Today’s South China Morning Post:
The US has adopted the so-called “One China” policy since 1972 after the Richard Nixon-Mao meetings and in 1978 President Jimmy Carter formally recognised Beijing as the sole government of China, with the US embassy closing in Taipei the year after.
“The Chinese leadership will see this as a highly provocative action, of historic proportions,” said Evan Medeiros, former Asia director at the White House national security council.
“Regardless if it was deliberate or accidental, this phone call will fundamentally change China’s perceptions of Trump’s strategic intentions for the negative. With this kind of move, Trump is setting a foundation of enduring mistrust and strategic competition for US-China relations.”
Tsai has refused to accept the concept of “One China,” prompting Beijing to cut off all official communication with the island’s new government.
I can’t claim to be even close to an “expert” on most things, but on this I am probably closer to an expert than 99.999% of the people who will read about this in the news in the US, so I’ll spew some quick thoughts. Taken by itself Trump’s call to Taiwan’s president is pretty much like spraying a stream of lighter fluid on an open flame. I think from Trump’s side, there are two possible interpretations of this: 1) he didn’t know what this would mean to Beijing or 2) he had an idea that it would be hugely inflammatory and did it more or less intentionally. If it’s the former, then it is a perfect example of the kind of thing people opposed to him were saying before the election: “Do you want a crazy guy who tweets crazy stuff in the middle of the night to have access to nuclear weapons?” If it’s the latter, then it may well be an example of what we’ve seen from Trump on more than one occasion: staking out an aggressive opening position from which he can then make concessions to end up “winning” (so much you’ll get tired of all the winning).”
I suspect (but only suspect) that it’s the latter. The problem is that, in the US political sphere, Trump has had success after success applying this strategy to people who are playing a different kind of game from him. By breaking the rules of a very constrained style of political rhetoric, he has consistently outflanked his political opponents: He starts out seeming unreasonable because he says things he’s “not supposed to say,” then retreats to a reasonable middle ground and ends up looking good, especially to people who rebel against the constraints on political speech that have become commonplace in our culture.
In the context of relations with Beijing, he’s dealing with a completely different set of rhetorical and political rules. The tenor of political rhetoric in China would make the most U.S.-nationalist opinion journalism found on Breitbart (much less Fox) look like a gentle essay at Vox or Salon on the contributions of transgender people of color to visual culture. Jingoistic nationalism in China has already been ramped up to “11.” Nationalism is the primary — at times only — foundation of the Communist Party’s legitimacy. Over the last ten years every kind of “China watcher” — from people like me to academics to professional diplomats — have noted how the Party has encouraged an increasingly virulent and aggressive tone of nationalist language in both official media and in the carefully-curated and censored world of Chinese public online society. At times this has seemed to get a bit out of control from the Party’s point of view, and they’ve had to throttle it back. But one interesting thing is that the quasi-official army of online “activists” the Party uses in their media management actually tend to have better tools for accessing news outside the Great Firewall than the average Chinese internet user. They tend to have better and more functional VPNs and often will see news stories from otherwise censored foreign media outlets that “normal” internet users won’t see. So it’s likely that, even if the Party wanted to let this particular story go, it will leak into the mainstream of Chinese political discussion. It will be interesting to see if this is how it gets out into the Chinese internet, or if the Party doesn’t even try to control this story.
In any case, Beijing has been playing Trump’s game all along. One of the ways they have learned to intimidate their neighbors in East and Southeast Asia is to have a minor diplomatic incident “go wild” in the environment of nationalist discussion on the Chinese internet, and then basically face off some smaller regional country by taking the position that, unless concessions are made, “things could get out of control.” On a strictly legal basis, their territorial claims in the South China Sea are wildly overstated — again, as an opening position from which they can make “compromises” so that other countries can feel like they avoided a catastrophe by little by little ceding their rights. Of course, against “reasonable” opponents who mistake words and moral posturing for actions, but whose overall behavior signals that they will never risk a real fight, this has proved to be a very effective strategy. (Not naming names here.)
