Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Otero Effect

Get ready Nepal, here she comes again.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Maria Otero is coming to Kathmandu again and she's probably bringing that big chip on her shoulder about Nepal's treatment of Tibetans.  Unfortunately, it's not a very informed chip.

Ms. Otero will more than likely make some proclamation about how Nepal is not doing enough to protect Tibetans.  This is true and Nepal can do much more in this regard, but Ms. Otero does not live in Nepal and does not see the ground realities or the Chinese pressure that Nepal must deal with every day.

It won't matter, Ms. Otero will make her case, scold Nepal and retreat back to safety on the other side of the world.

Her's is a sound-bite diplomatic effort on behalf of Tibetans.  Otero's use of terms like "gentleman's agreement" tells blogdai that she's gotten most of her Tibetan data from the Tibet lobby in DC and not from more permanent and credible field and diplomatic channels.  

I'm sure it was one of these uninformed sources that gave  her the brilliant idea of coming to Kathmandu just a few days before Losar, the Tibetan new year.  In recent years, Losar has been an exercise in Nepali repression of Tibetans at the request of the Chinese. All indications are there will be a similar effort to stifle Tibetan expression again this year.  So is Otero's timing a deliberate act?  Is Otero of the belief that a few words of support or warning might stave off some police action?  

Naive and dangerous.  Her visit just before Losar--even if she says nothing about Tibet--will trigger an increase in Chinese pressure on Tibetans in Nepal.  Bank on it.  Yang Houlan can't wait to show the Americans who's boss in Nepal and loves to pull the trigger in the name of "regional stability" as he says.  She's courting trouble if she believes American hegemony has any staying power in Nepal,  plus, the Chinese look to her every utterance on Tibet as evidence of meddling by "foreign Free Tibet groups."

Maria Otero (right) asking herself: "Who is this guy in the robe again?"

As annoying and childish as the Chinese are on the Tibetan issue, they DO perhaps have a point. blogdai has  learned that during her last visit, Otero was accompanied by junior staffers of the DC Tibet lobby who undoubtedly were spoon-feeding their positions to her and providing her with briefings.

It was an unfortunate coincidence that shortly after her visit, the consular section of the U.S. embassy was caught designating Tibetan travelers as "refugees" and having some (unclear) involvement in a phony visa miscue involving Tibetans.  The DC Tibet lobby strikes again?  blogdai says this is too coincidental and too precise of a move to be pulled off without some form of planning and access from interested groups.  Just sayin....


Anyway, Otero's last visit started a cavalcade of criticism of Nepal from obscure State Department officials and U.S. legislators alike.   We can't let this happen again as we seek to build credibility on the world stage and attract foreign investment, so contact representatives of the Nepal media and Nepal trade organizations and have them be alert for this onslaught.  Perhaps if we see the Otero effect coming we can plan for it, address it publicly, and then ultimately dismiss it.


2/14 Update:  Otero cancels Nepal visit for the time being.  Did she realize the volatility of showing up just before Losar or did she just read blogdai and cave?   -=BD

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Turning the Corner on China

Words. Lots of words made into resolutions, but mostly toothless words.  The European parliament passed a resolution condemning China’s treatment of the self-immolation tragedy back in March of 2010. In December of 2011, they followed up with more rhetoric on China’s abysmal human rights practices.  A few weeks ago, the U.S. finally passed Senate Resolution 356, which largely follows Europe’s lead. 

And now when China was part of a veto to a no-brainer condemnation of the Syrian regime, Susan Rice, UN ambassador from the U.S. to dropped her diplomatic gloves and proclaim the U.S. to be “disgusted” at the move.

The world is getting tired of China, but does it matter?

Face it.  China does not want anyone to tell it what to do on anything, and takes every criticism, condemnation, edict or resolution that it doesn’t like as an opportunity to demonstrate that fact.  China wants to do things China’s way.  Pass all the resolutions you want, China will use them as a point of identity in order to distinguish themselves from the rest of the world.

Its like that Nietzsche observation where people take an irrational  contrarian position on an issue just to prove they exist and are relevant to the planet.

