasingly seeing themselves as victims of the powerful Chinese push into the South China Sea – some Vietnamese claimed territory is already occupied by Beijing – want to increase American intervention in the growing crisis area and use Washington as part of its maneuvering against Beijing.
We hope that the Obama Administration, not noted for its subtlety in withdrswing American leadership from critical areas around the world as part of Obama’s concept that U.S. is over-committed, will take a “tough love” stand toward Hanoi. Vietnam needs the U.S. more than we need the Vietnamese despite their confrontation with the Chinese making them de facto allies. Lessening the government’s oppression of its own people with every weapon carried over from its years in the Soviet Bloc have to be an important concern in any move to give Hanoi access to U.S. weapons, and inferentially, U.S. tactical and strategic concepts.

The Donald’s foreign policy

Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed foreign policy speech was a minor disaster.
Not only did Trump fail to set out a succinct foreign policy philosophy and agenda, but the speech itself [even with a teleprompter] was a failure in his effort to move to a more “presidential” persona. One can only suppose that the address was the product of several of his relatively undistinguished foreign policy advisers which were never quite molded into a whole. [Signicantly, none have so far taken credit] The speech meanders from the overview to specific foreign policy conundrums and then back again, repetitiously.
Far be it for us to be recommending what Mr. Trump should be espousing as his approach to the myriad problems of American policy overseas. But the outline of what those problems are — if not their solution – can be presented relatively concisely.
Paramount, of course, is the problem of an Islam which has gone berserk – again as so many times since Mohammed’s lifetime 1500 years ago – threatening the entire world, not the least the 1.3 billion Moslems, with terrorism. Its origin and nucleus lies in the Mideast and there is where it must be attacked and destroyed rather than an attempt to contain its tentacles around the world.
Secondly, nuclear proliferation with the ensuing threat from unstable regimes continues to be a high priority. That, of course, includes Pres. Barack Obama’s supposed pact with Tehran, as well as a relatively unstable nuclear-armed Pakistan. There is the possibility of new nuclear powers arising in the Persian Gulf now feeling abandoned by their U.S. ally to the threat of Iran’s growing regional hegemony.
The renewed threat of Moscow aggression, even though it now comes from a power much inferior to the old Soviet Union, is pressing. How to reinvigorate NATO in the face of renewed Russian aggression in Georgia, Ukraine, and threats in the Baltic, is part of this bundle. It obviously calls for the reinstitution of the anti-missile defense system, with its bases in Poland and Czechia, which was abandoned as one of the first steps in Obama’s withdrawal of the U.S. from world leadership.
While it may be more apparent than real, Washington must confront the growing military power and what appears to be the growing chauvinistic elements in the Beijing regime. The Chinese economy, miraculous as the last two decades have been, is fragile, and perhaps now poised for a major default. But an ambitious Chinese military is building a blue water navy that challenges the U.S. Navy in the Western Pacific where it has maintained the peace – with the major exceptions of the Korean and Vietnam Wars – for more than half a century. The challenged will have to be met and subtly.
There are a whole host of critical foreign economic issues that could be bundled as the fourth main preoccupation for any foreign policy agenda. Trump’s popularity is in part an expression of the resentment of the loss of American manufacturing and its jobs for the skilled and semi-skilled. Readjusting trade relations, particularly with China, which has aggressively taken advantage of American initiatives to include “a rising China” in the world economic system, has to be addressed. The growing failure of the effort to unite continental Europe politically – as well as Britain’s growing ambiguous relationship with the European Union — is impacting on the economic collaboration which was its origin and America’s huge trans-Atlantic commercial and economic interests.
There is the hardly acknowledged problem of the growing power and influence of the United Nations and its secretary-general, a role which was never defined in the early days of the organization and remains ambiguous today. That is true even though the secretary-general has become, willy-nilly, an important arbiter of world politics and the unanticipated crises that arise from it. While Washington has the official capacity to play a major role in defining UN policy at every level, it too often is left to bureaucratic maneuver rather considered as major policy.
And this, of course, leads into the whole growing need for a redefinition of how foreign policy is made in the U.S. government, Congressional critics of the amorphous but constantly growing National Security Council and its usurpation of the roles of not only the State Department but the Pentagon and its direction of American military forces is a constitutional issue at the heart of the Republic that must be solved.
It may be, as Mr Obama and his supporters have argued that it is a time for a complete overhaul of the American foreign strategy that has, for the most part, insured peace and stability for more than half a century. But to do so requires a more analytical survey of the world’s problems and the U.S. role that Obama and his advisers have given us.
Nor was not what Mr. Trump gave us in this speech.


