July 29, 2012

The Tragicomedy of Errors: China, British Imperialism, and the Opium Wars

Julia Lovell, in her new book The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China, finds something funny in the tragedy

Great Britain has many reasons to feel great about itself. Its empire was the largest in history and covered over a fifth of the world's population. It had more Asian and African colonies than any other European power. It came, it saw, it divided, and it conquered. It raped and it reaped, it slaughtered millions of people, massacred entire populations, caused civil wars, flattened countless cities and towns, and destroyed whole civilizations and dynasties with impunity. It implemented racism as state policy. It sucked the life out of its colonies and reduced them to what we now call third-world nations. It drew and redrew boundaries and created whole new countries randomly on a whim. Most of the conflicts in the world today can be traced back to British Imperialism - the Kashmir issue and India-Pakistan hatred, the Sino-Indian border dispute and India-China rivalry, the Tibet issue, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Sudan - the list goes on. 

Yes - Great Britain had reason to feel greatly proud about itself. It had the largest empire in the world. It had managed to keep its European competitors in check. There was no known threat to its global dominion. It seemed that Great Britain was destined to rule the world.

And then it all came tumbling down. Sometime in the past century, the Island Story crumbled to pieces, and the empire followed. Slowly but surely, the empire on which "the sun never sets" went out like a cigar puff. Today it finds itself with the geopolitical influence of an American missile base. Once great, Great Britain is now America's bitch - a tart of a nation that will obediently suck America's coattails whenever ordered to do so. The relationship between the two countries is much like that between a dog and its master, or to use its official name: a "Special Relationship".

July 7, 2012

Quote of the day: Mapping a lie

Were you using the wrong maps again?

- Ma Xiaotian, deputy head, PLA General Staff

The US bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade remains a stark reminder to one of the many ways in which US offensive actions can go...well, largely the way it wanted them to. Not so much the attack itself, which had "accidentally" gone awry, but the American government's control over the reporting of the attack in the media, which went exactly as the US and NATO wanted it to go, most of it blindly parroting the US view.

According to the US government, the attack was the result of "bombing instructions...based on an outdated map".  Ma Xiaotian, referring to a NATO attack that killed 25 Pakistani soldiers last November, made the above priceless remark at a recent meeting of US and Chinese officials last year.

Absolutely priceless. Must've taken the wind right out of their sails. 

I wonder why this didn't reach the mainstream press. Did the US government suppress it? It can if it wants to. The bigger question is why the Chinese press didn't pick up on it.

April 14, 2012

Quote of the Day:
Censorship Affects People's Livelihoods

“So much of the censorship relates to things that have a real impact on people’s livelihoods. The societal and human cost of censorship is heartbreaking.”
- Sarah Cook, Freedom House

Quite. One can see why so much of censorship has a real impact on people's lives. After all, how can Chinese teenagers feel safe and secure without access to Facebook or Twitter? How can the Chinese people be expected to survive when their own government won't allow them to watch more than 20 Hollywood movies a year? How can they sleep at night knowing that they cannot search for images of the Dalai Lama?

I can't imagine how the Chinese people can go on living under such an oppressive government. Truly heartbreaking.

Quote of the Day:
Fighting Corruption = Sowing "fear in the city"

(Bo Xilai's) handpicked police chief, Wang Lijun, who sowed fear in the city with an unshackled crackdown on organized crime that won Mr. Bo national attention, was also under scrutiny.

How dare the police strike fear in the city by organizing a crackdown against organized crime? Don't they know that citizens feel safe in the presence of crime? Yes - the entire city, in general, is now more fearful as a result of the police doing its duty and fighting crime.

What the article really meant was that the crackdown sowed fear in criminal's hearts. But remember - its the New York Times we're talking about. Journalists working for such a prestigious newspaper could hardly be expected to soil their lofty minds with something as inconsequential as semantic common sense.

February 3, 2012

The Economist and the South China Sea: It is "complex" if I can't understand it

The Economist is often held prisoner by its own prejudice arising from its whatever-China-does-internationally-is-wrong stance, and a recent article on the South China Sea disputes proves it. Behold the latest offering from intellectual dungeons of the The Economist: "The devil in the deep blue detail".