China doesn’t want to be accepted in the West, in fact, China probably despises our arrogance and presumptive authority and would rather the world follow their perspectives and practices.

Susan Rice fed up and "disgusted" with China

Regardless, there is the sense of a tangible shift—a wising up, if you will, of world opinions towards China. 

So now, toothless resolutions and all, perhaps the writing is on the wall and we are beginning to turn the corner on our  view of China’s place in the world and the West’s relationship to that place.  The old way of viewing China is giving way to a new reality and our pre-conceived notions of the China dynamic are fading.   Say goodbye to the old-school thinking that assumed: 

  1. China will be a source of unlimited business opportunities for the West.
  2. We must speak quietly on human rights issues lest we offend our potential economic interests in China.
  3. If we show China how wonderful Western capitalism and markets can be, they will eventually come around and adopt democratic reforms. 

Our perceptions and hopes for China up to this point have been based on our own greed, period.  Because of this, China knew that any condemnation of its currency, products, human rights record, or Tibetan policies from the West would always be a half-hearted exercise at best.  If we really cared about China’s failings we would have imposed sanctions long ago.  As it stands, China has our Western greed in its corner as powerful advocate, so they approach our limp condemnations with a sense of rebellious glee.  The more we criticize, the more they willfully show their intransigence by vociferously offering their pro-Chinese rebuttal.  Thanks Nietzsche.

So its good that we are taking a newer look at China as a whole.   Martin Jacques’s book When China Rules the World was way ahead of the curve in this regard. Duncan Clark, a Beijing consultant, notes these shifting winds from the economic perspective: "People (in the Chinese government) here think no-one can do without China, and I think now some companies are thinking no-one can deal with China.."  Even Google has taken a reasonably principled stand by pulling out of China.  Resolutions on Tibet by the EP and U.S. Congress are a good start.  UN ambassador Susan Rice calling China and Russia’s Syrian veto “disgusting” is another.   Re-asserting a U.S. naval presence in the Pacific signals that we may have had enough of China’s bullying in the region.  All of these acts—much less the tone-- were unthinkable even a few years ago. 

All of this probably will not move China one centimeter for now, but there is at least a sense of a unified front emerging among members of the world community and a feeling that the China “potential” is not worth its weight in human rights abuses and cheap products. 

So in the spirit of turning the China corner, a good healthy list of emerging China perceptions might recognize: 

  1. That China works on behalf of China and has only a limited interest in a level economic playing field in relationship to the world economy. 

  1. That our greed has not served us well. It’s time to re-prioritize the values that gave us some sense of credibility in the past.  Human rights, fair economic policies that do not pander to market “potential” and other similar measures would be a good start.  We must find renewed courage to speak and act according to these values. 

  1. That China does not want to be like the West.  Until the ruling Communist Party departs, they will take great pride in showing us how prosperous they’ve become without democracy or human rights.  They will continue to oppose any UN measures that even remotely suggest Western hegemony or are detrimental to China’s interests.  China willfully presents a contrarian if not opposing opinion to Western ideas and philosophies and we must revise our definition of cooperation away from turning a blind eye to China’s posturing and abuses in the hopes of some future gain, towards a more balanced approach to Western interests and concerns.  

  1. That bloviating loud-mouthed criticism of China does not work; it only strengthens their resolve. For example: John McCain’s recent proclamation that an “Arab Spring will come to China” will be met by some form of strict clamp-down on free speech in China if for no other reason than to tell the Senator to shut up and mind his own business. Guaranteed.  Public criticism of China only makes them stronger in their resolve—there’s that Nietzsche again!  The Chinese are frustrated with their government on many levels, but if a Western big-shot critic makes a comment about it, they’ll circle the national unity wagons first and deal with their frustrations later. 
The only effective way to level the playing field with China is through one of their own time-proven techniques—modified for our times:  "Change through a thousand cuts. " Work individual issues, one at a time, on the ground if possible, and through the average Chinese citizen, not the Government.  China’s recent acquiescence to individual villager revolt against corrupt policing gives us a hint of the potential of such small actions.