Post #116: Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea (Part 2)

(This is the second of two posts; the first appeared as #115. The two together have also been published in the Asia-Pacific Journal,

Part 2: North Korea’s New Weapons: Full Speed Ahead

North Korea is on a military tear.  In response to UN sanctions, it carried out its fourth nuclear test in January and a satellite launch that had missile implications in February. Then, when new UN sanctions were imposed and the annual month-long US-ROK military exercises began, the DPRK diverged from its usual practice by openly drawing attention to a number of new weapons it claims to have.  It paraded a road-mobile intercontinental-range missile (probably not yet produced), launched five short-range missiles into the East or Japan Sea, claimed to have an indigenously produced engine that would enable an ICBM to reach the US with a nuclear weapon, claimed to have tested a miniature nuclear weapon, test-fired an intermediate-range missile (which has failed twice), and tested a missile launched from a submarine.  A fifth nuclear test may well take place before a major party congress days from now.

How and when any of the weapons the North claims to have might actually be operational is open to speculation.  Some US military officers, as well as South Korean specialists, now accept that the North already has the capability to reach the US with a nuclear-tipped missile, while experts who dispute that view nevertheless believe the North will soon have that capability (

What does seem clear is that Kim Jong-un is pressing his weapons specialists to produce a reliable deterrent that will force the issue of direct talks with the US.  Meeting with nuclear specialists in early March, he praised their work and, according to the North Korean press, specifically cited “research conducted to tip various type tactical and strategic ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads,” meaning a miniaturized nuclear weapon.  Kim is quoted as saying that it “is very gratifying to see the nuclear warheads with the structure of mixed charge adequate for prompt thermo-nuclear reaction.  The nuclear warheads have been standardized to be fit for ballistic missiles by miniaturizing them . . . this can be called [a] true nuclear deterrent . . . Koreans can do anything if they have a will” (

South Korean sources are convinced the North can now put a nuclear warhead on a medium-range (800 miles) Rodong missile capable of reaching all of the ROK and Japan. These are the the North launched in a test in March (  Whether the North has actually fitted such a missile is unknown; nor is it known whether the North will be able to do the same once it possesses an ICBM.

North Korea has a long history of militant nationalism in response to external threats, reflected in Kim Jong-un’s quoted remark above and concretely in the speed with which it is developing a sophisticated nuclear and missile capability.  (For background, see  Like the North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War, the DPRK is not going to take orders from foreign powers, friends and adversaries alike, least of all when its leaders believe US military exercises and nuclear weapons pose a threat.  Predictably, therefore, Pyongyang treats international sanctions, intended to punish it, as incentives to push ahead with development and production of new weapons for deterrence. It may only be a matter of time before a North Korean missile will be able to reach the US mainland, but Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather, is ever mindful of the fact that North Korea is surrounded by the overwhelming strategic power of the US and its South Korean and Japanese partners.  The DPRK also faces a US president who once upon a time called for eliminating nuclear weapons but now is presiding over their significant upgrading, in competition with Russia and China (Post #113 and  That upgrading includes miniaturization, which from one angle—the one most likely to have the North Korean military’s attention—increases the possible use of a nuclear weapon in warfare.  North Korea’s evident work on miniaturization may hardly be coincidental.

The best and only chance of dissuading Kim Jong-un from continuing on the path of weapons modernization, which is both dangerous and ruinous in terms of human development, is to put before him a package of alternative incentives— a peace treaty to end the Korean War, security guarantees, sustainable energy options, and meaningful economic aid. A joint US-China initiative that, within the context of a revived Six-Party Talks, incorporates such a package would be a welcome development indeed, as much for improving their bilateral relations as for deescalating tensions with the DPRK. An interim step would have been Washington’s acceptance of a proposal put forth by DPRK foreign minister Ri Su-yong, who told the Associated Press on April 23 that if the US “stops the nuclear war exercises in the Korean peninsula, then we should also cease our nuclear tests.”  (President Obama rejected the idea.)  I have also put forth the idea of creating a Northeast Asia Security Dialogue Mechanism (  Its agenda would ultimately include multilateral denuclearization, but would start with discussion of other security-related topics on which it might be easier to find common ground, the aim being trust building.

