Tag Archives: United States

Obama Says He Would Hear From Dalai Lama Before Going to Olympic Ceremony

Credit: Center for American Progress Action FundWithout saying definitively he would not attend the Olympic opening ceremony in Beijing one month from today, U.S. Senator Barack Obama said as president he would skip the ceremony without hearing from the Dalai Lama that there had been progress on the Tibet issue.

“In the absence of some sense of progress, in the absence of some sense from the Dalai Lama that there was progress, I would not have gone,” Obama said at a news conference, according to the Associated Press.

From a Chinese perspective, the statement that Obama would take cues from the Dalai Lama is quite bold and constitutes a public articulation of which side the candidate has chosen in the Dalai Lama–P.R.C. disputes. While few would be surprised to hear a Democratic candidate support human rights in Tibet, it’s diplomatically significant if enunciated.

The AP article notes that Obama had encouraged President George W. Bush to skip the ceremony, as had Senator John McCain in April.

McCain, Obama’s Republican opponent, also issued a hypothetical ultimatum, similarly saying that he would only attend the ceremony if he saw improvements on human rights issues. McCain’s April statement was in some ways stronger than Obama’s most recent one, though he did not allude to taking cues from the exiled Tibetan leader.

“If Chinese policies and practices do not change, I would not attend the opening ceremonies,” said the Arizona senator, who has clinched the GOP nomination for president. “It does no service to the Chinese government, and certainly no service to the people of China, for the United States and other democracies to pretend that the suppression of rights in China does not concern us. It does, will and must concern us.”

These statements, which apparently promise to show symbolic support in exchange for concessions on human rights issues, recall the early Bill Clinton administration principle of conditional engagement: The United States would work with China on trade in exchange for rights improvements. What the candidates haven’t mentioned is that when Clinton tried this tactic, it either failed or was abandoned in favor of, say, less-conditional engagement.

Could the candidates be reacting to George W. Bush’s friendly behavior toward China in the way that Clinton reacted to George H. W. Bush’s? The current president, for one, comes near toeing the Chinese line in his most recent statement, promising to attend the ceremony. Skipping the event would be “an affront to the Chinese people,” he said.

When the U.S. Wants to Criticize 'Chinese Art'

In The New Republic, Jed Perl exercises no economy of words in lambasting art from China and its growing global following. Based on a reading of “Chinese art” that does not apparently leave the island of Manhattan, Perl makes several questionable statements, often abetted by lack of knowledge, and Alan Baumler at Frog in a Well has already taken some of them to task.

I find some solace in Perl’s admission that: “This is not to say that there is nothing of value going on in China today: I do not know all there is to know about art in China. What I do know is that the work that is being promoted around the world as the cutting edge of new Chinese art is overblown and meretricious.” Fine, but this comes only after hundreds of words of under-informed negativity and no apparent experience with Chinese art that hasn’t arrived in New York or Venice.

Missing from Perl’s account is the pervasive sense of unease among many in Beijing’s art scene, both Chinese and foreign, as they have watched the transformation of spaces such as the 798 Art District into pedestrian mall commercial centers, and as they have watched some of the artists Perl criticizes grow their bank accounts with manufactured art.

That’s one of the things Angie Baecker and I tried to capture with our article in the current issue (No. 59) of Art Asia Pacific. We examined the plans and sentiments of some major art spaces and figures in Beijing leading up to the Olympics. And we found a mixture of excitement and trepidation, sometimes with both sentiments coming from the same person.

Totally unexamined by Perl, for instance, are the artists whose work rarely if ever engages political and nationalist issues. And others who openly criticize the government and the country’s history, even if with a certain care to avoid publicity that could threaten their livelihood. Then there’s Ai Weiwei, both involved with and vocally opposed to the Olympics. In the classic media formulation, his contributions to the design of the Olympic stadium are tempered by his criticism of the government. (“The Olympics are an opportunity to redefine the country, but the message is always wrong,” Ai says in our article.)

I would not discount the possibility that some of Ai’s repeated statements have been motivated by a desire for publicity. But for those who make their commentaries in private and whose art-with-message works face government scrutiny, the spotlight is neither welcomed nor sought.

Criticizing a country’s art without engaging even well-reported examples that don’t support one’s criticism is an art world example of the basic structure of [insert country]-bashing: Find some well-accepted tropes about the target country that are well-reported but unconfirmed by the critic, and then use them as the basis of an argument that makes no effort to engage the actual thoughts or facts of life of those involved.

