Tag Archives: Media

Cybersecurity as 'pivot' version two? A policy narrative for media-friendly U.S.–China relations

Pivot. “I personally don’t like the term,” said Jeffrey Bader, former senior director for East Asia of the U.S. National Security Council. It was an “unfortunate word” selected by staff seeking a positive press response to President Barack Obama’s trip to Asia in 2011, he said at Beijing’s Tsinghua University on Nov. 29, 2012. Each time the president goes to Asia, he said, the story is always about China, and there are two options: Either the United States came as a supplicant and is in decline, or it put China on its heels. Both stories are wrong, Bader argues, but the word “pivot” was selected to push for the second story in the U.S. press.

The word “pivot” swiftly became “rebalance” in U.S. government statements. To some, it had implied a turn away from other regions, not a reassuring message for those seeking continued support in the Middle East. Some also thought it implied that the United States would shift its interventionist tactics from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific region. “Rebalance” was rolled out with more nuance, emphasizing at times that it implied only minor increases in the Pacific, instead emphasizing drawdowns elsewhere. Then, the question of whether the “pivot” or “rebalance” had failed as a strategy soared to the top of the discussion after Obama was reelected. In Secretary of State John Kerry’s confirmation hearings, he implied limited support for a shift of resources: “I’m not convinced that increased military ramp-up is critical yet. I’m not convinced of that. That’s something I’d want to look at very carefully when and if you folks confirm me and I can get in there and sort of dig into this a little deeper.”

With the pivot/rebalance downgraded as a strong-on-China rhetoric, and the deep need for greater engagement with China, what was left to keep the press on the “China on its heels” narrative? Consider cybersecurity. President Obama began a rollout with the State of the Union this year. Without naming China, he made “enemies [who] are also seeking the ability to sabotage our power grid, our financial institutions, and our air trafic control systems” the China policy point. The day before, someone had leaked to the Washington Post a classified National Intelligence Estimate naming China as the most aggressive cybersecurity threat.

President Barack Obama meets then-Vice President Xi Jinping in the Oval Office on Feb. 14, 2012.
President Barack Obama meets then-Vice President Xi Jinping in the Oval Office on Feb. 14, 2012.

In the coming days, the private online security firm Mandiant released a report that allegedly detailed Chinese military involvement in spying on U.S. businesses. A “senior defense official” told The New York Times, “In the cold war, we were focused every day on the nuclear command centers around Moscow. … Today it’s fair to say that we worry as much about the computer servers in Shanghai.” Then the White House released its “Strategy to Mitigate the Theft of U.S. Trade Secrets,” which does not name China in the body text but features it in six of the seven theft examples in sidebars.

This drumbeat has continued through February and March and up to today. National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon said in a speech in March that “intellectual property and trade secrets” had “moved to the forefront of our agenda.” Since then, cybersecurity, often with some degree of conflation between national security threats and threats to private intellectual property, has moved to the top of the U.S. media agenda on China, along with North Korea. In the White House background briefing on the upcoming summit between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping, the briefers didn’t have to bring up cybersecurity. The first question and half of all questions mentioned the topic (including the meta-question “how do you keep this summit from being a cyber summit?”). Admittedly impressionistic data from Google Trends shows U.S. searches for “China” and “cyber” peaking in February.

U.S. search interest in "China cyber" over time, according to Google Trends.
U.S. search interest in “China cyber” over time, according to Google Trends. (Embedding isn’t working, so here’s a screenshot. The y-axis is calibrated to set the peak in February at 100.)

Now, the White House is in the midst of a significant surge in China diplomacy with considerable attention to the future. The Obama-Xi “shirt-sleeves summit” near Palm Springs, Calif., to take place Friday and Saturday was preceded by, among other efforts:

  • Vice President Joe Biden’s trip to China in August 2011.
  • Xi’s trip to the United States as vice president and heir-apparent, with Biden as his host and an Oval Office meeting with Obama in February 2012.
  • Secretary of Treasury Jack Lew’s trip to China in March 2013.
  • Secretary of State John Kerry’s trip to China in April 2013.
  • Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey’s trip to China in April 2013.
  • The April announcement of the 2013 round of the Strategic and Economic Dialogue to be held in Washington July 8–12, 2013.
  • National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon’s trip to China in May 2013.

