Sojourn stirs questions about policies in China, Cuba and the United States

This month yours truly, IntLawGrrl Kathleen A. Doty, Director of Global Practice Preparation at Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, is a World Affairs Council Young Leaders Fellow just completing a tour of China. Traveling with me have been eleven others, many from globally minded businesses. This is the last dispatch in a series of posts on my travels.

4BEIJING – The people of China are warm. They love babies. I quickly found the best way to make a friend was to coo at the child in her arms. They love long meals and good toasts, and have spent centuries mastering the art of hospitality. Being a guest in China is wonderful.

Beijing is a vastly different city than Shanghai. It is old, gritty, artistic. I heard many people say that Beijing was like Washington, D.C., and Shanghai was like New York. I think that it is a shallow comparison, and having lived in both U.S. cities, I disagree.image1

New York is much more than high rises; Beijing is a city alive and rich in a similar way. Of course, this impression has much to do with the organization of our trip; in Shanghai we were taken primarily to government developments, while in Beijing we were taking primarily to private companies and cultural sites. We visited the sleek showroom of Huawei, the Chinese version of Apple, and iQIYI, the Chinese version of Netflix, which exudes a hip imagestart-up vibe. I sipped exotic tea as I strolled through galleries in the profoundly cool 798 Art District, wandered back alleys in Old World neighborhoods, and saw a palace that has been grand since before my own country was founded. When the lights went out in a restaurant at dinner, the servers calmly brought candles to the table and we kept on with the toasts. Beijing was much more what I image2expected to find in China: a mix of the modern and the historical, of wealth and underdevelopment.

Cultural heritage was a theme I pondered throughout the trip. China is old in a way that I, a woman from Colorado, a place young even in the history of the United States, find mind-blowing. Beijing is a huge city. The several ring roads surrounding it put the Beltway or the Perimeter to shame. The city has been developed and redeveloped countless times, replacing so much of what once was. Walking the Great Wall (which is covered in scratched graffiti, in Chinese characters so foreign to my eye) and seeing the Forbidden City provided just a taste of an incredibly rich history that, little by little, is lost with improvements to modern life. I commented to a friend, an American expat living in China, that I found this sad. He responded that the history in 3China is too long to preserve the physical – you just can’t save every 5,000-year-old building – the cultural heritage of China lives in the language. Having mastered only four words in ten days – “Hello,” “Thank you,” “Cheers,” and “too expensive” – I have to admit that this is lost on me. But it emphasized the importance of intangible cultural heritage work as a means of preserving at least some of an ancient way of life.

Sitting alone in a public park one day, I marveled at how a parent or grandparent needed only to speak a word to a child and he or she behaved. Meeting times were given at strangely precise intervals (for example, 1:25) and taken very seriously. I heard more apologies for tardiness than I thought reasonable given a city of such size and with such congestion. Our guides shared their views that much of Eastern culture derives from Confucius’ thought, and emphasizes hierarchy and respect. This consideration to others was surprising given our pre-trip prepping that people push and don’t stand in line or respect your space, but it just reinforced the cultural difference in the meaning of “consideration.” In so many of my reflections about Communism and the economy, I couldn’t help but wonder how much of the attitudes I picked up on were born of pre-existing Eastern philosophy and culture, or from the current economic and political systems in the country.

I also couldn’t help but wonder about the tension between the incredible feats of the state and human rights. Much has been written about this topic and I am no expert, so I won’t belabor the point. But I found myself reflecting, much as I did during my studies in Cuba, on the tension between the social benefits of a Communist system – universal healthcare, education, and in the case of China, the elevation of an extraordinary number of people out of poverty in a short time frame – with the profound lack of freedoms.

2During our visit to the Great Wall, we were standing in an epically long line to take a shuttle bus from the base of the Wall to the parking lot where our bus was waiting. Our guide, a young man in the employ of the University who spoke nearly perfect English, sighed as we inched forward. He said:

“Thank God for the family planning policy.”

I was surprised because the one-child policy so deeply offends our Western concept of individual choice that I simply expected someone of roughly my age to concur; yet in such a populous country, a limit on the number of people is sometimes welcome. I relayed my surprise at his comment to another young Chinese woman I met, and she said,

“Oh yes. The problem with the family planning is that we now have a China that is out of balance, with too many old people and not enough young ones.”

I was so amazed; again, it was a comment totally focused on the macro. Is that Chinese culture? Is that the effect of a Communist system of government? Is it both?

