Category Archives: U.S./China Relations

Let’s Hop off the China Fear Express

Forbidden City

GlobalWonk Enters Forbidden City

President Obama’s trip to China has provided a platform from which the media has chosen to stir up domestic anxiety over China’s changing role in world affairs. If you believe what you hear in the mainstream media the United States may as well just pack it in. We stand no chance against the Chinese juggernaut. We are in a slow, painful process of slinking our way off the world stage with our tail between our legs. Fareed Zarkaria, author of The Post-American World, and host of CNN’s GPS news program had the audacity to make his question of the week; Do you believe China is now the world’s superpower? After you read my blog post, and do your own research, I suggest you respond to Mr. Zakaria’s question at gps@cnn.com

Well, as Mark Twain may have said; the news of our death is greatly exaggerated. It seems in the rush to stir the pot and keep people glued to the tube; they’ve chosen not to review the facts.

The United States has, by far, the largest economy in the world. According to World Bank figures, our gross domestic product in 2008 was over $14.2 trillion. China’s was $4.3 trillion. They were third, behind the U.S., and Japan. At number eleven on the list, Canada, our wonderful neighbor to the north, had a GDP in 2008 one-tenth the size of the United States. Our GDP was almost three times the size of #2 on the list, Japan.

When you look at the CIA Fact Book figures for 2008 per capita Gross Domestic Product, the rankings are even more interesting. The United States comes in tenth, at $47,500. China comes in one hundred thirty-third, at $6,000.

Not surprisingly, United Nations manufacturing output data has the United States and China ranked at numbers 1 & 2. The surprise however, is that the United States manufacturing output is nearly twice the size of China’s. Our annual manufacturing output has risen over $800 billion since 1990! This is more than the entire annual output of fourth-ranked global manufacturing powerhouse, Germany. (Time, May, 2009)

When it comes to military spending the United States has no peer. We spend more on our military than the next forty-five countries combined. We spend forty-eight percent of the world’s total amount spent on defense per year. We spend almost six times more than China does on their military, and ten times more than Russia. Our ability to project military power is not matched by any other power on earth.

If you look at strategic weapons, which are nuclear bombs deliverable atop intercontinental ballistic missiles, the United States maintains over seven thousand. China is estimated to have twenty strategic nuclear weapons. Total nukes, including tactical and spare puts the U.S. over ten thousand five-hundred, and China just over four hundred.

There are any number of statistics I could quote here to qualify my point that the United States is still an economic and military superpower. We in the United States have nothing to fear from China’s amazing rise from poverty. The global economy, and geopolitical affairs are not zero sum issues. We do not lose because China pulls hundreds of millions of their citizens out of poverty. The most dramatic eradication of poverty in the history of humankind.

Instead of fearing China’s rise we should welcome it. We should look forward to selling our products into their market of 1.2 billion people. We should welcome a partner to help share the burden of policing the unpolice-able. We should partner with them to develop the green technologies that will help all of us live in a world that has many more people living in urban centers, driving many more cars than anybody ever imagined.

As you know I am a realist. As China’s economy continues to grow, so will their influence. We have witnessed that, especially since the economic crash of September 2008. It used to be a given that our system, capitalism, was the way to run your economy. After the crash, and China’s relative stability during and after it, many in the world are not so sure it is the only way.

As China’s influence grows there is very likely going to be issues we do not agree with them on. There will be areas where our national interests collide. With a population four times the size of the United States, China’s GDP will eventually surpass that of ours. Many believe this could occur as soon as 2020. China may even surpass our per capita GDP at some point in the future.

So the same people who labeled the United States a hyperpower in 2001 are now saying the sky is falling. The ones who designated the post-Soviet era a uni-polar moment for the United States are now digging our geopolitical grave. My suggestion is to relax. Take a deep breath.

