The whole world fell in love with the students demonstrating at Tiananmen Square

When Chinese students initiated huge demonstrations in Beijing during the spring of 1989, they captivated pretty much everyone – the foreign press, the residents of Beijing, and even Chinese security forces. That’s a point made by Wall Street Journal reporter Adi Ignatius, who covered the movement 25 years ago in China, in this video posted yesterday on the 25th anniversary of the June 4th crackdown. Ignatius also appears in a fantastic documentary produced by Mike Chinoy, former CNN bureau chief in Beijing. I talked with Chinoy for my radio piece that aired on Wednesday. Listen here, and watch the full documentary too. And listen to this great interview from yesterday’s show, in which Aaron Schachter speaks with a young woman from Beijing (and a BBC colleague) about how many Chinese people from the post-Tiananmen generation feel that the June 4th events are sort of irrelevant to their lives.

Posted in China | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

What does Obama really want in Syria?

Yesterday, I talked with Amb. Fred Hof after President Obama’s speech at West Point, and Hof seemed to think the president was indicating that he wants to start sending more military assistance to Syrian rebels. Today, Obama’s former special representative on Syria doesn’t seem so sure and he seems pretty frustrated with the lack of clarity from the administration.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

How much do the indictments of Chinese military officers matter?

The charges announced by the US Justice Department yesterday were a year in the making. “Enough is enough,” said Attorney General Eric Holder.

Not everyone was impressed though, given how unlikely it will be for any of the suspects to ever face trial in US court.

But James Lewis told me that this is an important first step for the US government. Here’s the Q&A he graciously endured with yours truly on Monday morning, after the news broke.

The online nicknames used by the accused hackers are kind of fun – “UglyGorilla” and “KandyGoo” are my personal favorites. Here’s a link to the whole 56 page indictment. As the NYTimes points out, the legal document “reads like a chronology of most of the major trade disputes between the United States and China during the past five years.” If China was indeed using cyberattacks as a way of punishing companies that challenged Chinese competitors under WTO regulations, this move by the DOJ is an interesting development.

In this insightful post, Jack Goldsmith writes that, “the indictments can be seen as a calculated escalation of pressure designed to demonstrate  United States’ resolve to clamp down on corporate cybertheft.”

China’s national news agency has a piece today about Beijing summoning the new US ambassador for a scolding, and it’s got lots of overwrought quotes from a Chinese foreign ministry official about American misbehavior. The Snowden revelations certainly put the Obama administration in an awkward position on the issue of cyber surveillance. But it’s hard to see how that should excuse Chinese cyber espionage activities, if they’re anywhere near as extensive as the experts seem to believe.

What happens next? Adam Segal at the Council on Foreign Relations writes that it’s safe to expect some heat, but not much else.

Posted in Asia, China, PRI's The World | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

China and Vietnam square off at sea

It doesn’t seem very likely that the recent flare up between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea is going to spark an all-out war. But when you’ve got ships ramming into each other and neither side keen to be seen backing down, things could certainly spiral into something very ugly (i.e. deadly) awfully quick. Here’s the segment we did on the show Thursday. And here’s a great Q&A at the NYTimes with MIT’s M. Taylor Fravel.

UPDATE: ChinaFile has opened up a discussion about this issue that’s worth keeping an eye on. The flare-up between China and Vietnam is a dangerous development, writes Ely Ratner, because it signals Beijing’s intent to pursue its territorial claims over and above its stated commitment to building a peaceful security arrangement in the region. Secondly, Ratner says it is getting harder to explain Chinese moves as reactive in nature.

This excuse is no longer viable. Even though President Xi himself continues to assert that China is simply reacting to the provocations of others, this is now an empirical fallacy after the announcement of the Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea last November and now this assertion of sovereignty against Vietnam. Rather than even waiting for pretexts to advance its sovereignty claims, China is now making first moves without provocation.

Another worrisome aspect of these maritime disputes, writes Orville Schell, is that for China they are fundamentally about territorial integrity. And that means Beijing will not compromise. This point reminded me of something said by Cui Tiankai, China’s Ambassador to the US, during a recent speech at Harvard University. Cui spoke to an audience at the Kennedy School of Government and suggested that the real problem here is not about territory at all, but about Japanese provocations and the US military alliance with Japan. “Such military alliances originated in the Cold War,” the ambassador explained. “Is it really appropriate for the 21st century? I don’t think such alliances will help us.”

Cui went on to say that America’s treaty obligations with Japan commits Washington to support any future provocations by Tokyo. “I think this is very dangerous,” he concluded in his answer to a question about the maritime dispute over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. “You are committing yourself to an unknown situation in the future. Will this hurt American interest? I think you have to come to the right conclusion.”

Posted in Asia, China, PRI's The World | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

China detains activists ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown

Every one of the last 25 June 4th anniversaries has been a politically sensitive one for China. That means people the Chinese government suspects of stirring up trouble get detained. But the FT today says “this year’s crackdown has begun even earlier than usual.” A human rights lawyer who took part in the Tiananmen protests in 1989 is one of those who’s been arrested. Pu Zhiqiang also participated in a recent seminar about the Tiananmen crackdown that concluded “it was an injustice to open fire on unarmed citizens.” That is a dangerous statement for Chinese citizens to make publicly, even if they happen to be thousands of miles away from home. University students here at American schools are still wary of engaging in a public way with issues related to ‘June 4th’. Here’s my latest story that ran on The World last week. And here’s an interview Marco Werman did with John Pomfret, who covered the 1989 protests in Beijing for the AP and is now working on a book about the history of US-China relations.

UPDATE: The Wall Street Journal’s “China Real Time” blog has posted a translation of a statement from that seminar mentioned above. Here’s an excerpt:

Participants in the meeting included mothers who lost their children, people who were sentenced to jail after the suppression and teachers who lost their jobs. As they spoke, they couldn’t help recalling what happened [in 1989], pointing out that even though time has flown by, the scars have not faded. They can neither forget nor avoid June 4th.

The participants agreed that although people might have different opinions about the causes, nature and meaning of the June 4th incident, it was undoubtedly not a “riot.” Rather, it was an intolerable violation of justice and law to shoot at unarmed civilians. All punishments arising from the notion that it was a “riot” should be cancelled, corrected and compensated.

UPDATE 2: I just came across this astounding dispatch by Pu Zhiqiang about what it’s like for Chinese activists to try to commemorate the June 4th anniversary.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

China cracks down on ‘New Citizens Movement’

Chinese legal scholar and activist Xu Zhiyong is in prison for “gathering a crowd to disturb public order.” A court in Beijing upheld that sentence today. Several other people with the ‘New Citizens Movement’ went on trial this week and face significant jail time. The group has held small protests and called for public disclosure of Chinese officials’ financial assets. For more about the crackdown on these anti-corruption activists, listen to our interview with Sophie Richardson, China director for Human Rights Watch.

UPDATE: Xu also has a new book out, in Chinese, about how to be a good citizen in China.

The book is broken into three parts. The first details the growth of Mr. Xu’s political awareness as a young lawyer suddenly exposed to the brutality visited on Chinese petitioners. In the second part, he outlines his ambitions for a democratic China, with separation of powers and a military with allegiance to the state rather than a party. The final section contains various writings and documents, including Mr. Xu’s recollections of conversations with police in the wake of his arrest last year.

Posted in Asia, China | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Military tourism and some tough diplomacy are on the agenda for Chuck Hagel in China

Chuck Hagel got a special treat in China this week. The US Secretary of Defense was given a tour on the Chinese aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Nothing really signals a national desire to project military might beyond one’s own shoreline quite like an aircraft carrier. The Liaoning is China’s first, and it’s clearly a symbol that Beijing intends to be a more serious player in the Asia Pacific. But giving Hagel a personal tour is also a sign of China’s willingness to respond to Washington’s calls for more transparency. 

“The Chinese seized upon the opportunity of the Hagel visit,” says retired US Admiral Michael McDevitt. “Currently the military-to-military cooperation [between Beijing and Washington] is in a good place. It has been for the last 13 or 14 months.”

The US and China are also dealing with some tricky disagreements on security matters, and several of them came up during a joint press conference with Hagel and his Chinese counterpart, Gen. Chang Wanquan.

Hagel repeated US objections to China’s creation of an air defense identification zone in the East China sea late last year, which extends to areas claimed by some of China’s neighbors. The American defense chief was quoted in the Financial Times:

“Every nation has a right to establish an air defence zone, but not a right to do it unilaterally with no collaboration, no consultation,” Mr Hagel said. “That adds to tensions, misunderstandings and could eventually add to, and eventually get to, dangerous conflict.”

Things apparently got testy between after Gen. Chang criticized Japan for making trouble in the East China Sea and the Philippines for illegally occupying Chinese islands in the South China Sea, according to the New York Times:

At one point, Mr. Hagel appeared impatient, wagging his finger. “The Philippines and Japan are longtime allies of the United States,” he said. “We have mutual self-defense treaties with each of those countries” he continued, adding that the United States was “fully committed to those treaty obligations.”

There is a widespread view in China that the US government’s ultimate goal is to contain a rising People’s Republic. During the appearance with Hagel, Gen. Chang  was quoted in the Wall Street Journal saying that China, “can never be contained.” According to the FT, one Chinese official told Hagel during a meeting that, “the Chinese people, including myself, are dissatisfied” with remarks made by Hagel during his visit to Japan before landing in China. 

Hagel brought a message of reassurance to the Japanese. “Yes, we are drawing down some of force posture. But make no mistake,” the defense secretary said. “We are not retreating from the world.”

The Pentagon still has 400,000 men and women stationed outside the United States in 100 countries, Hagel said. “We still have by far the largest defense force in the world, the biggest budgets in the world,” he added.

Adm. McDevitt says nobody seeks a full-blown military confrontation in the Asia Pacific; not the US, not China and not Japan. But there is always the possibility of an accident leading to unintended consequences.

“Each side trying to support its position on these claims raises that possibility,” McDevitt says. “That’s one of the messages, I think, that Secretary Hagel is bringing. The more you keep pressing these things, the higher the probability of an accident. And we don’t know where that would lead.”

Questions about the Pentagon’s budget beyond 2016 are another issue. McDevitt says potential cuts in defense spending could have a direct impact on US military capabilities in the Asia Pacific. “Reassuring our friends and allies that our re-balance strategy is credible, in the face of Chinese military modernization,” McDevitt adds, this is something that presents a real conundrum for Hagel in Asia.

“The challenge is convincing everybody that we can still do what we are obligated to do by our treaties,” McDevitt says.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment