Clash of Ancient Philosophy and Modern Politics in China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Victor Mair, University of Pennsylvania

This photo taken on August 20, 2017 shows a drone flying in front of the statue of Lord Laozi during the Laojun Mountain Drone Convention in Luoyang in China’s central Henan province. STR/AFP/Getty Images

A new round of censorship in China is sufficiently significant that it should be called to the attention of readers, because it has not been brought to the surface outside of China, and even inside China the censors have done their best to hush it up.

In a nutshell, there’s a well-known scholar of ancient Chinese thought, especially Lao Zi (the fictive author of the Tao Te Ching / Daode jing), who has recently and suddenly run afoul of the authorities.

The imbroglio of Yin Zhenhuan 尹振环 and Lao Zi 老子 are occasionally mentioned online. News of Professor Yin Zhenhuan’s troubles surfaced on WeChat about two weeks ago.  It’s rather hard to figure out how research on an ancient thinker could arouse such a sensational reaction, even though from the contents of Yin’s book one may perceive slight, indirect indications of current politics.

Perhaps the best way to expose the complex nature of the current contretemps is by relaying the personal communications of three People’s Republic of China (PRC) scholars on the subject, which I reproduce below.

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Biden’s Embrace of Globalism Includes Waltzing with China

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) shake hands with U.S Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People on December 4, 2013 in Beijing, China. Lintao Zhang/Getty Images

Joe Biden drew considerable attention when he said at a campaign rally in Iowa “China is going to eat our lunch? Come on, man. They’re not bad folks, folks. But guess what? They’re not competition for us.” Many wanted to just dismiss this as another one of the former Vice President’s many gaffes. But there is reason to accept this statement as a true expression of his beliefs.

Biden’s soft approach to China is at the core of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy & Global Engagement, which opened its Washington DC offices in February 2018. The stated aim of the Penn Biden Center (the Penn refers to the University of Pennsylvania which provides the group’s institutional home) is to “Address Threats to the Liberal International Order.” These threats are set out as follows: “The postwar order that America built together with our allies is under attack. The siege comes from multiple directions—from authoritarians who strangle liberty in the name of security to terrorists who radicalize across borders and nationalist leaders who fuel fear and division at home.  Powerful illiberal states are capitalizing on this moment by filling the vacuum of leadership with values that do not match our own. They perceive the success of our system as a threat to theirs—fashioning a zero-sum world.” This is a fine statement, but leaves out who these authoritarian and illiberal adversaries are. China clearly fits the description, but is not mentioned. Russia, however, is: “In particular, under President Putin, Russia seeks to return to an era when the use of force prevails and the world is carved into spheres of influence.” The ethereal menace of “climate change” is also mentioned along with terrorism, cyber attacks and epidemics. So if a list is presented, why isn’t the Beijing regime on it?

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Djibouti, New Battlefield of China’s Global Ambitions

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Jean-Pierre Cabestan, Hong Kong Baptist University

Ships carrying Chinese military personnel depart from a port on July 11, 2017 in Zhanjiang, Guangdong Province of China. VCG/VCG via Getty Images.

On August 1, 2017, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) opened in Djibouti, a former French colony of Eastern Africa, its first outpost overseas. Presented as a logistic support facility rather than a full-fledged military and naval base (1,000 to 2,000 personnel), the PLA presence in this strategic spot is a game changer not only in this part of the world but also globally.

Located next to the Bab el Manded, the strait that controls any southern access to the red sea, Djibouti is of strategic importance not only for China. Since its independence in 1977, it has kept a meaningful albeit diminishing French military presence (1,450 personnel). Since 2002, it also includes a large American military base (4,000). More recently, for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden, other militaries, for example the Italians and the Japanese, have set foot in this tiny territory not bigger than Belgium.

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Great Power Political Convergence and UN Reform: Solving the Democratic Deficit

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 4, April 2019

By Anders Corr

A bronze sculpture titled “Non-Violence” by Swedish artist Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd stands to the north of the United Nations Building in New York. It depicts the knotted barrel of a Colt Python .357 Magnum. Reuterswärd designed the sculpture following the murder of songwriter John Lennon. Credit: Vicente Montoya/Getty.

The international system operates across military, economic, and diplomatic hierarchies of states situated in competing alliances and international organizations. The major powers assert the predominance of influence in these alliances and international organizations, leading to a severe and global democratic deficit. Huge numbers of people, most notably the approximately 18% of the world’s population living in China, and 2% of the population living in Russia, have no democratically-appointed representation at the United Nations or influence in the world’s most important alliance systems.