Could it be that a critic writing in a derivative way in the milieu of China-bashing is just as guilty as artists who profit from market-friendly, easily digestible political messages?

Is Venezuela selling oil to China instead of to the U.S.?

The United States is importing less oil from Venezuela, and China is buying more. Is Venezuela putting its resources where Hugo Chávez’s mouth is and using the country’s major export as a geopolitical lever? Or are U.S. imports just catching up with a 10-year decline in Venezuelan production?

The U.S. Energy Information Administration released April data on Monday, revealing that imports of crude and petroleum from Venezuela in the first four months of 2008 fell 10.7 percent from the same period last year—from about 1.3 million barrels/day to about 1.16 million b/d.

If we take a longer-term view of U.S. imports of Venezuelan crude and petroleum, the drop is even more significant: Venezuela sold about 1.6 million b/d to the United States in January–April of 2005, as it had since the mid-1990s (except in the oil strike years of 2000 and 2003). This means that Venezuelan sales to the United States have declined 30 percent over the past three years. Why?

AP’s Rachel Jones reports that the drop is likely due to three factors: (1) falling demand in the United States, (2) falling production in Venezuela, and (3) Venezuela’s decision to sell more oil to China. Does this make sense? Let’s take a closer look at the numbers:

  1. Total U.S. oil imports in January–April 2008 dropped 2.5 percent compared with the same period last year (you can download the raw data here, or check out the Transpacifica digest below (after the jump). This, then, might explain one-fourth of the decline in imports from Venezuela.
  2. There are no reliable numbers on Venezuelan oil production, but those that exist (for example, the monthly OPEC report) indicate at most a 2 percent drop in production from last year—which, like the change in U.S. demand, would explain only part of the 10.7 percent drop in sales. Over the past 10 years, however, Venezuelan production has declined about 25 percent—about the same as the change in U.S. imports over the past three years (according to EIA data here).
  3. The AP report states that Venezuela now sends 250,000 b/d to China, up from next to nothing a few years ago. The story does not source this figure, and PDVSA, Venezuela’s state oil company, recently stated that China buys 398,000 b/d, as a result of increased CNPC operations. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said that the country plans to sell China 1 million b/d by 2012.

Is China buying 250,000 b/d or more of Venezuelan oil? If so, does that purchase explain declining sales to the United States? Or would sales have declined anyway, as a result of falling production in Venezuela? What is the role of Chávez’s oil donations to countries throughout the region? Perhaps there are other explanations. If the United States wants control over how much oil it buys from Venezuela, the answer is critical. Continue reading

Mapping the Future of the Transpacific Internet

Anyone living in China and communicating with the Western Hemisphere or Europe knows that even when government controls aren’t slowing down the internet, any disruption of undersea fiber optics in the Pacific can bring traffic to a crawl.

From MIT’s Technology Review, via Japan Probe and Foreign Policy, comes a map of global fiber projects slated and in progress. This is a screenshot of the Pacific, taken from TR‘s global interactive map.

According to the article accompanying the map, global international transmissions are about 11.0 terabits per second. As I wrote at Sinobyte, one cable is supported by Google, Japan’s KDDI, and others. Another, the Trans-Pacific Express, recently won approval early this year from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission.

ABC's Efforts to 'Laugh With' an Imaginary Version of Japan

The things I miss living outside the United States. New last week from ABC, I Survived a Japanese Game Show, has gone to work reinforcing the “odd Japanese” trope with laughter directed at the unsuspecting nation. David Marx writes at Néojaponisme:

ABC producers went all the way to Japan to make their own TV program, vaguely based on silly segments from Japanese variety shows. And after completely rewiring the original program formula to fit their own needs, the producers had the gall to blame the final product on the Japanese. “I survived a Japanese game show“? This is like placing the onus of Guantanamo Bay on the Cubans. American rented the space, borrowed the know-how, and made it all happen, but in the end, the Americans maintain: hey, we were just “following orders” to this crazy Japanese aesthetic.

The national propaganda effort fortunately backs up their premise. According to the New York Times, “The Japanese originals [on which the show is based] are known as batsu games, or punishment and humiliation games.” There is either fundamental confusion or willful truth-bending here: Japanese “game shows” tend to punish talento (celebrities or aspiring celebrities), and for the most part, extremely-unfunny comedians. While game shows in the past have sadistically meted out punishment to normal contestants, this has become relatively rare in recent days. Yes, even the Japanese race thinks it’s kind of sad and depressing to see everyday people humiliated on television.

I share Marxy’s distaste. He’s issued a well-argued rant. Read it.