Do not let the media make up your mind on this issue. Do your own research. Book a trip to China and witness history there yourself. Don’t let ill-informed career politicians make decisions for us, the people, that put us on a path toward conflict with China. Do not allow those with a vested interest in those hundreds of billions of dollars in defense spending convince you that China is the next boogeyman. Do your research, make up your mind, and make your voice heard!

We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.

 

U.S. Pacific Commander Optimistic

Indispensible Presence

Indispensible Presence

 

GlobalWonk recently had the great fortune to meet Admiral Timothy J. Keating, Commander, United States Pacific Command. CINCPAC for us old timers. He gave a briefing on security in his area of responsibility for the President’s Council at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.

First, he is a very engaging speaker. Being a naval aviator, and forty plus years in the service gives you quite a bit of experience to draw upon when public speaking. He is due to retire in October. He will do well on the speaking circuit. I hope to have him attend a future GlobalWonk event and participate in the discussion.

He made a comment that gave me, as a veteran of the Army, goosebumps. He said that since he entered the Naval Academy all those years ago, all he has worn during his professional life was this, and he gestures to the immaculate uniform he is wearing, “the cloth of our nation”.

Admiral Keating ran down the thirty-six countries in his area of responsibility. Providing a SITREP on each. Japan, China, North Korea. He stated that in all the official visits he has made to heads-of-state, ministers, and military chiefs in the region; he receives one consistent message. The United States is an “indispensable presence” in maintaining stability in the region.

On North Korea he is confident the U.S. military has the capacity to prevent missiles from reaching U.S. territories, or harming allies in the region. He said that there is no planning currently underway for a military option in the nuclear standoff with the DPRK. I communicated to him my belief, from my visit to North Korea in September 2008, that occupying North Korea would make Afghanistan, or Iraq, look like a picnic in comparison. The people of North Korea live a life Americans can hardly imagine, and are raised from childhood to revile us. As I had recently spent five days in-country, he was interested in my perspective. I think we both agreed that a military option in North Korea should be one of last resort.

He is impressed with the strength of the U.S./Japan alliance. He mentioned that it would have been unimaginable just ten years ago to think that a nuclear powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. George Washington, would be stationed in Japanese waters.

His most interesting comments regarded China. He feels that the United States military does not see China as a threat. He says that they welcome, and encourage China to take a more active role in the security, and stability of the region. He made it clear that we do this at a pace they are comfortable with. He thought it would be many years before China would be capable of projecting military force beyond their immediate shores. He stated that he did not believe that was their intentions at this point.

I thought it was refreshing to hear these comments from a military commander of his stature. When I left the military in 1992 all I remember hearing was that the Soviets were gone, and China was the next near peer to worry about.

I hope for all of us, and our children, that this is true. As we know, the relationship between the United States and China, or Chimerica, as Niall Ferguson has dubbed it, can go either way.

Complex and Beautiful

Complex an Beautiful

Complex and Beautiful

 GlobalWonk came upon this tree in the Emperor’s Garden in the Forbidden City. It’s gnarled branches analogous to the complex relationship between the United States and China. There will be twists and turns. It will not always be pretty. But, if the roots are solid, and it is nurtured properly, it will live on for generations to come.

As China’s wealth and influence grow, our interests will collide. Now is the time to nurture, and strengthen the roots of our relationship. To accomplish this we must promote understanding and exchange between our people.

What will you do to make this happen in your community? Reach out to your local members of Congress. Tell them your thoughts on these issues. Get with the school board. Does a local university have a China program you can tap into for content, or volunteers, for developing a cultural awareness program in your primary schools?

In a decade it could be your child manning battle stations on a warship. Loading armaments onto fighter planes, or aligning the sites of their rifle center mass on the silhouette of a counterpart from China. If we choose to do nothing, ten years hence we will wonder what could have been.

