China is Not Ready for War? Being Ready is Irrelevant

1 May

Thinking about the world at large, one of my biggest fears is that China will have a military conflict with another country. Over the past few years the territorial issues of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and the various disputes in the South China Sea have come to (small) blows more than once. During the tense periods, I have always hoped that cooler heads will prevail. David Wolf draws attention to a report from the Brookings Institution which suggests that China is not prepared for a short, sharp war with Japan, which is slightly encouraging. However, even assuming that the Brookings Institution is correct in it’s analysis, I am suspect that even objectively unprepared military does not necessarily imply that no wars or conflicts will occur. I am reminded of the human tendency to not act rationally, which seems to be a major flaw in the assumption in which one side in any conflict will not attack.

The Chinese Army promotes an image that they are ready for war

The Chinese Army promotes an image that they are ready for war

Having people like Chang Wanquan (Minister of Defense and State Councilor of the People’s Republic of China and a general in the People’s Liberation Army) in charge makes me quake in my boots. From what little I know of him, he seems like a hardliner, because he said “China has indisputable sovereignty over the Diaoyu Islands,” and that China would “make no compromise, no concession, no treaty. The Chinese military can assemble as soon as summoned, fight any battle and win.” I certainly hope that this is a message meant as a moral-boosting message for his own troops, because if the Minister of Defense really does believe that his army is invincible, that spells trouble.

Another possibility for conflict (and potentially war) to occur is due to lack of a strong chain of command. Even if the commanding generals of the PLA are fully believe that war would not be beneficial to China, it is perfectly possible that a lower-ranking officer could start a conflict. I was just reading the Wikipedia page on the first Peloponnesian War, and a particular passage concerning the Battle of Sybota jumped out at me. Athenians were aiding their ally Corcyra in defense against Corinth. Corinth was an ally of Sparta, so it was a fairly sensitive situation, and the Athenians were apparently aware that fighting against Corinth could easily lead to a war with Sparta. Therefore,

the Athenians were instructed not to intervene in the battle unless it was clear that Corinth was going to press onward to invade Corcyra. However, the Athenian warships participated in the battle nevertheless. [emphasis mine]

One doesn’t really need examples from classical Greece to support the idea that commanding officers don’t always have full command. Even people outside of the military structure could start small conflicts. A few years ago there was a Chinese fishing boat that rammed a Japanese Coast Guard boast, creating a bit of a furor, and there were also some Vietnamese fishermen killed by Chinese Naval Police.

Of course, even if the people running the Chinese military don’t believe that war would be beneficial and all of the officers in the military are perfectly calm-headed and obey their orders, a passage from one of my recent favorite books is a good reason to be cautious:

Statesmen are not seers and their actions are taken in contemporary context with no view over the hill. The working out of a crisis takes place in stages without history’s advantage of seeing the event whole and its aftermath too.

It is all too easy to make mistakes, even when you are surrounded by expertise and you have access to excellent information. I vaguely recall hearing in a lecture on Greek civilization that the Athenians thought the Spartans would never fight, since it would be to economically costly. (I’m sure at least one of my readers can give me better details on that)

One final thought is that China might not be the instigator of war. Last time I met with a classmate of mine we disused the potential of environmental issues to cause conflict in Asia. We specifically spoke about water access in India, but I know that there are many other issues in which China’s use of resources causes a shortage of resources in neighboring countries. It might very well turn out that India (with a coalition of Southeast Asian allies) ends up attacking China in order to protect water resources originating high in the Himalayas. Keeping this in mind, perhaps I should build up my expertise on Southeast Asia to prepare for coming conflicts between China and it’s southern neighbors within the next few decades.


Way to go, Japan!

1 Apr

Japan recently was ordered by the ICJ to stop whaling. The whole issue is considerably more complicated that that one sentence summary, but the minute detail that I am thrilled by is Japan’s decision to respect  the court’s ruling:

Japan said it would respect the ruling despite “deep disappointment” with the landmark decision.

“As a state that respects the rule of law … and as a responsible member of the global community, Japan will abide by the decision of the court,” Japan’s chief negotiator Koji Tsuruoka said…

After seeing so much flaunting of international law from other states, this respect for it by Japan (despite disagreement on the issue itself) makes me admire the county even more.

whaling decision

Factories are Pro-Poor: A Meditation on Huajian in Ethiopia

1 Apr

This is the kind of honest and non-romanticized look at poverty and development that the world needs more of.

