Trump’s Trade War Is About Trump, Not China

By slapping tariffs on Chinese imports, Donald Trump has once again proven to be the Disrupter-in-Chief. This week alone, he’s brought John Bolton in as national security advisor over the objections of every sane person in the universe, threatened to go after Bashar al-Assad over the Syrian leader’s alleged use of chemical weapons, and revived disgusting characterizations of Mexicans as rapists.… Continue reading Trump’s Trade War Is About Trump, Not China

Asia, China, Korea

Building On The Good News From Asia

There’s been precious little good news from Asia these days. Washington and Pyongyang continue to trade threats of war. Right-wing nationalist Shinzo Abe won reelection as prime minister in Japan last month. Major storms have hammered several countries in the region, most recently Typhoon Damrey in Vietnam. And now, in the wake of those typhoons… Continue reading Building On The Good News From Asia


Russia’s Not the Country Benefitting Most from Trump

Forget RussiaGate for the moment. Forget James Comey’s upcoming testimony before the Senate intelligence committee. Forget all the conspiratorial speculation that Donald Trump is the plaything of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In strictly foreign policy terms, Trump’s election is not really working out so well for the Kremlin. The sanctions against Russia are still in… Continue reading Russia’s Not the Country Benefitting Most from Trump


China on the Defensive?

It has not been a good month for China. On July 12, an international court of arbitration at The Hague handed the Philippines a huge victory over China in the struggle over the South China Sea. A few days before that, South Korea decided to go forward with the deployment of the US Army’s Terminal… Continue reading China on the Defensive?


Making China Great Again

The final of the World Snooker Championship took place this week in Sheffield, the hardscrabble town in England’s north perhaps best known as the setting for the movie The Full Monte. Sheffield is a former industrial center so snookered by globalization that the laid-off steel workers in that 1997 film decide to become male strippers… Continue reading Making China Great Again

China, US Domestic Policy, US Foreign Policy

The Missing

There are several types of missing persons. Some missing people are missed so publicly that their absence is a presence. Vanished children reappeared on milk cartons and then later in amber alerts. American soldiers, killed in action or MIA, look out at us from rows of photos like headstones in the newspaper on Memorial Day.… Continue reading The Missing

Asia, China, Security

Asia Smiles for the Cameras

It wasn’t long ago that certain pundits were predicting war in Asia. Back in the spring, the conflict over the South China Sea was heating up as China sparred with Vietnam over an oil exploration rig and with the Philippines over disputed reefs. Japan and China, meanwhile, were butting heads over a string of uninhabited rocks in… Continue reading Asia Smiles for the Cameras

Asia, China

The Dance of Superpowers

By now, the phrase “Pacific Pivot” gives off a whiff of nostalgia. The Obama administration’s announcement of its intention three years ago to reorient U.S. foreign policy toward Asia seems to belong to an entirely different era. It was a time when the United States had the luxury to think geopolitically: to craft long-term policies… Continue reading The Dance of Superpowers

China, Security

Is China’s Rise Still Peaceful?

Last month I visited Ningxia province, in China’s northwest. It is a relatively poor region, with a large Muslim population, a considerable stretch of desert, and a growing petrochemical industry. It is far from the unrest of Xinjiang province to the west and the maritime disputes of the South China Sea to the east. Ningxia… Continue reading Is China’s Rise Still Peaceful?

Asia, China, US Foreign Policy

The Empire’s New Asian Clothes

In a future update of The Devil’s Dictionary, the famed Ambrose Bierce dissection of the linguistic hypocrisies of modern life, a single word will accompany the entry for “Pacific pivot”: retreat. It might seem a strange way to characterize the Obama administration’s energetic attempt to reorient its foreign and military policy toward Asia. After all, the president’s… Continue reading The Empire’s New Asian Clothes


When Soft Power Fails

The oldest Chinatown in the world is not in New York or San Francisco or even Yokohama. It is in Manila, a fact that comes up often when Beijing talks about its longstanding connection to the islands that lie about 600 miles to the southeast.  Similarly, China boasts of its three Confucius Institutes in the… Continue reading When Soft Power Fails

Asia, China


We won our independence from the British in a hard-fought revolutionary battle. Today, no hard feelings: the Anglo-American alliance is strong, we all love Downton Abbey, and our skirmishes are largely confined to disputes over which version of The Office is funnier and how to spell and pronounce the word “aluminum.” We fought the Germans, the Japanese, and the… Continue reading Frenemies

Asia, China

Our Man in Beijing?

When Hu Jintao took over as the leader of China in 2002, U.S. companies welcomed his accession as a “good sign for American business.” Political analysts described Hu as a fourth-generation member of the Communist party leadership who might very well turn out to be a “closet liberal.” Playing it safe, the media tended to… Continue reading Our Man in Beijing?