Hence, what is often referred to as “the North Korean nuclear issue” is much more than that.  The heart of the matter is peace and security in Northeast Asia, which involves a host of interlinked issues: strategic mistrust between the US and China, territorial disputes, increasing military spending and basing agreements, cross-border environmental problems, and nuclear weapons possessed by four countries today and possibly two more (Japan and South Korea) tomorrow.  Decision makers in Washington, though overwhelmed by problems in the Middle East, need to pay attention to the Korean peninsula and think outside the box.


Post #115: Sanctions and Defiance in North Korea

Part 1: Sanctions—A Failed Strategy

(Note: This is the first of a two-part commentary on North Korea.  The second part will discuss the North’s latest weapons programs, which have evidently accelerated in response to pressure from the UN and US.)

North Korea has now been sanctioned five times by the United Nations Security Council for its nuclear and missile tests: resolutions 1718 (2006), 1874 (2009), 2087 (2013), 2094 (2013) and 2270 (2016).  UNSC Resolution 2270 is the strongest one yet, spelling out in great detail the proscribed goods and requiring that all parties neither import them from nor export them to North Korea.  Each resolution obliges the members to carry out the terms of the sanctions and (as the April 15 press statement of the UNSC says) “facilitate a peaceful and comprehensive solution through dialogue.” This is a case of mission impossible for two fundamental reasons: the sanctions will not work, and the fact of them impedes any chance for a “peaceful and comprehensive solution.”

Foremost among the obstacles to an effective North Korea sanctions regime is smuggling along the China-DPRK (North Korea) border.  Military items disguised as ordinary goods seem easily able to evade detection thanks to inconsistent inspection by border guards, bribery, false declarations, and North Korean firms based in China that actually belong to military-run trading companies (  Since these practices are surely well known to the Chinese authorities, it seems fair to assume they have no strong interest in preventing or at least substantially reducing it—something they could accomplish with a more intensive border inspection process.  That China is not doing so no doubt reflects its oft-stated position that the North Korean nuclear issue is the result of other countries’ policies, not China’s, hence that resolving it is others’ responsibility, mainly the US.

This is not to say that China is refusing to follow the UNSC’s latest resolution (UNSCR 2270).  Beijing’s criticism of North Korea’s nuclear and missile tests has become increasingly harsh and open over the last few years, and voting to approve UN sanctions is one way to underscore its criticism.  Reports indicate, for example, that China has closed its ports to North Korean coal and iron ore exports (;  But the Chinese have created a large loophole.  At their insistence, 2270 allows for humanitarian trade affecting people’s “livelihood.”  Thus, as China’s foreign ministry spokesperson said on March 4, “We will earnestly observe the UNSCR 2270. The resolution prohibits the DPRK’s export of coal, iron ore and iron, but those that are deemed essential for people’s livelihood and have no connection with the funding of the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs will not be affected” (  As a result, China’s exports to North Korea actually rose about 15 percent in the first 3 months of 2016 compared with 2015, and Chinese imports rose nearly 11 percent (

These figures come from a Chinese customs official.  They may underplay the actual trade figures, which are said to have been deleted from official PRC trade reports in order to hide the volume and character of the trade (

China is hardly alone when it comes to evading sanctions on North Korea. The DPRK operates numerous entities that do business abroad in illicit goods.  Namibia, Iran, and Russia are usually mentioned in this regard.  Two specialists call these trading entities “North Korea, Inc.”  Their research concludes that “sanctions have actually improved North Korea’s ability to procure components for its nuclear and missile programs”

( The reason is that the trading firms, mainly in China and Hong Kong, have been willing and able to pay a higher price for these goods to middlemen, who in turn are willing to take greater risks to sell.  The writers acknowledge the great difficulty in getting ahead of the curve when it comes to identifying the North Korean firms and finding ways to put them out of business.  In the end, they say, only diplomacy will resolve the problem.

