The New Odd Couple? Hollywood and China: The Cinematic Interchange of Soft Power


It is difficult these days to avoid headlines either extolling or decrying the growing ties between China and Hollywood.

The impetus for collaboration is clear. About a dozen new cinemas are built per day in China, according to Forbes. And, don’t forget, Chinese tycoon Wang Jianlin’s Wanda Group for three years has owned, and revitalized, AMC Entertainment Holdings, the second-largest theater chain in the United States.

China’s box office is expected to reach some $5 billion this year, about half the size of the US market. And nearly 50% of these proceeds come from foreign movies, despite a government quota allowing only 34 foreign films per year and various other obstructions.

An impressive lineup from Hollywood and the Chinese film industry — and film financiers from both shores — showed up earlier this month in Los Angeles for the Asia Society’s 6th Annual US-China Film Summit. The organizers marked the occasion by announcing a new partnership between the Asia Society film summit and the Shanghai International Film Festival.

“Our positioning is ‘Based in Asia, Boost Chinese Films and Foster New Talent.’ We are helping the Chinese film industry reach the international level,” Ding Li, the Shanghai festival’s deputy general manager said when announcing the partnerhship. “Through cooperation with the U.S.-China Film Summit, we hope we can together build a quick and complete way for communication between two countries’ film industries, capital, outstanding projects and talent.”

Just as China is attempting to get its voice into the global news mix by building extensive and expensive international news operations through state-owned China Central Television (CCTV) and the Xinhua News Agency, the Chinese film bureaucracy has high hopes of Chinese movies serving as a key driver of country’s “soft power” overseas image-making.

But as veteran China entertainment journalist Jonathan Landreth points out in his China Film Insider blog, this sliver of the China Dream is hardly a glimmer. While on his state visit to the US in late September, Chinese President Xi Jinping referred to watching Sleepless in Seattle and House of Cards in his remarks to the business community. During the visit, director Xu Zheng’s comedy Lost in Hong Kong was released in the US.

Lost in Hong Kong, distributed in the United States by Plano, Texas-based Well Go USA Entertainment, thus far has pulled in about $1.3 million in U.S. ticket sales at 34 screens nationwide and has cracked the top ten of the most commercially successful Chinese-language films to play in American cinemas. Yet its success is dwarfed by, for example, the tenth most-successful Hollywood film in China just this year: Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, which has raked in $137 million for its co-producers, Hollywood studio Paramount Pictures, Chinese e- commerce giant Alibaba, and the China Movie Channel, a unit of state-run broadcaster China Central Television. For all the hype about boom times in China’s movie marketplace—the box office in the first half of this year soared nearly 50 percent over the first six months of 2014—China can’t seem to land a single hit in what is still the largest theatergoing movie market in the world: the U.S. of A.

Part of the problem, of course, is that Chinese producers and directors must get their scripts approved by China’s censors in order for the movies to be shot and shown in China. These squeezed and scrubbed storylines appear to carry little appeal for foreign audiences beyond students looking to supplement their Chinese language learning. USC professor Stan Rosen, the expert’s expert on Chinese film, offered his views in “Hollywood in China: Selling Out or Cashing In?” in The Diplomat earlier this year:

Chinese success is inherently limited because in China, unlike Hollywood, film is expected to perform several contradictory functions simultaneously. For example, in discussing the film industry, Politburo member and director of the Propaganda (Publicity) Department of the Central Committee of the CCP Liu Qibao has praised the success of Chinese films in the domestic market and noted that China should also become an international movie power, but at the same time he has called for the country’s films to take “socialist core values as a guide” and “contain more elements of the Chinese Dream.” Liu’s comments may appeal to Xi Jinping and his colleagues on the Politburo, but they reflect a lack of knowledge of audience preferences. This introduction of politically correct requirements virtually guarantees a result counterproductive to state intentions. By contrast, Hollywood makes “high concept” films that are meant to have universal appeal, across all cultures, with profit virtually its only motive.

The most recent Hollywood hit in China, Mission Impossible, Rogue Nation, was co-produced by Paramount, Alibaba and a unit of CCTV. This represents just a trickle of the Chinese money that is flooding into the banks in Burbank. Through these investments, Chinese “soft power” seems to be gaining some traction through Chinese sensibilities slipping into the scripts of sino-financed films. According to Rosen, Hollywood’s “success has fueled widespread criticism that the quest for market share has compelled Hollywood to “sell out,” to self-censor in making films that, at best, avoid sensitive social and political issues, and at worst offer an overly positive picture of China under Communist rule.”

Rosen, however, also downplays China’s effect on Hollywood so far. He says that Chinese villains are certainly vanishing from Hollywood movies and various scenes are eliminated, added or enhanced to show China in a positive light. But, Rosen reckons, these sorts of alterations are part of Hollywood’s long success in projecting its own soft power.

