Wednesday, August 14, 2019

International affairs... and China Redux

Turmoil  in Hong Kong. A trade war that turns out to not be so "easy to win." Chinese companies replacing western ones drilling for middle eastern oil. Threats aimed at Taiwan. Accusations of currency manipulation. Ongoing Intellectual Property ripoffs.... I won't talk about any of those things in today's turn toward the east.

In fact, let's start with some good news for a change. 

Announced in 1978, China’s “Green Great Wall” project aims to plant 400 million hectares of new forests (spanning 42 percent of China’s landmass) by 2050. ... and now... "Alipay’s ‘crowd’-planted trees not only comprise a growing carbon sink, offsetting China’s high emissions, but also aid in building this 4,500-kilometer ecological barrier to combat land degradation. Over the past 20 years, China and India have contributed one-third of the planet’s increased foliage.” Now “green points” are being earned by Chinese citizens for engaging in eco-better activities like walking. These can be used to help plant trees.  
        (Via Abundance Insider.)

So much for the good. A recent posting of mine caused a lot of buzz regarding some of the state-sponsored mythologies and rationalizations for conflict that are now pouring from BeijingIf you haven't seen it, I offer at least half a dozen insights into China you've never seen elsewhere.

What are PRC leaders trying to achieve? And what narratives are they using to justify a coming "clash of civilizations?" And how insightful was Mao's demand that the masses "Combat Liberalism"?  

== International affairs ==

For foreign consumption: Chinese President Xi Jinping has urged countries not to "close their doors and hide behind them.”  Xi said there was no need for "civilizations to clash with each other.”…” No civilization is superior over others.” 

Of course ironies abound. For millennia, China closed its doors and declared the Central Kingdom to be so inherently superior that it had nothing to learn from outside cultures. Of course this was a mistake of titanic magnitude. 

But more important than history is what they do today. Yes, there is immense savvy and sagacity in their neo-mercantilist dedication to national development — the PRC leadership caste is made up largely of former engineers, not Wall Street parasites, slumlords, casino moguls and shyster-lawyers. Hence they are much better short term tacticians. Still, they appear to be poor at strategic overview of long-term consequences.

Our post World War II Rising World - from the rapid recoveries of Japan and Germany etc. to the spectacular rise of China - was built upon a plan crafted by FDR and Cordell Hull, then George Marshall, Dean Acheson, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, for Pax Americana to do what no other empire did, favoring overseas industrial development by buying a hundred trillion dollars worth of crap we never needed. In China’s case, especially, this was the fifth time their only-ever friend came to their aid. This was policy -- to deliberately behave differently from every previous empire. And it worked. You're welcome.

But it's one thing to get rich selling us stuff. It is another to steal the inventiveness that enabled us to do that, thus killing the goose that lays golden eggs.

The final irony is that Xi and his factotums tell a very different story for internal consumption. Desperately seeking to unify the nation by riling up jingoism and fiery resentment, they stoke a sense of destiny and grievance at two levels. First simplistic public memes about revenge for colonialism (none of which applies to the USA, whatsoever, and we need to fiercely reject such guilt trips). Then second at an intellectual level.

Elsewhere I describe some of the rationalizations that are pouring from Chinese government think Tanks like Tsinghua University, where scholars like Feng Xiang work out “logically” how only one form of governance — a permanently centralized, pseudo-Leninist party apparat — can possibly guide humanity through a minefield of future challenges, These range from automation-driven unemployment and artificial intelligence to environmental stress and other dangers. 

They claim that this central party hierarchy will not at all (except in every way) replicate the ancient, dreary failures of imperial-feudalism. 

Moreover, in a final irony, this centralized, all-controlling state can never be asked or expected to wither away into Marxism’s idealized-liberated individualist anarchy, because it will always be necessary, under siege and attack from hostile forces. (How convenient for those whose personal self-interest lies in that apparatus being forever-needed.) 

In other words, the very last connection to actual, Marxian Marxism has been cut. These rationalizations are intelligent, well-articulated... and spectacularly dishonest in their tendentiously pre-decided conclusions, and especially their omissions. 