In purely game-theoretic terms, we don’t know how things will develop when both sides are playing the same strategy. Read the rest of this entry »
Byron York writes:
…In the most recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 73 percent of registered voters said the country is on the wrong track, while just 18 percent said it is headed in the right direction. The 73 percent figure is the second-highest in the president’s nearly eight years in office.
The poll was no outlier. These are the wrong-track numbers for the last ten polls in the RealClearPolitics average of polls: 67, 70, 67, 71, 73, 69, 79, 68, 60 and 66.
And yet, in spite of clear evidence that a majority of Americans believe the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction, the president exhorted the nation, “Thank you for this incredible journey — let’s keep it going.”
Obama spoke as if broad areas of American life are better than ever, even if there remains work to be done. Read the rest of this entry »
Here’s a clue: The history of the 100 years before 1949 is taught in mainland Chinese schools with the explicit curriculum title of “The Century of Humiliation.” I have described how China’s history over the time since the 1840s is perceived as a comic book story of a superhero who was transformed into a weakling by the villain, but has now regained his superpowers. EVERYTHING is perceived as “getting even.”
Westerners who don’t specialize in the world I now inhabit can’t imagine the absolutely rabid nationalism that is the mainstream default in China’s public discourse and, increasingly in private sentiment — especially among educated people. Basically the default level of nationalism makes Donald Trump look like Noam Chomsky … I am seriously not kidding.
This will be perceived as an “insult to the Chinese people.” Period. The legal and factual merits of the case will NOT be discussed in official media on the mainland (there is no other kind). Anyone who raises any kind of protest against that view online will be bullied and condemned as a traitor and agent of US imperialism.
There is ZERO chance of China accepting this. It will be lovingly placed into the treasure chest of grievances against the world (and especially the U.S.), to be taken out and paraded around on a regular basis — whenever Xi gets some bad economic news (which is all the time now).
Drudge leads with this today:
Which links to this article at the Washington Free Beacon. Basically, a Chinese official spokesman said that the US shouldn’t do anything to upset the world economic order, presumably referring to the general Chinese position that the U.S. raising tariffs as a response to China’s devaluation of the yuan would be a Bad Thing — without naming Trump as the source of this proposal. Big surprise. China’s in a very tight spot — a very, very tight spot.
Beijing has been running the money printing presses on overdrive for months, trying to pump liquidity into an economy that is turning to thick sludge while, at the same time it’s been springing leaks left and right in terms of capital flight. In other words, the brilliant minds who make Chinese economic policy (once so beloved by Paul Krugman and the other geniuses at the New York Times) have had to ditch their grand plan to rebalance the Chinese economy from one premised on producing cheap exports to one based on internal demand and services. This is what they’d like to be doing, by their own admission. But the boat not only won’t steer, it’s sinking.
To the extent there is any demand out there at all for Chinese exports (and, compared to just a year ago, there’s not much), continuing on the course of being an export manufacturer is the only thing that can generate foreign exchange right now and for the foreseeable future. If the Trumpocalypse were to occur and he were actually able to do the Smoot-Hawley thing, it would be a torpedo below the waterline for the Chinese economy.
So Beijing is basically saying “Hey, we’re both in the same sh!tstorm — you sink me and we both go down!” They’re probably right. But just in case we don’t get the message, there’s this: Another Piece of the Puzzle: China Builds New Radar Facilities in the Spratley Islands.
Three interesting stories from Parabolic Arc, a great site covering “New Space:”
Burt Rutan, arguably the greatest living aerospace engineer and designer of the SpaceShip One and SpaceShip Two vehicles, expresses the opinion that all the evidence is pointing to: The loss of the SpaceShip Two vehicle was due to pilot error. And here’s Bill Whittle, former aerospace journalist and now political commentator, on how things like this happen — and why they have to:
Elon Musk provides some new details on how SpaceX will recover the first stage of the Falcon 9 launch vehicle. Spoiler: It’s amazingly cool.
NEW REACTIONLESS SPACE DRIVE?
Finally, here’s an article about something I’ve been hearing about for years: A physicist who seems to have developed a true “reactionless drive,” a staple of science fiction. It’s only at the miniature demonstrations stage but, as this longer article at Boing Boing describes, the theoretical foundation for the work seems sound. Well worth reading.