For anyone familiar with the history and goals of Hollywood, it should not be surprising that films intended for overseas markets are tailored to suit the demands of those markets. Hollywood has always been concerned with the bottom line, so the reaction to the astonishing rise of the China market represents business as usual. It is this flexibility and ability to adjust that has been a major contributor to its long-term success. In this regard, it is instructive to compare Hollywood’s strategy to China’s efforts to promote its soft power by succeeding on the international film market.

This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.


Is the Specter of a ‘Cyber Cold War’ Real?

(originally published in The Atlantic, April 27, 2013)

Why the best and brightest in China and the United States have the most to lose from a cyber-related conflict between the two countries.

A cleaner sweeps the logo of Google China outside its company headquarters in Beijing, January 19, 2010. (Alfred Jin/Reuters)

A cleaner sweeps the logo of Google China outside its company headquarters in Beijing, January 19, 2010. (Alfred Jin/Reuters)

“How do I screen when hiring Chinese employees?”

I was asked that question the other day by a senior executive at one of America’s most prominent tech companies who is worried about Chinese employees stealing the company’s trade secrets. The epidemic of cyber-burglary and trade secret theft coming out of China is leading many technology and industrial multinationals to not only ask this question but to discuss avoiding hiring Chinese scientists, engineers and executives for key positions — or at least determine ways to isolate them from core company systems. Some companies are already doing both of those things.

I was immediately and sadly reminded of the late-1990s Chinese spy mania in the U.S. ignited by then House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s attempt to connect a scandal involving Clinton campaign contributions with accusations that American companies with ties to Clinton were sharing sensitive U.S. space technology with China. In the end, as is usual with Newt’s political nonsense, the smoke led to barely a flicker of fire.

But Chinese American scientist Wen Ho Lee at the Department of Energy’s highly classified nuclear laboratory at Los Alamos, Mexico, ended up badly burned. And, for a while, so were the career prospects of Chinese immigrants with technology and science expertise studying and working in the U.S. After being charged with 59 criminal counts, shackled in leg irons, incarcerated in solitary confinement, and pilloried by press leaks, Lee pled guilty to one count that amounted to bringing classified materials home to work on. The judge who accepted Lee’s plea said that his prosecution had “embarrassed our entire nation.” During this time, I ran into more than a few Chinese scientists and technologists in China who had returned home because they saw their future in America limited.


A couple hours after the screening question, I received the CNN email alert about the death of Lu Lingzi, the 23-year-old Boston University student from Shenyang, China killed in the Boston marathon bombing. She was the same age as my daughter Sally, who was also born and raised in China and speaks Chinese. It is impossible for parents to fathom how a child’s life and dreams can be destroyed by senseless criminal violence. As her classmate Zheng Minhui said at Lingzi’s Boston University memorial service: “Her dream was very simple. She wanted a not necessarily rich life, but a peaceful life, with a stable job, a happy family, and a lovely dog.”

Lingzi was one of the 200,000 mainland Chinese currently studying in the U.S. — and nearly 1 million who came before her — whose big dreams and bright futures depend on mutual understanding, clear communications and real trust between the U.S. and China as nations and as people. I chair the advisory board of a student group called Global China Connection with branches on some 60 U.S. campuses and a membership that mixes students from China with American and international students interested in China. The group’s mission statement is clear: Global China Connection is a student-run organization dedicated to fostering deep and trusting personal relationships among Chinese and non-Chinese university students. I believe the future of the U.S.-China relationship depends on these young people to help us overcome the inevitable friction between a rising global power and a reigning global power. When I travel on business in the U.S., I stop by campuses and talk with these students. I have met many, many like Lu Lingzi over the years. Sincere, decent and diligent Chinese who love their homeland but have great curiosity about and affection for America — and dreams and ambitions that involve both countries.

The fantastic Internet cyber world that has brought the globe together in so many ways is now endangering those dreams. The fallout for Chinese in the U.S., and those working for American multinationals in China, during the Wen Ho Lee fiasco was serious but short lived. The accusations were aimed at an individual who had resided in the U.S. for some 35 years at the time of his arrest. But today’s accusations and a large body of detailed and credible evidence point at Chinese state-sponsored cyber hacking and trade secret theft involving a Who’s Who of American multinationals.

Whenever American business talks about China with the U.S. government these days, this is topic number one. Most Chinese officials and business people I meet are completely unaware of the scope of the problem. The news and evidence is blocked by Internet censors. The Chinese government’s response so far has been to deny and dissemble, calling the accusations of state-sponsored Chinese cyber-theft “groundless accusations” with “ulterior motives.” After Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew visited China in April and raised the cyber-hacking issue repeatedly, Qian Xiaoqing, deputy director of the state Internet Information Office told Reuters: “Lately people have been cooking up a theory of a Chinese internet threat, which is just an extension of the old ‘China threat’ and just as groundless.”


Here is a quick overview of what has become public.