Reflagging and renaming North Korean ships is another common tactic, as is falsely claiming a ship’s destination as (for example) China rather than the DPRK.  (Andrea Berger provides a comprehensive picture of the sanctions issues at  For example, an unpublished UN report describes how the North Koreans used a Singapore branch of a Chinese bank to pay for their ships to transport weapons through the Panama Canal (  Then there is the story of a British banker who, according to the Panama Papers (see my Post #114), set up a front company in Pyongyang, registered in the British Virgin Islands, to sell and procure arms (

North Korea’s military program also benefits from the fine line that often exists between civilian and military items.  Commercial trucks, for example, can be used to mount a variety of weapons.  A Chinese-made truck used in both China and North Korea for mining operations has reportedly been adapted by the North Korean military for its new mobile rocket-propelled artillery system (  Six mobile intercontinental missiles (possibly fakes or mock-ups) paraded in Pyongyang in April 2012 likewise were mounted on Chinese-made trucks (

When all is said and done, the most likely scenario is that the new round of sanctions will produce no better results than previous rounds.  This is so not only because North Korea has many ways to procure items needed for its military purposes, and plenty of willing private sellers.  China, as North Korea’s principal trade partner for many years, is not going to watch the North disintegrate in spite of Beijing’s discomfort over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.  China’s leaders will do more than previously to enforce sanctions, such as inspection of cargo bound for and incoming from North Korea; but they will do a good deal less than the US wants, especially when it comes to border inspections.  For just as President Obama has hawkish advisers who want to turn the screws on North Korea even tighter in hopes of regime change, President Xi has people around him who think resisting US pressure is strategically more important to China than undermining Kim Jong-un.  Secretary of State John Kerry may well say that China’s approach “has not worked, and we cannot continue business as usual.”  But the Chinese have a perfectly good comeback, namely, that Washington and Pyongyang must find a way back to the negotiating table.

Post #114: The Panama Papers and the 1%

One of the many tools at the disposal of multinational corporations (MNCs) for maximizing profits and undermining state sovereignty is moving operations to low-tax countries.  Global companies do not simply “go abroad”; they shift capital, as well as labor and technology, to wherever the advantages are greatest.  This reality of globalization is well known, and it is matched by the similar behavior of powerful, wealthy individuals, including present and former top government officials.  Like the MNCs, wealthy individuals are not content to make tons of money at home if they can make even more by finding tax shelters abroad, where their money is completely hidden from public view.  It’s what the 1 percent do.

Thus, the revelations of the so-called Panama Papers are hardly surprising.  The Papers, leaked by a consortium of investigative journalists from the records of the Mossack Fonseca law firm in Panama City, merely expose standard operating procedures for multinationals and the super-wealthy.  (Over 200,000 corporations and 14,000 clients of the law firm are mentioned in the documents.)  As explained by Max Bearak of the Washington Post (April 8, 2016) in one of the few articles that goes to the heart of this large-scale deceit, corporate investments are driven at least as much by the lure of “offshore” tax havens as by revenue from production.  Foreign direct investment (FDI) is always touted as being a boon to the receiving country’s economy—and, for developing countries, a savior—but the Panama Papers remind us that FDI is often meant to evade tax collection of both the home and host countries, to the tune of hundreds of billions (perhaps trillions) of dollars.

Mainstream media have had little to say about the tax evasions of global corporations, choosing instead to focus on world leaders who, personally or via family and cronies, have moved funds into companies abroad to avoid paying taxes—for instance, Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, David Cameron, Nawaz Sharif, and Iceland’s Sigmundur Davíð Gunnlaugsson (the only one to step down).  Naturally, they all reject criticism, saying that what they did isn’t illegal (Britain, Pakistan, and Iceland), or the leaks are a Western attempt to undermine their rule (Russia), or the news isn’t fit to print (China).  Largely missing from the discussion is the consequences of tax avoidance: it robs the poor—countries and people—to further enrich the wealthy.  Unpaid taxes skew government budgets, reduce spending on social well-being, and, for a poor country, force reliance on foreign loans that typically come with strings attached.  In countries with widespread official corruption, the poor are doubly cheated.

The European Union may soon vote on a proposal to force MNCs based in Europe, such as Apple and Starbucks, to report their tax information—their pre-tax profits, taxes paid, and transactions between branch plants (  The presumption is that this information would shed light on shell companies and other tax shelters.  As critics are already charging, the EU proposal would leave untouched the activities of these same MNCs in countries outside the EU—all those developing countries that lack the legal and political punch of the EU.