Coddling the US-Japan alliance

More than ever before – the history stretches back to the 1950 Korean War outbreak and recognition that the Cold War had come to Asia – U.S.-Japan relations are the keystone of American strategy for peace and stability in Asia. .
But tending a vast network of bilateral and multilateral connections in which Japan plays a role is as important as cultivating all the bits and pieces of the bilateral alliance. That’s true even with the alliance’s permanent sore spots such as Okinawa with its local radicals and blackmailers. The recent slightly deemphasis of Okinawa with U.S. troops transfers and power projection to Guam are only a slight modifications of a larger strategic concept.That American Okinawa base along with other Japanese Main Island air and navy installations – particularly the naval base at Yokosuka so close to Tokyo — remain central to the U.S. East Asian strategic interests.
Coaxing Japan — with a significant and potent resistance from those clinging to the old illusion of the radical pacifist constitution written by the American Occupation — is among the most important U.S.’ diplomatic Asian projects. It includes trying to integrate Japan’s potential military power as well as its great economic clout into a multinational alliance.
Unfortunately, perhaps the most crucial link between two American bilateral Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, is constantly butting up against the history of Tokyo’s often embittered occupation of the peninsular. North Korea’s sympathizers and as well as genuine Korean nationalists have a hard time forgetting this past. Beijing, increasingly more pragmatic, has exploited this gaping hole in the U.S. strategy with a campaign of seduction of Seoul. It has done so even at the expense of its relationship with its satellite in Pyongyang but who is increasingly dependent on Beijing for its economic survival. So far Beijing’s ability to balance these two relationships has exceeded expectations in Washington and Tokyo and suggests the enormity of the growing problem of how to deal with China,
However strong the aversion to “creating an enemy” in some American academic and political circles, “the problem of a rising China” is growing. China’s aggressive military expansion into the East China Sea where it challenges traditional Japanese claims and its creation of new bases athwart one of the world’s most important naval highways in the South China Sea have to be a cause of concern. Hopefully, China’s still “developing” economy dependent on its successful trade with the U.S., Japan and other Western industrial states, is a counter to its more chauvinist forces. But the increasing reliance of Communist Party Chief Xi Jinping on the military as he has tried to build a highly personalized regime is a source of concern.
All this, of course, led then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2012 to announce “a pivot to Asia” for U.S. foreign policy. While the Pentagon dutifully announced readjustment of forces, in fact the Mideast crises have continued to ensnarl the Obama Administration. That’s despite its overall goals of reducing regional military commitments as part of the Obama general retreat by the U.S. from world leadership. The “pivot’ has been furthered encumbered by China’s growing regional economic influence, even among the Southeast Asian states who feel threatened.
The latest example of these complications is the decision by Australia to go to the French – for an advanced design – with a $50-billion submarine program over the next decade. The Australian buildup is an important part of what Washington would like to see as a grand alliance among Japan, the Southeast Asians, India and Australia to curb Chinese military expansion. The Japanese had been favored by the Americans for the contract but lost out, at least in part, because of Tokyo’s amateurism in military equipment export diplomacy – only recently begun by Prime Minister Shinto Abe as the latest in the stretching of Japan’s “no war” constitution. Tokyo is convinced that Australia’s dependence on China for massive raw materials purchases, and Beijing’s opposition to the Japan bid was the main obstacle.
The complexity of the Asian scene will continue to dog the last months of the Obama Administration and leave a legacy of demands for diplomatic expertise of the highest caliber for the next administration.

Washington’s China problem


The U.S.’ confrontation with an increasingly powerful and incipiently aggressive China is getting much more complicated.

There is no question of its high priority among the U.S.’ foreign policy issues. But with a lame duck Obama Administration which has pursued a policy of retreat from involvement in crises areas as a solution to what it saw as U.S. over commitment, there is grave danger of a clash as a result of misperceptions by either side.

Were you a Chinese strategist attempting to measure an American opponent’s intentions, the contradictory U.S. positions might well be so confusing as to be unintelligible.

On the one hand, Washington has either ignored – or some would say, encouraged – a massive trade with a deficit of $365.7 billion in 2015 in Beijing’s favor, slightly up from the previous year’s record $343 billion. It could well be argued, and is in some quarters, that while this arises in no small part from China’s manipulation of its currency, it is a net gain for the U.S. China, a capital short economy with a relatively backward civil society, is in fact subsidizing exports to the U.S., even if that is at an American cost in lost manufacturing producing grave social and political problems with its loss of jobs.