Google closed down its self-censored mainland China search engine in March 2010 due to cyber-hacking of Google source code and attempts to steal the passwords of hundreds of Gmail accounts, including U.S. officials, journalists and Chinese activists. At the time,Google was one of some three dozen multinationals hacked from China . Except for Google, the other companies clammed up, lest they anger China and damage their China business. The problem continued to get worse, but few would talk about it publicly. The U.S. government didn’t want to reveal what it knew and how it knew it. Companies built stronger defenses and kept quiet.

China cyber-hacking news hit the headlines this January when The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal revealed that they had been hacked from China. Bloomberg BusinessWeek, in mid-February cover story entitled “Yes, the Chinese Army is Spying on You,” exposed a network of hackers, digging all the way down to a vacation photo of a People’s Liberation Army professor from Zhengzhou who had exposed his real identity by launching a small telecom side business that allowed investigators to connect his real name with his cyber-identity. The magazine followed the trail of Joe Stewart, director of malware research at Dell SecureWorks, who said he tracks 24,000 Internet domains “that Chinese spies have rented or hacked for the purpose of espionage.”

Days later, Mandiant, an American private cyber security company, issued an explosive report on Chinese hacking. The company said it had traced “one of the most prolific cyber espionage groups in terms of the sheer quantity of information stolen” to the neighborhood of a PLA building in Shanghai that houses an intelligence organization known as Unit 61398. The individual hackers tracked by Mandiant at 61398 included those such online monikers as “UglyGorilla” and “SuperHard.”

Mandiant said the group was one of more than 20 Advanced Persistent Threat (APT) groups it had been tracking in China. Mandiant said that in a seven year period, the Shanghai group – which it dubbed APT1 — had “systematically stolen hundreds of terabytes of data from at least 141 organizations” by periodically revisiting “the victim’s network over several months or years” to “steal broad categories of intellectual property, including technology blueprints, proprietary manufacturing processes, test results, business plans, pricing documents, partnership agreements, and emails and contact lists from victim organizations’ leadership.” Mandiant added that the companies targeted by APT1 “match industries that China has identified as strategic to their growth, including four of the seven strategic emerging industries that China identified in its 12th Five Year Plan.”

The “2013 Data Breach Investigations Report,” issued in recent days by Verizon’s RISK Team in conjunction with 18 others including the U.S. and other governments, for the first time separated hackers with financial motives from state-sponsored cyber-theft of intellectual property. Of the 120 occurrences of state-connected IP cyber-theft discussed in the report, 96     percent came from China. “We don’t think there was a super spike in that kind of [cyber-espionage] activity,” Wade Baker of the RISK team told the Washington Post. “It’s more about our ability to find them.”

The “Administration Strategy on Mitigating the Theft of U.S. Trade Secrets” published by the White House in February labels China a “persistent collector” and cites a long list of trade secret theft prosecutions involving Chinese employees of multinationals in the U.S. The cases include: Space shuttle secrets from Boeing; Trading platform source code from the CME Group; Light emitting diodes from DuPont; Hybrid technology from GM; Car designs from Ford; Food component information from Cargill; Military technology from L-3 Communications; and paint formulas from Valspar. “China’s intelligence services, as well as private companies and other entities, frequently seek to exploit Chinese citizens or persons with family ties to China who can use their insider access to corporate networks to steal trade secrets using removable media devices or e-mail,” the report states. “Of the seven cases that were adjudicated under the Economic Espionage Act — both Title 18 USC § 1831 and § 1832 — in Fiscal Year 2010, six involved a link to China.”


Congress is searching for ways to respond. Mike Rogers, a Michigan Republican and chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is focused on making China pay a price. “Right now there is no incentive for the Chinese to stop doing this,” Rogers told The New York Times in February. “If we don’t create a high price, it’s only going to keep accelerating.

Unfortunately, Congress failed to do an inventory of U.S.-China trade before setting its first price. Congress in March added sanctions to the continuing resolution that funds the federal government through September. The sanction provision bars NASA, Commerce, Justice and other federal departments from purchasing information technology systems “produced, manufactured or assembled” by entities “owned, directed, or subsidized by the People’s Republic of China” unless the purchase is determined to be “in the national interest of the United States.”

If Congress continues down this road Americans may soon revert to manual typewriters and talking into tin cans with strings stretched between them. Here is the state of U.S.-China trade today: China sells America laptops, servers, routers, phones and televisions. America sells China beans, bits, Boeings and garbage. It would do House leaders good to read their own November 2012 report: Patterns in U.S.-China Trade Since China’s Accession to the World Trade Organization by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a body mandated and appointed by Congress.

10 years ago, Chinese exports to the United States were dominated by toys and games, footwear, textiles and apparel. Today, atop the list are all types of electronic exports, which increased to $145 billion in 2011 from $25 billion in 2000. Many of the components come from America. U.S. chips now account for about 90 percent of advanced technology products exported to China. Since 2008 soybeans have been the single largest export to China. The export of American scrap metals, waste paper and industrial leftovers to China has increased to $11.5 billion in 2011 from $740 million in 2000. “Yes, that’s right,” Clyde Prestowitz of the Economic Strategy Institute wrote in 2010. “We’re swapping garbage for computers with China.”