Phenom Obama

America's New First Family

America's New First Family

When I first became aware of Barack Obama he reminded me of Bobby Kennedy. Young, energetic, very bright. More than that, they both seem to me to have been men supremely suited to their times. The assassination of RFK robbed us of the man with the best opportunity to bridge the racial divide in 1968. His impassioned speech to the crowd in Indianapolis on the night Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated cemented his singular ability to bring us together. He shared the pain of losing a brother to a white assassin’s bullet. He urged the crowd not to give in to revenge and hatred. In just two months, he himself would lie mortally wounded in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel. His life’s blood flowing from a gun shot wound to the head.

President-Elect Barack Obama is a man suited for his time. He has always superbly handled opportunity. When given one he has consistently knocked it out of the park. He has done so at Harvard, in the race for the Senate, his 2004 convention speech, the presidential election, and as a father (his daughters are by all accounts little gems).

It would be a tragedy of incomprehensible proportions for the United States were something to happen to this man before he has the chance to apply his many talents to the troubles we face domestically and abroad. Knowing the training and professionalism of the United States Secret Service personnel charged with his safety; I rest easier, knowing how hard they will work to ensure he has the opportunity to do so.

I began to think about the 2008 election. How historic it was. Hillary, Barack, and Sarah. All firsts of one sort or another. How in the hell did a black man with the name Barack Hussein Obama not only obtain his party’s nomination, but actually get elected to the highest office in the land? Some say the most powerful office in the world.

Now, I don’t profess to have insider information. There will be books written for years on this election. On Obama’s campaign. I would like to point out my thoughts on why, in 2008, Barack Obama was deemed electable by a majority of American voters.

First some background. I was born on the South Side of Chicago. The “South Side Irish” from a neighborhood called Roseland. It lies more than one hundred city blocks south of The Loop, or downtown Chicago. In 1970, when black people began moving into Roseland, my parents, and their parents, moved from the city to the south suburbs of Chicago.

Blacks brought crime and drugs, we were told. Black kids beat up my brother and stole his bicycle, I was told. Blacks meant our home would sell for less if we waited too long, we were told.

The N-word was not something we thought about much. It was used all the time. From my earliest memories that is how people in my life described black people to me. That N-word at work. The N-word on the corner. Those N-words on welfare…. I truly believed all black people were on welfare when I was a child.

These migrations, or emigrations from the city to the suburbs became known as “White Flight”. When the first black family bought a home in the neighborhood the stampede began. You didn’t want to be the last person to sell your house. It was kind of like being the one left without a chair when the music stopped. My parents would take flight again just thirteen years later. Relocating from the South Suburbs to the Brighton Park neighborhood of Chicago.

This is the background in which I developed. When I went to high school black kids were bussed from other towns into our school. White kids from our school were sent out of town to their school. Neither wanted to be relocated. Being at the sharp end of a social experiment created friction. Friction led to fighting. These situations played out across many suburbs of America in the late seventies and early eighties.

I graduated High School and joined the United States Army. I was immediately thrown into a world where black and white blurred. You didn’t care what color the guy was that had your back, as long as he was Army green. I was led by black soldiers, and I was given the opportunity to lead. In short, I was freed from the ignorance of the environment I was brought up in.

I had children very young. I consciously brought them up not to see color. They lived in multi-cultural environments with military families of all types. They had white friends, black friends, and Hispanic friends. The N-word was not used in our home.

How did Barack become electable? He became electable because people in America changed their mindset. Over a period of a generation or so, Gen X’ers became educated and rejected the institutional racism of previous generations. They also raised their children, who became of voting age in the 2008 election, not to see color first. We did not indoctrinate our children into a culture of racial distrust or hatred.

So the question becomes; How in the hell does this apply to China? Well, I believe it does in a very big way. I believe we need to change the mindset of the American public on their views on China. I believe we need to do this quickly before the United States and China get themselves on a collision course with destiny.

So how do we change this mindset? We do it in the same way we did it on race. Expose your children to Chinese people and culture. Replace stereotypes with positive experiences. Teach your children not to distrust. GlobalWonk will be focusing on opportunities to educate Chinese and American people, particularly our youth, on the many positive aspects of our respective cultures.