On the other hand, some U.S. policymakers obviously are alarmed at the penetration of the Chinese into areas of the American economy that present security risks. The U.S. Commerce Department has just announced new restrictions on exports of American products to the Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE. The Chinese company makes routers and switches for telecommunications operators, mobile phones and offers telecom software services. Now an international giant, it is the outgrowth of a company organized in the late1980s by a group of investors with ties to China’s Ministry of Aerospace. It has become the paradigm for Chinese Communist “state-owned and private-operating” entities, some mammoth dinosaurs absorbing too much capital with their favored political access, but some like ZTE becoming relatively efficient and competitive international operators.

But in Washington, the Chinese company is now suspected of having violated U.S. sanctions on Iran. Despite its sophistication, the company is still heavily dependent on U.S. component chipsets and software. So the Commerce ban on hardware – not yet on software – weighs in heavily on what were 80% of the company’s 2014 sales. The U.S. Commerce Department action has forced the company to at least temporarily delist on the Hong Kong and Shenzhen stock markets.

Beijing has been trying to break this kind of American technological hold – if not the actual dependency – by last year putting in bids for American and Taiwan chip producers. But it again faced U.S. regulatory restrictions and these efforts were not successful, even in Taiwan where local business interests while increasingly dependent on Mainland markets are technological and managerially superior.

The ball is now in Beijing’ court again as to how it will respond to the new American restrictions. But perhaps as important is at what level in the American political establishment such complex problems of dealing with the Chinese geopolitical conundrum are acknowledged, much less understood.

While the U.S.-China relationship on the one hand exists at this complex politico-economic level of shared technology, much more crude Beijing thrusts have to be an American policy concern. China is continuing to dredge up shoals and build military bases a thousand miles from its southern coast in the South China Sea, athwart one of the most important commercial and strategic sealanes in the world. Its growing naval strength is trying to break through East Asia’s inner islands chain – dominated by Taiwan — threatening Japan in encroaching in the East China Sea off Korea and the Japanese home islands and American dominance in the Western Pacific.

This year’s formal allocation of a reduced rate of growth of Chinese military expenditures might be welcomed in Washington – although they represent only a fraction of real expenditures on armaments and military personnel. But the fact that uniformed Chinese military are being quoted in the official Communist media – an unheard of phenomenon – critiquing this “cutback” is perhaps even more disturbing. It has to mean that the power of an expanding and ambitious Chinese military in deciding overall China policy is growing. That is a major development that even U.S. China-watchers have not been prepared for, and poses new problems for American strategists, in and out of government.





Japan: Another change coming

The great mystery of Japanese civilization is how it maintains its extraordinary unique quality while at the same time borrowing so heavily from other cultures. No society has undergone greater changes than Japan since the mid-19th century when it was forced out of its isolation. Many of these are then result of adopting foreign technologies and customs; a good example is the change from Buddhist vegetarians to meat-eaters.

Yet although hundreds of thousands of Japanese immigrated to Manchuria, Hawaii, the continental U.S. and Brazil, when it was under extreme population pressure in the late 18th century, few foreigners came to settle there. The large Korean minority – statistics are cloudy because many Zainichi, native-born for as many as three or four generations – is virtually Japan’s only immigrant population. And despite their lack of Japanese citizenship, Japanese ethnic Koreas are largely assimilated.




South Carolina: more than politics


As the candidates pick themselves up off the floor and dash on to Nevada and elsewhere, South Carolina will settle back into another important pursuit.

The news that a Chinese company has decided to plump down with a textile yarn mill in the Palmetto state is another feather in the cap of Columbia’s effort to reverse the national trend toward deindustrialization and escaping capital investment. Actually the yarn mill joins earlier Chinese investments in a golf course at Myrtle Beach and a $500-million investment in an automobile plant by the now Chinese-owned Volvo.

All told, the Chinese have put about $300 million into South Carolina producing a thousand jobs. But more is probably coming as the state’s effort to attract foreign investors has been one of its primary and successful campaigns for a decade. There are about 130,000 workers now in European-owned South Carolina plants, attracted by the intense wooing they have received, tax concessions and a large and willing workforce.

