25 July 2009

Q&A with Gordon Chang

(From RealClearWorld)

Gordon Chang is a columnist for Forbes and author of The Coming Collapse of China (2001) and Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World (2006). He spoke with RealClearWorld about the escalating tensions with these two countries on the forefront of America's foreign policy agenda.

RCW: What are the long-term consequences of China's ethnic crisis?

Chang: The important aspect of the Xinjiang riots is that it shows the Communist Party doesn't have the ability to sustain their current policies with respect to China's minorities. We saw that last year when Tibet exploded in violence in March, and it's the same dynamic today. Their policy is unsustainable, abhorrent and terrible, but it also undermines the regime in that it has to divert so many needed resources to deal with these problems.

We have to remember that China remains a regime with Leninist pretensions. It's no longer a Maoist totalitarian state, but an authoritarian one. In the absence of the rule of law, it seeks to control too much. It's always worrying about its legitimacy, so even in good times it's creating enemies for itself. It's not just that the nature of the Chinese state has changed, but it's changed because the policies of the Communist Party have changed. This is the ultimate paradox.

RCW: In The Coming Collapse of China, you predicted its destruction would come from an economic meltdown. How well is China handling the financial crisis?

Chang: The weakness of the Chinese economy is that it's export-dominated, which accounts for 38-42 percent of its GDP. With developed countries not being able to purchase Chinese goods at the rate that they had been in the past, you'll see a continued decline in the Chinese economy. In essence, the Chinese leaders can do everything right and yet they still don't control their own destiny. And that's a problem you see in all the export-dependent economies, such as Russia, Iran, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Germany.

China has decided to try its own stimulus program in which they are trading short-term growth for long-term decline. Whereas when China opened up in December 1978, they grew their economy by developing a private sector. Now they're going in the opposite direction: renationalizing industries, choking off China's engine of growth and creating bad loans. They're going down the wrong path.

RCW: Will China come to blows with the U.S., either economically or militarily?

Chang: From the economic point of view, the free ride for China is over. China and the U.S. are de-linking because we're buying fewer goods and they're buying less treasury notes. We've basically had a one-way trade policy during the Bush and even Clinton years. But Obama can't continue business as usual, because if he wants another 4-year term, he can't just ignore the labor unions and the rust belt states by not enforcing our trade rights. And by doing that we'll probably trigger protectionist retaliations around the world, and with its economy so dependent on trade, China will be the biggest victim.

As far as the military, I don't foresee a conflict with China, but that's not to say that's never a possibility. At the present time we're giving China a wide berth when it comes to naval maneuvers, and that in itself actually creates more danger because China has become more aggressive. The more likely scenario (for an armed conflict) may come from China's actions against our allies, particularly Japan. Chinese submarines routinely violate Japanese territorial waters. If Japan decides to take a resolute measure and change its posture and engage in a firefight, who knows what's going to happen.

RCW: What about China's ties with Russia, are they on an upswing?

Chang: China and Russia have a very curious relationship. They're closer now than they have been yet they're still deeply antagonistic. Right now, their perceived interests coincide as the two largest authoritarian powers are banding together - that's why a U.S. alliance with India makes much more sense. I can see another bipolar cleavage developing with competition once again between the hardline authoritarian states against the democracies.

RCW: How and when will China collapse?

Chang: I don't know when it's going to happen, but I do think their political system is unsustainable and it will fail soon. The question is, what would happen to China's territories? I think Taiwan will be recognized as an independent state and a vibrant democracy as it already is. The Uighurs and Tibetans might escape the Chinese tent. There will be a lot of complications for the succession government.

RCW: Do we really want China to collapse, or is it perhaps better to deal with the devil you know?

Chang: These days, when people in Washington are calling Beijing, sometimes the phone gets answered and sometimes it doesn't. In the future, there might be nobody at the other end of the phone. You could have one solution, where you have a gradual revolution, with a representative government and a free market system. But on the other hand, you could have a much more hardline state, even worse than today. Or, you could have no state or a weak state, with chaos and turmoil. The Chinese people will eventually get it right, but it could be years, decades or centuries. If you look back in Chinese history, there is little optimism. I don't see a Chinese Gorbachev or a Yeltsin.

That said, the devil we know is not good enough. It's completely unacceptable. The next devil could be worse, but our only goal can't just be stability. We now have a (Chinese) government that's moving in all the wrong directions, a government more hostile, aggressive and assertive. Our relationship is becoming less constructive and it's not something we want to preserve. In some ways, we have encouraged Beijing to be less responsible and responsive. We created perverse policy incentives for them to behave this way.

RCW: How much pull does China have on North Korea?