It’s possible to view the dogged focus on cybersecurity in the media and in government statements as misplaced. After all, it is unclear what if any effect on actual operations the “naming and shaming” process is having, and we will have to wait and see what further measures the U.S. government might take. Meanwhile, other issues such as energy and climate cooperation, maintaining stability around North Korea, and military-to-military relations are also pressing. Perhaps most of all, say (almost) all the comments out there, Obama and Xi have the opportunity to open a new chapter of U.S.–China relations through high-level dialogue and building a “new kind of great power relations” (Chinese wording) or a “new model of relations between an existing power and an emerging one” (U.S. version).

These cooperative notes, however, could trigger the media narrative Bader said the administration dreads: the United States as declining supplicant. Instead, the administration gets to claim they will raise cybersecurity in this and other interactions. They have high-level working groups in progress or planned for cybersecurity (a challenge) and climate change (an opportunity and a challenge). And needless to say, there is the benefit of getting a very serious issue for U.S. businesses and the U.S. national security community on the table in a way the Chinese government cannot entirely ignore.

How China's government escalates warnings before military action

The government of the People’s Republic of China has displayed a fairly consistent pattern of escalating signals followed by deterrent military deployments before engaging in a hot conflict, argues a new report [pdf] from the U.S. National Defense University. Reviewing each instance of armed conflict since 1949, as well as several cases that never made it that far, the authors suggest that the Chinese government has used evolving but similar signals, including statements by leaders and official publications, to indicate the degree of its resolve on a given issue.

The authors, Paul H.B. Godwin and Alice L. Miller, are experienced analysts of Chinese military and strategic history. Miller offers a framework for ranking the authoritativeness of various statements by leaders or in official media, one very similar to her account that was the basis of a post I did over at 88-Bar.

Godwin and Miller offer perhaps the clearest available review of the circumstances and signals that led up to China’s military engagements. For this alone, the paper is worth a read. They argue that China’s use of military force should be understood as divided between Taiwan-related and non-Taiwan-related cases. Non-Taiwan cases include the Korean War (from 1950), the 1962 border war with India, the 1963-75 deployment in North Vietnam, and the 1979 attack on Vietnam (as its ties to the USSR grew stronger). They are similarly thorough on confrontations over maritime claims, making this an essential read for those watching today’s events unfold.

Some interpretations are perhaps too confident in attributing intent to actions observed from afar. The accounts tend to assume a sort of Realist calculus undergirds decisions on each side and pushes for greater and more refined attention to Chinese signals in such situations. The result is a very strong framework for evaluating signals, one that fits the history presented in almost every case. It can be understood as a strong model fit to moderately jagged data.

Will past patterns continue?

Though the report does not claim to predict the future, there is a strong implication that the Chinese government’s signaling and deterrence patterns can be expected to continue. As the authors repeatedly note, however, China’s strength has increased, reshaping the playing field. They argue in part:

  • There are “indicators suggesting that changes in China’s security environment have reduced rather than increased the possibilities for military confrontation with the United States. Moreover, within PLA doctrinal development, increasing capabilities are as much related to deterrence as they are to offensive operations.”
  • There is enormous potential for damage to “China’s economic future and security” if the country is perceived as disruptive or aggressive.
  • “[T]he chances of a cross-strait military confrontation are now among the lowest they have been since 1949.”
  • It is improbable that China would strike first. If China escalated warnings and deployments, the United States would likely move more military force into the region, making a strike a losing proposition for China. A surprise attack, they argue, is unlikely as well.
  • In sum, military confrontation with the United States is unlikely on each of the potential triggers.

In the context of the report, these arguments assume a generally status quo scenario for signaling and deterrence. Left under-considered is the possibility that increased capabilities would be accompanied by a new pattern of signaling, deterrence, or offensive action. Indeed, the current situation in the East China Sea, the South China Sea, the India borderlands, the cybersecurity area, etc., could be viewed as an “all-fronts” increase in activity. Are these all understood to be deterrent? If so, what new threats or challenges have they responded to? Did the external environment really turn that sour all at once?