According to Aviation Week, the Chinese space launch industry appears to believe that its next generation of launchers will cost more to purchase than those already being provided by SpaceX.
In other words, a product designed and manufactured entirely in the USA can beat the Chinese, who have far lower labor costs. Way to go Elon — we love you!
Here’s what we know: On its first powered flight with a new motor, Virgin galactic’s Spaceship Two had a major engine failure that resulted in loss of the vehicle. Two test pilots, names still unknown, were onboard. One died. These are the only images I’ve been able to find:
There have definitely been those in the “NewSpace” community who have criticized Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic for the way they’ve managed the development of this vehicle — pushing too fast in some areas, while making little progress in others. But it hurts to already see the kinds of criticisms begin that make me cringe: TIME already has an article up entitled “Enough With Amateur Hour Space Flight.”
Yeah — the Big Government way has done such a great job in the past: Two out of five of the space shuttle orbiters lost to preventable accidents (40% of the fleet, with a loss of 14 lives together) and the first version of the Apollo spacecraft killing three on the launch pad because it was an incinerator waiting to happen. Those are just some of the more egregious examples. There are plenty more.
It won’t surprise me if this kills Virgin Galactic. As a business and an engineering and project development enterprise, it is NOT the best of the “NewSpace” initiatives. Unfortunately, there will be plenty of idiots like the guy at TIME who will lump it all together and insist that NASA, that paragon of efficiency and safety, manage all US space activity.
The Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters had planned to have some kind of vote yesterday on how they would go forward. But they didn’t. From the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s leading English-language newspaper:
Occupy Central protesters and observers yesterday backed an 11th-hour decision to scrap a poll on the way forward for the month-old sit-in, saying the move made it easier to enter into more talks with the government.
Protest leaders announced the U-turn hours before the electronic ballot was to start at 7pm and apologised for not having sufficiently discussed with demonstrators the poll’s methodology and objectives. But shelving it did not mean they had shifted their stance or intended to end the occupation, Federation of Students secretary general Alex Chow Yong-kang said.
Some protesters had said the poll was redundant. A huge banner that called for delaying the poll was hung from an Admiralty footbridge yesterday morning.
Occupy co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting said: “The public may feel there are problems with the movement’s organisation and leadership, and we admit that … I promise that in the future, we will give sufficient notice to and discuss with protesters before making a major formal decision.”
For me, the lesson in this story is that “democracy” is not a self-executing political panacea. Democracy has a value — a high value — as ONE element of a fair and well-ordered society. But democracy can only serve its proper function as a check on the tyranny of the state when it operates within a system of well-defined and transparent laws and institutions. It is not surprising to me that the vote called by the protesters did not happen. There was no framework of law and institutional operation within which it could happen.
The smartest lawyers and statesmen in the rebel colonies worked for many months to draft the Constitution of the United States before it was finally implemented. Doing this created the framework of laws and institutions in which democracy operated as only one dynamic part of a system that was crafted after extremely careful deliberation by some of the wisest men who have ever considered these issues. The Framers of the US Constitution did their work after putting in place a temporary structure — the Articles of Confederation — to ensure a stable environment for long enough to work out the permanent “political operating system” for their country. They did not do their work in the heated stress and passion of an armed rebellion against the Crown. They first made an imperfect compromise in the Articles of Confederation to buy themselves the time they knew it would take to work out a truly well-ordered system. My advice to the protesters: study history.
“For me, the lesson in this story is that “democracy” is not a self-executing political panacea. Democracy has a value — a high value — as ONE element of a fair and well-ordered society.”
The problem, of course, is that there is no time for study. The pro-democracy protesters have been improvising and responding to the largely pro-Beijing government’s actions from the beginning. They are working from a base that is fueled by legitimate passion for liberty and fear of tyranny, but without a well-established leadership operating within a widely-recognized and accepted organizational structure.
“But democracy can only serve its proper function as a check on the tyranny of the state when it operates within a system of well-defined and transparent laws and institutions.”
