Joseph Chan on Confucianism and Democracy

In IS210 today, we viewed a short clip from this interesting lecture by Professor Joseph Chan given at Cornell University. Professor Chan of the University of Hong Kong talks about the shared moral basis of contemporary Chinese society. With Leninism/Marxism/Maoism being discredited amongst most Chinese, the search begins for a new moral basis/foundation for society.

As Professor Dick Miller says in his introductory remarks:

In China, as in the United States, people feel a great need for an adequate, shared, ethical basis for public life. There, as here, people don’t think that freedom to get as rich as you can is an adequate basis.

So, what is that basis, if the official ruling ideology of the political regime no longer seems legitimate. Liberal democracy? Confucianism. There are adherents in China of both of these as the proper ethical foundation. What does Professor Chan have to say about the compatibility of Confucian ideals with democracy? Watch and find out. It’s a very informative lecture.

U.N. Security Council Silent on Tibet Protests

How do changing ideas about sovereignty–from sovereignty viewed as a “right” to sovereignty viewed as a “responsibilty”–affect the nature of how states act and the functioning of organizations such as the United Nations?  Just before spring break we viewed the documentary The Peacekeepers, where you were able to witness the deliberations that take place behind the scenes at the United Nations and the Security Council specifically. For Wednesday, we’ll read Erik Voeten’s article on “The Political Origins of the UN Security Council’s Ability to Legitimize the Use of Force”, the main point of which is obvious given the title. Today, the Guardian reports that the Security Council remains silent on the current situation in Tibet.

UNITED NATIONS, March 17 (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council will likely keep silent about China’s crackdown on demonstrations in Tibet, mostly due to belief that provoking Beijing would accomplish nothing, diplomats said on Monday.
China, which has sent in troops to enforce control in the regional capital Lhasa, said earlier that the violent protests by Tibetans were organized by followers of the Dalai Lama seeking to derail the Beijing Olympics in August. Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader has denied this charge.
“The issue did not come up in the council,” China’s Deputy permanent U.N. representative Liu Zhenmin told Reuters after a meeting of the council on unrelated issues. “This has nothing to do with peace and security,” he said. “It is local violence, … a domestic issue.”
China, like the United States, Britain, France and Russia, is a permanent veto-wielding member of the council and would be able to block any attempts by the council to act on Tibet.
Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, currently president of the council, told reporters without elaborating that he did not expect the 15-nation Security Council to discuss Tibet. Several other ambassadors confirmed this view.

US Missile Test–Sign of an Arms Race in Space?

The United States military has shot down a stray satellite via sea-launched missile. While the Pentagon insists that the episode was meant to prevent the falling satellite from becoming a potential hazard upon its descent to earth, military analysts are not persuaded. It will be difficult to disabuse those with a realist mindset that the exercise was not in response to China’s similar missile exercise in January 2007. Time Magazine’s Jeffrey Kluger writes:

sm3_missle_0220.jpgThis week, the Pentagon tried something different. On Wednesday evening, it announced that it successfully launched a sea-based missile and shot down a crippled satellite gliding 150 miles overhead, in a $60 million effort to blast it out of the sky before it could tumble home and hurt someone. It’s been a neat little feat on the part of the military planners — but that doesn’t mean they’re telling the whole truth about why they bothered in the first place.

The clay pigeon in the military’s cross hairs was an unnamed, 5,000-lb. spy satellite that was launched in 2006 and never quite got its purchase in space, suffering a malfunction almost immediately upon its arrival in orbit. Comparatively low-orbiting craft like this one tumble back to Earth faster than high-orbiting ones, as the upper wisps of the planet’s atmosphere produce increasing amounts of drag, pulling the object lower and lower. This one was on a trajectory that would have caused it to begin its terminal plunge sometime in March, sending it on a fiery descent that should have entirely — or at least mostly — incinerated it.

So why make the effort at such a complicated bit of sharpshooting just to bag a target that was coming down anyway? The Pentagon says it’s all about safety. Five thousand pounds of out-of-control satellite can do an awful lot of damage if it drops on the wrong spot. What’s more, this particular satellite is carrying a 500-lb. tank of frozen hydrazine fuel — nasty stuff if you’re unlucky enough to inhale it. Striking the ground at reentry speed, the gas could immediately disperse over a patch of ground as big as two football fields…

The more believable explanation for the duck hunt is that it’s been an exercise in politics rather than safety. Washington was none too pleased in January of 2007 when China shot down one of its own weather satellites after it had outlived its usefulness, a bit of technological sword-rattling that proved it could target any other nation’s orbiting hardware with equal ease. Beijing too made vague claims of worrying about the public weal, but Washington saw the act more as the political statement it probably was, and concluded — correctly — that American spy satellites are not quite as safe as they once were. An American shootdown would be one way to return the gesture. The timing is particularly suspicious since Russia and China issued a joint condemnation of the militarization of space only days before the Pentagon went public with its plans. While Beijing’s sudden pacifism is hardly credible after it own exercise in cosmic skeet-shooting, neither is the Washington’s insistence that there is no linkage between the two events.

Another possibility is that the Pentagon was indeed nervous about something aboard the satellite, but not the tank of fuel. Spy satellites are, by definition, made of secret hardware, and nothing so pleases one military power as the chance to seize and pick over the technology of another. Should American camera and communications components fall into the wrong hands, whatever tactical advantage was gained in developing them would be lost.

Price of Crude Oil Closes above $100/bbl First Time Ever

bartiromo.jpgWe’ll be playing the “Oil Game” in class tomorrow in PLSC250. When colleagues of mine used this teaching tool in their classes 4 or 5 years ago, the price of oil was about 1/3 of what it is today. In the clip, Brian Williams will tell you that oil reached a “record” high of $100.01 US a barrel. That’s only true if we’re talking about nominal dollars. In terms of real dollars it still has about 4 USD/bbl to go to hit the all-time high set in December 1979. Hmmm…I wonder what was happening in late 1979? Iran, Afghanistan, plus ca change…

Click here to see Maria Bartiromo report from NBC News.