The authors, I believe, would argue that these actions amount to a deterrent targeted at the United States, akin to efforts to prevent U.S. control of North Korea or North Vietnam. Of course, the U.S. government’s goals in the South China Sea and the western Pacific are very different than they was in those conflicts. But the fact of the matter is that there is an overall increase in Chinese deployments in the country’s maritime periphery. In the past, the report suggests, increased deployments were designed to deter specific actions by potential adversaries. Things are different today, and time will tell whether the signaling-deterrence pattern identified here holds.

A process-tracing media analyst’s treasure

The paper concludes with a remarkable compilation of Chinese government signals, ranked by authoritativeness, in three chronologies: the 1978–1979 Sino-Vietnamese border crisis; the 1961–1962 Sino-Indian border crisis; and signaling over Taiwan in 1991, 1995, 1999, and 2003–2004. Whatever happens in the future, these appendices are treasures for historians and the curious.

The following table (p. 32) outlines the report’s hierarchy of authoritativeness, by which the authors suggest observers should rate signals from the leadership, government bodies, and the People’s Daily.

Screen Shot 2013-05-27 at 6.00.01 PM

The appendices apply this framework and classify each signal to portray the incremental increase in authority of those delivering statements. Meanwhile, there is a corresponding “ascending order of threat,” included below:

■ X is “playing with fire” and may “get burned”
■ Beijing so far has “exercised the greatest restraint and forbearance” but this “should not be taken as weakness and submissiveness”
■ Do “not turn a deaf ear to China’s warnings”; China “cannot stand idly by”
■ “How far will you go? We shall wait and see”
■ “China’s forbearance has limits”; X is “deluding itself in thinking we are weak and can be bullied”
■ If X does not cease its behavior, it “will meet the punishment it deserves”
■ “Do not complain later that we did not give you clear warning in advance”
■ We have been “driven beyond forbearance” and are “forced to counterattack”; our “restraint was regarded as an invitation to bullying”; our “warnings fell on deaf ears”
■ “We will not attack if we are not attacked; if we are attacked, we will certainly counterattack.”

Regardless of the overall analysis’s  validity in the future, these are very useful guides for assessing signals. Add to this increasing transparency (at least in the form of rumors online) that might allow more detailed analysis of decision-making within the regime, and increased official and Track II contact between the Chinese and U.S. political leadership, and we might just have a recipe for better understanding.

This is my second or third attempt at an informal review, for a general-if-nerdy audience, of recently published academic and policy writing. Comments are very welcome below or by e-mail at mail // at // gwbstr // dot // com.

Review: 'How New and Assertive is China's New Assertiveness' by Alastair Iain Johnston, Spring 2013

[This review is part of a new experiment. I have read for general impressions, main points, and potentially useful material for myself and others. This is not a detailed methodological or theoretical examination, nor is it a conscientious summary. I have tried to consider both specialist and generalist audiences. Comments are very welcome, as I hope to be doing this more often. -Graham]

Under Review

Johnston, Alastair Iain. “How New and Assertive Is China’s New Assertiveness?” International Security 37:4 (2013): 7–48.

Review

isec.2013.37.issue-4.largecoverIain Johnston’s recent article in International Security recalls one of my favorite teaching pieces, which Johnston co-authored with Sheena Chestnut: “Is China Rising?” In that piece, Johnston and Chestnut asked the title question at a time when scholars, journalists, and pundits were instead asking about the implications of China’s rise. The new piece takes a similar tack, arguing that while “the new assertiveness meme has ‘gone viral,’” the evidence does not bear out a clear “assertive” turn in Chinese foreign policy.