In any conflict, all things being equal, the side with the more easily achieved strategic goal and the larger number of tactical options will prevail. For better or worse, in this situation, the side with both of these advantages is the pro-establishment side. For the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government, the strategic “victory condition” is maintaining the status quo, and they have a broad range of tactical options along the spectrum of patiently waiting out the protesters on one end to forcefully removing them on the other. I fear the pro-democracy side may not really realize this or, if they do, can think of no tactical response other than “keep doing what we’re doing.” Without regard to the merits of either side’s goals, this makes the pro-democracy side’s strategic and tactical position very weak. Unless they realize this and adjust their strategy and tactics accordingly, the outcome for them does not look good.
“In any conflict, all things being equal, the side with the more easily achieved strategic goal and the larger number of tactical options will prevail. For better or worse, in this situation, the side with both of these advantages is the pro-establishment side.”
This grim picture is playing itself out in a situation where the largest number of the anti-establishment protesters are high school and college students, without strong and experienced leadership that has been tested over time, and without any organizational infrastructure to support the building of strategic or tactical consensus. Unless this situation changes, it looks increasingly unlikely that the pro-democracy movement will put itself into a situation where it can achieve a real “victory.” If their only tool is a “passion for democracy,” they cannot prevail.
EXCLUSIVE: Hong Kong Democracy Demonstrations, Day 17 — The Empire (sort of) Strikes Back (Hong Kong Style)Posted: October 13, 2014
Starting this morning, Hong Kong police executed an operation to clear street barricades on Queensway Road and other major arteries in Hong Kong. It’s unclear to me how the clearing has gone in Causeway Bay and on Nathan Road on the Kowloon side. But in the Admiralty district immediately in front of my office, I’ve been taking periodic trips downstairs to see and photograph the police work methodically all morning and into the afternoon to push protesters back out of the road and systematically dismantle and clear the barricades they had built.
I saw NO violence. The vast majority of the police wore empty holsters — only very senior officers carried their sidearms. No riot weapons (shotguns, tear gas grenade launchers) were evident, but other riot gear was visible — small clear plastic shields and helmets (although none of the police were wearing helmets).
A few students were standing on the sidelines weeping, while others had pulled back to the barricades that protected the approaches to the main protest site in front of the government offices, a block away. Police were making no attempt to clear those barriers. During one phase of the clearing, the police formed a cordon to allow protesters to retrieve their tents and other personal items from the underpass where they’d been camping.
At one key point along Queensway, students were sitting in the streets leading to the main road. A line of police standing at the edge of Queensway faced off against this group to keep the students from moving back into the main road. As of now (1:30 PM Hong Kong time) that is the only large group of police still present on the main road. I suspect this may stay this way to keep the protesters from trying to re-block Queensway.
All of this was done in what I think of as “Hong Kong style:” Compared to anywhere else in the world (including definitely anywhere else in China), everyone was incredibly polite on both sides, there were a minimum of raised voices, and the police force was professional and outright courteous to the protesters and curious passersby and people who work in the area who had to navigate the work of barricade clearing that was underway all along the road. I saw no arrests and have heard of none. I spoke with one police officer who told me that no arrests were planned. The entire operation was very well organized and executed in a very efficient manner — typical Hong Kong.
Now the big question is how the pro-democracy demonstrators will react. Over the last week or so, they have proved themselves to be a largely leaderless movement. Will they try to move back onto the main roads and block them again? If they do, I fear they may lose significant popular support — and that the police response might not be so polite next time.
About an hour and half ago a group opposed to the pro-democracy protesters made a concerted attempt to take down the barricades on Queensway Boulevard near where I work. Hearing the commotion, I headed down and snapped some pics. After about a tense hour, the “Antis” backed down and left in groups of ten or twelve.
The talks between protest leaders and government representatives didn’t happen — the students backed out when they felt the agenda for the first meeting was to be too limited. They called for a surge in attendance at the main blockaded site in front of the government office last night, and thousands showed up. Today, I walked down to the site in the early afternoon. I sensed a relaxed atmosphere among the demonstrators, and more signs that they’re committed to the long haul, including setting up a “study hall” for kids to keep up with the school work they are missing. Also, both Asian and Western comics and cartoons are making their way into more and more of the new posters that constantly pop up around the site. Some of the images below are very clever adaptations of the iconography of American comics — something that would give hardliners in Beijing (is there any other kind now?) serious heartache if they got the jokes.