“People are afraid that there is just not enough oil in the world to meet demand; demand which is coming not only from the United States but from emerging economies like China and India.”

“Truman lost China” and the effect of “the stuff of politics” on IR

In our discussion of the international (or system) level-of-analysis in IR, we noted some of the strengths and weaknesses of focusing explanation and description at that level. While system-level explanations are helpful in that they are comprehensive and holistic, a major disadvantage of that level is that it misses, or neglects, the “stuff of politics.” What does that mean?

ping_pong_diplomacy.jpgHere’s an explanation by way of example. The image below is of Richard Nixon and Mao ZeDong engaging in “ping pong diplomacy”* with Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai looking on approvingly [why is Mao using a “Western” grip?]. Those of you who know a little bit about US-China diplomatic history understand the importance of the “Nixon goes to China” moment. The most significant point, for our purposes, is that this meeting signaled the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and “Red China”, after they had been cut off due to the 1949 victory of Mao’s Communists in the Chinese Civil War. It was not surprising that it was Nixon–a Republican–who was able to make this diplomatic gesture, since it would have been politically impossible for a Democratic president to have done the same. This is because President Harry S. Truman, and the whole of the Democratic party by association, had been vilified for having “lost China” to Communism. This is the kind of “stuff of politics” that is ignored when looking at IR from only an international (or system-level) perspective. Here is a clip from a documentary analyzing Nixon’s visit to China:

*Nixon and Mao never did play ping-pong (as far as I know), but their meeting was given the name “ping-pong diplomacy” since the first post-1949 diplomatic US visitors to China were table tennis players.

“Who” is China? A Constructivist Approach to Security

William A. Callahan is a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars who is currently working on a project that links Chinese notions of self-identity and that country’s broader security environment.  As you may have guessed, Callahan approaches the topic from a constructivist perspective, in which issues of culture and identity are paramount.  A realist would never ask “who” is China, but “what” is China.   Here’s a snippet:

Who is China? This question is fundamental to the internal debate among Chinese elites as they grapple with national identity which, in turn, affects policy decisions…culture and history are intimately linked to China’s current foreign policy outlook.

Callahan’s book project analyzes how history, geography, and ethnicity shape China’s relations with the world. “To understand this, we must look at how China relates to itself,” he said. “China’s national security is closely tied to its national insecurities.”

One such insecurity is its shame over lost territory. Callahan cited “national humiliation maps” that outline historical China’s imperial boundaries juxtaposed with present-day borders. “These maps, which are produced for public consumption, narrate how China lost territory to imperialist invaders in the 19th century—especially Taiwan to Japan and the North and West to Russia,” said Callahan. “China lost a large chunk of territory. The humiliation—and how to cleanse it—is an important point that shapes China’s nationalism and pride.”

In fact, most demonstrations in China about any given problem usually have a historical aspect, he said, such as in 1999, when the United States bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, which was viewed in China as a humiliation similar to those of a century ago at the hands of the West.

“Idealized versions of China’s imperial past are now inspiring Chinese scholars’ and policymakers’ plans for China’s future—and the world’s future—in ways that challenge the international system,” said Callahan. This makes the study of identity politics all the more critical.

China and Japan, for example, have close economic relations but cool social and political ties. Callahan said, “China relates to Japan as an evil state, recalling World War II atrocities, such as the Nanjing massacre, and this memory has taken over the relationship.”

Notice the importance of the premise in the penultimate paragraph: that “idealized versions of China’s past” (i.e., culture and identity) are having a causal impact on China’s foreign policy.  This contrasts starkly with realist conceptions of the nature of international relations.  Below are two diagrams from Shih demonstrating the difference between realist and constructivist conceptions of security.



Notice that the impact of threats on security is not direct in the constructivist view; rather, it is mediated by culture and identity, both of which also affect each other.

Empty Olympic Promises? China as Global Citizen

The New York Times editorial board has chosen to use its valuable op-ed space to evaluate the nature of China’s behavior on the world stage.   The granting of the 2008 Summer Olympic Games to China years ago was meant to serve as a “carrot” in the carrot-and-stick approach being used by sovereign states, like the US, Canada, etc., and IGOs, like the United Nations to nudge China along the road to democratic reform and the protection of personal liberties in that communist state.  Has it worked?  Here’s a data point that rebuts the theory:

Six months out from the 2008 Olympics, China has jailed another inconvenient dissident. Hu Jia was dragged from his home by state police agents, and last week he was formally charged with inciting subversion. To earn the right to host the Games, China promised to improve its human rights record. Instead, it appears determined to silence anyone who dares to tell the truth about its abuses.

Mr. Hu and his wife, Zeng Jinyan, are human rights activists who spent much of 2006 restricted to their apartment. She used the power of the Internet to blog about life under detention while he wrote online about peasant protests and human rights cases.

Mr. Hu’s recent testimony, by telephone, to the European Parliament about Olympics-related rights violations may have been the last straw. Ms. Zeng and the couple’s two-month-old baby remain in their apartment under house arrest, with telephone and Internet connections now severed.

Improving its human rights record isn’t China’s only unmet commitment to the International Olympic Committee. It also promised to improve air quality. Now athletes and their coaches are figuring out how to spend as little time as possible in China’s smog-swamped capital, where they may need masks to breathe.

I’ve written about China before and mentioned the work of an NGO whose goal is to make the Chinese Olympics, the “Genocide Olympics”, highlighting China’s complicity in the genocide in Darfur.  See this post also by one of my students in Intro to IR.