Friday, May 25, 2012

What earth does Conn Hallinan live on?

193 just north of Rueisuei in the Rift Valley.

Conn Hallinan has another one of his pro-China pieces appearing on various progressive websites on the net. It's a good example of how people on the left view China and its associated issues through 40 year old Cold War glasses that cast the US as the root of all evil of the world, and don't seem to grasp the simple fact that just because US foreign policy is heinous does not mean that other nations are not heinous as well (and may well be even worse). As with his previous pieces, Hallinan also seems to have no access to Google and lives in a pro-Beijing fantasy world to boot. Sad.

The piece was posted at Counterpunch but may be found elsewhere. He begins by correctly deploring the arms race now quietly taking place in Asia, but resolutely refuses to assign the blame for it to Chinese expansionism. The whole piece is an artful pro-China construction, but this paragraph is a classic:
China is prickly about its home waters—one can hardly blame it, given the history of the past 100 years—but there is no evidence that it is expansionist. A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said in February “No country, including China, has claimed sovereignty over the entire South China Sea.” Nor does Beijing seem eager to use military force. Beijing has drawn some lessons from its disastrous 1979 invasion of Vietnam.
Since unlike Hallinan my readers are all familiar with the dreary history of Chinese expansionism, I won't go over that here. Suffice to say that the Tibetans or the Vietnamese or the Taiwanese or the Uyghurs would find the claim that "there is no evidence that it is expansionist" a bit incredible. Rather, I'd like to draw attention to the way, with the phrase "China's home waters" reconstructs international waters -- the South China Sea is mentioned in the previous paragraph! -- which no emperor of China ever claimed and to which Beijing's claims are entirely modern and post-WWI, as "China's home waters." Ugh.

I also like the way that he piously repeats China's foreign minister's statement that no one claims the entire South China Sea without mentioning that China has, indeed, done just that through the infamous Cow's Tongue map. This is an exceptionally odious example of cherry picking. It would be easy to find 100s of belligerent statements from Chinese officials observing that the South China Sea is Chinese and the nations around it are "playing with fire." Naturally Hallinan throughout the piece presents only China's views; we never get to hear Taiwanese, Japanese, Malaysian, Indonesian, or Vietnamese voices.

This construction of "China's home waters" appears above as well in this fulsome wave of historical and ideological sewage.....
China’s more assertive posture in the region stems largely from the 1995-96 Taiwan Straits crisis that saw two U.S. carriers humiliate Beijing in its home waters. There was little serious danger of war during the crisis—China does not have the capability to invade Taiwan—but the Clinton Administration took the opportunity to demonstrate U.S. naval power. China’s naval build-up dates from that incident.
Yes, you read that correctly: Hallinan writes about the 1995-6 Straits Crisis without ever mentioning that it was caused by China firing missiles into the waters off Taiwan during and prior to a democratic election! Instead, Beijing is "humiliated" -- the victim! Let's quote Wiki:
Beijing intended to send a message to the Taiwanese electorate that voting for Lee Teng-hui in the 1996 presidential election meant war. A third set of PLA tests from March 8 to March 15 (just shortly preceding the March 23 election), sent missiles within 25 to 35 miles (just inside the ROC's territorial waters) off the ports of Keelung and Kaohsiung. Over 70 percent of commercial shipping passed through the targeted ports, which were disrupted by the proximity of the tests. Flights to Japan and trans-Pacific flights were prolonged by ten minutes because airplanes needed to detour away from the flight path. Ships traveling between Kaohsiung and Hong Kong had to take a two-hour detour.
Omission of this vital fact suggests that Hallinan is either totally incompetent or a complete shill for Beijing. But let's look at his other claim, which says that China's "more assertive posture" and its military build up date from the missile test crisis in 1995-6. If you run a quick Google Search, you find this CRS report on China's naval modernization program. It observes in a footnote to the discussion on when the build-up began:
China ordered its first four Russian-made Kilo-class submarines in 1993, and its four Russian-made Sovremennyclass destroyers in 1996. China laid the keel on its first Song (Type 039) class submarine in 1991, its first Luhu (Type 052) class destroyer in 1990, its Luhai (Type 051B) class destroyer in 1996, and its first Jiangwei I (Type 053 H2G) class frigate in 1990.
First-in-class ships whose keels were laid down in 1990 or 1991 (see previous footnote) likely reflect design work done in the latter 1980s.
Anyone with any experience of China knows perfectly well it is a common tactic of Chinese apologists to treat Chinese expansionism as a defensive response to Western perfidy by pointing to incidents like this. China's military build up began long before Clinton decided to put US aircraft carriers into international waters (not "China's home waters") to support Taiwan during a democratic election. Once again, one is stuck with the choice that either Hallinan is Google-challenged or else he is shilling for Beijing.

It is easy to rip a piece as incompetent and transparently pro-Beijing as this one, but on a deeper level, the widespread appearance of this piece on Left-oriented websites highlights the ongoing problems of (1) progressive neglect of Asia in general -- lefties can always find room for another 10,000 words for the Middle East but the continent of the future, the factory of the world, barely rates a mention in the Lefty web world; and (2) specific neglect of Taiwan and its democracy among progressives; and (3) deep misunderstandings and misrepresentations of China, especially treating it as exotic and exceptional.

This kind of ignorance and neglect is doubly wrong: one on hand, it is totally discrediting since it is utterly at odds with reality; on the other, it leaves China policy to the Right. Progressives can't default the China issue to what they claim are a bunch of warmongers (let alone actually supporting Beijing as Hallinan does here) and then complain that US policy is warmongering -- that's painfully similar to liberal Christians who do not proselytize and then complain that all the new religious growth is among fundamentalists.