After Osama: China?

If the killing of Osama bin Laden were a Hollywood murder mystery, the shootout scene in Abbottabad would be followed by the unveiling of the sponsor who arranged for the al-Qaeda safe house. Is it the Pakistani intelligence officer who appears early in the movie to assure his U.S. counterparts that he is fully committed… Continue reading After Osama: China?


China: Already on Top?

“The Communists have taken over the World Bank!” So far, this phrase hasn’t appeared on Glenn Beck’s infamous chalkboard. I’m still waiting for Beck or Rush Limbaugh to make a big stink that the World Bank’s chief economist is from Mainland China. Justin Yifu Lin has been in his position for more than two years… Continue reading China: Already on Top?


Chinese Military Spending: Soft Rise or Hard Threat

Introduction The rapid growth of China’s economy and its increasingly vigorous diplomatic engagement with regional and international institutions have given rise to much discussion of China’s “peaceful rise” to great-power status. At the same time, the Pentagon has identified China as the only potential hegemon on the horizon that stands a chance of challenging the… Continue reading Chinese Military Spending: Soft Rise or Hard Threat


Chinese Assassination Squads

To: Leon Panetta, Langley HQ From: Operative 650, Shanghai office Re: Memo XE1250 Leon: I just received the memo on the latest Blackwater scandal. Talk about embarrassing! Why did we outsource assassination to those bozos? Remember in 2006 when a Blackwater guy, drunk as a skunk, killed the Iraqi vice president’s bodyguard? And we were… Continue reading Chinese Assassination Squads

China, Korea

Outsourcing North Korea Policy

The United States has basically thrown up its hands in the current crisis with North Korea. Washington has mounted an aggressive campaign at the UN to further isolate the world’s noisiest nuclear aspirant. But no one thinks that UN actions will have much effort. There is no greater indication of frustration than the revival of… Continue reading Outsourcing North Korea Policy

China, Europe

Twenty Years Later

On June 4, 1989, history forked. In Poland, voters went to the polls to give the anti-communist opposition a sweeping victory in the country’s first, partially free elections in ages. It was the first sign of the revolutionary changes that would sweep through Eastern Europe that year, knocking down the Berlin Wall and changing the… Continue reading Twenty Years Later


The G-2 Paradox

Future historians will view the Bush administration’s assertion of unilateral U.S. power and authority as the last gasp of the American empire. The imperial overstretch that historian Paul Kennedy diagnosed near the end of the Cold War is finally hitting us: the banking crisis, the recession, the costs of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq,… Continue reading The G-2 Paradox


Naval Gazing

Let’s say that China sends a ship 75 miles off San Diego to do a little surveillance. Those are international waters, after all, and Beijing is interested in the latest developments in our submarine warfare capabilities at Naval Base Point Loma. And it wants to do some reconnaissance for its own expanding fleet of subs.… Continue reading Naval Gazing


What’s the Matter with China

You might have missed the news: China is now No. 3. Statisticians have finally crunched the 2007 numbers and discovered that China surpassed Germany that year to become the third-largest economy in the world. With its gross domestic product (GDP) at $3.32 trillion, the Chinese economy is now poised to overtake No. 2 Japan at… Continue reading What’s the Matter with China


Wenchuan as Eco-City

A devastating earthquake leveled the Chinese town of Wenchuan, leaving in its wake over 60,000 dead and five million homeless throughout Sichuan Province. It will take years to heal the damage of this tragedy. Nevertheless, even as aid organizations and local government scramble to erect temporary housing and supply drinking water, it’s important to step… Continue reading Wenchuan as Eco-City

Book Reviews, China

The Big Yam

Headquarters was worried. Complaints were flooding in from the Chinese countryside about the quality of the new Haier washing machines. The water pipes were defective, the peasants told the Chinese manufacturer. But when the Haier team went to investigate, they were surprised to discover that the pipes were not broken or poorly fitted. Rather, they… Continue reading The Big Yam


China the Indispensable?

<p><b>China is everywhere you turn: the label on your sweater, every second item on the shelf at Wal-Mart, the computer on which you read this essay, the weather satellite zapped out of the sky in January by a ballistic missile. Unlike Britney Spears, however, China is not merely ubiquitous. It is an essential part of… Continue reading China the Indispensable?

Book Reviews, China

Big Red Checkbook

“The glory of Our Empire shines on this universe with brilliance,” a ruler once declared in a letter to courtiers in London. “Not one single person or country is excluded from Our kindness and benevolence.” He had good reason to be pleased. His country sat astride the global economy. His army was large, his domains… Continue reading Big Red Checkbook