Anything to do with textiles, of course, has a special poignancy for the state which like the rest of the South seduced northern mills to move there in the early part of the 20th century only to see their flight to low-wage countries, including China. Although it has wreaked havoc in many circles [not least the stock market], the Shale Revolution which has sliced energy costs is having its effect. Petrochemical plants with their main feedstock natural gas are finding it attractive to come back to the U.S. as you will notice if you have recently looked for where that plastic film is coming are using in the kitchen

All this to say that with its new energy costs and the abundance of digital expertise, there is no reason why the U.S. should not be creating new jobs and attracting some of those which escaped earlier to overseas environments. It would help, of course, if we had an administration in Washington that believed, first, in the future of America, and secondly, in the free enterprise system that gave this country its high living standards and made it the leader in industrialization since World War II.

The caterwalling which passes for debate among the Republican contestants for the presidency notwithstanding, these are the issues that ought now to be debated. We won’t even mention the Democratic side of the debate. That Bernie Sanders, who claims to be a democratic socialist, is increasingly rolling up the votes and suffocating a wooden Hillary Clinton, is beyond denunciation. At a time when even the old social democratic states of northern Europe – yes, and including Denmark which is where we were supposed to look for Bernie’s model – are turning to competition and even sometimes calling it free enterprise is abundant evidence that democratic socialism doesn’t work much better than its illegitimate offspring, Communism.

Several of the Republican contenders have, indeed, laid out economic plans. But we suspect that in the long run, the important element will be the general attitude of the winning candidate later this year toward “business” in general. That attitude will dictate policies and even legislation which in the end can help – for government in the end has a limited role – turn the economy around and return us to prosperous growth. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do something about banks that are too big to fail, for example. But it does mean that the autocratic demands of Obamacare which have cost jobs and limited expansion of small business have to go – and quickly.

By the way, the last thing a new government should do is promise a new “comprehensive” medical reform. The way to successful reform in this country has always been incremental and, for example, just removing the nice little conspiracy between the insurance companies and most state legislatures to prevent cross-stateline selling would go a long way toward beginning the competition which would be the lifeblood of the medical arts and sciences as the rest our institutions and economies.




Obama and Christians


Pres. Barack Hussein Obama’s attitude toward the persecuted minorities in the Middle East has become nothing short of bizarre.

He has taken a muted attitude toward the problem of the persecution and threatened annihilation of some of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. Curiously there also have been only subdued protests from the American Mainline churches, infatuated with their social and political programs. While the Vatican has sounded off against generally against persecution of Christians, it too has given them less than their due.

Last week Obama belatedly chose to visit a mosque to reassure American Moslems against any backlash from the activities of the Islamic terrorists. It came seven years into his two administrations rather than the only two weeks Pres. George W. Bush had taken after 9/11 for a similar gesture.But in his sermon to the congregation, Obama apologized for acts of revenge and discrimination against American Moslems. In fact, there have been only isolated instances.

On the contrary, there has been considerable evidence that mosques throughout the country have been used by jihadists as propaganda and recruitment centers.  Futhermore, American Moslems attempting to isolate the terrorists and make the distinction between the great mass of peace-loving co-religionists were shocked by Obama’s choice of venues. The Administration chose a mosque with strong past associations with the Moslem Brotherhood and its terrorist offshoots.

This appears a manifestation of the sympathies of many of Obama’s closest advisers on Islamic affairs who view the Brotherhood as some sort of Islamic version of Western Christian Democrats. Their presence and influence in this Administration channels the infiltration of Communists in the U.S. and other allied governments during World War II. It has added to the confusion of the Obama Administration’s policies in the Middle East.

Although the President now proposes to bring in large numbers of Syrian refugees – without the capacity as Administration spokesmen have admitted to eliminate planted jihadists – it has turned a blind eye to Christian persecution. Only a few dozen Syrian Christians have received visas. The Administration’s explanation is that it cannot discriminate on religious grounds. But it is obvious that Christians in countries where the jihadists have control are a political class and not just a religious group. Meanwhile, some of the oldest Christian sects in the region of its origin are being obliterated through violence and forced flight.

Obama’s attitude and policies run the risk of repeating the shame of the 1930s when the Roosevelt Administration refused to accept German Jewish refugees and later other European Jews. Anti-Semites in the then Consular Service blocked their entry until 1944 – long after Hitler and the Nazis had adopted “the Final Solution” – when under the auspices of the President’s wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, the War Refugee Board was created.

 Until then only small groups were admitted under strict quotas and through the intercession of fellow professionals organized in such groups as the International Rescue Committee. Many of these talented refugees contributed to the U.S. war effort. It was Albert Einstein, a German refugee, as a spokesman for fellow German and Austrian refugee scientists, who warned FDR that the Nazis were working on nuclear weapons, spurred Washington to initiate the supersecret Manhattan program to develop an atomic bomb.

