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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

Restoring hope in human progress

22 Jul
This week in Science, 21st July 2013

This week in Science, 21st July 2013

Having studies China and political things in college, and having delved into economics and psychology on my own over the past couple of years, it is easy for me to get depressed if I think too much about human beings. It would not be challenging to come up with a long list of all the things that we do wrong. But there is still progress. That is a good thing to keep in mind. That is why I like these little updates from I Fucking Love Science about the latest frontiers that are being pushed back. Click for a bigger view.

Progress for Online Education

8 Jul

Take a look at what Scott H Young wrote recently. He described his own experience with his MIT challenge, and how much easier online, self-directed education is now mainly because of the rise of MOOCs like Coursera, EdX, and Udacity. I normally consider myself a realist when asked to place myself on the pessimist-optimist scale, the the future of education is a situation in which I fully agree with CGP Grey’s brief analysis of history.

A little bit about the protests

2 Jul
I’ve been in São Paulo for several days and I haven’t seen any big protests. I don’t know if they are still going on or not, as I haven’t been staying up-to-date, and my social interactions with other hostel workers are insulated from those events. However, during some down time this morning I gathered together a few links that might help to describe the general situation that has been happening here in Brazil over the past couple of weeks.

Link Roundup

2 Jul

Successful people giving advice, making me feel good

27 Jun

I came across two different individuals, both of whom have advice to people younger than them.

First, Chris Guillebeau advises people on how to jury rig a graduate school education in one year. He describes it as “approximately the same amount of knowledge (if not more) you’d receive in a general social science or humanities program,” which might be more or less accurate. I think that a real graduate program would involve considerably more analysis, and if Chris hasn’t gone to graduate school himself, he certainly doesn’t seem qualified to judge it. However, I do like the things that he lists, and many of them describe me and my habits already. Here are some of what he lists and how I compare:

  • Subscribe to the Economist and read every issue religiously. – I used to read the NYT and the Economist quite seriously. I’ve mostly left mainstream media behind now, so I give myself a partial for this one.
  • Memorize the names of every country, world capital, and current president or prime minister in the world. – I’ve got world geography down, but the heads of state are something that I haven’t yet attempted.
  • Buy a Round-the-World plane ticket or use Frequent Flyer Miles to travel to several major world regions, including somewhere in Africa and somewhere in Asia. – I’ve been to Asia and Europe already, and I’m on the cusp of visiting South America. I haven’t travelled as extensively as I would like to but I think that I am well underway.
  • Read the basic texts of the major world religions: the Torah, the New Testament, the Koran, and the teachings of Buddha. Visit a church, a mosque, a synagogue, and a temple. – I’m got a strong grasp of Buddhism, a fairly strong understanding of Christianity, but I am very ignorant of Islam.
  • Subscribe to a language-learning podcast and listen to each 20-minute episode five times a week for the entire year. – I’m through the roof on this one. I’m working on my third foreign language.
  • Read at least 30 non-fiction books and 20 classic novels. – Over the past two years I think that I’ve gotten this finished already, but at the rate I’m going I’ll continue for a long time.
  • Set your home page to http://wikipedia.org/random. Over the next year, every time you open your browser, you’ll see a different, random Wikipedia page. Read it. – I scoured Wikipedia during my college years, so I consider that to be already finished.

Next, I found that Derek Sivers tends to think like me in at least one aspect: culture. For a very quick idea, check out his TED Talk on Japanese and American roads, blocks, and buildings for a wonderful illustration of cultural differences. From what little I know of him, he seems like enjoy learning about other cultural views, which is something that I am fascinated by. After listening to a long conversation/interview with him in which he mentioned differing values and viewpoints between different cultures, I decided that he had gone through some similar experiences to me. He recommends that people pick everything up and immerse themselves in a new environment. Well, I’m doing that pretty strongly so far.