What the Panama Papers really do is to buttress the argument (see my Post #9) on the urgent need to reduce the stark and growing inequality within and between countries—“An Economy for the 1%,” as an Oxfam study puts it (  Closing tax loopholes is just one element; compelling tax payments by corporations that pay little or nothing is another; and preventing government officials, celebrities, and others among the super-rich from hiding their money in offshore accounts is a third.  For even as reduction of extreme poverty worldwide has made some progress, Oxfam reports, “just 62 individuals had the same wealth as 3.6 billion people—the bottom half of humanity”; and “since the turn of the century, the poorest half of the world’s population has received just 1% of the total increase in global wealth, while half of that increase has gone to the top 1%”.  The distortions of the global distribution of wealth are, in a word, obscene.

Even the One-Percenters who meet annually at Davos (see Posts #4 and 63) recognize that growing inequality is one of the leading threats to the global order that overwhelmingly benefits them.  But how many of them would be willing to end tax havens, secret overseas accounts, and corporate tax evasion practices?  How many would acknowledge that tax evasion by the super-rich is a tax on the poor? Very few, of course; those who attend the Davos meetings are concerned about economic “growth,” not social equity.  Gandhi’s words are worth remembering: “There is enough for every person’s need, but not enough for every person’s greed.”


Post #113: Nuclear Insecurity

The fourth Nuclear Security Summit, hosted by President Obama, has just ended.  The focus was on terrorism, a perfectly reasonable topic.  But the larger question, not taken up by the conference, is why the US, Russia (which did not attend), and seven other countries still regard nuclear weapons as central to their national-security strategies, especially when they have no role in deterring or fighting terrorists.

Obama did comment on his administration’s achievements toward creating a nuclear-free world, he said:

The United States and Russia remain on track to meet our New Start Treaty obligations so that by 2018 the number of deployed American and Russian nuclear warheads will be at their lowest levels since the 1950s. Even as the United States maintains a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal to deter any adversary and ensure the security of our allies, I’ve reduced the number and role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy. I also have ruled out developing new nuclear warheads and narrowed the contingencies under which the United States would ever use or threaten to use nuclear weapons (

At best, this claim distorts the reality of nuclear weapons in our time and probably in our children’s time.  The truth is that the US and other nuclear-weapon states have failed to reduce nuclear arsenals to a bare minimum, reach agreement to confine and reduce the roughly 2,000 pounds of fissile materials now held worldwide, or find meaningful common ground on nuclear security issues.  There remain well over 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, more than 14,000 of them under US and Russian control.  Just when we thought otherwise, nuclear winter is back in the news. Two specialists who were among the first to identify the nuclear winter phenomenon recently pointed out that if war were to break out between India and Pakistan, use of just 100 of their combined 250 nuclear bombs would have catastrophic effects on global temperatures, the global food supply, and the ozone layer (  In other words, a US-Russia nuclear war is not needed to produce nuclear winter worldwide.

Instead of working toward nuclear abolition, as these two writers propose, we have the United States investing (contrary to Obama’s statement) in a new nuclear weapon, the B-61-12, that will, according to its supporters, result in less radiation and fewer lives lost than existing nuclear weapons.  At nearly $29 million apiece, and $11.5 billion in total program spending, it’s the most expensive weapon in the US arsenal—part of a $19 billion modernization of nuclear weapons in Obama’s 2017 defense budget that also includes funding of two more nuclear submarines.  To the president, this is a matter of “striking the proper balance” between arms reductions and a “safe and reliable” nuclear stockpile.  Some balance!

The B-61 is being presented as a more responsible force for deterrence.  Where?  In Europe, of all places, where the B-61 would upgrade some 200 nuclear weapons still stationed in Germany and elsewhere (  The weapons will be available to theater commanders for use “as a last resort.”  Such thinking takes us all the way back to the Eisenhower years, when nuclear weapons were considered to represent “more bang for the buck” and usable in warfare.  I’m also reminded of the rationale behind another “economical” weapon, the neutron bomb, which was supposed to leave buildings alone and merely “take out” people.

