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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Ukraine’s Election Indicates A Strengthening Democracy

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

By Robert T. Person, United States Military Academy

Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s president, left, speaks as Volodymyr Zelenskiy, comic and presidential candidate, listens during a debate at the Kiev Stadium in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 19, 2019. The two candidates for Ukraine’s presidency squared off in a long-awaited and often bad-tempered debate, their last chance to sway opinion before the April 21 runoff, which Zelenskiy won. Vincent Mundy/Bloomberg via Getty Images

With Ukraine’s 2019 presidential campaign now complete, the country finds itself – as it has on numerous occasions in the last 15 years – at a historic crossroads.  Actor-comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s stunning landslide victory over incumbent president Petro Poroshenko by a margin of 73.2 percent to 24.4 percent presents challenges and opportunities with far-reaching implications for Ukraine, Russia, the European Union, and the United States.  On the domestic front, another peaceful transition of power through democratic elections indicates that Ukrainian democracy – though far from perfect – is alive and gaining strength.  In public comments Zelenskiy has reaffirmed Ukraine’s commitment to democratic rule, drawing a sharp contrast with Russia’s authoritarian politics.  On the foreign policy front, he has pledged to stand up to Russia and continue Ukraine’s path to NATO membership, even while expressing a willingness to “negotiate with the devil” to bring the war in Eastern Ukraine to an end.   This is something the prior president, Petro Poroshenko, refused to do, though Zelenskiy’s chances of breaking the stalemate in the Donbas remain slim.  Though it is too early to tell what the future holds for the new Ukrainian president and the country he leads, there can be little doubt that Ukraine will continue to be a key zone of strategic competition – and likely conflict – in Eastern Europe, much as it has been for the last five years.

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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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THE BATTLE FOR WEST PAPUA

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 1, January 2019 

By Ben Bohane


Supporters carry West Papuan leader Benny Wenda through Port Vila, Vanuatu, during a visit on December 1, 2016. Pacific island countries across the region are growing in solidarity with the West Papuan independence movement, according to the author. Credit: Ben Bohane.

Reports of the Indonesian military using white phosphorous munitions on West Papuan civilians in December are only the latest horror in a decades-old jungle war forgotten by the world. But new geopolitical maneuvering may soon change the balance of power here, prompting regional concern about an intensifying battle for this rich remote province of Indonesia. It is time for the US and Australia to change policy, complementing Pacific island diplomacy, or risk a major strategic setback at the crossroads of Asia and the Pacific.

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Senate Undermines America as an Alliance Partner: The Resolution to Ban US Military Assistance in Yemen

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 12, December 2018 

By William R. Hawkins

Tribal gunmen loyal to the Huthi movement brandish their weapons on March 26, 2015 during a gathering in Sanaa to show support to the Shiite Huthi militia and against the Saudi-led intervention in the country. Warplanes from a Saudi-led Arab coalition bombed Huthi rebels in support of Yemen’s embattled president, as regional rival Iran warned the intervention was a “dangerous” move. Credit: MOHAMMED HUWAIS/AFP/Getty Images

Those who pushed the U.S. Senate to adopt Senate Joint Resolution 54 (S.J.Res.54), “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress” in mid-December sought to avoid any mention of the strategic importance of Yemen, the nature of the civil war that has been raging there, or the support Iran has been giving the Shia Houthi rebels who started the conflict. Instead, the resolution aimed only at the U.S.-Saudi alliance and the Saudi-led coalition that is fighting to defend the internationally recognized Yemen government. No American combat units are involved in the Yemen conflict. The U.S. has been providing intelligence and logistical support to give a critical edge to the coalition forces that are doing the actual fighting.

The supposed purpose of the resolution was to “punish” Riyadh over the killing of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi activist working to topple the regime. He is commonly called a “journalist” but was actually only a writer of opinion pieces published by The Washington Post and other liberal outlets. His views were not compatible with American interests in the Middle East as I outlined in the October 20 issue of this journal.

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Khashoggi was Not a Friend of America

It would be ironic if his death led the U.S. to take actions harmful to itself

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2018 

By William R. Hawkins

Iran’s Navy Commander Admiral Habibollah Sayari points at a map during a press conference in Tehran on December 22, 2010, as saying that Iran will launch 10 days of naval drills from December 24, covering east of the Strait of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman to the Gulf of Aden. Credit: Hamed Jafarnejad/AFP/Getty Images.

Returning from his trip to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told President Donald Trump on Thursday that the Saudi Arabian government needs s “a few more days” to investigate the fate of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi writer and activist who disappeared on October 4 while visiting a Saudi consulate in Turkey. It has been alleged that Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents because of his criticism of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the young reform-minded de facto leader of the country.  Pompeo told the press, “We made clear to them that we take this matter very seriously.” As a sign of this, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin withdrew from an investment conference in Riyadh and President Donald Trump threatened “severe consequences” if Khashoggi’s murder was state sponsored. Yet, Pompeo also reminded his audience, “We have a have a long strategic relationship with Saudi Arabia. We need to be mindful of that.” And well we should, as it provides the larger strategic context in which the fate of Khashoggi must be placed.

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China Expert: I’m Drunk

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 5, No. 7, July 2017

By Anders Corr

The following conversation between myself and a drunk China expert, who published a well-reviewed book on China recently, covers a wide-ranging set of topics, including the hard-to-decipher policy intentions of the U.S. and China. The conversation, which occurred by email starting Friday night, April 21, is sometimes humorous, and may be politically incorrect to some. But it succinctly and candidly addresses critical themes of U.S.-China relations, and touches on the politics of China analysis in the U.S. and Europe.

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