Focusing on 2010, Johnston lays out seven areas in which China is supposed to have been more assertive and concludes that in most cases, a perception of new assertiveness is produced by one of a few mistakes. One is the classic cherry-picking problem (“selecting on the dependent variable”), in which arguments are based on instances that appear to support the assertiveness claim without examining those that might indicate cooperation. But the best of the argument comes in the one-by-one examination of seven major areas of supposed assertiveness, each of which has its problems. Johnston summarizes:

These seven major events in Chinese foreign policy in 2012 represent a mixture of new assertiveness (South China Sea); old assertiveness with a twist (the threat to sanction U.S. arms manufacturers that sell to Taiwan); reduced assertiveness (the Dalai Lama visit); probably predictable responses to exogenous shocks (Senkaku/Diaoyudao incident); the continuation of reactive/passive policies in the face of changed and less-hospitable diplomatic circumstances (Copenhagen, DPRK policy); and in one case, empirical inaccuracy (the South China Sea as a core interest claim). In toto, the differences across these cases suggest that there was no across-the-board new assertiveness in Chinese diplomacy in 2010 (31–32).

These points are generally well-made, and readers interested in any part of that laundry list might wish to engage with the details in the article. The article also examines four common explanations of the supposed new assertiveness (under “Problematic Causal Arguments”): change in the distribution of power; rising Chinese nationalism; the politics of leadership transition; and the power of the PLA.

Hidden Treasure

I think two parts of the paper deserve highlighting as valuable regardless of the overall argument.

  • In the section on “The Power of the PLA” as a causal argument for the supposed new assertiveness, Johnston provides an excellent reading of the landscape of Chinese foreign policy and PLA commentary (39–45, but especially 43–44). Johnston argues that official PLA commentary tracks over-all CPC commentary fairly closely, but that greater space for individual opinions has opened, especially for the “more nationalistic and militaristic voices.” A key assertion for those who have watched retired Chinese generals issue strident opinions in recent years is this: “[I]n the new media environment in China, these PLA authors (especially the quasi-and fully retired once) may sometimes represent only themselves.” Look at this section for a good, though by no means complete, rundown of voices out there and some of their stances over time.
  • Another nice kernel is this list of examples of Chinese behavior we might see as cooperative, rather than assertive, in 2010: “the continued growth of U.S. exports to China during the year; the continued high congruence in U.S. and Chinese voting in the UN Security Council; Chinese support for UN Security Council Resolution 1929, which imposed tougher sanctions on the Iranian regime—a move appreciated by the Obama administration; Beijing’s abiding by its 2009 agreement with the United States to hold talks with representatives of the Dalai Lama; a Chinese decision to continue the appreciation of the renminbi prior to the Group of Twenty meeting in Toronto in June 2010; Hu Jintao’s decision to attend the U.S.-hosted nuclear summit in April 2010 (in the wake of the January 2010 Taiwan arms sales decision, the Chinese had hinted that Hu would not attend the summit); a Chinese decision to pressure the Sudan government to exercise restraint should South Sudan declare independence, and China’s more constructive cross-strait policies, in the wake of Ma Ying-jeou’s 2008 election as president of the Republic of China…” (32–33). Phew.

A Swing and a Miss

The only response I had seen to this paper was from Daniel W. Drezner, the Tufts professor and Foreign Policy blogger. Drezner seized on passing references in Johnston’s introduction and conclusion, in which he speculates that this mistaken “new assertiveness” meme results from “a new, but poorly understood, factor in international relations—namely, the speed with which new conventional wisdoms are created, at least within the public sphere, by the interaction of the internet-based traditional media and the blogosphere” (46–47). An interesting thought.

Though Johnston marshals a few references in support of this notion, he really doesn’t make the case. As Drezner writes: “What’s ironic about this is that in the article, Johnston properly takes a lot of the conventional wisdom to task for ahistoricism and problematic causal arguments in assessing Chinese behavior after 2008.  I’d wager, however, that Johnston has done the exact same thing with respect to the foreign policy blogosphere.”

This is a fair critique, as far as the text concerned goes. At very least, if Johnston is right, he has not made a very solid case and has not provided solid comparisons with the past. But this is a bit of a sideshow, given that the speed-of-groupthink argument subsumes a total of three paragraphs out of 41 pages. I’d like to see more recent work on this point, work I’m sure is out there or in progress.