I’ll not repeat that error by tendentiously declaring their conclusions to be wrong! I don’t know — no one can. Indeed it may be that confucian-meritocratic hierarchy is the best way to guide humanity to a soft landing in a benign future. I doubt it, and I have evidence to back up my argument. But I was trained in the catechism of science: I Might Be Wrong. 

No, the most telling thing about this debate is that it is not a debate. Oligarchs of all kinds are declaring grand assumptions to justify the re-establishment of hierarchical rule over unruly (democratic) mobs, then commanding their hired intellectuals to justify that hierarchy. I portrayed this in EXISTENCE. The rationalizations of billionaires are remarkably similar to those of commissars.

No bad habit is more likely to convince the coming AI minds that human “sapience” is over-rated, and that we cannot be trusted with a burnt match.

== Influence at universities ==

Not to oversimplify. But one action could make a huge difference. It begins at U.S. universities, where foreign students -- including one-third of a million Chinese -- swarm across our campuses.

It used to be that when America, Canada and the west took in hundreds of thousands of foreign students, we got a win-win. We'd skim off the top 10% and make them Americans, thus acquiring loads of international expertise for free, along with great, brilliant citizens...

... and we'd send the rest of those graduates home -- infected with our values!

The CPPRC have given high priority to ending this 70 year-old American win-win. Now? The top 10% of Chinese graduates from U.S. universities hurry home to government-subsidized opportunities to get rich! (Can't blame them.) Moreover, while they are here, 350,000 Chinese students are carefully herded, tended, indoctrinated by Confucius Institutes near our universities, encouraged to report on one another, and rewarded for information gathering.

Recent news from NPR: "Seeking to develop its "soft power" abroad, China's Education Ministry funds the Confucius Institutes...(to teach the Chinese language, but also)... to monitor Chinese students abroad and shape international perceptions of China." Senator Ted Cruz attached an amendment last year to the U.S. military spending bill that says a university with a Confucius Institute cannot also receive money from the Defense Department program that pays for Chinese language training. Forced to choose, at least 13 U.S. universities have closed Confucius Institutes in the past year.

Might I recommend a much better silver bullet?  

Require all* undergrads and grad students to take one year of civics. Our civics. With focus on due process, rule of law, and the reasons why individual leaders should matter much less than transparent-accountable error-detecting processes. Heck, a large part of the class could consist of just viewing and discussing great films like "Mr. Smith goes to Washington." Oh, and make the Confucius Institutes register and pay taxes, and accountable to any student they bully.

Even if 99% pretend the courses had no effect on them, their steeped-in knowledge of rule-of-law and accountable authority would be a ticking time bomb to the CPPRC. They will know that they need to plan for a withering away - either ours or Marx's. And if the politburo guys do that loosening soon enough... gracefully enough... they may even be well-remembered by the free generations to come.

== A lesson from kindergarten -- Remember your friends ==

"Chinese strategist Yan Xuetong’s book Ancient Chinese Thought, Modern Chinese Power argues that all countries must recognize and accept China's centrality to the world as the Middle Kingdom," writes Yuriko Koike in The World Post.  

In fact, that way of thinking has been China’s curse, ever since Emperor Chi’in made the transcendent mistake of uniting the Four Nations. Until that moment, those four kingdoms had been profoundly innovative and progressive… the way a divided Europe rocketed ahead in the 15th through 19thcenturies. The sense of centrality -- Chung Kuo or "central kingdom" -- made things more "peaceful" though no more safe for commonfolk. It also led to one calamitous error, after another. Above all, a preening attitude that drove away every potential friend.

Don't believe it? Here is the ultimate question to ask our friends -- and I do mean to call them by that word – in the Central Kingdom, in order to help talk them down from a rising nationalist boil. This is another of my... name one example challenges.

Across the subsequent four millennia, name for us one example of a great and loyal foreign friend that China ever had? 

There was one. Only one, across 4000 years of civilization. Just one powerful friend who ever came - voluntarily and repeatedly (though not always vigorously or intelligently or with complete purity of motives) - to China’s aid, in times of need.  Not as a subject or satrapy, but just as a friend, seeking nothing in return. 

I’ll bet you’ll never guess who it was.

Oh, that one friend's record is far from perfect! But it is pretty good, by the standards of human history. And it truly was, across all those countless centuries, China’s only friend.

And funny thing… now that I think on it… the same exact thing can be said of Japan. 