Now a new wave of Christian persecution has begun under the Xi Jinping regime in China. This time Xi has moved against the leadership of the government-sponsored Christian Communist Party front groups, Christianity in China, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council. The central government in 2014 named religion as one of four “severe challenges” to national security. Beijing has demolished more than 1,800 crosses across Zhejiang province, home to officially sponsored Christian organizations. Pastor “Joseph” Gu Yuese, one of those Christians most associated with the government-sponsored churches, is under prosecution.

The new Communist crackdown may be the result of the extraordinary growth of Christianity in China. In 1980 there were an estimated 10 million Christians in the People’s Republic, but by 200760 million. These numbers suggest an annual growth rate of 7 percent yield which means that by last year, there were nearly 100 million Chinese Christians. The conversions have been most dramatic among the educated, explained by some observers as a part of an attempt to cope with the Westernization of Chinese society as it rapidly industrializes.

While Obama has reported he brought up the question of closing of Chinese churches in recent talks with Xi, the growing persecution is going to demand a more forceful American response, both from officialdom and the American churches.


Democratic Taiwan

Largely ignored by the mainstream media, Friday’s Taiwan elections have enormous implications not only for the Island’s 25 million people, but for China – and the U.S.

Ironically, the election of the Democratic Progressive Party [DPP] leader, Tsai Ing-wen, a woman at that — reinstalled a movement dedicated to maintaining Taiwan’s separate identity, the Island remains essentially a Chinese culture. It marks only a second time in its 2,000-year a Chinese entity has peacefully transferred power. The DPP earlier won power in 100-1008 as a minority government.

The meeting last fall of Beijing’s Pres. Xi Jinping and Taiwan’s outgoing Pres. Ma Ying-jeou was not only unprecedented, but finally marked the tacit recognition by the Communists of the Island’s stature. Beijing now has to bite its lip, having apparently Communist leadership thought that protocol concession after six decades would help Ma’s Party.

Tsai’s victory speech was a ringing declaration for preservation of the current status quo and a call on Beijing to avoid provocations. With slightly hunched shoulders, shy for a public figure, 59-year-old Tsai made it clear she and her Party – a large section dedicated to formal independence – would oppose amalgamation with the Mainland. That flies in the face of the Communists’ claim that Taiwan is an integral part of “One China” which Taiwan and Mainland leadership acknowledged to reduce tensions in 1992. Meanwhile, Beijing refuses to renounce force in resolving the relationship between the two countries.

The defeat of Tsai’s opposition, the Kuomintang, was to a considerable extent a reaction to Ma’s series of economic agreements with Xi and a movement toward some political arrangement. A downturn in the Taiwan economy and increased unemployment also played a large role.

In part, of course, Ma’s concessions to Mainland integration were only recognizing the Island’s growing economic ties to the Communists. Taiwanese economic relations are now a significant economic force for both Mainland China and Taiwan. Two-way trade is well over $350-billion, with the transfer of technology and resident Taiwanese management an important element in the Mainland rapid economic growth. More recently Taiwan authorities have permitted Mainland investment, including a highly controversial Chinese Mainland $2.7 billion participation in Taiwan’s semiconductor industry

Washington’s relationship to the Taiwan regime has fluctuated. When the Kuomintang [Nationalist] leader Chiang Kai-shek fled to Taiwan in 1949after his defeat by the Communists, Washington endorsed Chiang’s effort to reconquer the Mainland. [U.S. clandestine forces aided Nationalist military who had spilled over the borders into Burma, Thailand and Nepal.] During the Korean War, more than 20,000 former Nationalist soldiers defected from Communist North Korea to U.S.-led forces to join their old comrades in Taiwan. In 1958, when Beijing threatened to invade Taiwan, the U.S. responded with an implied threat to use nuclear weapons to prevent a Mainland takeover. When Pres. Jimmy Carter swapped recognition of “China” from Taiwan to the Communists, a rebellion of Congressional Taiwan sympathizers passed the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979 pledging continued U.S. defense of Taiwan including arming its forces.

Meanwhile Taiwan has become an economic powerhouse – the fifth largest in Asia and 19th in worldwide purchasing power — with what now looks like stable political institutions. Real growth has averaged about 8% over the past three decades. Old labor-intensive businesses have been steadily shoved off-shore, replaced with more capital- and technology-intensive industries.

