Repost-Michael Totten: ‘The Ghost Of Communism In Asia’ And A Few Thoughts

More from Michael Totten on his then trip to Vietnam:

‘Vietnam’s one-party state, despite being much more relaxed than it used to be, still spends hours each day broadcasting bullshit into everyone’s ears whether they like it or not. I couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity.’

It’s good to start off your day with a little propaganda, comrade.


I occasionally visit Left Bank Books here in Seattle, and gaze out upon the river of ideology floating by: Worker’s Rights handbooks, oppressed victimhood guides, queer-theory radicalism, Gramsci, Chomsky, and Adorno. Perhaps in some small way, as Totten may have experienced in North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam, seeing so much in one place can crystallize one’s thoughts.

A lot of the lesser streams in the mainstream media can make more sense after these little visits:  The current progressive activism, red and pink populism, feminism and more radical feminism, environmentalism and radical environmentalism, excessive and ideological egalitarians and communal types, gray ponytails, fringe radical individualists and anarchists….and on and on.

For all the talk of China, it’s important not to forget how recent the Great Leap Forward was, and why many in the Western media still seem attracted to the authoritarian imposition of high-speed rail and economic Statism found there.

Such affinity for top-down impulses isn’t so liberal, really.

I’m guessing if some people get their way, after the erosion of much that keeps us free and responsible, and after some radically individual and anarchic void were actually to be created, it wouldn’t be the secular liberal moralists, humanists, lost-in-the-wood liberals and bien-pensants which would necessarily fill it.

For all that, I’m thinking a continued danger in the U.S is still just European and Californian cultural drift: Bureaucracy and bloat. A larded-up, over-promising, under-delivering group of techno and bureau-crats regenerating from a privileged class up-top, and a base that’s always in need of saving according to their lights.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

***Thanks to everyone who’s stopped by over the years, and so as the blog bends with the times, I try never to break with principle.

Even if you don’t comment or email, it’s appreciated.

On This Site See: A Few Thoughts On Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concepts Of Liberty” …The End Of History?: Update And Repost- From YouTube: Leo Strauss On The Meno-More On The Fact/Value Distinction?’

Michael Totten At World Affairs: ‘The Once Great Havana’

Repost-From Michael Totten At World Affairs: “Noam Chomsky: The Last Totalitarian”

Some Sunday Links On China

Tyler Cowen from his blog: ‘The Rise And Fall Of The Chinese Economy


From a George F Kennan article written in 1948 on China.

My how times have changed!:

‘From the analysis in this paper of demographic and economic factors it is concluded that for years to come China will probably be plagued by (1) an implacable population pressure, which is likely to result in (2) a general standard of living around and below the subsistence level, which in turn will tend to cause (3) popular unrest (4) economic backwardness, (5) cultural lag, and (6) an uncontrolled crude birth rate.

The political alternatives which this vicious cycle will permit for China’s future are chaos or authoritarianism. Democracy cannot take root in so harsh an environment.

Authoritarianism may be able to break the cycle by drastic means, such as forcible “socialization”. At best, such measures could be put into effect only at heavy and long protracted cost to the whole social structure; at worst they could provoke such rebellion as to recreate a state of chaos.’

As previously posted:


Interview here. (Link will not last)

America’s Metternich (mostly kidding) wrote “On China“.  Interesting quote from the interview (unsurprisingly, Kissinger just wants people to read the book):

‘The remarks hint at what may be Mr. Kissinger’s fundamental view of U.S.-China relations—that they are already so fragile that it could be derailed by some candid remarks by him in a simple newspaper interview. Alternatively, he may simply have in mind his own opportunities for “maintaining influence.”‘

Some thoughts and some round-up on this blog.  Isn’t this what blogs are for?:

1. China is an old civilization which has been around for millennia, and which has a long history of a somewhat meritocratic, bureaucratic government long before anyone else arrived at such a form of government.  It’s currently centered around a Han Chinese core and is generally more authoritarian and conformist than most Americans are comfortable with, but to which many Chinese are loyal enough.  This isn’t necessarily a model that travels as well as Western models due to this Han core, but it has its advantages.

This blog is generally not favorable to what it perceives to be post-ish Communist authoritarian bureaucracy, but hey, there you go.  A highly individualistic and a much more conformist civilization are going to not understand one another on many issues. Americans tend to be idealistic and to assume their model is the default model without necessarily understanding how and why others might think differently.

2. China is undergoing seethingly rapid economic, social, and technological change.  It’s tough for many Chinese people to figure out exactly what’s going on, let alone outsiders, but Chinese leadership needs desperately to keep economic growth high, unemployment lower, and to copy, integrate, and frankly, steal, as much information and intellectual property to industrialize and modernize as quickly as possible.

3. Strategically, China has long borders, many powerful, organized neighbors (Japan, Korea, India, Russia) and many diverse ethnic and religious groups the central government has had to keep under wraps (respect is an important concept). Chinese authority must figure out how to match its political structure with an aging population, increasing wealth, increasing ‘middle-class,’ disposable income and expectations, increasing military strength and how to deal with those often powerfully opposed neighbors and internal struggles.

4. The Chinese are often people we can do business with on many levels, people who can be quite pragmatic and seem to want to get rich as much as they want to spread an opposing worldview to Western models.  They’re surprisingly sensitive to their own strengths and weaknesses and generally play their cards close to their chests.  They are quite thoughtful and strategic in often different ways than Americans. This past century is a sore point and seen as a rather shameful anomaly to their longer heritage of being the dominant power in the region.

Unsurprisingly, there is much, much ignorance on both sides, as is typical in human affairs, and ignorance is generally the default position.