To complicate matters further, the electronics arriving in the U.S. are nearly all manufactured by foreign invested enterprises in China. In testimony to the Commission, economists estimated that some 60 percent of all Chinese exports to the U.S., and more than 90 percent of advanced technology product exports, come from foreign invested firms in China.


While Congress stumbles, others are exploring a wide array of alternatives.

The Heritage Foundation suggests that Chinese State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) that benefit from state cyber-burglary be charged with “trafficking in stolen goods” and have their offshore assets seized. Dan Blumenthal of the American Enterprise Institute suggests that Congresscreate a cyber-attack exception to the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act as was done with terrorism. That Act prevents foreign states from facing civil suits in U.S. courts. The terrorism exemption allows such suits and the collection of damages if the country has been designated as a state sponsor of terrorism by the State Department. Then there is George Mason University law professor Jeremy Rabkin and scholar Ariel Rabkin’s Hoover Institution study that proposes the U.S. “think about cyber conflict in more imaginative ways.” One of them is creating a cyber-militia by reaching back 200 years when the U.S. and others signed “letters of marque” to “privateers” who were commissioned to attack pirates ships and allowed to keep a percentage of what they seized.

A more mundane approach comes from defense consultant and author James Farwell. He wrote in the National Interest in March that Chinese hacking should be taken to the WTO. While espionage is not against international law, he says, the theft or infringement of intellectual property is. Farwell suggests that the U.S. should initiate a case under the Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement. “An internationally-recognized ruling, handed down in legal proceedings that found China guilty of intellectual-property theft or infringement, could render it liable for billions of dollars in compensation, expose it to multinational economic sanctions and cause it to be branded a ‘pirate state’,” Farwell wrote. “As a nation whose strategic thinking focuses on playing for psychological advantage, China would find that result uncomfortable.”

Real progress can only start with the separation of sleuthing and shoplifting. The U.S. and China should lead a global discussion of acceptable behaviors and protocols for cyber-spying and cyber-warfare. Those discussions could take years to become meaningful. But they at least open communications channels to avoid accidents, or a “Cyber Pearl Harbor” as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta put it as he headed into retirement. Even a cursory look at published studies makes it clear that both countries are cyber probing for ways to shut down each other’s financial markets, electric grids, telecom networks and transport systems in the event of conflict. China certainly took note in March when U.S. National Security Agency and Cyber Command chief Gen. Keith Alexander told Congress that 13 of the new 40 CYBERCOM teams being assembled would focus on offensive operations.

The Obama administration’s approach so far is to enlist allies and engage China in quiet talks about cyber-security, much like was done with some success when China was publicly denying mounting evidence of its nuclear proliferation. In the end, China realized that such proliferation was against its own interests. A cyber security working group between the U.S. and China is now being organized as a result of the recent visits to Beijing by Secs. Kerry and Lew and others. Public statements from Chinese officials appear to accommodate this. “Cyberspace needs rules and cooperation, not wars,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said in mid-March. “China is willing, on the basis of the principles of mutual respect and mutual trust, to have constructive dialogue and cooperation on this issue with the international community including the United States to maintain the security, openness, and peace of the Internet.”

Even the Global Times, the Doberman of the Party propaganda press, suggested a good idea in a February editorial claiming the “insane U.S. accusations” reflected American intentions of “cyber hegemony.” The Global Times said that “China should confront the U.S. directly. China should gather, testify, and publish evidence of the U.S.’ Internet intrusions.”

That would be helpful as both countries could know who is doing what to whom. Many facts as the U.S. sees them are already on the table. If China has evidence showing that the U.S. government is stealing trade secrets from Chinese companies — or the companies of any country for that matter — that should be exposed and stopped. After all, the White House’s own February report on mitigating cyber hacking mentions a press report citing France’s Central Directorate for Domestic Intelligence calling China and the United States the leading hackers of French businesses.

As talks begin, both the U.S. and China need to step back and assess where this could be heading. Do the leaders of either nation really think a Cyber Cold War would benefit anybody? The longer this cyber-mess festers, the more distrust builds up, the more American companies question the trustworthiness of Chinese employees, the more China questions market access for American firms.

The victims I most worry about are our children, growing up in the age of globalization but in danger of being divided by distrust. Lu Lingzi’s father, Lu Jun, gave an eloquent and inspired eulogy to his precious daughter in front of 1,200 mourners at her Boston University memorial this week. He cited a Chinese proverb: “Every child is actually a little Buddha that helps their parents mature and grow up.”

The leaders of the U.S. and China may consider listening to Mr. Lu and manage this issue like mature grown ups who care about the world their kids will inherit.

The Poison Pill of Taiwan’s Democracy

I was transfixed by the elections in Taiwan last weekend as KMT incumbent Ma Ying-jeou won by a 6 point margin over DPP candidate Tsai Ing-wen. It was gratifying to see how stable and mature  Taiwan’s democracy has become. Taiwan now has a genuine two-party system with campaigns that seriously debate ideas and compare ideologies in a sometimes raucous carnival atmosphere that allows everybody to let off steam. The island’s voters were split 52-46, as compared to about 58-42 the last time around. This is a huge advance from the beginnings of the Taiwan democracy that I observed as as a reporter based in Taipei in the late 1980s.

