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Thursday, February 09, 2017

Two cheers for corruption: Avoiding Sino-American Conflict with Conflicts of Interest

The New York Times reports that the Trump Administration/Family (is there a difference?) is backing away from its confrontational attitude towards China by sending a friendly letter to President Xi Jinping calling for a "constructive relationship." As another story in the Times notes, Trump's letter follows on the heels of Ivanka's visiting the Chinese embassy for a Lunar New Year party, Trump's granddaughter's singing a song in Mandarin on Instagram (viewed by many Chinese), and (most important) Jared Kushner's enter into talks with the Chinese ambassador. The Times also notes that Kushner has important business dealings with Wu Xiaohui, a Chinese billionaire who owns Anbang Insurance Company, one of China's largest insurers, and who has close ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Wu and Anbang also have close business ties with Stephen Schwarzman, the Blackstone Group billionaire and chair of Trump's business council. (Schwarzman has created a scholarship program, college, and Institute at Tsinghua University, the university with the closest ties to the highest elites of the CCP).

Some might view this byzantine network of familial and financial ties as just another skein of Emolument-laden corruption tying the Trumps to power and money across the globe. To which I say: Praise the Lord. It is precisely such ties that might prevent global catastrophe during the next four years. I am admittedly biased in favor of Sino-American stability over Trumpian integrity: Far better to be governed through billionaires' global guanxi than the paranoid nationalist fantasies of Bannon, Flynn, and Navarro. There are uncanny parallels between August 1914 and 2016. The race for naval supremacy between an incumbent superpower (British Empire/USA) and a rising land-based monarchy (Wilhelmine Germany/PRC) is one such parallel; the shadow-boxing between Great Powers over the independence of small nations bordering the land-based monarchy (Serbia/Taiwan) is another. Jingoistic mass publics on both sides of the Pacific (愤青 in China, Trumpistas here) provide ample tinder if one of Trump's rash moves lights a spark. If Wu, Schwarzman, and Kushner's deal-making saves us from war, then I am happy to say "to Hell with the Foreign Emoluments clause."

Of course, my worries about war and my hopes that economic ties can avert it might both be overblown. (Norman Angell, in his Great Illusion predicted in 1910 that war between the Great Powers was made impossible by their economic and social ties). But I nevertheless breathe a sigh of relief every time Anbang makes another investment in Kushner's buildings. 新年快乐和最好祝的和平愿望!

Posted by Rick Hills on February 9, 2017 at 11:15 AM | Permalink

Comments

Rick, I have a Taiwanese wife and I teach and work in China. And I speak Chinese. I wonder: In your teaching career, have you ever been called in front of 8 strange people, 2 of whom have cameras filming you, not allowing you to record the meeting, after the communist party has sent thousands of people a WeChat summary of your class after infiltrating it? Ever been warned not to even broach certain subjects in a classroom? Ever had students send you emails with pictures of China covering Taiwan and Hong Kong with the words "Not One Inch" on it? Ever been reported to your administration and had minders everywhere you go? Ever shop at a bookstore in Hong Kong and then the owners go missing and wind up with amnesia somewhere in China? Ever have half your extended family living in a country the size of Maryland yet with hundreds of nuclear bombs aimed at it? Ever live in country where a majority of civil rights lawyers go missing all at once, jailed for protesting that they cannot speak to their clients? This is whom you want to be our friends. And what about Taiwan and Hong Kong -- just sacrifice them? It's hard to hear a law professor talk this way, but let me give you some news: every single educated person in the legal profession in that country wants to get out as soon as possible.

Posted by: ChicagoD | Feb 13, 2017 9:35:57 AM

Hi Chicago D. I'm not quite sure why anything you wrote is inconsistent with anything I wrote. I think that I merely suggested that war with China is a bad idea. I think you are suggesting that "friendship" with China is a bad idea. Suspending the question for now about the anthropomorphic concept of what it means for one national government to be "friends" with another, who said anything about "friendship"? I just do not want 1914 all over again. How is that desire inconsistent with being your upset about the current crackdown on human rights in the PRC?

I gather that, rather than responding to my post, you are making an independent point about the moral inquities of the CCP. I'm really, really happy to endorse your point. My wife works full-time in Shanghai: She is the Dean of NYU-Shanghai. I teach half the year at NYU-SH, and many of my friends in the Chinese academy are feeling the chill. (One of my guest speakers who travelled all the way from Beida to speak to my class about judicial review under the Chinese Constitution was blackballed from speaking at Eastern China Law & Politics, despite his former student's teaching there, because my guest, a tenured prof at Beida, was 太敏感).