These are the questions that will for me remain unanswered. After studying in Cuba, my takeaway was that they don’t have it right, but neither do we in the United States. The “right” is somewhere in the middle. My impression of China is that it is inching closer to the right balance than Cuba. I have far more context about Cuba to make that statement; this trip showed me, more than anything else, how much I don’t know about China. But standing in Tiananmen Square in the rain, I couldn’t help but think that an inch is terrifically small.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes)

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In politics, East is East and West is West even as economies grow closer

This month yours truly, IntLawGrrl Kathleen A. Doty, Director of Global Practice Preparation at Georgia Law’s Dean Rusk International Law Center, is a World Affairs Council Young Leaders Fellow just completing a tour of China. Traveling with me have been eleven others, many from globally minded businesses. This is another in a series of posts on my travels.

imageSHANGHAI – A Chinese official at the Pilot Free Trade Zone in Shanghai told us:

“The United States is a very different economy than China; it is much more globalized. We are still learning.”

Visiting Shanghai, one would never guess that China is still learning. The city is shockingly modern, with architecture straight out of a sci-fi movie, sparklingly clean public spaces, and every sort of of consumer product available. The brands are recognizable to Americans – from Walmart to most high-end designers. Yet the rhetoric from the officials with which we’ve met has been all about development: how to further open up China’s economy.

The efforts in this regard are impossible to miss. Almost everywhere in the city there are new buildings going up and renovations in progress.

The Chinese are obsessed with space: the first thing they tell you about any project is the number of square kilometers it will occupy and the population of people living or working there. This is understandable given the stress such a high population places on the limited physical space and infrastructure of the city.

image3Perhaps more striking: they are obsessed with showcasing this development. The government has erected entire museums and project-specific showrooms dedicated to urban planning with information tailored to foreign visitors. They are surreal – we saw several unbelievably intricate miniature models of the building projects, complete with lights in the windows of the mini-buildings, and incredibly high resolution 3D video tours set to dramatic symphonic music. At one such display a colleague leaned over and said:

“Wow, it’s propaganda.”

And propaganda it is. Unlike Cuba, which is still brimming with billboards of Fidel and slogans like “¡Patria o Muerte! ¡Venceremos! (Homeland or Death! We Shall Overcome!),” the Chinese version is more subtle. It’s not centered on a leader or on separation from the rest of the world, but on the collective progress: development, innovation, opening up.

I expected Shanghai to be filled with the iconic Soviet concrete-style buildings, but the new Communism is glass and steel. It is rows of narrow, tall apartment buildings shooting out of the ground in perfectly aligned formation. But it still feels cold, a little sterile, and with pollution hanging in the air, eerie.

image1It was also quite clear that the Chinese keep a tight grip on the narrative available to foreign visitors. My trip, sponsored by the Confucius Institute, a division of the government education agency, made sure to show us the best of what China had to offer. We looked up at a major skyscraper in the distance and asked our tour guide if we were going to go there. He looked at us in complete seriousness and said:

“But why would we go there? You saw it in the model.”

I realized then that the propaganda wasn’t just for the foreign visitors, he believed it too. Government control of the narrative affects everyone.

We were told that the farmers who used to be on the land now occupied by the new industrial parks were simply removed from their land. Eminent domain is in full force in China. Here’s a statement of fact about the issue, rather than skepticism, from our same tour guide:

“You can’t bargain with the government.”

Nor can you reason with it. On my way out of the airport, after the security checkpoint where they took large liquids, I bought two waters. These were confiscated in an unexpected secondary screening on the jetway. When I asked the guard why he took them, he explained it was because of TSA rules. When I protested that they had already screened for liquids and that I purchased these past security, he just shook his head and tossed my water in a bin. Perhaps China doesn’t regulate items for purchase after security and therefore doesn’t meet TSA standards, but I find that unlikely. Despite the progress in China, it felt much more like the absurdity of life characteristic of such a strong state government.

image2China is impressive. It is actualizing public works and infrastructure projects at a rate that is unimaginable in the United States. It is developing its cities and offering its people access to a diverse marketplace of consumer goods.

Wandering a mall, I couldn’t help but wonder if this was Cuba’s future. It’s not a bad compromise between the socialist and capitalist models. (Oh, the irony; I wonder if Marx could ever have envisioned a transition back to capitalism.)