Chang: China supplies 90% of North Korea's oil and 80% of its consumer goods. It's North Korea's only formal military ally and their only backer in international councils. That gives China a lot of pull. But either they don't exercise that pull by not making requests all the time, or North Korea is defying China. The U.S. needs to change its posture with respect to North Korea - China won't do the right thing because doesn't want to or maybe it can't. Plan B is for us to work with our allies to deal with North Korea rather than with a potential adversary (China).

: What is the endgame for North Korea?

Chang: That's a great question and no one has an answer for that. The only thing we know for sure is that there will be a transition soon. Kim Jong-il is in failing health and he won't last too long. We'll either see his 26-year-old son be his successor or purely as a figurehead. The thing is, Kim Il-sung spent two decades to groom his son to succeed him and Kim Jong-il spent not two years, and maybe just two months on his son.

Unless Kim lives another 10 years - which is doubtful - then his son doesn't have a chance (to actually assume leadership). The real issue is which military faction wins the power struggle, the ones who are favorable to Beijing or the ones who aren't? Kim (Jong-il) spent years purging the China-friendly generals but when he goes, the pro-China faction might reassert itself.

RCW: What are the best- and worst-case scenarios for North Korea?

: The worst case is simple, another war on the Korean Peninsula, maybe even a nuclear one. Remember, North Korea and South Korea have skirmishes all the time. During the crabbing season, North Korean patrol boats are in South Korean waters frequently. One of those times might be one provocation too many. Or a minor shooting incident at the DMZ escalating into something much more than that. North Korea is inherently aggressive, but the new South Korean president Lee Myung-bak is less willing to put up with crap (than his predecessors).

Another possibility is that Kim or his successor gets desperate and decides to start a war. I'm not saying it's going to happen, but the odds are higher than generally expected. It may happen in ways that truly surprise us.

RCW: How did you get into China, North Korea and East Asian politics? Aren't you a lawyer by trade?

Chang: When I practiced law, I worked in Shanghai in 1996. At that time, I wasn't terribly into politics. I had a positive view of China. I remember my wife calling back to the States talking to her mother, saying, "Mom, China is not a communist country anymore." But after living there, working there and traveling there, we saw a different side of China that changed our perception. After writing The Coming Collapse of China, I began to learn about China's relationship with North Korea - it's got to be the oddest bilateral relationship in the world. To me, North Korea is a very consequential country in world affairs.

I now write and speak because I feel very passionately about these issues. I think the world has the wrong perception of China. We live in dangerous times, and even minor events, if we mishandle them or because we don't comprehend them, can make things a lot worse.

09 July 2009

Chinese Nationalism Begets Chinese Racism

(From RealClearWorld)

Call it ethnic cleansing, with Chinese characteristics.

For the past two decades, China’s communist mandarins have sought the use of nationalism to offset their dubious legitimacy. In turning every Chinese misstep into a foreign affront, the regime has successfully created a sense of “China Uber Alles,” to borrow a phrase from a long-departed regime.

The side effect of the newly fashioned Chinese nationalism is a virulent strand of Chinese racism. To be more exact, the Han Chinese racism.

The Han race dominates the Chinese world in every way imaginable. They may be rich or poor. They may speak Cantonese or Mandarin. They may hail from Shanghai or Taipei or Los Angeles. But they draw their blood from the same ancestral source.

Because China proper has a mostly homogeneous population, the issue of race or ethnicity has rarely been a topic worthy of discussion. The Han race last galvanized itself in the 19th century to drive the ruling Manchus out of China. Once the Qing Dynasty was vanquished in 1911, the book on race relations in China was closed.

Until now.

After winning the Civil War in 1949, the Chinese Communists have strived to maintain China’s territorial integrity, especially after numerous border clashes with the Soviet Union, India and Vietnam. To secure those border hinterlands in the People’s Republic’s vast western territories, the government invested in a policy to place more reliable elements into those potentially troublesome regions.

It’s a settlement regimen that makes Israel’s look like child’s play.

Han Chinese flooded into Tibet and Xinjiang (literally meaning “New Territories") in the years after the People’s Liberation Army marched in to take control. The government enticed the Han Chinese to move thousands of miles away from the country's heartland with promises of jobs, status and a bright future. Tired of the crowded rat race in cities like Beijing, Guangzhou and Wuhan, many took the offer to head west.

The result is one of the world’s biggest population shifts since Germans were expelled from Eastern Europe at the end of World War II. In 1949, Han Chinese accounted for just 5% of Xinjiang’s population. Today, they are up to 41%, soon to eclipse the native Uighur Muslims’ 45%. Urumqi, the modern capital city dotted by skyscrapers, is dominated by the Han Chinese, who comprise over 75% of the 2.5 million population.