In those days, a very corrupt and arrogant KMT ruling party had control of the media, unlimited campaign funds and an increasingly unconvincing argument that since the KMT had brought prosperity, without the KMT prosperity would disappear and the island would dissolve into chaos. They faced a very clever band of former exiles and political prisoners who formed the Democratic Progressive  Party and employed satire and political theatre to expose KMT hypocrisy and begin cracking away at the ruling party edifice.

I have dredged up a column I wrote after the 1989 elections in which the DPP gained a toe-hold in the legislature and scored significant wins for county magistrate posts. Here we are 22 years later, the DPP has come and gone from power, elections forced the KMT to clean up its act, and Taiwan has the first functioning democracy in the history of the Chinese people. I feel privileged to have watched the beginnings of this process, and the Chinese people should be proud of what the people in Taiwan have accomplished.

Democracy Is Taiwan’s Best Defense Against China

By James McGregor

6 December 1989

The Wall Street Journal

(Copyright (c) 1989, Dow Jones & Co., Inc.)

TAIPEI — Where does Taiwan go from here?

The ruling Nationalist Party is still in shock over Saturday’s elections in which the opposition Democratic Progressive Party overcame a stacked deck and scored impressive victories. The DPP, a fractious group led by former political prisoners and fueled by public discontent, seems confused whether to celebrate its victory or scream about alleged election fraud in several races it lost.

Both sides now face the awesome task of putting aside decades of hate and fear to figure out a way to work together. And this must be done quickly: The elections have created a volatile brew. Taiwan’s Legislative Yuan, the country’s lawmaking body, is primed for an ugly explosion over whether Taiwan should declare itself independent of ties to China or seek a formula for peaceful coexistence.

When the next session opens in January, the 163 life-term Nationalist lawmakers who have been frozen in office since 1947 elections on the mainland will be joined by 130 lawmakers chosen by voting and appointments last weekend. Within this group of 130 are eight DPP lawmakers elected on a platform of Taiwan’s declaring independence, and 18 Nationalist lawmakers who are the sons and daughters of Chinese who fled to Taiwan from the mainland with Chiang Kai-shek in 1949. This group of second-generation mainlanders is determined to develop a way to reunify Taiwan and China.

In local government, the DPP has won six of Taiwan’s 16 county magistrate positions. So DPP politicians in these powerful posts now will have a big say in the lives of seven million of Taiwan’s 20 million citizens. The DPP says it plans to use these magistrate positions to harass the national government. Thus, Taiwan is set to have a legislature paralyzed with fighting about reunification or independence, and administrative branches of government more concerned with infighting than solving the island’s practical problems.

As is usual in Taiwan, the average citizens are way ahead of their government. Voters interviewed during the campaign and since the voting say they were seeking to establish a two-party system. Their foremost concerns are stability and furthering the island’s economic development while solving the problems of horrible pollution, a soaring crime rate, rampant financial speculation and an antiquated infrastructure that provides a quality of life that is far from commensurate with the citizenry’s $7,200 per-capita income.

Voters here seem to realize something else that has yet to dawn on this island’s politicians: A functioning democracy can provideTaiwan with an effective poison-pill defense against China. If Taiwan can develop full democracy in the next few years, China has good reason to keep the island at arm’s length. The last thing China’s rulers want is to absorb an island where people are accustomed to speaking their minds and electing their government representatives.

Democracy in Taiwan will give China’s leaders good reason to work out an accord that allows China to benefit from Taiwan’s technology, business acumen and abundant capital while providing Taiwan autonomy so its democratic ideals don’t infect China’s masses.

Businessmen, scholars, average citizens and the more-thoughtful government officials in Taiwan are optimistic that this can be accomplished. One reason is that in 10 years or so, the people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait who really hate each other will be dead. The Old Guard in Taiwan’s Parliament and China’s Old Guard that ordered the slaughter in Beijing in June are cut from the same cloth. These people grew up together but ended up on different sides of the Chinese civil war. To them, the division of Taiwan and China is a matter of face, and both believe that democracy is a chaotic form of government that goes against the Confucian ideal of citizens displaying blind fealty to enlightened rulers.

But when these people are gone, the next generation will have the opportunity to devise some sort of a commonwealth in which two separate Chinese nations can cooperate under an ethnic banner. To do so, however, Taiwan’s leaders have to determine how to avoid prematurely forcing a showdown. This won’t be easy.

At its core, the Taiwan independence movement is a call for fully representative government.

In March, Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui, a native Taiwanese who succeeded the Chiang dynasty in January 1988 upon the death of Chiang Ching-kuo, faces re-election. ButTaiwan’s citizens won’t have a say in the matter, even though his considerable popularity would make him a shoo-in. Instead, the National Assembly will vote on Mr. Lee’s fate. The National Assembly now has 797 members, of which 701 are life-term members from China.