The Obama administration has also missed opportunities to reduce the proliferation danger presented by highly enriched uranium (  To be sure, since 2009 several countries have entirely given up their civilian HEU, starting with Ukraine; and the nuclear deal with Iran is praiseworthy indeed.  Moreover, the number of countries with bomb-capable nuclear fuel has dropped from 52 in 1991 to 25 in 2014 (  But even as some countries have upgraded their nuclear security, the possibility of theft by a terror group remains strong—witness Belgium, which was praised in the above report for improving nuclear security, only to have a few nuclear plant workers defect to ISIS, raising the risk of vulnerability.

In keeping with the double standard that often appears in discussion of nuclear weapons, the US is reportedly disturbed about Pakistan’s development of small nuclear weapons—as though US weapons such as the B-61 are under perfect control.  US safeguards are in fact suspect, as reports come in throughout the year of loose surveillance at power plants.  A “60 Minutes” program that aired on July 13, 2014 found several deficiencies on nuclear safety following a reporter’s visit to an underground missile site.  Even the telephones don’t work properly, the soldiers said; it’s hard to hear commands.  Alcoholism, cheating on tests, and psychological problems among military personnel have been uncovered at several US nuclear bases.  The Associated Press documented these since 2013; the incidents, which probably represent only a portion of the actual number, have led to the removal of officers and men—the most recent just last month at a base in Wyoming where fourteen airmen came under investigation for drug abuse (

In previous posts (see #32 and 33) I have talked about several dimensions of the nuclear danger: the possibility of accidents, the potential for miscalculation in “the fog of war,” the reliance on hair-trigger alert status, the excessive numbers, and the ongoing refinements of the weapons to make them ever more accurate, reliable, and invulnerable.  In July 1961, just several months into his presidency, John F. Kennedy received his first briefing on nuclear weapons.  It described the likely consequences of a Soviet preemptive strike on the US, followed by a US retaliatory strike.  Tens of millions of people would be killed instantly and then by radiation, Kennedy was told.  He turned to his secretary of state, Dean Rusk, and said: “And we call ourselves the human race.”  (The National Security Archive published this and other formerly classified documents on nuclear weapons at

As I’ve noted before, every US president in the nuclear era has found, on assuming office, that a nuclear-weapon exchange would be inconceivably horrific. Yet all of them wound up adding to the weapon arsenal, if not in numbers than in refinements of targeting, weapons capabilities, and deployment.

Nothing quite explains as well as the concept of the military-industrial complex why presidents have been unable to reverse these trends.  The B-61 has actually been around since the 1960s, and has survived by being constantly adapted to replace retired nuclear weapons.  Since 2002 the Pentagon has argued the need for revitalizing the US nuclear weapons program, and now, as Joe Cirincione of the Ploughshares Fund reports, “The Obama administration is planning to spend over $1 trillion in the next 30 years on an entire new generation of nuclear bombs, bombers, missiles and submarines to replace those built during the Reagan years” (  Not only does this planning give new life to the B-61; it also provides for a new generation of strategic bombers, cruise missiles, and submarines, all armed with nuclear weapons.  The Russians, of course, are not standing still either: among the new nuclear weapons in their plans is a hydrogen bomb torpedo!  So much for the end of the Cold War.

The President spoke in 2009 of the country’s “moral responsibility” to work for a nuclear-free world, but evidently that is no match for the military-industrial complex’s bureaucratic mission to keep developing new nuclear weapons, even if they meet no plausible strategic need.


RUSSIA 7,300 | Download report

USA 6,970 | Download report

FRANCE 300 | Download report

CHINA 260 | Download report

UK 215 | Download report

PAKISTAN 130 | Download report

INDIA 120 | Download report

ISRAEL 80 | Download report


RUSSIA 7,300 | Download report

USA 6,970 | Download report

FRANCE 300 | Download report

CHINA 260 | Download report

UK 215 | Download report

PAKISTAN 130 | Download report

INDIA 120 | Download report

ISRAEL 80 | Download report



Post #112—The Republicans: Cowardice in High Places

Jeb Bush endorses Ted Cruz.  So do Marco Rubio and Mitt Romney. Chris Christie endorses—in fact, practically fawns all over—Donald Trump. Ben Carson suddenly thinks Trump would make a great president, in agreement with Vladimir Putin of all people. Paul Ryan bemoans the sorry state of his party’s campaign, but refuses to name names and implies he’ll endorse whoever wins the nomination.  The national chairman of the Republican Party likewise indicates unhappiness with the candidates, but says he’ll endorse whoever wins.  John Kasich appeals to reason, but nobody is listening. Who will he endorse when he finally drops out?