Who Should Read This

Johnston has written a rare work of international relations scholarship that can serve as a direct intervention in foreign policy discourse outside academia. Sure, a 1,500-word version might be more digestible, but general international politics readers should have no trouble following.

For U.S.–China relations scholars or practitioners, the paper is at least a required skim. For those interested in discourse on U.S.–China relations and the shape of ongoing debates, it’s a required read.

Journalists, too, should give this one a read. Just like the “rise of China,” “China’s new assertiveness” comes easily to the keyboard. It also comes out of sources’ lips frequently. This article reviews one big idea and several small ideas that deserve a follow-up or qualification.

Other References

Chestnut, Sheena and Alastair Iain Johnston. “Is China Rising?”  In Global Giants: Is China Changing the Rules of the Game?, edited by Eva Paus, Jon Western, and Penelope Prime, 237–259. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009. (Updated version here.)

Drezner, Daniel W. “Are blogs to blame for Sino-American misperceptions?” Foreign Policy blog, April 17, 2013.

Disclosure

I feel compelled by the norms of journalism, though not the norms of scholarship, to note that Johnston was my professor one semester in grad school. We don’t always agree with our teachers, but they do help form our views, so take this all with whatever grain of salt you like.

Back to Beijing with a new collaboration with 88 Bar

[Cross-post from gwbstr.com]

This week marks my long-planned return to life based in Beijing. My arrival was met with two days of absolutely beautiful weather and clear air (obviously the result of my arrival and not the half-day downpour that preceded my landing).

And today, I have my first contribution to the lively and inquisitive 八八吧 :: 88 Bar, a group blog with strengths in design and technology. I fit in as the lone politico, but I’m happy to be there hawking my wares. Academia and the job search have a way of pigeon-holing a person into single-sector analysis, but some academics and some employers demand boundary-crossing work. I’ve always gravitated toward the latter, and my collaborators at 88 Bar—including long-time friend and finally collaborator Tricia Wang—are prime examples of how boundaries can be crossed.

My post today recasts some of the best insights in monitoring Chinese politics, taken from a footnote in a policy analysis. Some comments by Alice L. Miller at Stanford’s Hoover Institution give a solid method for assessing the authoritativeness of various government-affiliated statements in Chinese media. Jason Li, one of the 88 Bar OG‘s, put my schematic scribbles into a great visual form. I look forward to whatever comes next over there.

Check it out.

For now, if you’re in Beijing, drop me a line.

'Global Times' calls South China Sea a 'core interest'

The nationalist-leaning state-controlled newspaper Global Times on its English-language website Sunday made what might be a significant statement in the ongoing Chinese dispute with Vietnam and the Philippines, among others, in the South China Sea. In an unsigned opinion piece, the paper states:

As to China, it is not interested in being involved in frequent wrangles with Vietnam and the Philippines over the South China Sea, which is merely one of its core interests. As a great power, China has strategic concerns all over the Asia-Pacific region and even the world. But if Vietnam and the Philippines continue to provoke and go too far, they must be prepared to face strong countermeasures from China. (emphasis added)

The question of whether the South China Sea has been identified as one of China’s “core interests” is important to diplomats, because it puts the waters on the same level as Taiwan, Tibet, and Xinjiang. Quoting the International Crisis Group‘s excellent recent report on the issue:

In early 2010, speculation arose that China had defined the South China Sea disputes as one of its “core interests”, a term traditionally reserved for matters of national sov- ereignty such as Taiwan, Tibet and Xinjiang, where China is unwilling to compromise its position and would resort to force, if necessary. Reports first suggested that Chinese officials used this expression during a private meeting with U.S. officials in March 2010, and then cited U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as claiming that the sen- ior Chinese leader responsible for foreign policy repeated this declaration in May 2010. However, another senior U.S. official* has since asserted that the term “national priority” rather than “core interest” was used. Chinese researchers almost unanimously agree that the government has not made any conscious policy decision to rank the South China Sea as a core interest at the same level as an issue such as Taiwan.

What does something like this mean from the Global Times? First, it’s critical to note that this paper is not regarded as authoritative in the same way that observers take the People’s Daily as the vetted mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party. It is not even as strong a source as the official Xinhua News Service, which is the source of dependably “correct” political news for the broader Chinese media sphere.