This is the major reason there now is a strong movement for rewriting Taiwan’s Constitution. The current document was written in 1947 in China. It defines Parliament as a 4,725-seat, three-body institution elected by citizens living within national borders that include all of China, Tibet and Mongolia. Many scholars in Taiwan are calling on the government to rewrite the document with “creative ambiguity” to trim it down to Taiwan-size while leaving enough China connections to prevent provoking China’s communist rulers, who have threatened to invade Taiwan if the island declares independence. But only the National Assembly can change the constitution, and by doing so the Old-Guard assembly members would be writing themselves out of a job.

The more practical solution is for the DPP and the Nationalists to work together to sideline the issue of Taiwan’s international status. Many believe this can be done only by speeding up the retirement of the Nationalist Old Guard and replacing it through elections inTaiwan. The Nationalists already have a plan to do this over the next 10 years. But the DPP is unwilling to wait that long.

Unless the two parties can come to an agreement, Taiwan society is in real danger of splitting apart along ethnic lines. Second-generation mainlanders are very frightened about the new political power of ethnic Taiwanese politicians, both the DPP’s elected officials and President Lee. Ethnic Taiwanese are very angry about the continuing dominance in Parliament of the Old-Guard Chinese.

On Saturday, Taiwan’s voters sent a message to the Nationalists. They rejected the party’s plan to create a one-party democracy by slowly opening up seats to election and using state television and other ham-handed tactics to crush opponents.

The DPP on Saturday proved that it can compete and win, even in an election system designed to perpetuate the ruling party’s dominance. Now the opposition’s elected officials have to prove they can govern the counties they won and present fresh policy initiatives in the legislature.

But, most important, the DPP and the Nationalists have to prove they can cooperate.

If they need motivation to do so, politicians of both parties can simply look across the Taiwan Strait and realize that Taiwan’s best defense against China is a genuine functioning democracy at home.

Room Service Only for Democracy Tourists in Taiwan

I remember covering the early Taiwan elections in the 1980s as the Taiwan correspondent for The Wall Street Journal. In those days, Zhu Gaozheng, who had a Phd in philosophy from Germany and loved to get into punching matches with KMT opponents, got elected as one of the first 13 DPP legislators by promising to cause an “earthquake” in Taiwan politics. Twenty-plus years later, that earthquake now appears to be sending aftershocks across the Taiwan Straits. Taiwan’s democracy is emotional, messy and noisy. But it works. This article from The Globe and Mail’s Mark MacKinnon about Mainland tourists in Taiwan being told by their Mainland tour operators that they have to stay in their hotel on election day is just another example of how the traditional Chinese policy of “yuming zhengce“ (愚民政策) — keeping the masses ignorant so they will follow the rulers — is unworkable in the day and age of international business, global tourism, weibo, blogs and cell phone cameras.

Beijing limits democracy tourists to Taiwan – The Globe and Mail

“On Election Day we are not allowed to go out into the street. We have to stay in our rooms [on Saturday] until the results are announced. Then we can go out.”Asked who gave the order, Ms. Geng pointed up, indicating her superiors, and shrugged. Taiwanese tour operators say tens of thousands of other would-be mainland tourists were prevented from coming at all when Beijing halved the number of tour groups allowed to travel to Taiwan during the election period.“They’re afraid [the tourists] will see how elections are run and that they’re peaceful and the government doesn’t beat people up,” said Bruce Jacobs, an Australian academic who is part of an election-monitoring group known as the International Committee for Fair Elections in Taiwan…

Witnessing the campaign up close does seem to have had an impact on the Chinese tourists who have been allowed to come. Ms. Geng said her group has soaked up as much as they’re allowed to, building detours into their itinerary in order to watch the caravans of the three presidential candidates as they travel the country rallying supporters…

One Hong Kong tourist agency organized a special “Taiwan Election Carnival Inspection Tour,” charging about $350 for a three-day package that included stops at Friday night’s final pre-election rallies, as well as visits to voting stations on Saturday and the victory celebrations Saturday night.The election has also captivated Internet users in mainland China. “The democratic awareness of the Taiwanese people is admirable. Everyone takes part in the voting, everyone cherishes and guards their right to vote. They therefore have the feeling of being the owner,” one Beijing-based Internet user wrote on the popular Sina Weibo microblogging website. Others wondered if and when China’s Communist rulers would ever allow competitive politics on the mainland.