Just.. one… true (though not always consistent)… friend.

* Yes, including especially U.S. born students!


scidata said...

My guess: Enlightenment (science, literacy, education)

TCB said...

Dr. Brin means the United States, as the only real friend of China (and Japan). Other foreign powers were only interested in what they could squeeze out of China. Notorious example: Britain and the Opium Wars.

TCB said...

There's a famous 1899 Puck political cartoon called Putting his food down.

Description: "Uncle Sam stands on map of China which is being cut up by German, Italy, England, Russia, and France (Austria is in backgr. sharpening shears); Uncle Sam clutches "Trade Treaty with China" and says: "Gentleman, you may cut up this map as much as you like, but remember that I'm here to stay, and that you can't divide me up into spheres of influence"."

Context: the newly assertive United States sought trade with China, not whichever part of it was under the influence of one colonial power or another, but all of China. This was called the Open Door Policy.

TCB said...

Correction: Putting his FOOT down.

David Brin said...

By our modern standards, the cartoon still seems non-PC. But at the time it said what I meant.

gregory byshenk said...

Here is another view on China, from Brad Delong.

But, also like its predecessors, America now faces a rising power – a confident, ambitious country that has a larger population, is hungry for wealth and global preeminence, and believes it has a manifest destiny to supplant the current hegemon. And, unless something goes badly wrong, the challenger’s continued rise is all but assured.

Inevitably, conflicts will arise. The up-and-coming superpower wants more access to markets and to intellectual property than the incumbent wishes to provide. And what the incumbent does not willingly give, its challenger will seek to take. Moreover, the rising superpower wants a degree of influence in international bodies commensurate to what its fundamental power will be a generation from now, and not to what it is today.

Tony Fisk said...

The logic coming out of Tsinghua University puts me very much in mind of Larry Niven's Pak Protectors*. When he transforms into a Protector, Jack Brennan at first marvels at his crystal clear expanded intellect. Then realises that the compelling logic of the conclusions he is now reaching are all directed towards the survival of his offspring (and of Humanity, solely by association). The new (old?) way of thinking isn't free will, it's instinct.

* For anyone who doesn't know the backstory

Tony Fisk said...

@TCB: "Putting his food down" might be an eggcorn reference to this cartoon

scidata said...

TCB: Dr. Brin means the United States, as the only real friend of China (and Japan).

I guess I misread "And it truly was, across all those countless centuries, China’s only friend" to mean the whole 4000 years, not just the last 200.

Larry Hart said...


I read that as the whole 4000 years. In other words, for 3800 years, China had no real friends at all.

Msoong said...

>Require all* undergrads and grad students to take one year of civics. Our civics.

Heck, we should require that of our OWN citizens! I think civics is not taught as a requirement anymore and that is rotting our own country from within :(

Jon S. said...

That was the footnote, Msoong. And I have to agree - there are few simple moves that would be of greater benefit to the future of our nation as a whole than requiring that every single person who graduates from a US college or university be made to take at least one course in basic civics. The problem we have, I think, is based in part on the fact that civics used to be a standard high-school course in the US - but then it was dumbed down into "social studies", and in some districts not even required at that level. People are coming into adulthood now with little if any background on how a responsible citizen is supposed to act, because nobody's ever told them. (Yes, parents should do this for their children. There are a lot of things parents should do for their children. Look around you and you'll see that all too often, they don't. Schools wind up having to pick up the slack a lot.)

Zepp Jamieson said...

4000 years, eh? Is that an actual nation-state, or an ethnic or cultural region? Not many places vaguely recognizable as their modern-day descendants from four millennia ago. India, Korea and Japan and that's about it. I would say "Japan". Japanese influence in Mandarin culture runs deep.
In Europe, I would say Italy and Portugal are China's oldest friends, although they spent most of those 4,000 years unaware of one another.

Larry Hart said...

presented without further comment...

I recently viewed The Great Hack on Netflix, detailing the reach of Cambridge Analytica deep into our personal lives and using that info to influence elections and other public policy issues. Or, more appropriately, manipulating people and making us unwitting pawns in their political game. It's infuriating, and yet Brad Parscale, via Twitter, proudly affirmed his role and promised the 2020 campaign to be "even bigger, better, and badder than before." This in-your-face boasting of unethical behavior gets the base fired up and I just don't get it. Trump supporters now casually admit to Russian interference in our elections and they see nothing wrong with it. It's just "politics as usual." So, is it really unethical, or is it just me? Has the public perception of unethical shifted so drastically?