So I appreciate your sentiment but not the moralistic lecture, the latter of which I attribute to your genuinely and justifiably strong feelings and don't take personally.

Posted by: Rick Hills | Feb 13, 2017 9:56:43 AM

Rick, I don't mean anything personally because I don't know you one way or the other. Actually, I've had coffee with the NYULAW-SH coordinator in Shanghai, I won't give her name but she is a lovely woman, very bright.

But I do mean to moralize. And I include myself in the people that ought to be chastised. I too have eaten from the hand that does bad things. It bothers me. And I don't understand why it doesn't bother you.

Too often I read posts about China by lawyers whose organizations are tied in with the Chinese government (like NYU, its a badly kept secret that the Chinese government built your school) - and the authors are afraid to say anything critical about China. So there is always a kind of wishy-washy hope for peace, and talk about advancement, and in return the author gets a foothold in the country. It's propaganda-lite. They scratch your back.

So here is my question: When will you post about how China has no claim to Taiwan since it had no presence there since the 1800s? When will you comment on last week's events, where a billionaire was "disappeared" from the Four Seasons hotel a block from my office and is now somewhere in China in the hands of their security forces. Not a month ago, China took a planeload of Taiwanese nationals out of Thailand with their heads covered and in chains, on a private jet to China for prosecution of crimes affecting the Chinese in mainland China, yet China turned around and complained to the heavens about jurisdictional issues when the Philippines decided to prosecute Chinese nationals who were living in the Philippines and ripping off the locals. A month ago, two Hong Kong elected officials (winners of the popular vote) were denied a place in the HK legislature because they made an anti-Chinese joke out of the OATH of ALLEGIANCE to CHINA that they had to take.

You've got plenty of material for a law professor to comment on: Jailing of dissidents, disappearing of lawyers, claims to control sovereign nations and entire oceans, removal of elected officials for botching their oaths to the 'motherland,' absurd claims of international jurisdiction to arrest anyone anywhere in Asia, corruption, pollution, IP theft, environmental devastation.

I guess it's been pretty good for you there, congrats. I've been monitored, accused of spying, accused of poisoning young minds, kicked out of provinces, harassed by students and faculty, threatened with jail and punishment, had my students called into a locked room unknown to me where the dean forced confessions and accusations against each other, had my email account blow up for years with propaganda calling me a bitch. I've had my share of benefits too. But I've just about reached the point of being ashamed of my own silence all these years. Do you feel that shame?

Posted by: ChicagoD | Feb 14, 2017 5:11:52 AM

Too much stuff to comment on in a Comment, ChicagoD. You've mixed up a lot of different issues, treating them all with the same high moral dudgeon when they are, to my mind, completely disparate issues calling for completely differently reactions. For the record, in my view, (1) the abductions are appalling, (2) the pollution is a problem that CCP officials are striving to fix but that even developing democracies like India cannot correct without throwing people into poverty, and (3) those two immature and arguably bigoted young LegCo legislators-elect should have been excluded for their "joke" -- a joke that, if played on the U.S. Congress by elected but not seated members would, I guarantee you, get the jokesters expelled by the constitutionally required two-thirds majority.

The fact that you'd lump all of these instances together as examples of the PRC's monstrous iniquity suggests that we would probably talk right past each other. This sort of debate is probably better suited for Don Clarke's listserv, in any case.

My views of Americans' teaching in Shanghai are pretty well-known. You can read them at http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2016/10/last-week-the-gao-issued-a-report-on-academic-freedom-at-campuses-operated-by-american-universities-in-china-the-report-ha.html, http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2015/03/-nyus-fight-against-isolationism-in-shanghai-the-analogy-to-iran.html and http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2015/02/teaching-western-values-like-hobbes-unlimited-executive-sovereignty-in-shanghai.html

Feel free to fulminate in the comment sections of any of these old posts. It sounds like you have been treated very badly by PRC officials and have every right to be angry. But keep in mind that a lot of people as a matter of principle actually just disagree with you for reasons that they can balance. It is your right to accuse them all of corruption, but do not be surprised when they respond by discounting your accusations as the result of bias and emotion brought on by your own personally horrible experience.

In other words, you might find that your arguments would be more effective with your audience if you were a little less self-righteous. But you should, of course, choose your own rhetorical mode.

And, just for the record, China's aid to NYU-SH has never been a secret, badly kept or otherwise: It is openly advertised as a joint venture with ECNU and the Pudong government.

Posted by: Rick Hills | Feb 14, 2017 7:32:20 AM

They've got your convinced you have freedom. That should be your clue that you don't have any.

Posted by: ChicagoD | Feb 14, 2017 12:28:00 PM

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