The Blame Game and Paranoia in China

Politicians in many countries are fond of taking credit for everything that goes well and blaming all troubles and failures on others. So China is not unique in blaming everything that goes wrong or doesn’t work well on “foreign forces.” But this practice by the Party in China is even more egregious because people in China live in an information vacuum.
In the absence of intelligent debate or critical opinions – and blasted and bolstered armies of by government-paid bloggers — too many people in China believe this baloney. As a result, anti-foreign nationalism increasingly lies just below the surface in Chinese society.
The past quarter century of exponential growth in China has created a society in which anybody under age 40 considers breathtaking improvements in their living standards to be the basic benchmark of life. The Great Leap Forward and Cultural Revolution are distant historic events that their parents and grandparents talk about, much like my generation born in the US in the 1950s couldn’t relate to the Great Depression.
The Chinese government now runs scared of the Chinese people’s outsized expectations. As the Party is increasingly unable to meet these expectations, let’s hope that the blame game doesn’t get out of control. China has been on a path to be a rational and reasonable member of the global community of nations. It won’t be able to continue on that path if demonizing foreigners is the government’s best defense against its own people’s unfulfilled hopes and dreams.
Ed Wong of the New York Times provides an interesting look into the growing paranoia.


In the past three months, some significant foreign groups have been subjected to intensifying pressure from the authorities, reflecting growing fears here about the influence of foreigners and Western liberal ideas…

At least 60 activities organized by the United States Embassy in Beijing — including cultural forums, school programs, ambassadorial visits — were canceled between February and April because of interference by the Chinese authorities, and some European missions have been similarly pressured. Several university conferences involving foreigners have been canceled, and the Ministry of Education is stepping up warnings to Chinese scholars heading abroad that they not take part in “anti-China” activities or engage with groups that promote democracy.

The scrutiny has applied to some nonprofit groups, too, with several — particularly those that receive financing from the United States government or the European Union — being visited more frequently by tax officials.

At the same time, China has waged its harshest crackdown on liberal speech in years: hundreds of Chinese have been detained, imprisoned, beaten, interrogated or put under house arrest.

The government had for years guarded against Western influences, including blocking sites like Twitter and Facebook, but those restrictions have intensified since revolts began sweeping the Middle East and North Africa.

…Senior Chinese officials appear to believe that the United States in particular helped set off and sustain the uprisings that toppled dictators in the Arab world. In mid-February, messages appeared on the Chinese Internet calling for people to hold similar protests across the nation. Some of the people spreading word of the so-called Jasmine Revolution are Chinese who live overseas.


Huntsman Should Run to Lose in 2012

I sat down early this morning to write a blog bemoaning the fact that Ambassador Jon Huntsman must leave China soon or declare that he isn’t a 2012 candidate. My reasoning was that in the political world, like the business world, once an entity is “in play” it is hard to return to the status quo. Then I flipped to the Politico website and learned that Huntsman had just submitted his resignation to the White House. So I had to start over.

Huntsman was put in play for the 2012 Republican nomination by “The Manchurian Candidate” Newsweek article HERE a month ago in which he refused to directly answer a question about the 2012 race but described his future presidential aspirations as: “You know, I’m really focused on what we’re doing in our current position. But we won’t do this forever, and I think we may have one final run left in our bones.” Newsweek characterized this as a “winking response” that was “about as close to a hat-in-ring announcement as you’ll get from a sitting member of the incumbent’s administration.”

Pundits from Politico HERE and The Washington Post HERE followed up with reports that Huntsman has been meeting with Republican political operators who are ready to launch his 2012 candidacy. They cite sources close to Huntsman as saying that he will make his final decision in June or July.

Huntsman was national co-chairman of John McCain’s 2008 race against Obama. And his inner circle of advisors is said to include heavyweight veterans of that campaign: John Weaver, once McCain’s chief strategist; Fred Davis, who produced ads for McCain; and former Texas Congressman Tom Loeffler, who was national finance chair for McCain. They reportedly have established the “Horizon PAC” to serve as a vehicle for his future campaign organization.

In the short term, this is not good for US-China relations. Huntsman is the most capable and effective ambassador that Washington has dispatched to Beijing in many years. No matter how solid his integrity or smooth his political skills, Huntsman simply couldn’t continue to sit in Beijing and represent a president who he may run against.

This became clear during President Hu Jintao’s state visit last month when Obama joked in response to a question during the press conference with Hu. “I couldn’t be happier with the ambassador’s service, and I’m sure he will be very successful in whatever endeavors he chooses in the future,” said Obama. “And I’m sure that him having worked so well for me will be a great asset in any Republican primary.”

Ambassador Huntsman isn’t talking these days. So it isn’t clear if he purposely triggered these events, or if he has been pulled onto this roller coaster by media speculation and GOP operatives who dream of a sane and rational candidate to face off against Obama in 2012.

So why do I suggest that Huntsman should run to lose in 2012?

So far, the GOP lineup looks like the background cast of One Flew Over the Cuckcoo’s Nest. The menagerie cavorting and snorting on Fox News these days includes Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Mike Huckabee. Donald Trump is threatening to toss his comb-over into the ring. Even “Minnesota Nice” Tim Pawlenty is practicing baring his fangs.

Unless some cataclysmic event turns the world upside down, the GOP race will be a bloody smackdown, with the Tea Partiers, radio and TV pundits and the aforementioned menagerie pushing the debate into territory where even Glenn Beck could worry about falling off the edge.