Campaign for Boring Development

A guest post by Frances Pontemayor

Can there be something less glamorous than a factory? Industrialization is gritty, sooty, sweaty – it just doesn’t align with the “tragically beautiful” poverty that development practitioners in Europe and North America dream of fighting with organic farms and $50 laptops. But at what point do implicit (never explicit) aesthetic preferneces start to blinker us from what really works?

Take the Huajian Shoe Company. It’s one of China’s leading shoemakers. I’m sure you’ve never heard of it, but if you’ve ever bought a pair of Naturalizers, Clarks, Guess or Tommy Hilfiger shoes, you’ve probably worn shoes made at a Huajian factory.

In January 2012, Huajian became one of the first Chinese manufacturing companies to launch large-scale operations overseas, opening a big-time shoe factory just outside Addis Abeba, in Ethiopia. The company produces 2,000 pairs of shoes everyday and employs over 1,750 workers at its…

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Things just aren’t said the same way

14 Sep
  • In Spanish, ahora mismo doesn’t mean right now. People often say vuelvo ahora mismo when they go out the door, which really means “I’ll return soon,” not “I return right now.” When people procrastinate, they say lo hago ahora means “I’ll do it soon/later,” not “I’ll do it right now.”
  • In English, we say “what happened?” in the past tense; In Spanish people say “que pasa/que ocurre” which is in the present tense. It was a very confusing experience for me to hear a Spaniard ask me “What happens?”, which is fine grammatically but which just isn’t how we say it in English.
  • If there is a group of five people, in English I would say “there are five of us,” stating our existence. In Spanish, however, I would say somos cinco, which translates as “we are five”

A little different from Conan’s definition of what is best in life.

6 Sep
What is success?
To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty;
To find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by
a healthy child, a garden
patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed
easier because you have lived;
This is to have succeeded.

Travel vs. Education

1 Sep

Allison over at just wrote up a little opinion piece on how travel is not education, and I think that you should go read it. It isn’t earth-shatteringly deep or anything, and it probably won’t change how you live your life. But it is true, and it needs to be said. It is a prominent idea across the world (a traditional Chinese saying claims that it is better to travel ten thousand li than to read ten thousand books {行万里路胜读万卷书}) There are too many idiotic truisms in the world, and now at least I can mark one off of my list of “idiotic ideas that need to me countered.”

In my own reflections concerning the travel-education dichotomy (which is, like all dichotomies, a false one), I can say that I’ve learned much more about Brazil by reading a few books and a few blogs than by living here. When I was in Spain I certainly learned certain things from living there, but I got a very different type of knowledge from reading. If I hadn’t read the books, I would have been able to gain so much less from my time spent there in person. In China it is a bit more ambiguous, only because I feel like I grew so much as a person from living in China. However, there is not doubt that I’ve learned more about China from my readings (which I think are getting to be pretty extensive) than from normal life there. I don’t want to downplay the things that I’ve learned from everyday life, but those experiences are limited to… well, to the everyday.

I can learn about working in a particular type of company, I can learn about the local juggling scene or the improv theater scene, but my experiences are limited to those. I have only 24 hours in a day (most of which I don’t use for exploring new things) and my finances are limited too. So the number of distinct areas that I can explore are of course limited as well. Reading a book can allow me to learn about the political process in China, the muslim influences in Spain, and the growing relationship between China and Brazil. I could never learn these things from personal experience because those items are too far from my own daily experience. That is what education, reading and talking to smarter people really, allows us to do. It allows us to live vicariously and to learn from other people’s experiences. Travel is great, but it isn’t enough alone. Choosing between the two, I would choose ten thousand books over ten thousand li. And you?

A slightly depressing fact

25 Aug

I can’t make out a single piece of it

I saw this sign today above a Chinese restaurant, and it is another reminder of how much my Chinese has degraded. I have no idea what it says. I’ve really got to get back into Chinese…

Naturally, any skill that isn’t used for a long period of time will degrade, but the ability to read and write characters is something that degrades much faster than other language skills. I can skill speak and hold a decent conversation in Mandarin, but I would be hard pressed to write a letter by hand.

But looking at the third character here also makes me think about different scripts. This character is written in a cursive style, which is significantly different from the print style that I studied in college. Just like n and N are two very different symbols which produce identical sounds, two characters can appear quite different to the untrained eye but can be identical to those who recognize them.