You can start today with your own family. Read your child a book about China. Take them on a trip to Chinatown in a city near you. Introduce them to Chinese friends and associates. Get involved with their school and get culture on the curriculum. Talk to your local representatives of government and share your concerns with them.

The opportunity to prevent these same children, our children, from fighting a war with the Chinese twenty years from now, presents itself now. What are you going to do to make a difference?

The Dear Leader and I…..

 

GlobalWonk arrives in the Hermit Kingdom - 9.9.2008

GlobalWonk arrives in the Hermit Kingdom - 9.9.2008

 

Reports out of Japan indicate North Korea intends to make an “important announcement” on October 20th, 2008. Many believe it may be related to Kim Jong IL’s health, or some type of change in the government.

GlobalWonkwas in the DPRK for their 60th anniversary in September. The only word that accurately describes the experience is surreal. The government is a thugocracy. The only people with a decent standard of living are the Dear Leader and his lackeys. Everyone else lives in the 17th century.

The entire society is based upon a cult of personality created by Kim IL Song (with help from his Stalinist Soviet sponsors) after World War II. They completely manufactured heroic deeds the Great Leader performed in his nearly single-handed routing of the Imperialist Japanese. If you don’t believe it, just check out the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang. It is larger than the one in Paris, France, and is dedicated to Kim IL Song’s victory in defeating the Japanese. When you ask your guide/agents when and where the Japanese surrendered to Kim IL Song, they have no answer. I asked if they ever heard about the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I asked them if they ever heard that the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Powers on the U.S.S. Missouri in Tokyo Bay. They simply look at you in disbelief. The North Koreans have their own version of history.

The government is paranoid. Your passport is confiscated the moment you step foot in the country. All cell phones are collected at the airport and kept until you depart. You are not allowed to bring GPS equipment into the country.

I had two guides/agents that followed me everywhere. They told you what you could/could not take pictures of. You could only take photos at the designated tourist sites, all homages to the Great Leader, President Kim IL Song. They arranged your meals. They booked your hotel room and checked you into your room. They are the first people you see each morning and the last each night. They followed you everywhere. The hotel for outsiders is on an island in the middle of the Taedong River to help segregate you from the populace. You could not leave the hotel on your own. You were advised not to talk to any citizens.

The most stark contrast was drawn while visiting Dandong, China. Dandong is situated just north of the DPRK on the Yalu River. I was there during the Harvest Moon Festival. China and North Korea used to be connected by a bridge, built by the Japanese durring their occupation of Manchuria and Korea. The United States bombed the bridge during the Korean War (1951 I believe) and dropped the south side into the Yalu.

Today the north side of the bridge has been repainted by the Chinese. It is covered in neon and other bright lights and has become a tourist attraction. I believe they call it the “bridge to nowhere”. You pay a few Yuan and can walk to the southern end of the bridge to look at the concrete platforms/pilings that used to support the bridge on it’s path into Korea. The steel is long gone.

The contrast between the bustling, frenetic Chinese society and that of the DPRK is most distinct at night. The northern, Chinese city of Dandong is brilliantly lit and vibrant. The other side of the river lays dark. In supposedly the fourth largest city in North Korea, scarcely a single light is lit. It is surreal.

We know from the example of their bretheren in the south that the Korean people are industrious and intelligent. I personally witnessed how hard they work day-to-day to survive in the north. The fact they do in spite of governmental neglect is testament to their aheer will and tenacity.

For the sake of these poor souls I sincerely hope we get some good news on Monday. Let’s hope it leads to the opening of their society. Let’s hope it leads to direct foreign investment that will help them modernize and bring the collective standard of living to acceptable twenty-first century levels.

More DPRK reflections coming soon….

Perspective

Is perception reality?

 

Each of us have a lense through which we view our world. We each have a filter that outside information must pass through as we process, and attempt to understand it. These lenses and filters are the product of our experience. I have become very interested in understanding the perspective of the “other guy” as it pertains to U.S. foreign policy.

