China Comment

Energy, Environment, and Economy

Isn’t That Odd? : Segways & Flamethrowers

Here’s an amusing article describing Chinese preparing for anti-terrorism drills.

Proximately from Engadget-but originally from Xinhua

Xinhua’s photo gallery is here: Although the Segway use can be justified (sort of- though they would seem to be pretty difficult to balance under stress conditions), a question arises looking at Xinhua’s photos, why is a flamethrower necessary for anti-terrorism drills at the Olympics?

 From Xinhua

In recent years, China installed fire extinguishers in Tiananmen to prevent people being lit on fire, after certain high-profile self-immolation protests in 2001.

One wonders how much danger the Beijing security details are expecting to handle– and with what degree of deadly force. I spoke with an Olympic volunteer and was told they were very concerned, as all people at all Olympics are, about incidents at entrances to Olympic venues.

Another especial reason for Beijing’s security worries; As recently as May 2008 an unexplained explosion that may have been intentional, went off on a Shanghai bus. Xinhua didn’t initially attribute the explosion to terror, but TIME Magazine and people on the ground have suspicions. At minimum, following the explosion, Shanghai instituted new regulations about carrying certain materials on buses and increased anti-terror patrols, which leads one to believe that there may be some reason for these heightened concerns.

With luck, nothing untoward will happen in China during the Olympics. For China’s sake, if something does happen, hopefully the police/military response is proportional and appropriate and that the coverage of said problem is transparent.

One thing that seems quite Odd is China has long believed very strongly that ignoring a problem, even after the problem has become well known, allows the country to save face. By covering-up details, forbidding publication of negative stories, and making everything seem happy, Chinese officials seek to win accolades (As I discuss in an earlier article).  Thus, they barred reporters from T$$$bet during the recent disturbances, then denied Chinese-instigated abuses (which may or may not have happened- since the West lacked independent reporting all it really has is a “monks said/Beijing says” dichotomy).

Simon Elegant at TIME Magazine thinks the media’s coverage style is changing and the Chinese government is more willing to admit to problems rather than covering-them up; but he also points out difficulties suffered by Chinese trying to discuss incidents online.

Oh China, such an odd and amusing, but often frustrating place.

7 July, 2008 Posted by | China Stability, Isn't That Odd? | , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Border Incursions Tied to Lama Support?

The Asia Times reported recent border incursions by China’s troops into Indian territory in the area of Sikkim on June 16. Troops moved nearly one kilometer into the territory, then departed. There have been over 70 Chinese incursions into Sikkim since January 2008.

It is interesting these incursions happened in Sikkim, which China has acknowledged as part of India as recently as May 2004, rather than in Arunachal-Pradesh and Aksai Chin which are territories still under dispute- of course, incursions are still ongoing in Arunachal-Pradesh.

It is odd, but it appears the major Western news sites have oddly enough not yet picked up on this issue. Perhaps this is because India’s foreign ministry is “playing down” the news.

Sudha Ramachandran, writing for the Asia Times, has many ideas for why China increased its belligerence. Chief among his ideas is that the Chinese are using incursions in Sikkim to encourage India to give concessions in Arunachal and Aksai. Also in agreement is a China expert at an Indian think tank who argues China might be backing off recognition of Sikkim as part of India. The Chinese foreign minister, however, recently reiterated China recognizes Sikkim as part of India.

An increased show of force is likely to cause the Indian populace to dig in and oppose India ceding land. Since the Chinese are not led by foolish military leaders (one would presume),  perhaps the increase in incursions is due to something else.

I would posit the main reason for the new incursions in a territory the Chinese already agree is part of India is to give the Indians a warning not to shelter and encourage the D*l*i L*ma of T&b&t&n Buddhism fame. China already warns countries not to receive the spiritual leader under threat of damaging relations. And the recent unrest unnerved Beijing. It reasonable to expect that China is willing to undertake drastic measures to limit the D*l*i L*ma’s influence in India.

The Chinese do not want their country to split because of tensions, and perhaps they see the Indians as encouraging those tensions. Thus, the border incursions are a warning among others that Bhaskar Roy of the India-based South Asia Analysis group describes, which are designed to modify India’s foreign policy behavior and its relationship to the D&l*i L&m&.

* An Economic Times article briefly explains the situation.

28 June, 2008 Posted by | China Diplomacy, China Military | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Off the Shelf: China and Murphy’s “Are We Rome?”

Off the Shelf: An in-depth look at something I am reading.

Are We Rome? (2007)
-Cullen Murphy, managing editor of the Atlantic Monthly.

Murphy’s examination of how America’s experience of “empire” compares to Rome’s empire can lead some to question if America is in danger of crumbling? This led me to examine causes for worry that American hegemony might be at an end, and to see whether or not China possessed some of America’s strengths and weaknesses.

Murphy describes traits of successful empires. He notes the importance of technology and innovation, and the spread of culture. He complains about political patronage, American exceptionalism (Manifest Destiny), and argues that privatization induces corruption and helped lead to Rome’s decline.

Technology and innovation in China still lags behind that of many developed countries, Nicholas Lardy of the Brookings Institution would argue. Although patent applications are up and the number of college graduates continues to rise, the quality of the graduates is hampered due to less-than expert teachers. When programs increase enrollment five or tenfold in size within a decade, either more students are packed into a class, or less knowledgeable teachers are paraded onto a stage.