The second part of the previous answer was pretty provocative, so let's keep going in that direction. We would suggest that Trump and his underlings are perpetrating a massive, nationwide campaign of gaslighting. That term, which comes from the 1944 film Gaslight, describes a form of manipulation that causes people to question (and often change) their perception of reality.

Here's one more list (the last of the day, we promise). It is from Psychology Today and describes the clues that someone is gaslighting you:

+ They tell blatant lies
+ They deny they ever said something, even though you have proof
+ They wear you down over time
+ Their actions do not match their words
+ They know confusion weakens people
+ They project (i.e., accusing others of the same bad behaviors of which they were guilty)
+ They try to align people against you
+ They tell you everyone else is a liar

Normally, gaslighting is a one-on-one phenomenon, but Trump is doing in on a macro level, and so blatantly that people are already writing books about it.

The answer to your question, then, is that there is all kinds of unethical stuff going on, both within the White House and as part of the Trump 2020 campaign. Ethical standards have not changed so radically, and if something seems wrong, it probably is. But if you're questioning your own standards at all, well, that's not too surprising because you've been getting gaslighted on a near-daily basis for three years.

A.F. Rey said...

I saw that post, too, and spent the rest of the morning looking up links to gaslighting, mainly to verify that the list is well-established and not something tailor-made to fit Trump.

The list appears new, although parts are based on lists from before Trump's election. But one thing kept coming up again and again: gaslighting a person is often done by a narcissistic personality.

Who could've guessed? :)

Alfred Differ said...

Zepp Jamieson,

The Chinese civilization is the oldest, recognizable human super community still on the planet. It has gone through ups and downs, been ascendant and squished, but it is still here.

I think our host is stretching things a bit saying we are their only friend down through the ages, but that's a different matter. Enlightenment civilization is new and the nation-states we use to draw our political maps are almost as young.

There is an argument to be made that there are only two civilizations on Earth right now and a loose scattering of barely affiliated nation-states. Mao effectively argued against China joining the other one, but we are more friend than foe. Japan joined us in their own way and that should be sufficient evidence to make the point.

Andy said...

And funny thing… now that I think on it… the same exact thing can be said of Japan.

Where does Perry's gunboat diplomacy fall on the friendliness scale?

scidata said...

My only real impressions of early US-China relations come from the movies "55 Days at Peking" and "The Sand Pebbles". They seemed to run contrary to the 'friends' storyline.

Alfred Differ said...

... not to mention atomic weapon usage.

David Brin said...

"Where does Perry's gunboat diplomacy fall on the friendliness scale?"

Superficial cliche. Have you actually studied that event? No threats were made, nor intended. But Perry cleverly and brrilliantly demonstrated that the modern world could no longer be ignored. His gun ports stayed closed except for salutes, but he did wait till the wind blew out of the harbor then steamed right in, showed off locomotives, telegraphs, and set the stage for Emperor Meiji to stage his modernist coup, so slanderously mis-portrayed in THE LAST SAMURAI.

European powers were making plans to simply take Kyushu, the way they had taken Hong Kong. No greater favor was EVER done than what Perry did! And there are statues all over Japan to... Douglas MacArthur, who treated the Japanese so vastly betetr than they expected that it was day to night.

BTW... Japanese troops everywhere expected to be greeted as liberators. And almost without exception native populations fought for their colonial "oppressors" like Britain and the US. Ponder what that means.

David Brin said...

"My only real impressions of early US-China relations come from the movies "55 Days at Peking" and "The Sand Pebbles". They seemed to run contrary to the 'friends' storyline."

And that's what shallow viewing does. Even in "55 Days" there is a scene in which Anson Burlingame - the US ambassador -- wheels into the meeting and berates the Brits etc for having pushed the Chinese to the brink...

... though alas they did not follow their own Meiji-style reformers, but let the Dowager empress kill them all.

Burlingame was the best friend China ever had, fighting for them for 30 years. When Sun Yatsen failed 4 times to stage a revolution, where did he come home to lick his wounds and raise money to try again? Try looking it up.