Sadly, but not surprisingly, the newspaper warns against the dangers of viewing the dispute through cold war lenses, and then proceeds to do exactly that.  In a nutshell, the article can be summed up as follows: China is the bad guy. (Of course, that applies to most articles about China that it publishes).

January 25, 2012

Five reasons why China will not invade Taiwan

‘So solidly built into our consciousness is the concept that China is conducting a rapacious and belligerent foreign policy, that whenever a dispute arises in which China is involved, she is instantly assumed to have provoked it.’
— Felix Greene, 1965.

When a superpower is engaging in full hegemonic and supercilious display, another country with slowly increasing economic clout and rising international status can raise apprehension. When countries are used to a bigger country that is settled for some years in a bullying position, someone starting to come close to that bully's level of power, however remotely, has the potential to raise various concerns.

This rise is often wrongly construed as a zero-sum game - the newcomer challenging the bully's position. In such a case, the existing bully, in its efforts to manipulate popular conceptions about the comparatively-unknown newcomer, will (hypocritically) spread the myth that the newcomer is, and always has been, overtly aggressive. If this myth-making and spreading is successful, even to a small extent, it can negate the effect that the newcomer might have in compensating for or balancing the bully's hegemony and its hubris. The newcomer's assurances about its peaceful rise will then be dismissed as deception. The focal point of the bully's containment policy will be to encourage and manipulate various types of pawns against the newcomer. If such pawns already exist, then they will be fostered and strengthened, and in case they don't, new ones will be created (Or as Stephen Walt terms it, "a competition for allies").

December 17, 2011

The Soccer Mocker: The Economist gets a kick out of ridiculing Chinese football

As I discussed in my previous post, The Economist has published two special articles about China as part of its special Christmas-holiday double issue. I discussed the first of the two in my last post, and intend to discuss the second one here.

In "Little Red Card", The Economist mocks China's attempts at becoming a proficient footballing nation, and, no pun intended, gets a kick out of it.  Even the mention of the efforts of the Chinese government in this direction, which are indeed noteworthy when they are compared to India (the only country that can actually be compared to China in this regard) is done as if doing a favor.

The Economist and China's Soft Power: Et tu, Sun Tzu?

A pathetic attempt to discredit Sun Tzu as an instrument of Chinese Soft Power

As part of its Christmas-holiday double issue, The Economist has published two articles about China: one about its Soft Power and another about the dismal state of Chinese football. John Micklethwait, the Editor-in-Chief, describes the double issue as one in which "Journalists write about odd subjects, pet subjects, any subjects that took their fancy during the year and that did not fit into the normal run of our coverage." Well, "odd" is certainly not the word that can be used to describe the two above, as they actually fit into the standard Economist rhetoric about all its China-related reporting. The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and even the "pet subjects" that "did not fit into the normal run" of their coverage are not far different from, well, their normal coverage.

In "Sun Tzu and the art of soft power" (I intend to discuss the second article in my next post), the newspaper questions, without offering an alternative, the validity and usefulness of using Sun Tzu as an instrument of Chinese Soft Power. A couple of idiotic points stand out in the analysis. 

December 1, 2011

India v/s China: We've got Facebook! What've you got?

An interesting analysis in TIME magazine, to the extent that it tries to be an analysis:

And don't forget to check out these two accompanying arguments, one for India and one for China:

The Case for India: Free to Succeed

The Case for China: The Power of Planning

I plan to blog about this general issue sometime soon. Right now however, I just can't help commenting on just two points for the time being, particularly because many westerners have humongous misconceptions about these issues. Almost every article on the topic contains at least a reference to these two fallacious points. 

November 15, 2011

China, Libya, and Political Bullshittery from The Economist

The Economist, my favorite newspaper, has been engaging in its own peculiar style of political bullshit reporting about geopolitics and Chinese foreign policy nowadays. Take a look at this:
It is not just in Sri Lanka that the hypocrisy of Western attitudes has rankled. In China, a commentary in Global Times, a Beijing newspaper, highlighted another aspect of it: “The more urgent question is why the countries that led a righteous crusade against Qaddafi, and rightly or wrongly are now triumphing in his defeat, are the very same that up until recently were busy trying to be his friends?”  So, of course, was China. But two hypocrites do not make a right.
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