July 29, 2012

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

Julia Lovell finds something funny in the Opium Wars

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 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, and caused civil wars with impunity. Racism was its 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 conflicts in the world today can be traced back to British Imperialism: the Kashmir issue, the Sino-Indian border dispute, Tibet, Palestine, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Sudan - the list goes on. 

Yes - Great Britain can be proud. 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.

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 of how US 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According to the US government, the attack was the result of "bombing instructions...based on an outdated map".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 bully nation (also known as a superpower) is engaging in full hegemonic display, another country with increasing clout and international status can raise apprehension. When countries are used to a bigger country settled for some years in a bullying position, someone starting to come close to that level of power raises 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 unknown newcomer, will (hypocritically) spread the myth that the newcomer is, and always has been, overtly aggressive. This myth-making, with the existing bully's greater hold on communication channels (media, international organizations, UN etc.) can negate the effect that the newcomer might have in balancing the bully's hegemony. 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. As Stephen Walt terms it, "a competition for allies" will then commence.