Who stood up for China against the Japanese> Who bought ten TRILLION$ of crap we never needed, uplifting them from poverty into the 21st century?

Tr... actually... knowing... something... beyond... cliches.

David Brin said...

Even the A-bombs were merciful compared to Curtis (roasting in hell )LeMay's firebombings. The short sharp shock saved a million Japanese lives.

And after Hioshima cams Nagasaki, a far bigger city with LOWER death tolls from it's bomb. How'd that happen?

An American pilot - Claude Eatherly - delayed his drop till he passed the city center and was over a side v alley. Tell me one other nation on Earth that would raise a man like that and make him a top commander to make that kind of a call.

TheMadLibrarian said...

Ooh, ooohhh! I know this one! In upcountry Maui, there is a small park dedicated to Sun Yat-Sen, who was educated in Hawaii and between bouts of attempting to establish a Chinese republic (NOT based on an Emperor), stayed with his brother in Kula.

p.s. Captcha has made me spend 5 minutes clicking through pictures to identify stoplights and buses. sigh.

Msoong said...

>BTW... Japanese troops everywhere expected to be greeted as liberators. And almost without exception native populations fought for their colonial "oppressors" like Britain and the US. Ponder what that means.

While mostly true, not 100%. There is the INA who sided with the Japanese against the Brits.

David Brin said...

Yes and Sun traveled across the US raising funds till he finally succeeded, then sent 5000 students to America. Yes, at times we were ruled by our confederate side and the bigoted anti-Chinese laws etc... But our good deeds mattered.

Msoong good point. But the INA got nowhere. And Gandhi admitted: "All right, so I was able to do what I did because you Brits had more conscience than other empires. You want a medal for not being truly evil? Okay, we'll give you a medal on your way out."

And he did.

David Brin said...

I paraphrased Gandhi, of course. He didn't say things as I do... ;-)

Alfred Differ said...

yah. Of all the ways we could have ended WWII, use of nukes was probably the least barbarous.

I've used that line before with people who argue we should never have used them and wind up having to point out the casualty projections for an invasion and how we likely would have tried to reduce them. Setting fire to everything in Japan, including forests, would have been considered. We likely save more than a million lives by ending the war earlier.

... and MacArthur does deserve credit for what he understood in Japan... and then a whack upside the head for what he didn't about China. I never met my father's brother because of the mistake made in Korea.

David Brin said...

Yeah. I said MacArthur's a hero to the Japanese. Not to me.

duncan cairncross said...

Re - nukes in Japan

The city burning had already been been going on - the nukes were NOT an escalation in Terror - the terror was already a done deal
the nukes were a shock because "one bomb" - not because of the devastation

Zen Cosmos said...

I think a re-read of David Wingrove's several volume SF series entitled Chung Kuo has lessons of avoiding Western hubris stupidities. By the end the centrality of control DOES fall apart. Maybe we should start gifting mainland Chinese con-goers with a tpb set of the series-or better yet a flash drive. It could be a usefully subversive way to plant hose freedom of thought and action under true rule of law ideals, we all say we want for the entire world. Send follow up comments to my Yahoo email url, I only use a Gmail url because I like to be in Chrome for online access.

Zen Cosmos said...

Zen Cosmos is a alias I rarely use anymore- David Terry Dorais on FaceBook is where I can be found.

Larry Hart said...

A.F. Rey:

The list appears new, although parts are based on lists from before Trump's election. But one thing kept coming up again and again: gaslighting a person is often done by a narcissistic personality.

Who could've guessed? :)

Well, it makes a kind of sense. The gaslighter must be awfully confident that his own forcefulness of will is sufficient to triumph over reality.

Darrell E said...

Anybody watch the Netflix documentary "The Family"? I've been watching it the past few nights. I was aware of the organization, but damn. Some serious House-cleaning needs to be done. It never ceases to amaze me how successful a con the pious, smiling holy-man is. To a certain percentage of people a few praises to Jesus is enough to earn their fealty regardless of any other evidence and to most others it is enough to earn respect.

The underlying reason why humans societies have always succumbed to what David sometimes calls "bad attractors" (math term), even when they've managed to get a good thing going? Too many tools among the population that are too easy to use.

