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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Who Set the Real Trap: Thucydides or Cobden?

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

By William R. Hawkins

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks as Chinese and foreign naval officials listen during an event to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in Qingdao, in eastern China’s Shandong province on April 23, 2019. China celebrated the 70th anniversary of its navy by showing off its growing fleet in a sea parade featuring a brand new guided-missile destroyer. Mark Schiefelbein / POOL / AFP / Getty

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has been presenting the world with a number of recent events and declarations which appeasers in the West will undoubtedly use to reinforce the claim by Graham Allison that resisting China’s rise is no longer possible because “China has already passed the United States” in economic strength and military potential.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy celebrated its 70th anniversary with several provocative exercises (including around Taiwan) and a multinational naval review which featured new designs for surface warships and nuclear submarines, as well as China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning (named for a province on the North Korean border). The PLAN has declared that the carrier has graduated from training and testing to a combat ship ready for action. Two more carriers are under construction. The one similar to the Liaoning is expected to enter service by year’s end. The second is much larger and will bring China’s capabilities to new levels. At the naval review, a new class of guided missile destroyer was unveiled. It is larger with more missile-launching cells than the U.S. Navy’s Burke-class destroyers which are the mainstay of our surface fleet. Showing his commitment to China’s naval expansion, President Xi Jinping donned a military uniform and sailed with the armada during the April 23 celebration.

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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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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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China’s Heavy 5G Hand in the Classroom: Combining its Social Credit Score with the latest IT by 2020


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

By Victor Mair, Ph.D.

Students at a training center prepare to take part in the art test of a College Entrance Examination. They placed their mobilephones on a platform in advance of a mock exam on January 1, 2016 in Xi’an, Shaanxi Province of China. The mobilephone has become seen as a ‘must have’, an item of necessity among the Chinese people and China as the world’s largest country is now recognised to have the most mobilephone users. Credit: VCG via Getty Images

I recently had a good, long talk with a young American who is teaching at a major Chinese university on behalf of a top American university.

He kept saying that life in China now is becoming more and more “intense” (he repeated that word many times).  The politicization of life is felt in countless ways.

He said that the Communist Party Secretary of his school marched into his classroom one day without announcing it ahead of time and without even saying anything to him when she barged in.  She started inspecting everything he’d written on the blackboards and that the students had written in their notebooks.  She had her camera out and was taking pictures the whole while.

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Taiwan and the Lesson of Chiang Kai-shek: Hard Cuts Soft

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 1, January 2019

By Arthur Waldron, Ph.D.

Taiwan is never to be taken for granted. We really have to get one thing straight, which is that without Chiang Kai-shek (CKS), his mainlander army, and even aspects of his dictatorship, the free Taiwan that we love today simply would not exist. Its natural leaders, both from the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and Kuomintang (KMT), would either be long dead or in prison, while its young people, now among the best educated in the world, would be memorizing idiocies from the imperial thoughts of Xi Jinping.

Taiwan president-elect Ma Ying-jeou speaks in front of a statue of late president Chiang Kai-shek in Tashi, Taoyuan county, northern Taiwan on April 5, 2008. Credit: SAM YEH/AFP/Getty Images

That citizens vilify CKS is a disgrace at a time when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is behaving in a far more menacing way than ever before, and so well armed that the American “experts” who once dismissed the threat as paranoia and rationalization for dictatorship, are now hemming and hawing about how it may be impossible to save Taiwan. CKS saved Taiwan from the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) at a time when no one else would or could have, and when rapid collapse was assumed by all the governments of the world.

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