The successful settlement of Han population in Xinjiang underscores the importance of the region to the regime. While Tibet gets more attention from abroad, Xinjiang is more critical to China.

More than twice the size of Texas, Xinjiang sits on the old Silk Road, a land rich with resources such as natural gas and oil. It houses China’s nuclear weapons facilities. Its frontier is guarded by the towering Tian Shan mountain range, shielding China from its unstable Central Asian neighbors.

As with Tibet, Xinjiang is nominally an “autonomous region,” but that designation is as miscast as “People’s Republic.” The native Uighurs are kept away from the levers of power, which of course are supervised by Beijing. In fact, despite being as far as 3,000 miles away, all of Xinjiang (and all of China) is on Beijing time.

Beyond moving in Han Chinese to insure a loyal populace, the other part of the “ethnic cleansing” involves moving the Uighurs out of Xinjiang. Thousands of native Uighurs (many of them women) have been shipped out of their native land to take jobs in China proper. Ostensibly, it was to provide them with better pay and future, exactly what’s promised the Han Chinese in Xinjiang.

This week’s troubles started not in Xinjiang, but in Guangdong, where the displaced Uighur factory workers were involved in a brawl with the local Han Chinese population. When the Uighurs organized to protest in Urumqi, they were met with angry Han Chinese mobs, who outnumber them, 5-1, in the capital of the ironically named “Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.”

It’s abundantly clear, from last year’s riots in Lhasa to this week’s in Urumqi, that many Han Chinese have developed a keen sense of their own racial superiority.

The one phrase frequently heard from the average Chinese man on the street is “ungrateful." Put another way: Those backward minorities ought to appreciate all the modern infrastructure and improved living standards bestowed them by the Han Chinese, instead of making trouble.

There was a time when racial harmony was a highly cherished concept in the People’s Republic. Mao Zedong promoted class struggle, but demanded benevolence (at least in name) toward the minorities. China’s Reminbi currency made a point to feature all sorts of racial minorities in their various native costumes.

But that was when everybody was being repressed and oppressed in China. Now that China is bigger, stronger, and richer than ever, taking care of these minorities’ grievances isn’t much of a priority.

In fact, these grievances are met not with shrugs, but fists, sticks and guns – and not just from the cops and soldiers. Call it racism with Chinese characteristics.

06 July 2009

China's Other Powder Keg Erupts

(From RealClearWorld)

The ethnic riots in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region has so far claimed 140 lives with 800-plus injured, according to official figures. In reality, those numbers could be much higher.

The majority Uighurs in the Xinjiang region, in China's far-flung northwest corner, have resented the hardline rule of the Chinese Communists and the growing influx of ethnic Han Chinese since the People's Liberation Army entered the area in 1949. The latest incident began as a group of Uighur students protested Chinese discrimination against ethnic minorities.

According to the South China Morning Post, the leading English-language newspaper in Hong Kong, the origins of the events that led to the protest may have been fanned by an internet hoax:
Provincial police yesterday detained a man accused of spreading false rumours of rape over the internet that sparked a deadly ethnic brawl at a Hong Kong-owned toy factory in the northern Guangdong city of Shaoguan at the weekend.

Xinhua reported that the former worker posted a message on a local website claiming, "Six Xinjiang boys raped two innocent girls" at the factory, which is owned by Early Light International (Holdings).

Police said the unfounded claim was behind the massive brawl on Friday night between a group of Han and Uygur workers from the northwestern Xinjiang region who had been recruited to the factory. Some 800 migrant workers were employed from Shufu county, under the jurisdiction of Kashgar.

The Xinjiang region may be even more volatile than Tibet, which has given authorities fits intermittently since Communist Chinese occupation began in 1951. But Chinese leadership won't hesitate to unleash a harsh reprisal in Xinjiang, as there is little international support for the Uighurs' plight. A number of central Asian nations, and Russia, view the Uighur Muslims as potential troublemakers in the region and an Islamic terrorist threat.

Recently, when the Obama administration released a handful of Uighur detainees from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility, it had a difficult time placing them because repatriating them back to China would have resulted in harsh treatment (if not death) for these individuals, considered separatist terrorists by Beijing.

The riot in Xinjiang may be short-lived, as Chinese authorities will have no qualms about shutting down media access and springing a bloody crackdown. Alim Seytoff, head of the Uighur American Association, told the Chinese-language World Journal that the authorities responded with 1,000-plus riot police as soon as the protest emerged and "we've been told, they began randomly shooting into the crowd. ... We don't know how many people actually died, but at least hundreds were injured."

He went on to refute the Chinese government's assertion that the riot was premeditated by expatriate Uighur organizations, calling it a "smokescreen."