When I’m not blogging, my current occupation is that of a graduate student in international affairs. And even though I’m on summer vacation I’d be remiss not to point out a very interesting article by Aaron L. Friedberg entitled “Hegemony with Chinese Characteristics” in the new issue of The National Interest. Friedberg’s topic is one that gets at the root of international relations theory- how does China’s regime type affect its relations with the outside world, specifically the United States?
I’ll have more to say on Friedberg’s piece later, but in the meantime here are two responses to the piece published by TNI; one by Andrew Nathan* and the other by Minxin Pei. In addition, the excellent foreign policy bloggers Daniel Larison and Greg Scoblete have discussed the pieces extensively in the past few days and their contributions are well worth reading as well.
*I was a student in Andrew Nathan’s course on Chinese foreign policy at Columbia this spring and know him slightly.…
This is one of the best paragraphs I have read about an essential dynamic in US politics, from Matt Taibbi’s brilliant, indispensable Michelle Bachmann article for Rolling Stone:
Snickering readers in New York or Los Angeles might be tempted by all of this to conclude that Bachmann is uniquely crazy. But in fact, such tales by Bachmann work precisely because there are a great many people in America just like Bachmann, people who believe that God tells them what condiments to put on their hamburgers, who can’t tell the difference between Soviet Communism and a Stafford loan, but can certainly tell the difference between being mocked and being taken seriously. When you laugh at Michele Bachmann for going on MSNBC and blurting out that the moon is made of red communist cheese, these people don’t learn that she is wrong. What they learn is that you’re a dick, that they hate you more than ever, and that they’re even more determined now to support anyone who promises not to laugh at their own visions and fantasies.
A quick disclaimer: I don’t believe that conservatives are necessarily stupid, or that conservative ideas are inherently bad, though conservatives do tend to support (in my opinion) a lot of bad ideas. Yet a large part of the reason someone like Michelle Bachmann is a viable presidential candidate is that she appeals to people who celebrate stupidity and ignorance as virtues and who equate “small-town values” with authenticity.
I don’t like Mitt Romney or Jon Huntsman, and I hope neither of them will be elected president next fall. But they don’t scare me like Bachmann does.
Many China-watchers make the incorrect assumption that because China is controlled by a single political party, the country’s entire political leadership is unified in respect to foreign policy. This long and fascinating article from The Washington Quarterly (PDF) identifies several competing camps in China’s foreign policy establishment yet concludes that the real battle lies between ‘nativists’ and ‘realists’.
Article via this piece, which is also worth reading in full.…
From the NYT story on the latest budget impasse:
Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Senate Republican and the party’s only other representative in the talks, said later Thursday that he would also miss the next negotiating session as he and Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, turned up the pressure on President Obama to play a larger role in the push for a debt limit deal.
“President Obama needs to decide between his goal of higher taxes, or a bipartisan plan to address our deficit,” Mr. McConnell and Mr. Kyl said in a joint statement. “He can’t have both. But we need to hear from him.”
What strikes me about McConnell and Kyl’s statement is that it is the exact inverse of the truth. President Obama and the Democrats are trying to address the deficit and believe raising taxes is one of the ways to do so. The Republicans meanwhile want no new taxes- ever, any time, for any reason- and are willing to endure a major deficit crisis in order to meet this end.…
Love and Other Drugs may not be a great film, but it does manage to accomplish one remarkable feat- it turns the profession of pharmaceutical sales into a field so glamorous that teenagers will undoubtedly leave the cinema dreaming of shilling medicine for a living.
A large part of the appeal is the fact that the pharmaceutical sales rep in the film played by Jake Gyllenhaal leaps into a steamy affair with the luscious Anne Hathaway, who plays an intimacy-shy young woman afflicted with Stage 1 Parkinson’s Disease. Their passionate coupling occupies the first part of the film, a blessing because little else is happening. Gyllenhaal tries to sell anti-depressants to a doctor (Hank Azaria). His slovenly brother leaves his wife and moves into his apartment, apparently content to sleep on the couch despite boasting of a high net worth. Oliver Platt makes his usual frenetic appearance as Gyllenhaal’s older partner. An unfriendly competitor appears, forcing our hero to get creative in shaping his sales pitches to skeptical nurses.
Then, Love and Other Drugs spends its second half in the midst of a serious identity crisis. At various points, I wasn’t sure if the film was going to be a screwball comedy, a conventional rom com with extra nudity, an inside look at the emergence of Viagra (the film was set in the late ’90s), a sharp social critique of the ethics of the pharmaceutical industry, or a tearjerking peek at the world of people who suffer from Parkinson’s. The film felt like the directors couldn’t decide which way to take the plot, so they just threw everything in the script and hoped that the appealing stars could make up for the mess.