But Taiwan is again more than an important trading partner for the U.S. [roaring toward $65 billion both ways in 2015.] With an increasingly aggressive China threatening freedom of the seas in the East China and South China seas, it again has taken on strategic importance. In December Washington after dragging its feet through the Bush and Obama Administrations finally okayed $1.8 billion in weapons for Taiwan over Communist objections. Although the package, to be delivered over several years, contains two decommissioned US Navy frigates, surface-to-air missiles, anti-tank missiles and amphibious assault vehicles, most observers see it as inadequate to deter any Mainland military adventure.

Maintaining a stable and democratic Taiwan is an essential part of any American Asian strategy. It needs to be high on the list for reexamination by the new president in 2017. The issue is pressing all the more given the Obama Administration’s failing effort for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announced “pivot to Asia” to meet the growing threat of Chinese aggression.



Beijing’s water politics

There is increasing concern in South and Southeast Asia over Beijing’s control and implied threat to the major water arteries flowing through the region. Six of the major South Asian and Southeast Asian rivers, the heart of life in South and Southeast Asia, rise on the Tibetan plateau. The Chinese Communists have been on an intensive program of dam building on the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra, the Irrawady, the Meman Chao Phya and the Mekong, which would give them control of these arteries of commerce as well as irrigation for vast areas downstream.

The issue is further complicated by the effect of global warming on the Tibetan glaciers where snows are melting at an unusually rapid pace on 46,000 glaciers, the largest concentration of ice after the south and north poles. Tibet has some of the most rapidly rising temperatures on the planet. One of Tibet’s lakes, Namtso, a holy site where pilgrims circumnavigate its banks in prayer, expanded by 20 square miles from 2000 to 2014 from the melting ice and snow. It’s estimated that Tibet’s glaciers have shrunk by some 15% over the past 30 years. And some scientists have warned that if melting continues at current levels, the warmer temperatures will wipe out two-thirds of the plateau’s glaciers by 2050, affecting more than two billion people in China, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh Bhutan, Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

It is against this background that China has been building politically potent barrages. The most dramatic example is China’s plan to divert the Brahmaputra from its upper reaches where it flows a thousand miles through Tibet and then another 600 miles through India., including emptying into the harbor of its second largest city and port, Calcutta. The Brahmaputra is the lifeline of northeast India, an already troubled region with caste and other ethnic conflicts, some traditionally fed by Chinese subversion.

Concern has also been expressed by Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia over eight dams it is building on the upper reaches of the Mekong river. The Burmese military junta canceled a dam under construction inside of six other Chinese-led hydroelectric projects planned for the upper reaches of the Irrawady which would have exported electricity to southern China.

Governments and the business communities are worried that Beijing’s apparent intention to dam every major river flowing out of Tibet will lead to environmental imbalance, natural disasters, degrade fragile ecologies, and most of all, divert vital water supplies. The extent of the Chinese program is monumental — on the eight great Tibetan rivers alone, Beijing has already completed 20 dams or has them under construction while it has announced plans for three dozen more.

The Dalai Lama has pointed out the obvious, that China’s program could lead to conflict. He warned that India’s use of the Tibetan water “is something very, very essential. So, since millions of Indians use water coming from the Himalayan glaciers… I think you [India] should express more serious concern. This is nothing to do with politics, just everybody’s interests, including Chinese people.”

The Chinese program for the Brahmaputra is only one of many issues which dog the India-China relationship. Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi, from the nationalistic Bharatiya Janata Party, has blown hot and cold over this issue as with other irritants in the relation ship between the two countries. Despite extensive contacts, the Himalayan border disputes which date back almost a century are no more near solution than they ever were with frequent if small set-tos by the countries’ military. Increasing penetration of the Himalayan kingdoms of Nepal and Bhutan, once dependencies of British India, has become a continuing concern for New Delhi.

Meanwhile, however, China has become India’s No. 1 trading partner – up to an estimated $80 billion in 2015, $10 billion more than 2014. That’s despite concern in New Delhi that Indian exports are largely raw materials and imports Chinese electronics and other manufactured goods. Extensive economic relations are often seen as insuring political disagreements would somehow be sorted out – but that has to contend with the U.S.-Japan relationship on the eve of World War II. An outbreak of uncontrolled violence between the two Asian giants is one more high priority concern that must be on America’s foreign policy agenda.

This takes on new weight as Washington negotiates with Modi for access for unlimited refueling and basing in Indian ports, a mutual treaty which of course is largely meaningless for Indians deployment in American waters. But access to Indian ports would be of considerable strategic advantage the U.S. operating in the vast Indian Ocean.











Whose tail is Beijing twisting?


