Sunday, October 3, 2010

China's friends in Alberta

On September 8, a fishing boat from mainland China rammed two Japanese coast guard ships near some uninhabited islands northeast of Taiwan, known as the Senkaku islands to the Japanese and Diaoyu islands to the Chinese. The islands have been under Japanese administration since 1895 (excluding the US occupation of Okinawa from 1945 to 1972) but in the latter half of 1970, when potential petroleum resources became a consideration, the governments of China and the Taiwan began to advance claims to the islands. Japan released the trawler's crew but detained the captain, Zhan Qixiong, intending to prosecute him under domestic law.

The Chinese reaction was, in the words of the New York Times, "swift and angry," and included a block on exports of rare earth elements, which are critical to hundreds of high tech applications. Eventually Japan buckled and released captain Zhan, who returned to a hero's welcome in China (photo below credit: ChinaFotoPress / Getty Images).

According to the state-controlled Xinhua News Agency, captain Zhan's grandmother "died from shock upon learning of his detention." China Network Television, CCTV's online archive, reported that
Japan's move was a serious violation of, and a brazen challenge to, China's sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands and their adjacent islets which have been an integral part of China since ancient times, said Chinese diplomats and experts.

As a mouthpiece of the Chinese government one of CCTV's favourite tactics is to interview sympathetic experts who say what the Politburo wants said. The channel hasn't been shy about taking on its critics. It's distributed a story by the Communist Party-controlled English language newspaper China Daily alleging that Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) has "sowed and fueled hatred toward China and Chinese people anytime and anywhere using whatever ignoble ways they could conceive." CCTV has also carried Xinhua stories attacking rights groups, finding a "human rights expert" to claim that an "Amnesty International report, similar with those issued by other foreign rights organizations, had 'evident logical errors'."

In early 2009, 22 Chinese academics and lawyers published an open letter to announce their determination to boycott CCTV in protest of its "brainwashing propaganda." It's not a boycott that University of Alberta political scientist Wenran Jiang has been inclined to participate in, as Professor Jiang has been a frequent interviewee for Communist Party-controlled media outlets.

In June Jiang appeared on CCTV to complain about the US military's presence in both Japan and South Korea, insisting that "the cold war is over," (13:17) - an interesting claim given that TIME has just published a story titled "Asia's New Cold War" - and stating "I hope they are not working towards a containment framework [towards China]" (20:56). Comments like these are no doubt a reason why CCTV News seems to invite Jiang on to its show every time he is in Beijing, which appears to be frequently. While Dr Jiang worries about a possible containment strategy and Taiwan's military (Jiang arguing that US arms sales to Taiwan "may in fact lead to instability and a new arms race"), think tanks in the UK and the Pentagon estimate that the PRC's military expenditure has increased 20-fold over the last 19 years. Japanese military spending has declined over the last decade.

The Economist lamented this past month's Senkaku islands incident, observing that "the ferocity of the Chinese response has harmed China ultimately, by undermining confidence in China as a responsible stakeholder in the region," But in 2008 Professor Jiang contended that China was trying to exhibit "Smile Diplomacy" towards Japan despite Tokyo being "confrontational."

In March an analyst for the U.S. Army’s Foreign Military Studies Office noted that "China controls approximately 97 percent of the world's rare earth element market" and that in 1992 Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping declared, “There is oil in the Middle East; there is rare earth in China." One of the most important uses of rare earth elements is magnetic technology and in 1986 General Motors established a new division, called Magnequench, to produce NdFeB magnets, which also have critical military applications. In the late 1990s, the Chinese made a move on Magnequench and the US government cleared the acquisition, provided Magnequench remained in the US for 5 years. The day after the deal expired in 2002, however, "the entire operation, along with all the equipment, disappeared. All employees were laid off and the company moved to China." China also bid for Australia's rare earth resources but backed off after Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board asked the Chinese to seek only a non-controlling interest. Professor Jiang nonetheless echoed the People's Daily to tell the Australian Broadcasting Corp that the West shouldn't worry so much because the production of many raw materials is nonetheless "controlled and owned by foreign multinationals inside China." (after 5:47) A former senior strategic trade adviser at the Defense Department is not reassured. "The Pentagon has been incredibly negligent," says Peter Leitner. “There are plenty of early warning signs that China will use its leverage over these materials as a weapon.”

A notable exception to what Jiang sees as unwarranted China skepticism coming from western governments is Alberta. In 2008 Jiang appeared beside former Alberta PC MLA and current "Official Representative of the Province of Alberta to the U.S." Gary Mar on a panel in Washington DC to state that he had been in discussion with Mar about cooperating with China on various issues at the sub-national level (1:03:00) and alleged that Ottawa has not been "friendly at all towards China," further suggesting that Mar agreed with him but could not speak freely since Mar is working out of the Canadian embassy in DC (1:10:50).

This wasn't the first time Jiang has taken the federal Conservatives to task. He's written an CanWest op-ed dismissing the "self-congratulatory, moral statements regarding China's human rights record" that Canada has made and penned a Globe and Mail piece that reckoned that the offering of an honorary Canadian citizenship to the Dalai Lama, amongst other things, constituted "grandstanding"

According to Professor Jiang, "there's no excuses for China to make on the foreign policy area [because there's nothing requiring an excuse]" (37:37 of this TV Ontario panel) and he is entitled to his opinion, of course. Less clear is whether the Alberta government should have set up a Beijing apologist with $24.5 million as Founding Director of the China Institute at the U of A (in photo below from left to right: Mar, Jiang, and Minister Gene Zwozdesky; photo credit University of Alberta) instead of, say, a scholar who signed Charter 08, a manifesto initially signed by some 300 Chinese intellectuals and human rights activists to promote political reform and democratization in the PRC and since signed by more han 8000.

In his latest New York Times column Paul Krugman levelled several charges against the PRC that I can't disagree with, such as "China’s government has shown no hint of helpfulness and seems to go out of its way to flaunt its contempt for U.S. negotiators" and "U.S. policy makers have been incredibly, infuriatingly passive in the face of China’s bad behavior." Krugman's prescription, however, which appears to be risking a trade war, has a lot of economists shaking their heads. Indeed, tariffs could prove disastrous.

There is a happy medium between trade restrictions and the love-in going on between Alberta policy-makers and the Chinese, which is of concern primarily not because of trade and investment issues but because of a remarkable nonchalance that seems to prevail with respect to technology transfer to the PRC. If "Chinese companies have the bad habit of siphoning off technical expertise from their German partners," according to Germany's Chancellor, what is so special about Albertan partners that the same doesn't apply to them? The Alberta government has announced various technology collaboration agreements and funded "research... in State Key Laboratories and/or National Laboratories throughout China." In 2009 Ross Terrill's expert testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission warned that "the large numbers of Chinese students entering the United States would include many students either encouraged or intimidated by the government into seeking out technological acquisitions on behalf of the PRC." Chinese students are often outstanding (the secret weapon of the top performing school in New South Wales is quite simple: lots of Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean students) but this is an issue for the U of Alberta in particular that seems to have received little attention, in contrast to, say, down under, where the foreign editor of The Australian has written about how the "reliable pro-China gang" in his country is "centred on the Australian National University." If Albertans were more curious about the gap that exists between Edmonton and Ottawa on China policy, perhaps there would be more interest in the security of University of Alberta research and in the question of whether our trade and investment policies have been subject to foreign influence.


Anonymous said...

Sorry, what exactly is your point? 1) That Alberta PC's are out of step with Federal cousins in heaping monetary and professorial rewards on dubious plants who promote China as human-rights abusers, intellectual property thieves and tin-pot dictatorship proper-uppers? or 2) military misadventures of North Korea are bound to eventually infuriate and embarrass their official godfather China. You are being orientally quixotic in your position and I am confused about your point of this post?

Brian Dell said...

OK, I removed the first paragraph about North Korea's bad behavior being countenanced by China since although it was another example of how, in my opinion, China's foreign policy is in need of some excusing, contrary to Professor Jiang's contention, just beginning with China's dust-up with Japan should be enough to make the case while getting to the main point sooner. I should probably add an introduction that explains where I'm going with this post but I get there eventually...

Brian Dell said...

Upon further reflection, instead of deleting that first paragraph, which had a link to an excellent Chosun Ilbo op-ed, I should have answered your comment more directly, viz.
- I first talk about North Korea
- China
- then Wenran Jiang
- the Alberta PC government
now who do I see as the villain in this disparate group?

The answer is that the villainy starts at the top of that short list and abates as one goes down. Wenran Jiang was the only foreign academic to pay his respects at the funeral of Zhao Ziyang in 2005, to my knowledge, and so he's a clear step ahead of the Politburo. But the extent to which any commentary on my part would make any difference at all increases as one goes down the list. North Korea doesn't listen to anybody, except perhaps China. China is more inclined to tell than to listen. Wenran Jiang does a bit of both, although I don't have any illusions about whether what I have to say would be of much consequence to him. The connection between Jiang and what's in effect Alberta's one-man foreign service, Gary Mar, is rather tenuous as near as I can figure but our own provincial government is far more accountable (at least in theory) to ordinary Albertans than a U of Alberta professor.