Arctic Route

Travel Time, two posts back, had it about right. Regulatory confidence in Boeing’s abilities to fly on two jet engines over the pole produced this flight path for us on Tuesday/Wednesday. The flight was Air China CA818 Dulles to Beijing, fourteen hours in a Boeing 777.

Never having seen Hudson Bay in mid-April, I’m here to testify that there’s not a thing down there, no sign of Churchill and polar bears, just icy patches with streams to the bay and snow fields beyond.

Washington Dulles to Beijing was followed by Beijing to HCMC where everybody is wilting after several 97 degree days.

Xinhua Tweet-Claims Chinese Democracy

Xhinua (@XHNews) has found an American willing to associate his credibility with this quote: “It is widely acknowledged that a key to China’s success is its system of democracy.”

Quotes: Life in Xinjiang

Many of us are generally aware there is a minority of mostly Muslim ethnic Turkic in far western China known as Uighurs (pronounced “Wee-gurs”), people more closely related to the population of the Central Asian ‘Stans than to the ruling Han Chinese.

Some will have read about recent and apparently massive, largely arbitrary incarceration of Uighurs in “re-education camps” under local Party Secretary Chen Quanguo. Chen’s previous post was the Tibetan capital Lhasa, where he presided over a spate of Tibetan Buddihst self-immolations under his remit to tame the Tibetan population.

I’ve only just now read some alarming reporting from Ruth Ingram about what life is like among the Xinjiang Uighurs. Some quotes:

“Uyghurs have to keep a notebook detailing visits by not only their friends and relatives, but those of neighbors in their street, the content of the conversations, and the time and date of arrival and departure.”

“They are forced to install satellite navigation in their cars and to install the special Jingwang Weishi app on their phones, which sends the police an identification number for the device, its model, and the telephone number of its owner before monitoring all the information that passes through the telephone, warning the user when it finds content that the government deems dangerous. Failure to carry your phone, refusal to use a smart phone, turning it off completely for long periods, or even restoring your phone to its factory settings can be deemed suspicious.”

“Children who have had both parents taken away are being brought up in state orphanages hurriedly being built for the purpose.”

“‘It’s impossible to tear out weeds one by one,’ said one party official in Kashgar. ‘We need chemicals that can deal with all of them at once.'”

Read the whole article in The Diplomat.

(Note: This post has been corrected to substitute the word ‘Turkic’ for the previously published ‘Turkmen’ in the first sentence.)

China Moves Its Cities Abroad

Beijing is not only buying Africa, now it’s building its own cities in other countries. Here, in Cambodia,

“Union Development Group (UDG), the Chinese developer behind Koh Kong province’s $3.8 billion tourism project called Dara Sakor, has unveiled plans for yet another project called “Tourism Vacation Town,”

an investment of an additional $1.2 billion dollars, while in Malaysia, a proposed new city of 700,000, the $100 billion Forest City project looks a lot like mainland China’s Shenzen, which is perched on the border with Hong Kong. Forest City would sit just across the Johor Strait from Singapore. It’s running into resistance from the Malaysian leadership, though. 93-year-old leader Mahathir Mohamad said this week

“that no foreigners would be allowed to live there even as crews rushed to complete some residential towers before buyers move in later this year.”

This Is Really Huge

Now under construction, the Daxing International Airport south of Beijing will supplant Beijing Capitol Airport with the first flight scheduled for October of next year.

Beijing hopes that Daxing can beat Hartsfield–Jackson Atlanta in the US to become the world’s busiest airport in terms of passengers within a few years. Atlanta’s airport handled just under 104 million passengers in 2017, while the Beijing Capital International Airport was the runner-up with 95.8 million, according to the Airports Council International.

– from New Beijing airport aiming to be the world’s busiest in the Asia Times. Artist’s impression from the same article.

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.