These guys are cowards, pure and simple.  They have no principles, no scruples, only a skewed sense of party loyalty that communist party apparatchiks would surely appreciate.  Rather than refuse to endorse either of the two frontrunners, they abide by a bizarre tradition of accepting their fate, holding their noses, and supporting candidates they have called—and who have called them—every name in the book.  Sure, they say, Trump and Cruz are “con artists,” bigots, bullies—but at least they are our terrible people. And, oh yes, they’re loyal conservatives.

Now I’m not so naïve as to believe that the endorsers really mean what they say in support of their suddenly wonderful candidate.  Nor do I believe the fence-sitters like Paul Ryan when they say (as Ryan did say) that we need to “raise our gaze and aim for a brighter horizon.”  All of them are self-serving, jockeying for position, probably with an eye on winning or keeping a job in the next Republican administration.  They are desperately trying to show that even though they have some problem with Trump and Cruz—hey, nobody’s perfect—they have an even bigger problem with Hillary Clinton. So they content themselves with supporting the “lesser evil,” or opting (like Ryan) for neutrality.

Let’s not leave this sorry lot without also noting that Trump and Cruz are cowards too, though they mask their insecurities with bravado.  They will never acknowledge their race- and gender-based hatreds, their moral deficits, their constant lying, or the real impact of their policies (or what passes for policies) on everything from military strategy to social programs and the environment.

History will record that when the Republican Party disintegrated, undone by two demagogues who represented depraved values and dangerous ideas, no one in the party dared to directly challenge and repudiate them.  Instead, party leaders pretended that the demagogues’ views might somehow be toned down by wiser advisers or by the realities of power.  Now that’s naïveté!

Post #111: China–Broken Rice Bowls, Stifled Voices

Amidst the economic downturn in China, two developments that are not “in the human interest” stand out: rising unemployment among workers in state-owned enterprises (SOEs), and repression of criticism of the party-state leadership.  China, no different from any other large country, has a multitude of domestic problems, but those two are especially worrisome in that they have the potential for significant unrest.  And for the Chinese leadership, social instability always raises red flags.

China’s breakneck economic expansion has finally slowed, as it surely had to after so many years of double-digit growth.  During that span, the leadership has largely delivered on increasing income, alleviating poverty, opening overseas markets, allowing people to get rich, and widening the circle of private enterprise.  But at the same time, these dramatic changes in post-Mao economy have also produced large-scale official corruption at every level of government, widening household income gaps, worsening of air and water quality, a huge influx of rural people into cities, and reduced employment opportunity for educated young people.  (See my Post #98.)

In the economic reform era, SOEs have been a weak link—often too big to fail, but also too expensive to keep subsidizing.  Now that official thinking has turned to a version of supply-side economics, steel and coal SOEs are a prime target. Overproduction is being met by substantial layoffs—estimates run anywhere from 2 to 3 million workers—and reduced or withheld wages  Other inefficient, debt-burdened SOEs may face new restrictions on their activities, though closing them down is as much a political as an economic issue.  Strikes and labor protests are already accelerating; in 2015 they reportedly doubled (to around 2,700) compared with 2014, leading the government to actions designed to disrupt labor organizing.  (See the link to the chart at the end of this post.)

Simultaneously, Xi Jinping has also further concentrated power in his hands and spread his words and image far and wide—so much so that some people believe he is styling himself after Chairman Mao, whose cult of personality dominated Chinese politics for over a quarter century. (See Post #69.)  Elevating the great leader has been accompanied by a crackdown on lawyers and journalists, jailing or house arrest of prominent online critics, censorship of newspaper articles deemed offensive to the party leaders (e.g.,, and warnings about embracing Western ideas.  Xi recently paid a personal visit to the three major state-run news outlets to insure conformity with the party line (  As the China Times intoned, “it is necessary for the media to restore public trust in the party.”