Meanwhile, out in reality, a Japanese commentator writing at Project Syndicate scribes on China's ever-expanding core interests:

Moreover, at a meeting in Beijing earlier this month between Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao during a trilateral summit with South Korea, Wen mentioned the independence movement in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region and the Senkaku Islands in the same breath. “It is important to respect China's core interests and issues of major concern,” he emphasized.

Until that moment, the Chinese government had never applied the term “core interest” to the Senkaku Islands. Following Wen’s statement, the trilateral summit deteriorated. While South Korean President Lee Myung-bak held bilateral talks with Chinese President Hu Jintao, talks between Noda and Hu, and a scheduled meeting between Keidanren Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura and Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, were also canceled. The joint declaration issued at the summit was delayed a day, and omitted all references to North Korea – a prime concern of both Japan and South Korea.

China’s brusque treatment of Japan’s leaders probably was intended as a rebuke not only over the Senkaku Islands issue, but also for hosting the Fourth General Meeting of the World Uyghur Congress in Tokyo in May. Previously, such meetings had been held in Germany and the United States, and this one, which stressed the importance of protecting human rights and preserving the traditions, culture, and language of the Uyghur people, received no official sanction or endorsement from the Japanese government.

If gruff diplomacy was the only manifestation of China’s expansive territorial claims, Asian leaders could sleep more peacefully. But the fact is that China’s navy is becoming increasingly active in the South China Sea, at the Senkaku Islands and Scarborough Shoal in particular, but also around the Spratly Islands claimed by Vietnam. Given China’s mushrooming military budget and secretiveness, that assertiveness has set off alarm bells among the other countries bordering the South China Sea.
What a relief to read a piece from someone who knows what's going on....
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Readin said...

I think your analysis of left-oriented websites misses something - the need of many lefties to appear cool by dissing America and American values.
At some point every teenager goes through the phase where in order to become their own person they have to distance themselves from their parents and their parents become extremely "uncool". In a similar way people who want to be mature thinkers have to find some way to put distance between what they are taught and what they think for themselves. If they're not careful, however, this can become a reflexive rejection of everything they've been taught or everything that the uncool authority figures in their life believe.

China is a new and rapidly growing economy producing a lot of awesome gadgets and modern cities, and thumbing its nose in the face of America and American values. China is cool. America is your grumpy dad trying to sell you on his values (which are mostly left over from 225 years ago).

Taiwan has capitalism (old guy stuff) and something of democracy (oh yeah, American values again - boooring!). The very things that make Taiwan worth protecting are the things that make Taiwan uncool and unlikely to get much support from the left.

I think Taiwan could get more sympathy from the left if it played up the anti-colonialism angle (colonialism is uncool) but the KMT is obviously unwilling to do that. Even if Taiwan did play up that angle the effects would be limited since China has pretty successfully sold the idea that it is a victim of colonialism rather than a perpetrator of colonialism.

Readin said...

"...It's a good example of how people on the left view China and its associated issues through 40 year old Cold War glasses

This kind of ignorance and neglect is doubly wrong: one on hand,... on the other, it leaves China policy to the Right."

From what I've seen the Right has its own problem of seeing Taiwan through Cold War glasses. Many seem to think it is a great insight to point to the "other China" and still seem to believe that Taiwan is made up of Chinese people who left China in the 1940s and that Taiwan provides great evidence of how Chinese culture can produce democracy. The way I see it, Taiwan does just the opposite because it is the Chinese party that is trying to undermine democracy in Taiwan.

Dixteel said...

This is an interesting discussion. The human psyche is indeed a strange thing. I think Taiwan could portray a cool image by being the little rock that defies the greedy dragon and giant eagle. Unfortunately that is too far from the reality to be convincing.

And indeed, unfortunately it is very difficult for others to understand that Taiwan's democracy is partially achieved by moving away from traditional Chinese thinking, and that Chinese culture is part of Taiwanese culture, but not the whole.

Readin said...

"I think Taiwan could portray a cool image by being the little rock that defies the greedy dragon and giant eagle."

Dragons are cool though.

As for "defying the giant eagle", if you're referring to the United States then you're going to lose support (what little there is) on the right.

While many on the left exhibit high school thinking of rebellion against the authorities in their life - many on the right exhibit the pre-high school thinking of blindly accepting whatever the authorities in their life have taught them. (Of course there are people on both sides who have matured passed stages.)

It's necessary to find a way to appeal to at least one crowd without offending the other. Tibet does this by being nearly irrelevent to American interests (thus not offending the right) while having cool stuff like mystic Buddhism and pacifism to appeal to the left.

Dixteel said...

"Dragons are cool though."
That's what average people think and that is why it's "cool" to slay them. All those games and movies etc have a bunch of evil dragons or other mythical beasts getting killed by small dudes.

"It's necessary to find a way to appeal to at least one crowd without offending the other."
Hm...That is a good point. Yes, you cannot make everyone happy. I guess that is also why Taiwan has more appeal to the right because its situation falls naturally there. Which in a way is good, because certainly we do not want what happens to Tibet to happen to Taiwan. But of course the reason behind this appeal is wrong, and is losing its ground gradually anyway.

I think there is another grounp of people that Taiwan could appeal to...the technology savvy young people, because Taiwan is indeed still a silicon forge of the world and has some similarity with those smart young men (getting bullied by bigger and older students etc).