The global democratic deficit leads to critical inefficiencies and unfair policies. States use unequal access to military, wealth, and knowledge resources to influence international organizations and alliance systems for individual state gains that lead to global inefficiencies and trade-offs where individual major power goals contradict the public good, or the national interests of other states. Perhaps the most dangerous such inefficiency is the rising risk of nuclear war, as countries like the U.S. and China compete to impose their competing visions of the future on the world.

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East Turkistan Needs You

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

East Turkestanis and their supporters demonstrate in front of the White House, calling for US support for an independent East Turkestan, currently occupied by China. The demonstration occurred on November 12, 2018, the anniversary of the founding of the First and Second East Turkestan Republics. Photo: ETNAM

By Salih Hudayar

Few Americans have ever heard of “Xinjiang”. Even fewer have ever heard it called by its proper name (the name its oppressed inhabitants use): “East Turkistan”. This strategically-significant region, my ancestral Homeland, is home to an ethnically Turkic, Muslim population of people called the Uyghurs. On official maps, it borders eight countries, but most Uyghurs will count China and Tibet as separate, independent countries and tell you that it borders ten. And therein lies the issue.

The vast majority of Uyghurs, like the vast majority of Tibetans, don’t see themselves as part of China. They see China as an occupying force, and rightly so. Up until late 1949 — when the Chinese Communist Party invaded the region and overthrew our government — it was an independent Republic. Most Uyghurs feel no connection to Beijing. Imagine for a moment that the United States Army invaded the Canadian province of Alberta. Surely the residents of Alberta would feel no connection to Washington, D.C.

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President Trump Has Authority to Rebuild American Industry: Use the Defense Production Act of 1950

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By William R. Hawkins

The USS Eisenhower at a dock to complete it’s overhaul, Newport News, Virginia. Ira Block/National Geographic/Getty Images

President Donald Trump’s trade reform campaign is not meant only to redress the massive deficit with the People’s Republic of China ($419 billion in goods last year, a net figure of how much American money is supporting jobs and production in China rather than at home). His policies have been rooted in national security concerns with a focus on the dangerous transfer of capital and technology that has empowered Beijing’s military buildup and aggressive behavior along the Pacific Rim and beyond. There is concern that the momentum of his efforts is slowing. He delayed elevating tariffs on Chinese goods from 10% to 25% on March 1st to give negotiations more time to reach a deal. But the PRC regime will never curb its pursuit of the wealth and capabilities it needs to replace the U.S. as the world’s preeminent power. It is a long-term economic contest between rivals for the highest of stakes imaginable.

President Trump and close advisors such as Peter Navarro, Director of the National Trade Council in the White House know this, but need to operate from a strong base. Congress cannot, however, add much to the campaign at present. It is so crippled by factions and sophistries as to have taken itself out of the game. But Congress has left a legacy from earlier, less anarchic times: the Defense Production Act. This core legislation, based on preserving the “Arsenal of Democracy” which won World War II, gives the President broad authority to revive, expand and maintain our domestic industrial base. The DPA was first enacted in 1950, but it is still alive and well, being reauthorized twice by President George W. Bush, amended in 2009 on a bipartisan basis, supported by a 2012 Executive Order issued by President Obama and reauthorized again in 2014.

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The Quad of India, Japan, Australia and the US: A Work in Progress

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By Commodore Anil Jai Singh, IN (Retd)

An Indian Navy sailor stands guard on the deck of the INS Shivalik during the inauguration of joint naval exercises with the United States and Japan in Chennai on July 10, 2017.
ARUN SANKAR/AFP/GETTY

The recent statement by the Commander-in Chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command Admiral Phil Davidson at a press conference in Singapore that the ‘Quad’ or the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue between the USA, Australia, India and Japan may need to be shelved was met with a mixed reaction in the regional maritime security discourse. However, this was not a fatalistic view but rather a tacit acknowledgement of the divergent views amongst the Quad partners on certain fundamental issues. He made this statement based on his discussions with Admiral Sunil Lanba, the Chief of the Indian Navy at the recent Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi where Admiral Lanba said that there was not an immediate potential for the Quad.