The two trends are closely connected in that the legitimacy and longevity of the party-state depend above all on maintaining social stability—wei wen.  As Deng Xiaoping said, “stability overrides everything.”  “The stability maintenance regime is China’s hybrid approach to suppress undesirable elements in the social order,” Dali Yang has written (in “China’s Troubled Quest for Order,” Journal of Contemporary China, forthcoming).  But wei wen can be risky when the economy is being deregulated, as the strikes and protests show.  Cracking down on critics of the regime on charges such as “provoking trouble” and “illegal content” makes a mockery of the official commitment to the “rule of law” and raises fears of a return to the era of “democratic dictatorship.”  And if high-profile people with well-connected backers are among the victims of a crackdown, party leaders could find themselves in a serious predicament.

“Where there is oppression, there is resistance,” Mao once said. And so there has been, though not of the sort that threatens regime stability.  A prominent financial newspaper, Caixin, publicized the fact that one of its articles had been censored.  When a real estate tycoon with millions of followers of his blog came under party assault for his sharp criticism of the party’s authoritarianism, and had his blog account expunged, a number of prominent journalists and scholars jumped to his aid ( An employee of Xinhua, the official news agency, wrote a letter protesting that “the public’s freedom of expression has been violated to an extreme degree.”  The letter got plenty of attention online before the authorities, of course, took it down (

Xi Jinping’s evident effort to build his reputation as a no-nonsense leader may win applause in foreign affairs—such as the tough line he has taken on the South China Sea dispute—but at home it seems destined to meet with a rising backlash.  Chinese politics isn’t freewheeling like Taiwan’s, but neither is it the tightly controlled society of Chairman Mao. Workers and professionals alike have more room than ever before to express their discontent.  While “forbidden zones” remain and party apparatchiks function as usual, China is now a wired society, and everything from ordinary complaints to mass protests can go ballistic in an instant.  China is a long way from falling apart; but enforcing “stability” is likely to prove increasingly difficult.



Post #110: Trump and China

Donald Trump says he “knows” China. He “likes” China, in fact “loves” China.  And so long as the Chinese do exactly as he wants, he’ll continue loving China.  And that’s why the Chinese, along with the Japanese, the Europeans, even the Republican Party’s national security establishment ( fear a Trump presidency.

And well they should. Although official Chinese sources have made few direct comments on Trump’s campaign, I found plenty of concern during a brief visit to Shanghai last week.  (China’s Global Times did comment on March 14 following the anti-Trump protests in Chicago, saying he is “racist and extremist,” unpredictable, and a sign that US democracy is not as strong or exemplary as it might seem to be []). Trump was the main topic of interest to the Chinese professors I met. They have heard enough about him to believe his administration would represent a huge departure from the past, with the prospect of constant confrontations, impolite dialogue, and no compromising.  After all, as Trump says, he wants to put America “back in the global leadership business.”

What is so threatening about Trump’s views of China?  First, he doesn’t know anything about China.  He hasn’t been there, and so far as I’m aware hasn’t studied it or brought in anyone who has.  His sole story meant to convey his expertise on China is that he sold an apartment in Trump Tower to a Chinese bank tenant for $55 million. As a result, “I have a great relationship with China. . . . I know China” (

But in fact Trump views China as an enemy, as he told Wolf Blitzer of CNN in 2011:

“These are not our friends.  These are our enemies.  These are not people that understand niceness.  And the only thing you can do, Wolf, to get their attention is to say either we’re not going to trade with you any further or, in the alternative, we’re going to tax your products as they come into the United States” (

Second, his opinion of China is the opposite of “a great relationship.” It comes down to one thing: China is raking America over the coals through trade and currency manipulation. In his words, “this is a country that is ripping off the United States like nobody other than OPEC has ever done before.” Here is more of what he said on those topics a few years ago (

“No, it [a trade war] will cause a depression in China, not here. China is making all the money. We’re not making the money. I mean, look at the numbers. Look at the – look at the difference as to what we import compared to what they’re importing . . . It’s like day and night. I like getting rid of that kind of a partnership. I mean that’s called we’re losing a lot of money. I like getting rid of it.”  And:

“For us to be holding state dinners for people who are just totally manipulating their currency…is hard to believe . . . . You don’t give dinners to the enemy and that’s what they’re doing [referring to a state dinner for then-Chinese leader Hu Jintao] . . . I would have sent them to McDonalds if we didn’t make a deal and said, “Go home.” . . . The fact is they’re laughing at our leadership, and we’re letting them get away with murder.”