What does this mean? One way to discount this statement would be to speculate that there has been a mistranslation, but the Chinese version of the editorial also uses “core interest” (核心利益). It seems unlikely to me that the paper, in an unsigned piece, would use this term lightly. What it indicates is that the consensus view of more hawkish voices in China is that the government and national defense establishment should be more protective of the country’s claims than compromising.

The headline of the piece claims that China is “patient, not reckless, over [the] islands,” and this suggests that the threat of “strong countermeasures” is meant as an “or else.”

On the face of it, the argument that joint development should be pursued as a way out of this dispute might seem relatively fair, but various accounts from the region suggest that Vietnamese and Philippine analysts view Chinese proposals of “joint development” as giving them little autonomy. Moreover, recall that some of the islands in question unquestionably lie within a 200-nautical mile distance of Vietnam—an area generally regarded as one country’s exclusive economic zone.

This issue is not likely to be resolved any time soon, but watch carefully for other uses of the term “core interest” from the Chinese side. If they start emerging from more authoritative sources, this may signal a significantly harder line than the current mixture of patrols, protests, and accommodations.

See today’s China Update for more South China Sea links for the last few days, or see previous updates.

*This refers to Jeffrey Bader, in his new tick-tock book on U.S. Asia policy during his time in the National Security Council during the early Obama administration: Obama and China’s Rise: An Insider’s Account of America’s Asia Strategy

Some notes on This American Life's retraction episode #Apple #China

The U.S. public radio show This American Life yesterday announced it would retract its adaption of Mike Daisey’s storytelling show about Apple’s manufacturing operations in China. I’m taking notes while listening on WNYC to a broadcast of the show Retraction.

The podcast is available Sunday now (yesterday it said it would be held; now the link is here). Notes will accumulate below:

  • My original review of the monologue as performed on stage in Seattle about a year ago.
  • “The most powerful and memorable moments in the story all seem to be fabricated.” –Ira Glass
  • Fact checking 101: If the best part of your story can’t be verified, and if there’s a lot of material there, and your “reporter” can’t help verify—kill the story.
  • Daisey admits that he misled TAL on the name of “Cathy” to prevent them from finding her, Glass says.
  • The Marketplace reporter Rob Schmitz’s first clues were things I chalked up to storytelling exaggeration: the guns. But the question of laborers at Starbucks did bother me. Where was the money coming from?
  • From the transcript: “Cathy Lee: I think that if she said she was 13 or 12, then I would be surprised. I would be very surprised. And I would remember for sure. But there is no such thing.
”
  • Another falsehood/exaggeration I caught immediately: When Daisey said “There are no iPads in China.” This doesn’t really minimize the power of the scene in the full narrative (beyond the TAL excerpt). This mixed purpose seems to be the real trouble.
  • Nice that Schmitz notes Cathy’s memory wouldn’t necessarily be fully clear.
  • Daisey bears down on the girl who said she was 13; that exchange is pretty damning:

    Mike Daisey: I don’t know. I do know when doing interviews a lot of people were speaking in English. They enjoyed using English with me and I don’t know if she was paying attention at that particular point. I don’t know. There was a lot of wrangling that Cathy was doing, talking to people and sort of pre-interviewing.

    Rob Schmitz: So Mike, according to what you’re saying, these are migrant workers who are preteen, 13 or 14 years old, there English isn’t going to be very good. You’re telling me that they were speaking English to you, in a way that you could understand? [This resonates with me, especially for a worker so young. -gw]

    Mike Daisey: Well, I only know – only one of them was really talkative and that was the main girl I was talking to.

    Rob Schmitz: So you have a clear recollection of meeting somebody who was 13 years old?

    Mike Daisey: Yes.

    Rob Schmitz: And twelve years old?

    Mike Daisey: Yes of the girl who was thirteen and her friends who represented themselves as being around her age and so the spread there is just an effort to cover the ages that I suspect they are around that age.

  • “I really do believe that stories should be subordinate to the truth.” –Daisey. Definition of truth seems important.