One of the most cherished ideals of the collective American psyche is revering freedom. We champion it at every opportunity. It is a founding tenet of our representative democracy.

Do others, in different societies, with disparate experiences, crave our definition of freedom? Is it fair to project our perspective onto others?

How does the average Chinese person feel about democracy? Freedom? Do they crave stability over freedom? Even if that means an autocratic government? A prominent University of Chicago scholar, and a Dean at a major University, both Chinese, expressed this very notion to me. It is hard for someone that grew up in America to wrap our mind around that. Give me Liberty, or give me Death! Remember?

Do we really expect Russia not to be concerned when NATO is knocking on it’s doorstep? How about putting a missile shield in former satellite countries? Wouldn’t we be concerned if Russia were doing the same?

How are our actions perceived by others in the world? Extending a missile defense system into Eastern Europe makes sense to us. It keeps us safe by extending a protective shield further, and further out from our shores. Distance equals reaction time. Pretty simple stuff, right?

Well, what if you are Russian? Your empire imploded back in 1991. You are still licking your wounds from that one. The United States has not exactly been humble in it’s triumph over the Soviet Union in the Cold War. Most of your former satellites aspire to membership in NATO, or are on friendly terms with the U.S. Some are even talking about allowing U.S. missile defense technology on their territory. How would you perceive these actions? Would you be concerned about U.S. unilateralism?

I plan to spend some time researching these issues in the coming months. Understanding each other’s perspective is key to developing win-win propositions. If we are going to prevent future conflict, we need to fully understand how other countries perceive themselves, and how they interpret our actions.

To the Beat of a Different Drummer…

Drum Circle

I approached from the north. It squatted low on the horizon as it came into view, nearly disappearing against the gray November sky. It is not a friendly looking building. Lots of concrete, very few windows.

I parked in an adjacent multi-level concrete parking garage and walked across the street into the hardened facility. After walking through a metal detector, and presenting my identification, I was introduced to my host. He was a tall, thin man. Aged about forty-five years. He greeted me with a broad smile and a firm handshake. We began our journey by navigating through a man-trap. Two secured doors monitored by armed men. You pass through one at a time. The first door fully secures behind you before the second is opened.

As the second door opened a strong odor of industrial strength ammonia invaded my sinuses. The familiar military-issue looking green tile, florescent lighting, and white concrete block walls screamed; INSTITUTION. You could practically feel the bureaucracy choking you. Things did not happen fast in here.

We walked through the empty corridors. Not passing another soul. We entered what looked like a public school classroom. There were about twenty-five classroom chairs arranged in a circle. Large drums, and other percussion instruments were stacked in the middle of the circle. We took our seats spaced evenly around the circle.

We started to hear a commotion in the hallway. It grew louder as it came closer to our room. It sounded similar to troops marching around an Army base in formation. They entered our room quickly. I was taken aback by how young they looked. These were kids! I immediately noticed something else. They were all Hispanic or African-American. There was not a white face among them.

They were horsing around with each other, as boys will do, as they took their chairs. They kept their heads down. Careful not to make eye contact with us. They were clearly familiar with, and very respectful of, our host. Each had a hardened look on their face. A shield used to help them survive their ordeal here.

Our host introduced us to the young men. They in turn told us their names. If you’ve never been in a drumming circle, or a circle of any type, there are rules you must follow. There is traditionally a talking stick, or rock, or something the speaker holds while it is their turn to talk. You can only talk when you have the talking stick. You must listen intently when it is not your turn to talk. You speak your mind, then pass the talking stick to the next person.

After introductions, our host asked us to each respond to a serious question. We went around the room taking turns answering it. These were deep questions. About love, fear, and death. Pride, loyalty, respect, and family. What it meant to be a man.

We would go around the circle to share our feelings about the question asked. Then our leader asked everyone to pick up a drum, or other percussion instrument. We began to play our drums. We started softly at first. Feeling each other out a bit. As we became more comfortable and our guard came down, the noise grew louder.