There is little true “news” from Hong Kong about the pro-democracy demonstrations. The students and others in the pro-democracy movement are being urged by supporters to get better organized before talks with the government begin tomorrow. Meanwhile, various reports have appeared in world media to the effect that there is effectively no support for the Hong Kong democracy movement on the mainland. I think these are accurate. The vast majority of Chinese have no idea what’s going on in Hong Kong other than what is spoon-fed to them by the party-approved media, and a common view of Hongkongers on the mainland is that they are “ungrateful,” unpatriotic and too influenced by Western ideas and media.
My personal opinion is that the demonstrators need to declare a tactical victory, raise the road blockades and think very hard about organizing for the long game — the very, very long game.
Meanwhile, two new signs at the blockade outside my office:
I’ve been busy with work-work and only have time for a quick update and some pics from a lunchtime walk down to the main protest site in front of the government offices. (…and no time to do translations; if you don’t read Chinese, just make something up . . .) The weather has FINALLY begun to change from broiling summer heat and humidity to the golden “Autumn” Hong Kong experiences — clear skies, relatively dry air and temperatures that would be normal in San Diego. This has taken some heat (literally) off the protesters who continue to hold their ground. Local news is reporting that “leaders” of the student movement and representatives of the government have agreed to begin talks on Friday aimed at ending the standoff. It’s hard to see what could come of them but my personal opinion is that pressure is mounting on the protesters from fear that the barricaded roads may be alienating more and more Hongkongers — especially in Kowloon on the other side of the harbor.
Last night the local press was full of reports of scuffles and fights breaking out between demonstrators and groups of men — civilians, not police — who were confronting them in the blockade of Nathan Road on the Kowloon side of the harbour. This neighborhood is far more “blue collar” than the posh areas on the island (where I live) that have been blocked. Some of those attacking the students have been confirmed to be men with “triad” backgrounds. The triads are Hong Kong organized crime gangs that are the analog of the Japanese yakuza or the US mafia. The demonstrators believe the triads have been hired by Beijing’s secret police to create provocations and bad press — to give the impression of popular opposition to the student movement. Police finally stepped in and calmed things down, but the pro-Beijing commenters are out in force on Hong Kong news websites citing the incidents as evidence of popular, grassroots opposition to the street blockades.
A Saturday stroll through the Central/Admiralty barricades to the blockaded government complex revealed significantly reinforced barriers across the roads, and a still impressive number of protesters in front of the main government building. Periodic rain squalls and a week on the streets haven’t undermined what looks like a committed core of activists who seem to give no indication of abandoning their blockades of main roads in Hong Kong.
A noon-time walk through the Central/Admiralty demonstration site in front of the main government offices revealed that the end of the National Day holiday and periodic drenching rain had thinned the crowd somewhat, but that there were still more than enough demonstrators to hold the blockade. Local news sources report that there are some talks going on through intermediaries, but there seems to be no possibility that CY Leung (the Beijing-approved Hong Kong head of government) will resign as the protesters have demanded, nor that Beijing will modify its ruling that candidates for chief executive elections to be held in 2017 will have to be nominated by a body that Beijing will control. At this point it is hard to see how the demonstrators can stand down without seeming to have been defeated. Yet it also seems that many in the city are tiring of the disruptions caused by the barricades across three key roadways in a place where limited space means that there are few, if any, alternative routes.
The leading English language paper in Hong Kong is reporting that “leaders” of the student demonstrators have set a deadline of tomorrow for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive (basically, the governor), C.Y. Leung, to resign. If he doesn’t, they say they’ll start to “occupy” government buildings:
I assume that if this happens, things may well turn ugly again, as they did on the first night when riot police fired tear gas into the crowd and sprayed the students with pepper spray.
But tonight, in the middle of the two-day National Day holiday (ironically, celebrating the 65th anniverary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China), the crowds at the Central/Admiralty district site swelled and an almost carnival-like atmosphere prevailed:
At noon today I walked through the site of the demonstrations and street blockades in front of the central government offices. There were slightly fewer people there than at the same time yesterday, but they seemed better organized and definitely better provisioned. Below are some of the signs I encountered.