Now of course Donald Trump is hardly the first prominent American to accuse China of currency manipulation and chafe at the trade figures in China’s favor.  Those are legitimate issues. But the tenor of his comments suggests that he’ll treat Chinese officials like small-time business people who will be sent home if they don’t “make a deal” he likes. The notion of what international negotiations with another great power entails escapes Trump.  Business is business, he believes.  And believing as he does that only the Chinese have made money is absurd.  Actually, Donald J. Trump Collection products, such as shirts and cufflinks, as well as his wife’s own line of clothing, are made in China as well as in other low-wage countries ( So Trump makes money from China, just as he does by hiring Mexican workers for his hotels, all while creating the impression that Americans are being duped.

In fact, in Trump’s mind, everything China does is suspect.  As he said about climate change: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make US manufacturing non-competitive.” Political scientists call that the bad-faith model, which automatically excludes the possibility that Trump’s view of China can change no matter what the Chinese do.  But scapegoating China clearly resonates with Trump’s supporters.

What does Trump propose to do about China’s treacherous behavior?  His campaign has produced the following program, which is notable for its oversimplifications of the problem and the emphasis on bullying as remedies:

“The Trump Plan Will Achieve The Following Goals:

Bring China to the bargaining table by immediately declaring it a currency manipulator. (“What would I do [about China]?” Trump was asked by Rush Limbaugh. “I would tell China that if you don’t straighten out your manipulation of the currency — and I mean fast; I mean really fast — we are going to tax your products 25%. Now, what that will do is two things. Number one: Immediately will start doing our own manufacturing. We don’t have to make toys that are coated with lead paint in China. We can make good toys in Alabama and North Carolina.”)

Protect American ingenuity and investment by forcing China to uphold intellectual property laws and stop their unfair and unlawful practice of forcing U.S. companies to share proprietary technology with Chinese competitors as a condition of entry to China’s market.

Reclaim millions of American jobs and reviving American manufacturing by putting an end to China’s illegal export subsidies and lax labor and environmental standards. No more sweatshops or pollution havens stealing jobs from American workers.

Strengthen our negotiating position by lowering our corporate tax rate to keep American companies and jobs here at home, attacking our debt and deficit so China cannot use financial blackmail against us, and bolstering the U.S. military presence in the East and South China Seas to discourage Chinese adventurism.”


The Republicans’ national security critique cited above ends by saying Donald Trump is unfit for the presidency.  Here are a few tidbits from the statement that are relevant to Trump and China:

“His vision of American influence and power in the world is wildly inconsistent and unmoored in principle. He swings from isolationism to military adventurism within the space of one sentence.

“His advocacy for aggressively waging trade wars is a recipe for economic disaster in a globally connected world.

“His equation of business acumen with foreign policy experience is false. Not all lethal conflicts can be resolved as a real estate deal might, and there is no recourse to bankruptcy court in international affairs.

“Mr. Trump’s own statements lead us to conclude that as president, he would use the authority of his office to act in ways that make America less safe, and which would diminish our standing in the world. . . . We commit ourselves to working energetically to prevent the election of someone so utterly unfitted to the office.”

“China is killing us,” Trump says. He cannot conceive of the possibility that US-China tensions, whether on trade or the South China Sea dispute, are the product of both countries’ actions. Trump has a one-sided mind, seemingly incapable of grasping nuances, acknowledging cultural differences, and seeking common ground.  Given the opportunity, he’ll “kill” China and destroy opportunities for settling disputes with it and many other countries. My Chinese colleagues therefore most wanted to know my answer to a simple question: Will Trump win? I guaranteed that Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders would defeat him, and even urged them to bet on it.  And if I’m wrong?  I said I would be applying for Chinese citizenship.

Critical appraisals of foreign affairs from a global-citizen perspective.


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