As of 2005, America and Japan lead the world in patents by a large margin. with 186,000 granted to Japanese, 135,000 to Americans, 64,000 to Koreans, and 21,000 (6th on the list) granted to the Chinese. In terms of Engineering graduates, in 2004 the US graduated 137,000 students with Bachelor’s in Engineering degrees; India graduated 112,000; and China, 354,106. “In terms of degrees awarded per one million citizens, the United States awarded 758 degrees; China, 497 degrees; and India, 199″ (National Science Teachers Association). Additionally, some “Engineers” graduated by China may be the equivalent of motor mechanics and industrial technicians (ibid).

However, 20-30 years down the line, after constructing a more robust learning supply-chain, China’s educational investment might begin to pay off significantly. According to the Economist; “By 2015 its research scientists and engineers may outnumber those of any other country. By 2020 it aims to spend a bigger share of its GDP on research and development (R&D) than the European Union.”

Murphy claims America, like Rome, draws power from immigrants, but he notes that some places with high levels of multicultural variegation, such as California can become anarchic amalgams unless care is taken to instill a sense of civic responsibility and lower the wealth distribution differential.

Currently, the United States confronts rates of CEO pay at 430 to 1 where back in the 1960s they averaged of 25 to 1 of an average workers’ salary. The Ancient Romans suffered rates of 1000+ to 1. However, China also confronts a significant wealth distribution differential with a Gini coefficient only .03 points lower than the US’ (More Detail Here).

Indeed, the 2008 unrest in T*b*t can be partially attribuited to “unfair” Han Chinese exploitation of the region. The report, “No One Has the Liberty to Refuse“, written in June 2007, demonstrates how the 2008 protests originated for reasons other than alleged “cultural repression” (An Audio Clip is available HERE; A shorter article is HERE). Thousands of T*b*tans have been relocated into the cities, where they cannot find work, and where they compete with Han Chinese for jobs. Life has improved in T*b*t in the past decade, with an economic growth rate over 12% for “six consecutive years,” government-subsidized schooling and social programs. However, new Chinese immigrants whose numbers were buoyed by the 2006 rail line, have begun to culturally and economically colonize the under-developed region.

Immigration and tourism- seeing millions more than before the rail was opened- create a culture clash potentially much more deadly than the one in California forecasted by Murphy.

Murphy then complains about patronage through a focus on Pliny the Younger. He laments the appointments (suffragium) in the government based on connections in both ancient Rome and modern America.

However, as any scholar of China will be quick to note– China is notorious for the practice guanxi and an almost religious attraction to “patronage-like” associations based on friendship rather than efficiency. 

Ultimately, most, if not all countries suffer from overriding patronage; from Britain’s old boy’s clubs, to the French ecole class of Administrators, to America’s old Ivy League elite.

There is always a danger if patronage appointments are completely unaccountable; but disasters have a way of dismissing incompetent leaders. For example, Hurricane Katrina led to the downfall of Michael Brown, and China’s SARS crisis allowed Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao to demonstrate courage and leadership by staying in Beijing during the crisis; while other leaders, notably members of Jiang Zemin’s clique,  left Beijing on trips to SARS-unaffected provinces. Arguably, Hu and Wen’s actions helped strengthen their political capital to the detriment of Jiang’s “Shanghai Gang” which has since seen members such as former Shanghai Party Boss Chen Liangyu sacked for corruption.

The Middle Kingdom long enjoyed a position as the center of the East Asian world. Diplomats from as far as Vietnam and T*b*t would kowtow to the Emperor. This position changed after the 1860s and the Opium Wars. But now, the Middle Kingdom is trying to get back at the world’s center. China’s naval developments and interest in ports at Gwadar, involvement in the ASEAN+3 grouping, establishment of the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), and greater involvement in the UN peacekeeping operations demonstrate an increasing willingness of China to act internationally. [A forthcoming article will examine these assertions.]

Murphy also discusses how contractors and privatization of American military are hollowing out America’s defensive spirit in much the same way mercenary barbarians contributed to Rome’s downfall. The contractors’ training and standards of justice are allegedly dissimilar from those upheld by the American military.

China seems to escape the problem faced by America; its cyberterrorism/cybersecurity is controlled tightly by the government. In contrast, even United States’ Government’s systems are outsourced to private companies- thus the spat over a proposed Huawei/3M merger.

China’s military problem appears to be not that it outsources its military development, but that it doesn’t have good enough internal development. C4I and equipment integration, as discussed in books on China’s military by James Mulvenon and David Shambaugh, are better in America and other developed countries. China also purchases many ships and airplanes from Russia instead of through internal construction. As China develops its home defense industry, this problem might dissipate.


Ultimately, Murphy presented an intriguing historical comparison of American “empire” and Roman. He identifies weak points in America’s government and military and raises calls for concern. But although China lacks several of America’s weaknesses, it still confronts remarkably similar obstacles and has many of its own challenges to overcome.

Murphy’s book is recommended for general readers, and for those interested in America’s position in the world. It never mentions China, but in an internationally anarchic system of diplomacy, the loss of power for America might well be a zero-sum game that gives China a leg up, so it is interesting to analyze the possibilities.

7 June, 2008 Posted by | Book Review, China Future, China Technology | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment