Was Obama’s China visit a failure? (No.)

James Fallows, for years just about my favorite commentator on China (and any other topic he writes about), debunks the absurdly negative spin the US media gave to Obama’s visit here. Applying the kind of diligence that reminds us how important the paid media is, Fallows provides a series of five separate posts, each of which is required reading for those who want to see the sloppiness of the US media in action, and to fully understand all the work the Obama team did to make the trip a successful one. And it was a success.

H/t to commenter Stuart, who sums up some of the best of Fallows’ observations on his own blog. The inside scoop of the hell the Obama team went through to get the townhall televised live is particularly intense, if not all that surprising. (We know how uptight the leaders are about content that cannot be fed through the censorship funnel, edited and, if necessary, deleted altogether. Live TV is kryptonite to prickly censors.) The townhall was a triumph, and it is beyond comprehension why the media is determined to brand it – and all other aspects of the trip – a failure.


The peculiar persistence of Chinese communism

China is not about to collapse, democracy is not arriving in the forseeable future, censorship will continue, the CCP isn’t going away and it may still be in power generations from now.

Read this detailed and relatively balanced picture of why this is so. This may baffle and/or displease some of us, but it is reality so we had better get used to it and adapt to it as best we can. That doesn’t mean to kowtow before it and accept all it does with resignation and a sense of inevitability. But we do have to keep a clear head about how Chinese people view their government, and about how the circumstances that actually could lead to an overthrow of some sort simply aren’t there, at least not yet. You can point to the thousands of demonstrations, the ethnic unrest, the massive problems it faces, the environment, and those are all valid issues. But we are nowhere near a tipping point, and may never be. If you are sitting back and waiting for the coming collapse of China, it may be a very long and lonely wait.

Update: See CN Review’s post on the same article. Kai identifies the story’s weakest link, the author’s incredibly misguided suggestion that the US might consider actively helping Chinese people subvert the GFW.

Also, be sure to see this piece on China’s censorship of domestic social media sites, and the West’s misconceptions about the prevalence of Twitter here. This is a good example of Americans seeing China only through the American prism, getting outraged about the blocking of Twitter, never realizing Twitter’s role in China’s social media scene is next to zero. Excellent commentary by Kaiser Kuo.


What should Obama do for China?

Here’s your chance to tell him.

I arrived in one piece. Was hoping maybe winter would be late this year. But no. It’s brutal out there.


On my way to China

I’ll be boarding my flight to Beijing in just a few hours. The trip will be part business, part meeting old friends and going back to the places I love the most.

Apologies in advance if comments are held for moderation, especially first-time commenters. Please be patient, they’ll appear eventually. If any of you in Beijing, Shanghai or Hangzhou want to get together please let me know. I’ll probably get to Yunnan, too, especially if Beijing is really as cold as I hear. I can’t wait to arrive. But then, I never really left.


1989, a ripple effect from Tiananmen to Checkpoint Charlie?

Foreign Policy offers an interesting if somewhat debatable book excerpt on the role the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations played in influencing soon-to-follow demonstrations in Europe, where less than six months after the crackdown in Beijing the Berlin Wall would crack as well, realigning the world’s long-entrenched geo-political structures in ways that we still can’t completley comprehend even today. The dust of the ripped-down wall, like that of the World Trade Center, has yet to fully settle.

In the eyes of the author, Chen Jian, the Michael J. Zak Chair of history for U.S.-China relations at Cornell University, the fact that the world’s foreign correspondents had congregated at the Square in May 1989 for Gorbachev’s visit helped ensure the students’ story would spread to all corners of Europe.

The events of Tiananmen Square shocked the whole world. Ironically, it was the rapprochement between Beijing and Moscow that exposed the crackdown to a global audience, as hundreds of journalists and cameramen who reported on Gorbachev’s visit stayed to cover the students’ demonstrations….

The effects of the Tiananmen tragedy ricocheted throughout the entire communist bloc, especially in the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc countries of Eastern Europe. In Moscow, Gorbachev, in spite of his disapproval of the CCP leadership’s behavior, tried to avoid criticizing Beijing directly (though the impact of the Tiananmen crackdown indirectly restricted his ability to influence and control developments in the Soviet Union, and he was even less willing and likely to resort to force in dealing with activities related to the disintegration of the Soviet Union).

In almost every East European country, the pro-democracy movements grew rapidly in the following summer and fall of 1989. These opposition movements took the opportunity of international Communism’s deepened legitimacy crisis to wage new offensives against the Communist authorities in their own countries. The Communist leaderships were all facing difficult dilemmas — they could neither afford to take a totally defensive attitude toward the pro-democracy movements nor dare resort to violent means.

During the following summer and fall, Eastern Europe experienced great unrest, eroding the political foundation and undermining legitimacy of every Communist regime there, culminating on Nov. 9 and 10, 1989. In Germany, the uprising masses brought down the Berlin Wall and with it the symbolic divide between the East and the West. By December — with the execution of Romania’s Communist dictator Nicolae Ceausescu — the communist bloc in East Europe had virtually collapsed.

Somehow, the Chinese Communist regime survived the shock waves of 1989. After a three-year period of stagnation, Deng used a dramatic tour of southern China in the spring of 1992 to regenerate the “reform and opening-up” project, initiated by Deng and the CCP leadership in the late 1970s. What has followed, as is well known today, is China’s rapid economic growth — despite continuous stagnation in the country’s political democratization — in the last decade of the 20th century and entering the 21st century.

The argument – that the TSM exacerbated the fissures that ultimately pushed the Soviet Bloc past the breaking point – isn’t easy to prove. Those fissures had been building for decades, and I believe that had their been no demonstrations in China in 1989, the Wall would still have fallen and the USSR would still have disintegrated. China’s political-economic fissures were worlds apart from Russia’s, and I’m afraid any effort to compare them has to be somewhat contrived.

Nothing could have stopped the fall of the USSR — except perhaps if there’d been a madman running the show and not Gorbachev, one of my personal heroes and the man who made the extraordinary decision – unbelievable, really – not to order the shooting of the demonstrators who stormed Checkpoint Charlie in 1989. Would that Deng had shown similar restraint (like, say, using tear gas and rubber bullets), maybe he, too, would enjoy Gorbachev-like status. His legacy is great; a pity about that one bright shining stain.


What Chinese and US PR people can learn from each other

My recent interview, over here.


Kaiser Kuo on China’s Internet

Last night I spent more than an hour listening to a speech Kaiser Kuo gave at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln on what the Internet has meant for China, and for US-Chinese relations. I was thinking about breaking the speech down, but then saw that a friend of mine had already done so, with greater patience and diligence than I would have mustered. I can’t recommend strongly enough that you listen to the speech and read my friend’s response and partial transcript.

Kaiser and I don’t always see eye to eye on China. But I thought this speech was practically perfect, elucidating how Chinese “netizens” perceive their American counterparts and visa versa, and giving the students in the audience more insight into today’s Chinese youth than they’d get from reading a hundred articles (or even blog posts). His love of China is always evident, but so is his clear-headedness and lack of prejudice, insisting that we see the situation from both Chinese and American eyes, and showing compassion for both sides. We need to remember, there is no black and white, that there are always two sides to the equation. What sometimes seems so obvious to us – raging nationalism, defense of a ruthless one-party system – cannot be understood without context and an understanding of the kind of world in which these people grew up and the extraordinary evolution of their country. And we need to understand how they see us, too, and why.

A beautiful job, and the best single discussion I’ve ever heard of the Internet in China.