Act II, in which Ira Glass speaks directly with Daisey:

  • Glass, citing n-hexane, asks why Daisey didn’t take the opportunity of their queries to acknowledge that some of the details were dramatized. “I think I was terified,” Daisey says. Glass: “Of what?” Daisey: “I think I was terrified that if I untied these things, that the work, that I know is really good, and tells a story, that does these really great things for making people care, that it would come apart in a way where, where it would ruin everything.”
  • Daisey acknowledges he did think about the fact that others—TAL—were vouching for him.

  • KEY QUOTE from Daisey: “My mistake, the mistake that I truly regret is that I had it on your show as journalism and it’s not journalism. It’s theater. I use the tools of theater and memoir to achieve its dramatic arc and of that arc and of that work I am very proud because I think it made you care, Ira, and I think it made you want to delve. And my hope is that it makes – has made- other people delve.”

Ira says out loud what any editor should have said before running this story as journalism:

Ira Glass: I guess I thought that you were going to come in and say that more if it wasn’t true because, um, there are parts of it I just don’t buy based on what you’ve said. I don’t believe you when it comes to the underage worker. Like, it seems credible that your translator if she saw an underage worker, it seems credible that she says that she would remember that kind of thing because it’d be so unusual. That seems credible. And I don’t believe you when it comes to the guy with the twisted hand because your translator who was there doesn’t remember that he said he worked for Foxconn and doesn’t remember the incident with the iPad. And I might be more inclined to believe you but you admit to lying about so many little things – the number of people who you spoke to, the number of factories that you visited – you admit to making up an entire group of characters who didn’t exist, who were poisoned by hexane and the only person who was with you said these things didn’t happen. So when it comes to underage workers and the man with the claw-hand it’s like – I don’t believe that that happened.

Mike Daisey: Yes. And I stand by it as a theatrical work. I stand by how it makes people see and care about the situation that’s happening there. I stand by it in the theater. And I regret, deeply, that it was put into this context on your show.

My comment here, after Glass says he thought it was literally true on stage, is that Glass is not as clever as I thought he was.

More to come from another outlet.

Xi Jinping in Washington: A roundup/liveblog

This post will be was continually updated today as I find found good or interesting material on Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s visit to the White House, the State Department, and the Pentagon.

4:00 p.m.

Last update today. Off to CFR and then offline for the evening.

The White House has posted a transcript of Obama’s remarks, as well as the “Joint Fact Sheet on Strengthening U.S.-China Economic Relations.”

Neither document is especially surprising. I noted earlier that Obama said he welcomes China’s “peaceful rise,” a reference to an earlier rhetoric associated with Zheng Bijian. A quick look reveals that “we welcome the peaceful rise of China” has been something of a talking point. See this from November.

The economic relations document is what it sounds like, focusing exclusively on economic issues. It will take some comparison to other statements in the past to assess the significance of this document. And remember, Xi isn’t president yet.

3:00 p.m.

MSNBC has posted video of Obama’s appearance with Xi Jinping:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Also, former Obama East Asia adviser Jeffrey Bader is rooting for Xi Jinping’s success.
Continue reading

China–Japan maritime arrests: to care or not to care?

After China’s stern reaction last year to the arrest of a Chinese sailor who rammed Japanese ships near islands disputed by the two countries, the world media has braced itself for another round of “tensions” following a new arrest.

The fact that both Japanese and Chinese authorities are calling the incident a “regular fisheries case” is reassuring. This arrest, however, was different.

The arrest last year took place near the islands known as Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China that have been a long-standing point of contention between the two countries. Activists in both countries have mobilized to claim sovereignty. To make things more complicated, Taiwanese protesters have also staked claims.

This year’s incident took place in a far less sensitive area, near the Gotō Islands (or 五島). No one disputes these islands to my knowledge, and they are far closer to Japan’s larger islands, off the coast near Nagasaki.

The Diaoyu/Senkaku islands, on the other hand, are closer to Taiwan than to the major Japanese islands, and they have been disputed for decades.

In the map below, Senkaku/Diaoyu is indicated with a red marker:


View Larger Map

This map Gotō is indicated:


View Larger Map

We’re left with media reports that generally don’t bother with the fact that the newer arrest took place in an undisputed territory very near Japan’s core area whereas the first took place near a hotly disputed territory far closer to the Chinese mainland or Taiwan than to most of Japan’s population.

It would seem to signify stability (or signify nothing) that both governments agree to follow ordinary law about this particular encounter. As far as I can tell, there is nothing odd here; this should be a routine case. It would be a story if and only if there was a hot-headed reaction.

This comes down to expectations. The people who think this non-event is a story are working with the assumption that either China would react “irrationally” or that enough people would expect a disproportionate response that covering the lack of it would be news.

That expectation of hotheadedness despite the material difference of circumstances strikes me as fairly well irrational on its own. Notice that the sources of the strange speculative stories are places like AFP and BBC, not Xinhua or Yomiuri. That both governments are settled with this, and no noticeable public outcry has resulted, should be signs that the foreign press is trolling the waters of conflict instead of covering life as it actually is.

Foreign media depending on Chinese microblogs [graph]

Readers of English-language news on China have likely noticed a surge in references to netizens, microblogs, and a specific microblogging service called Sina Weibo. Angel Hsu noted this was increasing, and I thought I’d check to see how much.

For a really rough measure of how much foreign reporters are depending on Chinese microblogs to cover public sentiment, I searched LexisNexis’s “Major World Publications” database for mentions of China along with any one of the words “weibo,” “microblog,” or “micro-blog.” (Weibo, in addition to being Sina’s brand, literally means “micro blog.”)

This measure is horribly imperfect. To begin with, some stories are double-counted, and there’s no reason to assume Nexis is representative of foreign media. Moreover, some of these mentions are stories about Sina Weibo itself, not quoting its users. I wrote one such article for Talking Points Memo.

The trend, however, seems clear. After the first mentions in mid-2009, when Sina Weibo launched, Nexis shows few mentions until a surge beginning in late 2010. In the last few months, the trend is upward.*

See for yourself:

*Note: I counted 76 stories so far in August 2011, which leads to an estimate of 262.

If you want the data yourself, for what it’s worth, you can find a CSV file here. Please respect the Creative Commons license under which this site is published.

Update: Chinese translation / 译言网翻译

Reading SCMP for free, on the iPad

The South China Morning Post is one of the best reads in English on East Asian news. Based in Hong Kong, it is a full-blown operation with reporters all over China. Its content is, however, trapped behind a paywall on its own website. Strangely, the iPad app “SCMP” has what I’m pretty sure is the whole paper for free.

Here are some things I learned this morning (amidst tweeting on the reported release of Ai Weiwei).

  • Analysts think the price of rice will rise after huge floods in South China this month.
  • News of a cover-up at the Ministry of Railways in China emerged when a former engineer Zhou Yimin told a newspaper that large problems in the safety of high-speed trains had been classified as small problems. This comes along with the news that new trains would be running below their designed speed. Zhou said the Beijing–Shanghai train, slated for 350 km/h, should run no faster than 300 kn/h.
  • Chinese officials are speaking with the Libyan “rebel” diplomatic chief Mahmoud Jibril in Beijing. The Chinese government, which had worked with Gaddafi, seems to be in a tough spot, having met the Gadaffi foreign minister this month.
  • “China-Vietnam Naval Exercises Ease Tensions.” Ships from the two countries patrolled the Gulf of Tonkin for two days, side-by-side. This was the 11th such joint activity since 2005, and SCMP reports its unclear how long it had planned. Recent tensions over the status of the South China Sea have raised concerns that Vietnam and China could enter conflict.
  • Chinese analysts divided on how much strength to show in the South China Sea disputes with Vietnam and Philippines.
  • North Korea has stocked up on riot gear to head off any potential unrest, according to AFP.

That’s not necessarily the most exciting list of things for just anyone, but for me, access to these things is great. The trouble is there’s no e-mail feature, no copy and paste, and no Twitter in this app. Are they intentionally making it harder to enjoy their content?