Soft Power

Gordon Chang is enjoying a TV punditry renaissance just now, having rebranded himself as a North Korea expert. In his previous life as a pundit he wrote The Coming Collapse of China – seventeen years ago. No surprise he went to ground for a while.

I fear Joseph Nye may be making the Chang mistake. In an article for the Australian think tank ASPI, he similarly discounts the juggernaut that, truth is, China really is nowadays.

Nye has come around toward the end of his career to focus on an idea he coined the term for back in the late 1980s: the idea of “soft power,” understood as the ability of a country to persuade others to do what it wants without force or coercion. He thinks China is sorely lacking in soft power, writing

“no one should be tempted by exaggerated projections of Chinese power. If the US maintains its alliances with democratic Japan and Australia, and continues to develop good relations with India, it will hold the high cards in Asia. In the global military balance, China lags far behind, and in terms of demography, technology, the monetary system and energy dependence, the US is better placed than China in the coming decade. In the Soft Power 30 index, China ranks 25th, while the US is third.”

Maybe. But should push come to shove, does the United States under the Trump administration have the will or the desire, at the far end of its supply lines and on China’s doorstep, to resist Chinese expansion inside the nine-dash line?

Nye writes “no one knows what the future will bring for China. Xi has torn up Deng Xiaoping’s institutional framework for leadership succession, but how long will Xi’s authority last?”

Since 5 June, 1989, when that man stood in front of the tank just outside Tiananmen Square, wishful-thinking pundits have written similar things about each successive Chinese leader, and their conviction that sometime soon anti-authoritarianism will triumph in China.

I’m just saying, how’s that working out so far?

When that man stood in front of that tank, China was a mere shell of the global behemoth it has become since. Its model of state capitalism has since beguiled the leaders of just about every developing country in the world, showering them with loans and influence free of judgmental politics, like the gleaming new railroad between Nairobi and Mombasa, the Madaraka Express train in Kenya,  and the massive Hambantota port in Sri Lanka. That, seems to me, is its own sort of soft power.

Dear Mr. Nye: a word of caution on the soft power thing. No Gordon Chang moment, please.

Our Staffs Are Very Good at Communicating in English

Got this from Frank last night:


Dear  Sir/Madam,

My name is Frank, I’m Operations Manager for TenDa Plastics CO., Limited. located in DongGuan City China . I am very glad to see your company web and writing to you to explore the possible cooperation with you .

TenDa Plastics is a professional moulds . injection molding .Assemble with Packaging manufacturer. Our products include UAV Parts. UAV Filter. automobile . Medical . household items. industrial. electrical appliances. Display. etc. we’ve won high reputation from our customers all over the world. if you want know more for our Company , please visit our website.

Our staffs are very good at Communicating in English.


 

China’s Got Them Rattled

First came the odd story of how Chinese diplomats refuse to leave a property in Papeete, Tahiti’s capital. Now this week comes a report that “‘preliminary discussions’ were held between the Chinese and Vanuatu governments about the establishment of a naval base at a Beijing-funded wharf in Luganville,” and how that is “causing quite a stir in Australia.” The author of this particular report, a Kiwi academic, is skeptical, but it looks like the state of China/Australia relations is topic number one in the region these days, with stories just this month like Big chill between China and Australia and China challenged Australian warships in South China Sea, reports say. China has the southern Pacific rattled.

More photos: China, Australia, Vanuatu

An Army of High Speed Somnambulists

The other day I posted Driving in Vietnam, an article with photos about riding between towns in Vietnam that included a five minute GoPro video of a drive around Saigon on the back of a scooter-for-hire.

Entirely different, but related: In this article, Veronique Greenwood, who lives on a university campus in Beijing, explains that

“In New York, the key to road safety is predictability. Make eye contact with drivers, so they can see your intentions. Use hand signals when you want to turn. Avoid sudden, erratic movements—if drivers can see where you’re going, they’ll be less likely to hit you. The first time I use a hand signal in China, angling my arm leftward to show a truck driver I am about to turn in front of him, he looks to see what I’m pointing at, while accelerating. Every time I make eye contact, other cyclists and drivers barrel right on through, instead of letting me pass in front of them. Eventually I adapt to a new reality, learn the new rules, and I discover that they are as simple in China as in the United States. Actually, there’s only one rule: Ignore everyone.””

It’s a great read. It’s psychology. It’s a cultural thing. It’s practical driving in China advice. It’s about living in China. Do read.

Archival Chinese Video on Twitter

Suggestion for a fun Twitter follow:

Tong Bingxue 仝冰雪
@tongbingxue

Here’s how he describes himself: Collector & Historian of earlier image of China. Author of History of Photo Studios in China. All tweeted are my own collection unless stated otherwise.

Here is an example:

Chinese World Dominance, in Photos

There is an outstanding photo feature about the commercial monster China is building itself into with its OBOR “Belt and Road Initiativehere, at The New Yorker’s website just now. This photo is a screen grab from the article. You get a few free articles a month without being a subscriber, so you can check it out.

Lost in Translation

Published at the beginning of this year in the U.S., The Cyclist Who Went Out in the Cold: Adventures Riding the Iron Curtain, by the British writer Tim Moore, tells the story of his bicycle trip from the top of Europe, 400 kilometers above the Arctic Circle in Kirkines, Norway, all the way down to the Black Sea, in Varna, Bulgaria. En route he passes through a slice of Russia, skirting the Baltic Sea between the Finnish and Estonian borders, and finds himself outside St. Petersburg, ordering dinner in the town of Гостилицы, aka Gostilitsy.

I hope Mr. Moore won’t mind my excerpting this episode at some length. This passage by itself is worth the price of the book:

“The ordering process was memorably conducted by Tatiana, who dictated the Russian menu into a translation app on her phone. With the halting, toneless authority of a digitised train announcer, this device then offered me suggestions it was very difficult to listen to politely.

‘Meat Beach Gardens.’

‘Children’s Alexander.’

‘Tea Pork with JW Boils.’

‘The Sultan Episode.’

Tatiana’s enthusiasm for this technology did not ease the ordeal; battling my features into respectability, I looked up at her open, expectant face and falteringly ordered support beef with titles of mushroom. She smiled and scribbled, then spoke once more into her phone.

‘What is not a drink?’ it mused in response.

Pivo,’ I said.

With a flustered look she shook her head and a free hand, then held the phone to my mouth promptingly.

Pivo,’I told it.

The device said something in Russian that seemed to disappoint her. She pressed the screen a number of times then showed me its suggestions, translated back into English:

‘You knew. Pencil case. Peugeot.’

We tried again.

‘Beer,’ I said.

‘Bill,’ offered the phone. Then: ‘Pace of the warp.’

‘Heineken!’ I blurted, launching into a strident roll-call of ales that began with Champions League-grade ubiquities and very very sharply downwards, ‘Amstel, Budweiser … Skol … Carling Black La-’

‘Ah, piva.’

•••••

Reminds me of an experience in Tibet, recounted in Common Sense and Whiskey. At the end of another bone-jarring day-long ride we pulled up at the town of Lhaze, at a no-name hotel that wouldn’t have power until 8:00 that night.

“Not much use being there unable to see, so we found a restaurant across the street where there was power, and talked with some men from Guangdong on their way to China’s Everest base camp for holiday.

We asked for cold beer and one of the guys tried to translate. The waitress looked puzzled, was gone too long, then came back smiling triumphantly, buckling under a big metal tub of raw meat. Thought we asked for ‘cold beef.'”