They almost do. Well, at least Hathaway does. Of all the ingenues of her generation, she possesses a warmth that eludes many of the others. I expect she’ll soon have a project to match her talents.
Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, doesn’t really get the job done. He’s morphed from being a moody, skinny teenager to being a full-fledged buffed movie star, and in the process seems to have lost his unique selling point. While Hathaway seems born for her role as the Parkinson’s-afflicted love interest, Gyllenhaal could have been secretly replaced with another actor and the film likely wouldn’t have suffered much at all. Sad to see Donnie Darko become little more than an ersatz Hollywood pretty boy, but he’s hardly the first one that this has happened to.
And hell, if the whole acting thing doesn’t go well he can always get into the pharmaceutical sales business. Seems like all the fun without the burden of fame!…
A few days ago I wrote how Zhou Enlai’s famous saying about the French Revolution- that it was too early to say what its effects are- has been commonly cited as evidence of the Chinese skill in long-term thinking. Now, via the Financial Times (registration required), it turns out that Zhou likely was misquoted:
The trouble is that Zhou was not referring to the 1789 storming of the Bastille in a discussion with Richard Nixon during the late US president’s pioneering China visit. Zhou’s answer related to events only three years earlier – the 1968 students’ riots in Paris, according to Nixon’s interpreter at the time.
At a seminar in Washington to mark the publication of Henry Kissinger’s book, On China, Chas Freeman, a retired foreign service officer, sought to correct the long-standing error.
“I distinctly remember the exchange. There was a misunderstanding that was too delicious to invite correction,” said Mr Freeman.
The article goes on to say that Deng Xiaoping never actually uttered “to get rich is glorious” and the ancient Chinese curse- “may you live in interesting times”- doesn’t actually exist in China.
I wonder how many famous quotes are actually apocryphal?
‘Where’s my phone. Where’s my PHONE! WHERE’S MY PHONE!!”
‘It’s not my fault, someone should have found my phone and given it back to me!’
’30 years old and you can’t even keep an Iphone. Loser’
‘Oh, those people with Iphones think they’re soooo cooool’
‘Oh well, I didn’t even like it that much anyway’
‘Yeah, I’ve got a picture of that on my pho- god damn it!’
‘What am I going to do when I’m standing in line now? I can’t just stand there!’
‘Yeah, I lost it. No, I don’t know what happened to it. I think it might be in a taxi. Yeah, a bummer’
‘At least I’m not like one of those sheep anymore, walking around with my iPhone’
‘That’s ok! Now I can buy the new one!’
And the cycle continues…
To those who wonder what it is like to use the Internet here, in China, here is a quick glance:
Wake up, stumble over to the desk, turn on laptop. Sign in. Wander over to kitchen to brew pot of coffee.
Computer finishes starting up. Launch Chrome. Pour coffee and put bread in toaster. Splash water on face.
Click on Gmail. Doesn’t work. Launch VPN. Toast is ready, butter and put on plate. Sip from coffee.
Gmail begins loading but takes awhile. Look around the desk, and find copy of the Economist. Read through all the leaders.
Gmail tells you that your connection is slow. No shit, sherlock. Finally it loads. Three messages from Facebook, an e-mail from mom, a Youtube video, some quasi-spam. Click on the Facebook link. Start reading the US section of The Economist, finish that, then go through Asia and Europe.
Facebook doesn’t load. VPN appears dead. Select different proxy, reload Facebook. Can read status updates now, but can’t see the pictures. Close Facebook, and open Youtube.
Finish The Economist, take a shower, shave, get dressed. YouTube finally loads. Click ‘pause’ to let the video stream.
Leave the house, take a subway to Wangfujing. Go to Foreign Language Bookstore and buy copy of Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Do some incidental shopping. Stop at a Starbucks, have an iced coffee and a muffin. Read through introduction of book.
Take the subway home. Check status of Youtube video. Doesn’t work, and VPN has died again. Change channel, reload video. Starts again. Pick up Infinite Jest, and finish it.
Take the subway to Sanlitun. Meet friend for a beer. Start talking to cute girl at next table. Get her number. Call her later, make a date. Date goes well, go out again. Begin a relationship. She moves in to your house. Get a promotion. Start putting away more money. Buy her a ring. Get married. First child born. Buy a house. Notice receding hairline. Second child born. Communication issues with wife. Mother-in-law moves in.