I’m not entirely certain whether the official we spoke with at the Free Trade Zone would say that the main difference between the United States and China was the economic model of each country, but I know that I left thinking that no matter how open the Chinese economy becomes, we will always be far apart, even in business, because of our different underlying political systems.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes)

Shanghai story opens World Affairs Council Young Leaders’ China sojourn

This month I’m on a business tour of China, as a World Affairs Council of Atlanta Young Leaders Fellow and in my capacity as Director of Global Practice Preparation at the Dean Rusk International Law Center, University of Georgia School of Law. Traveling with me are eleven others, many from globally minded businesses. I’ll post on my travels throughout the trip; my 1st dispatch is below.

img_0315SHANGHAI –

“Confucius said: it is such a delight to have friends from afar.”

And so began our first day in China, with a warm welcome from Professor Yang Li, Vice-President of Shanghai International Studies University (SISU). He shared his hope that through our exchange, “the distance between American and Chinese businesses will be bridged.” These sentiments were echoed by Kimberly Griffin, Deputy Director of the Confucius Institute at Georgia State University, and Paulina Guzman, Membership Manager at the World Affairs Council of Atlanta.

Our opening ceremony took place in the state-of-the-art conference facilities at SISU, one of the top universities in China for students of translation and interpretation. We all felt quite official, with headphones, tablets at each of our seats, and interpretation provided by the Dean, Zhang Ailing. The ceremony closed with our hosts presenting us with a lovely gift of custom-made SISU jackets.

img_0316We were then treated to a lecture by Dr. Zhang Shangwu, Professor and Deputy Dean of the College of Architecture and Urban Planning at Tonghi University. He introduced us to the historical expansion of the city of Shanghai, and its newly unveiled 2040 development plan. Shanghai has always been an important city in the region because of its rich water resources from the Yangtze river delta. Following the 1840 opium wars, the city started to take shape as an international center of commerce, because of the concessions granted to various foreign governments in the aftermath of the war. Official urban planning began in the 1920s and 1930s, but intervening conflicts and political changes meant that many of these projects were never completed.

It wasn’t until the 1990s that the Shanghai Master Plan was adopted as the blueprint of development for the city. This was a critical because it emphasized the four major areas of industry that would define the city going forward: economy, finance, trade, and shipping. It also aimed to control the incredibly densely populated city – at that time, 9 million people in fewer than 700 square kilometers – by moving approximately 80,000 people to satellite cities built to absorb them. This plan was bolstered by China’s accession to the World Trade Organization in 2001, and showcased when Shanghai hosted the 2010 World Expo, which focused on urban life. The latter also drove a new wave of infrastructure development, including a deep water port, two international airports, and a vastly improved metro system.

img_0317The economic crash forced Shanghai to re-envision its future, as the manufacturing industries and accompanying trade suffered. The city faces many challenges, including a steady population growth rate and a dwindling supply of land as urban sprawl expands. Accordingly, the 2040 plan aims to re-position the city by adding three new areas of focus to those emphasized by the 2010 plan:

► Innovation, especially in the areas of the tech and service industries;
► Culture, to make the city more attractive to newcomers and livable for current residents; and
► Environment, to include increased outdoor spaces and sustainable growth mechanism.

The overall goal is to create a better city that offers a better life.

From what we’ve seen so far, Shanghai is indeed an incredibly organized city for a place so densely populated. I look forward to exploring more and seeing this development plan in action.

(Cross-posted from Exchange of Notes blog)

Will China force the USA’s hand to revisit the Law of the Sea Convention?

On 28th May, US President Barack Obama again called upon the US Senate to ratify the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 1982 (LOSC), following tension in the South China Sea. This area of the ocean is notoriously problematic, with China claiming sovereignty over almost all of the South China Seas and failing to recognise any rival claims from neighbouring States, such as Vietnam and the Philippines. Conflict appears to have been renewed afresh when Vietnam reported that a Chinese flagged vessel had intentionally struck two of its ships in the area at the beginning of May.

Although China has ratified the LOSC, it asserts that it has a historical claim over disputed islands that pre-date the 1982 treaty. On 1st June, the Deputy Chief of the General Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, Wang Guanzhong, speaking in the Shangri-La Dialogue, maintained that the Convention was “not the only point of reference” in adjusting sovereignty over islands and seas, strongly suggesting that mounting disputes and its membership of the Law of the Sea Convention would not cause it to reconsider the infamous ‘Nine Dash Line’ that demarcates its claim to the South China Sea. It takes this stance despite the fact that the Philippines filed a case with the International Tribunal on the Law of the Sea in March challenging its sovereignty (China having already made known its refusal to take part in any such arbitration).