As we pounded the taught skins of the drums harder you could see the kid coming out in these guys. Big, broad smiles broke out. We laughed. You could feel the entire room synching into a rhythm. One person would lead the group in a beat, then someone across the room would pick up the tempo and lead for a period of time. We went back and forth like that for some time. We soaked up the fellowship of the music. It was very uplifting.

We went back and forth. Talking and sharing, then drumming. It was quite an experience. I was surprised how emotional they got so quickly. Almost as if they yearned for any emotional intimacy with another human being. We told each other things I haven’t shared with the closest of friends or family members. There was a sense of urgency in our communications. I had a strange feeling of wanting to impart whatever wisdom I could in this small window of opportunity. I wanted to give them another chance at their childhood. I wanted to tell them not to give up on life. They could be redeemed. Life was not over for them….

They shared a perspective on life that most Americans can not understand. These kids thought about their mortality every single day. When you were nine, or ten years old, how often did you think about your own death? These kids lived with death every day. Close friends gunned down on the street. Brothers murdered. They knew where to go in their neighborhood to find a drop gun to take care of business if someone threatened them.

This is going to sound like a stereotype, but it what these young men communicated to me. Nearly to a man, they did not know their fathers. Most of their mothers were addicts or had checked out of their lives. They had no good roles models. These boys, as early as eight years old, and sometimes younger, felt they needed to turn to street crime to provide for their families. They had to be the man of the house.

While your average American pre-teen was having a sleep over with his buddies, these kids were deciding what to steal so they had something to bring home to their siblings to eat for the night. This breakdown in our society was breeding a class of young predators.

By now you have to be asking yourself; what the hell does this have to do with foreign policy? When is he going to bring this around to China? Well, we ended our evening with these kids and said our goodbyes. I had spent several hours at the juvenile detention center in a major American city. I spent that time with twenty-one boys between the ages of nine and sixteen. Half of them were murderers. The remainder had attempted murder.

This was a paradigm shift for me. I am certainly not some kumbaya singing, hemp clothing enthusiast that always sees the glass half-full. I am a realist. But seeing these young kids locked up for the rest of their lives really affected me. I immediately asked myself; how do we fix this? Should a child groomed for failure not be given a second chance? The average American only sees the crime side of this equation. The simple answer is to “lock them up and throw away the key”. This experience made me question some of my fundamental beliefs.

I tell this story here because I think it is analogous to the misunderstandings between the people of China and the United States. We think very differently about some things. We approach issues from different directions, and from different perspectives, and experiences than each other. We have vastly different histories. China is one of the oldest, greatest civilizations on earth. We are relative upstarts, that came into greatness at a very early age.

China is a great nation where many of her citizens have lived in abject poverty for over a century. It would be foolish for us not to believe that some Chinese might be jealous of our standard of living, and wish for the same for their family. Why should we not want that for them as well? Do we have to live life as a zero sum game?

At the same time there are aspects of our society that probably offend, or frighten the hell out of an average Chinese citizen. There are certainly parts of their culture we would find unusual. However, we all need to reach out and try to understand each others perspective and appreciate each others culture. Knowing, or thinking you know, only one side of an issue is a very dangerous thing. It makes it supremely easy to influence you. To make you think a certain way.

Now I’m not suggesting we all fly to Beijing with a snare drum and a set of bongos. But I do think we need to look for ways to break down the barriers that make it easy to misunderstand true intentions or motivations. As China continues to grow over the next ten years, it will become increasingly likely that our strategic interests will collide. How well we understand each other, how adept we are at reading each others signals, could be crucial. Most importantly, it is my hope, that by looking for these opportunities to communicate cross-culturally we will prevent these collisions from happening in the first place.

So let’s begin the discussion on how we can break down these barriers. Please click on the ‘Comment’ button below this post and let GlobalWonk know what your thoughts and ideas are.