The idea of a Quad was first articulated by the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the East Asia Summit in 2007; in the same year he spoke of the confluence of the two oceans – the Indian and the Pacific- and introduced the term Indo-Pacific during an address to the Indian Parliament. The first attempt to shape the Quad was the decision to enhance Exercise Malabar — the annual bilateral Indo-US naval exercise into a quadrilateral construct. However, China understandably expressed strong reservations about this as an anti-China initiative. Australia succumbed but a trilateral exercise was nevertheless held between the US, Japan and India.  For the next decade, while the Quad was spoken of periodically at various fora, very little was actually happening on the ground to give it concrete shape.

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State Sponsorship of Uyghur Separatists: the History and Current Policy Options for East Turkestan (Xinjiang, China)

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

A 1922 map of China. Source: John Bartholomew, The Times Atlas, London, 1922.

This article is a slight revision of a talk given on March 25, 2019, in Oxford, England. The associated university is not named at the request of the host organization’s president, who was concerned about possible repercussions.

I would like to thank the Terrorism Research Society (TRS) for kindly hosting this event. 

The historical map shown here is from 1922, and shows what China looked like when the Chinese Communist Party was founded in 1921 in Shanghai. It shows East Turkestan and Tibet in the west as autonomous regions — much more autonomous than they are today.

East Turkestan is now occupied militarily by China and officially called the Xinjiang region of northwestern China. In Chinese, “Xinjiang” means “new frontier”. But Xinjiang has an ancient history as a culturally diverse crossroads of trading on what the Chinese call “the silk road”, but which was actually more Iranian than Chinese. It was central to the ancient Persian trading areas called the Sogdian network by historians. It has been home to Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims, to Mongolians, Indians, Greeks, Koreans, Buddhists, and Christians. Since at least the First East Turkestan Republic of 1933 is has been called East Turkestan by Turkic Muslim residents. The Chinese Communist Party in Beijing has indiscriminately labeled Uyghurs who support an independent East Turkestan today, as separatist and terrorist in their goals and means. The acronym of the Chinese Communist Party is the “CCP”. The CCP seeks to colonize and extinguish all linguistic, ethnic and religious diversity in Xinjiang today, in order to assimilate the territory under its own preferred Han Chinese race, and their own atheist communist ideology.

In the face of such extreme repression, some Uyghurs have indeed advocated separatism and utilized terrorism and violence, including street riots, as a means.

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Tariff Benefits Will Exceed Costs When National Goals Are Met

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 3, March 2019 

By William R. Hawkins

US President Donald Trump, with US Congressman Sean Duffy (L), holds a tariff table as he speaks in the Cabinet Room of the White House on January 24, 2019. Trump spoke about the unfair trade practices of China. Credit: MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty

A discussion paper published last weekend by the Centre for Economic Policy Research in the UK claimed that the tariffs President Donald Trump has imposed on Chinese products are “causing the diversion of $165 billion a year in trade leading to significant costs for companies having to reorganize supply chains.” The paper was authored by Princeton and Federal Reserve economists, and calls this a “cost” on the U.S. economy. But the basis of their analysis is much too narrow. They do not understand that the “diversion” of trade is a sign that the President’s policy is working. We need to reduce the ties between American companies and an increasingly threatening China. And I have no sympathy if those who sought to profit by helping Beijing’s rise (even if “experts” told them it was a good thing for the world) now suffer transition costs. Trump’s actions were prompted by national security concerns.

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A Chaotic Start: Foreign Affairs in the New U.S. Congress

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 2, February 2019

By William R. Hawkins

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) meets with Nechirvan Barzani, outgoing Prime Minister of Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), in the province’s capital Arbil during a Middle East tour, on January 9, 2019. The eight-day tour comes weeks after the US President announced that the United States would quickly pull its 2,000 soldiers out of Syria, declaring that IS — also known as ISIS — had been defeated. Credit: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP/Getty.

It is widely held that the direction of foreign policy has shifted almost wholly to the executive branch. The only issue being under which president did this happen? Ronald Regan? Franklin Roosevelt? Woodrow Wilson? Teddy Roosevelt? Or even George Washington as the inherent result of the creation of the presidency itself. The Constitution was created to correct the lack of national leadership in the prior Confederation period when there was only a Congress. But one only needs to look at the first actions of the 116th Congress to understand why a major factor in this evolution of power has been the confusion and institutional flaws that render Congress unsuited for the conduct of international affairs. Its role is limited to being a forum for supporting or opposing the policies set by the Commander-in-Chief.

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