Nine Dash Line, Source: BBC.com

At the same summit, US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, promised that the US would “not look the other way” whilst international law provisions were breached. However such statements would surely be more meaningful and persuasive if the USA itself had ratified the LOSC? Such a stance could appear to be hypocritical and difficult to take seriously. Although the Convention entered into force in 1994 and has since been ratified by 166 parties, the USA is yet to sign. The vote of at least two-thirds of the Senate is required to ratify a treaty, at least 67 Senators in this case. In 2012, 34 Republican Senators formally declared they would not support the ratification of the treaty; many feel that the LOSC would give the International Seabed Authority too much power over US commercial interests.

As tensions continue to escalate in the South China Seas, it will be noteworthy to see whether China will compel the US Senate to end its longstanding Democrat-Republican tug of war on this Convention. What’s more, if the US relents and signs the LOSC, however unlikely, what will its next move be? How will the US ratification of the treaty resolve these disputes and conflicting claims to land, sea and resources? It remains to be seen whether such talk by the USA will in fact lead to affirmative action or whether this is simply a shot across the bows.

P5+1: The international agreement where all parties are happy

Sunday 24 November 2013, it was announced that the P5+1 (the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, France, Russia and China, facilitated by the European Union) had reached an agreement with Iran regarding the latter’s nuclear program. According to each country’s statements the agreement is a success and everyone is a winner. But when have we ever witnessed an agreement of such kind?

Although the agreement is not officially published in full, we get a glimpse of some of its important features from the points that have been released in media. The least interesting thing about the “Nuclear agreement” is the nuclear issue.

For a non-democratic regime that faces strong opposition from within and which has been severely crippled by economic sanctions, the agreement proves to be a life-saving last solution- at least for six months. Under the agreement, a few of the economic sanctions are lifted. In return the regime will stay a live and in power as a de facto protectorate with minimal economic sovereignty still intact. The agreement places the major income source- the oil trade- under the control of the P5+1, by providing that Iran’s crude oil sales cannot increase in a six-month period, resulting in what is estimated to be about $30 billion  in lost revenues to the country. Further restrictions are placed on Iran’s access to its oil sales; on its foreign exchange holdings and on a number of other financial services. A regime that preaches fight against imperialism and “the West”, now finds itself in the peculiar situation where its survival rests precisely on “the West” and a new kind of economic imperialism resulting from the country’s lack of acknowledgement of international law and the rules of the game.

On the bright side, the agreement might have prevented a more serious conflict. But here we can only guess. What we can be certain about, however, is that any agreement where the world’s major powers are involved and where all are smiling has wider geopolitical significance than the nuclear issue.

Linking Art and Protest: The Campaign to Free Dr. Wang BingZhang

Dr.WangBZ_Photo1While China’s newest internet crackdown policy has made the news recently, considered by some as the harshest campaign against pro-democracy voices in Chinese society since the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre, pro-democracy activist Dr. Wang BingZhang continues to languish in a Chinese prison serving his 11th year of a life sentence in solitary confinement.

Wang BingZhang received his PhD in coronary-arterial research at McGill University in Canada while on a Chinese government scholarship. After receiving his degree, he renounced his medical career to dedicate his life to pro-democracy Chinese activism. He found China Spring, the first Chinese magazine in the US devoted to China’s freedom, and also found several democratic parties and organizations. Dr. Wang has been in the custody of the Chinese government since July 3, 2002, after being kidnapped in Vietnam, where he travelled on June 27, 2002 to meet with Chinese labor activists. He was tried secretly on January 22, 2003 in a closed trial that lasted less than a day—violating internationally recognized concepts of due process—and was the first person to be convicted under China’s then new espionage and terrorism laws, which were passed in a post 9/11 anti-terrorism effort. His sentence is the harshest levied on a political prisoner since 1989.

Over the last few weeks, actions across New York City have called for the compassionate release of Dr. Wang. The kick off on September 9th was the staging of an art performance protest in Times Square, entitled “In the Cage with Wang Bingzhang.”  The visual representation of this protest has the possibility of increasing its impact as it draws the attention of the viewer. The first night, Dr. Wang JunTao, Democratic Party of China Leader and an organizer of the Tiananmen Square student movement, sat in the cage with Dr. Wang Bingzhang’s elder sister, Yuhua (Linda), who was visiting from Canada and has not been able to see her brother for over four years due to a visa denial by the Chinese government for reasons they claim are privileged information. Activists and passersby have continued to sit in this simulated ‘prison cage’ day and night, and are slated to do so through week’s end.  They are inviting concerned citizens to come and sit in the cage to show their support. Artist and dissident Ai WeiWei (who has tweeted his support for Wang) has highlighted the role of art in Chinese democracy movements, where art and protest meet in performance.  In this case at least, it seems the art has the potential to strengthen the protest message. Continue reading