YouTube video finishes loading.
Watch 2/3rds of Youtube video. Spins starts to come. VPN craps out again. Click refresh, and video begins downloading anew.
Have an affair with dental hygienist. Get caught, divorced, taken to the cleaners. Move into duplex. Explain to kids what CDs were. Hear Blink 182 on classic rock radio. Drive a Prius- for old time’s sake. Take up golf (too fat to move around the tennis court well anymore). Find yourself watching remake of Golden Girls with Cate Blanchett, Marisa Tomei, Janeane Garofalo, and Lisa Kudrow. Watch 2010 World Series on ESPN Classic.
Try YouTube Video again. This time, it works all the way through. But then you’re instructed to watch Part 2.…
Via China Law Blog, the Wall Street Journal profiles a new way to consider differences between Chinese and American foreign policy: board games. More specifically, go and chess. Here’s how the theory works: the Chinese conduct their foreign policy based around the rules of the game go (围棋 in Chinese), in which long-term planning and multiple-fronts are superior to decisive battles, as in chess.
I’ve always found theories like this to be equal parts absurd and demeaning. First of all, it reflects the constant Chinese refrain that theirs is an impossibly complex culture that is fundamentally different from the West, a sentiment Beijing is fond of extolling. To understand China, see, you have to first spend five years living as a monk at the Shaolin Monastery mastering the art of kung fu, then steep yourself in the annals of Confucius at a Qufu temple, followed by a year’s worth of tai qi morning sessions at a Beijing park. Then, and only then, you might be able to understand Chinese foreign policy.
Second, just because Chinese history happens to be very old (cue someone intoning “5,000 years of continuous civilization”) doesn’t mean that they’re the only country that engages in long-term thinking. Every major power in the world has spent money and time thinking about the direction of the world and where they might be 5, 10, and 25 years hence. The WSJ piece seems to think only China has leapt strategically into the Indian Ocean, but if you read your Robert Kaplan you’ll see that the US has, too. Yet for some reason there seems to be a perception among academics and scholars that the Chinese take a longer view than everyone else. Perhaps they’re taking Zhou Enlai’s famous quip about the French Revolution* more seriously than they should.
I think American foreign policy discourse would benefit greatly from demystifying China. Instead of falling into the trap- perpetuated by Beijing- that the Chinese are fundamentally different for cultural or historical reasons- American thinkers should assume that China, like the United States and other countries, is attempting to maximize its economic and security position in respect to the rest of the world. The United States supports Taiwan not because it is democratic but because the US wants to counter Chinese influence in the Pacific Rim. China’s seeking of stronger ties with Pakistan may be strategic but is really no different from the US policy in respect to India.
An interesting thought experiment is this: let’s say that the American government suddenly found itself in charge of running China and the Chinese government found itself with the task of running the US. Would their foreign policies look much different than they do today? The US leaders would quickly assess China’s domestic and international security situation and behave accordingly while the Chinese leaders would do the same in the US. I can’t picture Hu Jintao taking out his trusty old set of ‘go’ and subsequently devising a radically different foreign policy than Barack Obama- armed with only a chess set- would have come up with.
Nobody can really say for sure what China might do, but to find out you’d be better off thumbing through an atlas than heading for the game room.
Like every adventurous foreigner in China, I’ve eaten a fair share of weird food. In Lianyungang, I ate prawns that were, until the moment I swallowed them, still alive. In Yunnan I ate bumblebees- already dead, thank goodness- and worms. I’ve eaten duck and snakes heads, and enjoyed conversations such as this one I once had with a Chinese teacher:
‘Matt, at American dinner parties, whom do you point the head of the fish to?”
“Teacher, if you served a fish with its head intact at an American dinner party, you’d soon have no guests to point the head toward”
I’ve survived (and even liked) stinky tofu, liver, and intestines. In unfamiliar cities I’d much rather eat food off the street than venture into an unknown restaurant. At least on the street you can see what you’re going to eat.
So it is perhaps a little bit ironic that my first bout of food poisoning on this trip to China came not from dodgy street food or any other weird thing I might have encountered. In fact, it came from eating a cheeseburger, topped with guacamole, at Tim’s Texas Barbeque at Beijing.
Granted, this was due mainly to my idiotic preference for ordering my burger ‘medium rare’. But in a way, I wonder if karma isn’t partially to blame for the woeful state of my stomach. Perhaps had I just stuck with food that I would have considered inconceivable ten years ago, I’d have been fine.…