5There are near constant and highly organized State-sponsored cyber-attacks and espionage going on against American interests (and some blowback and counter-espionage, I figure).  Many in higher levels of Chinese government clearly see the West as constraining and antithetical to Chinese interests.  Much logic and rational choice compels this, but also much vanity, pride, and fear and ignorance.    Such human nature can be found all ’round.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.


Interesting piece here.

Our author reviews Evan Osnos’ book about his 8 years spent living on the ground in China:

‘For its part, the government seems to be making efforts to get a grasp on public opinion, though they stem more from its need to buttress its own chances of survival than from any democratic instinct. Attempts at opinion polling have not gone well, mainly because most Chinese are wary about voicing criticism of the government to a stranger on the phone. Nevertheless, there is the sense that the leaders are aware that the ground is shifting. They just don’t know where it is shifting to—and no one else does, either. There is an obsession with establishing the “central melody” of the current culture, but the tune keeps slipping away.’

As previously posted:


(Q & A starts at about minute 6:20)

This blog is still trying to better understand China.  Troost traveled for months around the country, went with the flow, and wrote about his experiences.

The book comes highly recommended.

Interview with Troost here (via Althouse).

Fascinating piece here.

What’s life like in Beijing for an American editing an English-language Business Magazine?

Interesting quote on author Eveline Chao’s censor:

‘I understood then the mundane nature of all that kept her in place. A job she didn’t like, but worked hard to keep. A system that would never reward her for good work, only punish her for mistakes. And in exchange: Tutors. Traffic. Expensive drumming lessons. They were the same things that kept anyone, anywhere, in place — and it was the very ordinariness of these things that made them intractable.’

Also On This Site:  TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’Repost-From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’

#Hashtag Diplomacy-Two Tuesday Links

From CSIS: ‘Video-Afghanistan After The Drawdown: U.S. Civilian Engagement Post 2014‘ (approx 1 hr 30 min).

‘Jerry Hyman argues that the strategy should be based on three possible scenarios (optimistic, pessimistic, and muddling-through)…’

I still think announcing a withdrawal date makes a difficult situation more difficult, and gives people leverage to whom we really shouldn’t give leverage.


Click through for some ground-level coverage of what’s going on in Thailand.

I wonder how deftly the U.S. has ever handled nuanced and tense situations like these, where primary interests aren’t necessarily at stake, but good diplomacy is always welcome. Yon offers a bit of a rant against our current ambassador’s handling of the situation.

I don’t really want to get involved, but apparently, she did the moonwalk on live T.V. in the Philippines as a farewell during her ambassadorship there.  I’m just hoping for competence.

My guess is that it’s tougher to appear competent while defending the many contradictions of #hashtag diplomacy.

Yeah, Thailand, you’re just like Ukraine, so get those activists out in the streets.

Redlines and deadlines.  More speeches.


From the comments:

‘Does the Thai military depend on US made parts for its F16s, Bells, and UH-1s, not to mention almost all of their A2A, A2G, S2A missiles and radars? (The 12 Gripens in the 701st are not going to cut it on their own)

Or does the US need Thailand as a bulwark of regional stability (in addition to South Korea and Japan), a base for forward storage of material, potential air bases and as a source of human and signals intelligence? Does the Asian pivot mean we need them more? Or does the humble foreign policy mean we need them less?

If Thailand comes under the thumb of the Chinese who will lose more? The Thai military and its elites? Or the US? It would weaken us, but we would still have other regional options.’

James Fallows At The Atlantic: ‘More On That Ominous Chinese Maritime Announcement’

Full piece here.

‘Last night I mentioned the weirdly aggressive-sounding declaration from officials in Hainan, China’s southernmost island, that starting January 1 they would assert the right to stop and board vessels passing through anything they considered “Chinese” waters. That’s the entirety of the area shown within the red line at right, which covers many of the world’s major sea lanes.’

We’re going to need a plan.

Related On This Site:  Kissinger, at 88, had a new book out titled “On China“.  From The Online WSJ: ‘Henry Kissinger on China. Or Not.’

Is the next century going to be a return to 19th century power games?: Obama’s Decision On Missile Defense And A Quote From Robert Kagan’s: ‘The Return Of History And The End Of Dreams’Repost: Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

A slice of life in China: From Foreign Policy: ‘Me And My Censor’

Over a billion people and a culturally homogenous Han core.  Rapid industrialization atop an ancient civilization.  There is state-sponsored hacking and espionage, a good bit of corruption and a lot of young men floating around fast-growing cities.   There are people fighting for their freedoms, better laws, and making their way forward.  There is an often lawless, ruthless capitalism (and hefty State involvement and cronyism) and it will take smart leadership to maintain steady growth. Can they do it?  TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’From Via Media At The American Interest: ‘History Made; Media Blind’From The New Perspectives Quarterly: Francis Fukuyama’s ‘Is America Ready for a Post-American World?’Repost-From The American Interest Online: Niall Ferguson on ‘What Chimerica Hath Wrought’

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From Via Media At The American Interest: ‘History Made; Media Blind’

Full post here.

‘The real news in Asian politics yesterday, the kind of thing that will likely show up in the history books, was a quiet meeting announced by the State Department. If you missed it, it’s because people didn’t cover it much, but for the first time ever, India, Japan, and the US held a round of trilateral talks on the future of Asia and the strategic picture.’

An anglosphere connection?

Related On This Site:  TED Via Youtube: Martin Jacques ‘Understanding The Rise Of China’From Foreign Affairs: ‘The Geography Of Chinese Power’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest Online: ‘Obama’s War’Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Mubaraks, Mamelukes, Modernizers and Muslims’Walter Russell Mead’s New Book On Britain and America

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