The enticement of what is seen as China’s relatively suddenly developing huge market and its infrastructure investment rampage around the world is pulling U.S. policy off course.

The latest evidence is a quiet struggle inside the World Bank group.

One of the holy of holies of U.S. management, in effect, of that international institution since it was created as part of the monetary and current settlement of World II, was its advocacy of free markets. True, the bank itself was a centralized run operation with delegates from the various countries as stockholders ands guarantors of its loans, in effect on a government to government basis.

But early on, the Bank established the International Finance Corp. [IFC] as its “free enterprise” window. The IFC’s function was to partner in otherwise too risky joint investments between foreign lenders and local developing market capitalists in the Afro-Asian world and Latin America. Its activities have been relatively modest these five decades compared to the massive lending of The World Bank itself on its government to government basis. Still though its operation have been limited through the years, it was seen as an effective device for encouraging private investment and market operations in countries whose former colonial regimes favored government enterprise

But now, ironically, the IFC has strayed from what the world generally accepts as “the Washington consensus” – a set of 10 economic policy prescriptions constituting the “standard” reform package for crisis-wracked countries by Washington, the D.C.–based International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank, and the US Treasury Department. Under the hand of a former Goldman Sachs banker, Jin-Yong Cai, now leaving 10 months before the expiration of his term after a turbulent three years, to return to Asia and the private sector, the IFC has had a large number of deals involving Chinese-state companies.

The last straw for some critics has been a $300 million IFC investment in China’s Postal Savings Bank, a paltry sum compared to the state-owned China Life paying $2.5bn or its 5 per cent stake. But it continues a pattern in which the IFC’s dedication to private enterprise has gone awry. Some World Bank old hands are asking how this particular investment conforms to the IFC’s mandate to lend to private companies where capital was either unavailable or too expensive and other investment options were not available.

Cai has argued the investment in the Postal Savings Bank will help bring financial services to many of China’s “unbanked” in the hinterland away from the largest cities. That’s certainly a worthy objective, and he says it will bring a healthy investment return as well. But while all that may be true, it seems to be just one more example of how policy, often led by the U.S. government, has been bending the rules to accommodate the Chinese.

That issue could become a major one if the current sudden reduction in growth of the Chinese economy continues to fall as there seems every evidence it will. The world commodity markets, already suffering from the impact of slowing economies in Europe and India as well as China, have already been hit. More bad news seems to be on its way from Beijing even though there is a persistent hope in all quarters that the miraculous high rates of growth of the last two decades will, somehow, return. That isn’t likely.

And as crisis arises in a number of African and Latin American countries where huge Chinese infrastructure investments were committed, in reality tied to high commodity prices for Beijing’s imports, we get wind of how far the Chinese have snuggled into relationships with Western institutions. There will be a price to pay for that, and Western policymakers – above all those in the U.S. – had better be alert to it.





Who’s on first?

Does the United States have two foreign policies, one out of the White House, and the other out of The Pentagon – or, thinking about it, maybe another third one out of the State Department?

That’s about the only conclusion you can draw from a recent exchange over an episode in the South China Sea.

It’s no secret that the Chinese are building military bases a thousand miles south of their Mainland territory, right straight athwart one of the most important sea highways of the world. It is the one that carries $5 trillion worth of manufacturing and raw materials on a supply line for not only China but Japan and South Korea, including oil from the Middle East. They are doing it even when they have to dredge up more coral for shoals that barely are above the water line, especially in these days of reportedly rising sea level.

On the other hand, freedom of navigation, freedom of the seas, freedom of international waters, has been an American institution even before our country won its independence from Britain. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams literally spent years trying unsuccessfully to get the European powers together to halt piracy in the Mediterranean. And it was as our second president, Jefferson, much against his previous prejudices against a standing military force and foreign interventions, who after all sent our first troops abroad. They went to North Africa, then the Barbary Coast, to halt the boarding, kidnapping and ransoming of American ships and their sailors. Remember: “xxx from halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli xxx” was not some idle ditty.

When we heard that our ageing [50 years now] B52 bombers were sent lumbering over the new Chinese bases, we assumed they were taking the advice of many of us and challenging Beijing’s effort to throw up a block to world shipping. But now comes Pentagon spokesman Mark Wright with a statement that the Dec. 10 mission was not a “freedom of navigation” operation and that there was “no intention of flying within 12 nautical miles of any feature,” nhinting that the mission may have strayed off course.