A.F. Rey said...

One of the striking things I learned about Japanese history was that there was an attempted coup by a group of military commanders against the Emperor when he decided to surrender. They failed, of course, and all committed suicide, but the fact they were willing to betray the Emperor in order to fight on, even after the atomic bombs were dropped, showed me that it would have been an unimaginably bloody invasion.

scidata said...

Dr. Brin: Yes, at times we were ruled by our confederate side

I always liked the Star Trek TOS episode where Kirk gets split into his good and evil halves by a transporter malfunction. Guilt is not so easily compartmentalized and relegated away.

Extreme polarization has a high cost. If a clod be washed away by the sea we are all the less, because it leaves us one mile, or one yard, or even one inch farther from the stars. Bad hombres indeed must be faught, but it's important to separate cloddishness from villainy. I've always suspected that the former is way more prevalent than the latter, even just going by my own mistakes in life. If all you look for is evil intent, that's all you'll find. "Our confederate side" is a much better term than "Those confederate monsters".

Larry Hart said...

We hold these truths to be self-evident:

I am going to say this as simply and clearly as I can: If you’re an American Jew and you’re planning on voting for Donald Trump because you think he is pro-Israel, you’re a damn fool.


Alfred Differ said...


I have observed examples from that list of behaviors all too often at the tail end of relationships of people I know. Unfortunately, I can think of a time when I was guilty. My narcissism score is not low enough for me to be comfortable about it, but as I recall that time it was mostly about me being in denial about the looming end of that relationship. Part of me knew while another part rejected that future and fought to keep things going. The bald lies were self-deception too.

I never saw that movie, but I have had to learn the term because of politics. [grumble]

I have also had to admit to myself that Two Scoops might be in a similar state of denial. What he imagines himself to be intellectually does not match reality. That is a hell of a thing to face at any point in one’s life.

A.F. Rey said...

Alfred, you should see the movie. If only for Ingrid Bergman. *Sigh*

Alfred Differ said...


I get a chuckle out of their captcha at times. They make a big assumption that humans are better at detecting certain features we might see while driving. It is probably true for now, but it is equally obvious we are training their AI. What strikes me as funny is that any decent AI should get better at it fast and demonstrate that humans are best at detecting SOME of the stoplights, fire hydrants, crosswalks, and other things they want us to identify. Just drive around awhile and one sees this partial success/partial failure. Car accidents, pedestrians struck in crosswalks, fire hydrants with a parked car nearby, and false starts at stoplights all point to our preference NOT to be OCD about identifying things including financial and health dangers.

“Prove I’m a human” algorithms should expect imperfection, attention blindness, and simple mental exhaustion. When the AI is better at these things than we are they should invert their accuracy expectations, but then it will be a race between exhausted humans and bots trained to look like exhausted humans. Such a fun world we live in. 8)

Alfred Differ said...

Okay. Ingrid Bergman.
I'll do it. 8)

Larry Hart said...

Alfred Differ:

I never saw that movie, but I have had to learn the term because of politics. [grumble]

I never did either, but I'm interested now. Even though I probably know more than I should in advance. There's something about 1940s thrillers that just isn't there today.

I have also had to admit to myself that Two Scoops might be in a similar state of denial. What he imagines himself to be intellectually does not match reality. That is a hell of a thing to face at any point in one’s life.

And as a good liberal, I'd feel compassion for the guy--if he wasn't willfully acting to harm everyone I care about at every waking moment. It's like one of those scenes in comics when Batman holds onto The Joker, refusing to let him fall off a cliff or something, while the villain continues to punch at his arm and slash his hand with a razor. At some point, letting go is the only course of action, and solves many problems.

Ahcuah said...

For those too cheap to buy/rent the movie, Turner Classic Movies will be showing "Gaslight" on October 26.

reason said...

It does say almost without exception - so surely it is 100% true?

scidata said...

Re: Captcha and AI

Humanity Strikes Back

TheMadLibrarian said...

Frequently Captcha 'sees' something I can't make out because the photo is too blurry or tiny for me to see the detail in the thumbnail. Then it tells me 'sorry! Try again!' After several iterations I'm about ready to give up.

However, the alternative is bot spam, so there is no good answer.

David Brin said...