To capture the nomination, Huntsman will almost certainly have to “McCainize” himself, gutting his integrity and credibility by running further and further to the right as the primary season progresses. Instead, Huntsman should be who he is: a thoughtful moderate who knows that America needs to wake up and change. He is the only GOP candidate on the horizon with serious foreign policy experience, and he knows that the country is facing a new day with global competition from rapidly rising China and India.

That means a Huntsman campaign that focuses on many of the same issues that Obama outlined in his recent State of the Union speech. Reforming the US education system, fixing immigration, and reigniting American innovation and business competitiveness. That won’t win him the nomination in 2012. But it could establish Huntsman as the GOP frontrunner for 2016.

That may be why he is even considering a 2012 run. Obama will be tough to beat in 2012. But if Huntsman stays out of the GOP race, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels or another sensible and capable Republican may use the GOP primaries to set themselves up for 2016.

When Huntsman arrived in Beijing in the summer of 2009, the Washington wisdom was that he was burnishing his foreign policy credentials for a 2016 run. But Huntsman was also taking another step in his China journey that began in the Oval Office when he was age 11.

In 1971, Huntsman visited Nixon with his father, Utah billionaire businessman and Nixon advisor Jon Huntsman Sr. By chance, Henry Kissinger was also there, preparing to head off on his secret mission to China. According to a 2009 Newsweek story HERE published as Huntsman arrived in Beijing, “Jon Jr. was allowed to carry the national-security adviser’s briefcase to a waiting car. The boy asked Kissinger where he was going, and Huntsman recalls the reply: “Please don’t tell anyone. I’m going to China.”

Huntsman went on to learn Mandarin during his Mormon mission in Taiwan, accompany Ronald Reagan to meet Deng Xiaoping, and serve as Ambassador to Singapore and as a deputy US Trade Representative in between stints in business and the Utah governorship.

There is no doubt that Huntsman is a presidential quality person. Having a president with his China chops would be very good for America. But his real opportunity may be the 2016 race – and then only if he can remain true to his beliefs and maintain his integrity in a 2012 practice run.

One GOP operative told Politico that Huntsman’s 2012 prospects are similar to former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s failed 2008 campaign. “In the end, the Republican Party wasn’t going to nominate a pro-choice, pro-gay marriage, anti-gun New York City mayor,” said the strategist. “He’s gonna say, ‘I’m running from Washington, DC, as an Obama appointee’? I just don’t see it coming together.”

Hu Goes to DC Jokes

The Daily Show
John Stewart invites China to take over US role as global superpower, saying “being a superpower is like being a Santa Claus that everyone wants to kill.”

Jay Leno
“The White House held a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. President Obama wore a traditional Chinese-made garment: a pair of Nikes.”

“Obama and Hu had a private dinner the night before. When Obama tried to pick up the check, Hu said, ‘Your money is no good here.’ Obama laughed, and Hu said, ‘No, really, your money is no good.'”

“There was a really awkward moment when the Chinese president met President Obama’s daughters and asked them, ‘So what factories do you kids work at?'”

“Chinese President Hu Jintao had dinner at the White House with President Obama and first lady Michelle. They were going to exchange gifts from the two countries, but unfortunately everything in our country is now made in their country, so they couldn’t do any exchanging.”

“President Hu’s advance team came a week earlier to make sure that wherever he’s staying has no Chinese drywall.”

“There was one really awkward moment when Hu found out that Obama was a Nobel Peace Prize winner and, out of force of habit, tried to have him arrested.”

Conan O’Brien
“At the state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao, Hu opened a fortune cookie that said, ‘You will lend us another trillion dollars.’”

“Hu told President Obama’s 9-year-old daughter, Sasha, that she’s a pretty little girl and asked her how many iPods she could make in an hour.”

“President Obama held a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. The world leader with the funny name, who grew up in Asia, said he enjoyed meeting President Hu.”

“Senate majority leader Harry Reid refused to attend the state dinner for Chinese President because he considers Hu Jintao a dictator. In response Jintao said, ‘You’re coming. You’ll have the fish, and you’ll like it.'”

David Letterman
“President Hu Jintao from China is visiting the United States. Ahead of the big state dinner, President Obama went to Hu’s hotel and slipped a menu under the door.”

“The White House held a state dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao. There were 200 people, a six-course dinner, and champagne. It was so expensive that we had to borrow money from China for the dinner.”

“The cellist Yo-Yo Ma was there. It’s the first yoyo we’ve had in the White House since George W. Bush.”

“China’s President Hu is visiting the United States. If he likes what he sees, he may put down a deposit.”

“There was a big dinner for President Hu. General Tso brought his famous chicken.”

Jimmy Kimmel
“The President of China is in Washington. It’s a bit like when you’re into your bookie for more than you can afford, and he stops by the house to say hello.”

Craig Ferguson
“Chinese President Hu Jintao visited the White House. Fox News said it was a gathering of the world’s most powerful communist — and the president of China.”

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