“The United States routinely conducts B-52 training missions throughout the region, including over the South China Sea,” Wright said in an email to The Associated Press. “These missions are designed to maintain readiness and demonstrate our commitment to fly, sail and operate anywhere allowed under international law.”

Wright said the U.S. was “looking into the matter.”

The announcement leaves everyone including us in a complete quandary.

First of all, do B52s – sometimes armed with nuclear weapons – stray off course in this day and age of super-GPS [Global Position System]? If so, not only their pilots and navigators need to be brought up on charges but so do the commanding officers, whether they be in Pearl or in Arlington.

Secondly, we had assumed that the “straying” B-52s were another effort to tell the Chinese in no uncertain terms that we would not permit the challenging of the right of freedom of the seas in international waters which they have declared unilaterally. They are, incidentally, stepping on the toes of the Filipinos and others who have claims to those shoals because they are in their territorial waters or zones of economic exploitation.

If this assumption is correct, why in the name of all that is holy in nautical strategy would you not maintain openly and loudly that you are challenging the Chinese! Beijing, sensing some ambiguity in Washington, was already ready, of course, with a protest over the overlights and making new threats The answer to that protest is a public statement reiterating our right to fly through the area because it is in international waters, and not Chinese territory as Beijing claims.

Who’s running this show, anyway? Or is our Helmsman missing altogether?



The scandal of Christian persecution

The lack of public outcry over the continued persecution and murder of Christians in the Middle East is a scandal of enormous proportions. Only a few websites devoted to possible rescuing these victims dogs the internet. But pronouncements from public figures and even the leaders of Western Christendom are few and far between.

The fact is that Christians today face more persecution in more countries than any other religious group.

U.S. Christians sources estimate that 180 Christians are killed in 60 countries monthly for pursuit of their faith. Many of these are in notorious environments such as North Korea. But there are continuing incidents in nominally secular India, for example, where the current administration has its roots in Hindu chauvinism and in its twin, Moslem Pakistan.

But since 2011, of refugees official settlement in the U.S. just over 2,000 have been Muslim but only 53 Christians. It is true that particularly Syrian Christian refugees often more affluent, have made their way to the U.S. through ordinary visa channels and permanent residence. But the Obama Administration opposes legislation which would fast-track Christian refugees. That’s despite the fact that nearly a third of Syria’s Christians, about 600,000, have fled, harried by extremist groups like the Nusra Front [an Al Qaida affiliate] and now Daesh.

The Obama Administration downplaying of Christians in the refugee crisis is based on its fear such support would be viewed and used by Daesh [ISI or ISIL]. Or that it might be considered in the U.S. as part of the argument of “the clash of civilizations”. As in his earliest public Mideast pronouncements, Obama has argued inordinately supposed “Islamohobia” and antagonism toward American Moslems and the world Islamic community. But the reluctance to take on the issue goes back to the Bush Administration when Condoleezza Rice told a refugee aid official the White House did not intervene in ‘‘sectarian’’ issues.


It’s also true that Mideast Christians, generally, suffered less under the former autocratic regimes – including Sadam Hussein’s Iraq – than they have under their successors which often have a strong Muslim cast. Syrian Christians, for example, tended to stay loyal to Basher al-Assad rather than join the originally peaceful opponents of his bloody regime. The various Christian sects, some “in communion” with the Roman Catholic Chruch, others related to Eastern Orthodoxy, and others unique to the region and India, do not want to give up their ancient claims to their historic homes.

But having said all this, the toll of Christians in the region has been horrendous. In many instances Daesh has simply beheaded locals where it has taken over traditional Christian villages. These ethnicities date back thousands of years even preceding their conversion as the earliest followers of Christ. They have been given the choice of converting, death flight, or paying jizya, a special tax on “followers of the book”, that is, Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians.

Obama did get around to referring to Christian and other minorities last fall when he said ‘‘we cannot allow these communities to be driven from their ancient homelands.’’ And when Daesh threatened to eradicate the Yazidis, an ancient syncretic sect combining elements of the region’s major religions, the U.S. beat back the terrorists with intensive bombing and Special Forces intervention.

But proposals to permit a large entry of Mideast Christians has been denounced as a violation of the constitution prohibition against religious favoritism. But in fact admission of refugees has often been based on a particular ethnic group targeted by oppressors abroad. And in this instance Christians constitute such a group.

The argument that more forceful rhetoric and more specific Christians worldwide, but particularly in the Mideast, must be made. The charge of “crusaders” – distorted as it is in all aspects – by Daesh and other Islamic terrorists should not be an excuse for not taking up the cudgels for an important and generally neglected human rights cause.