Monday, April 25, 2005

If Every Chinese Owned a Two-Car Garage

Ten years ago a U.S. green activist named Lester Brown, shocked the communist leaders in China, when he released a controversial study entitled Who Will Feed China? In it he predicted that the loss farmland due to rampant industrialization would make it increasingly difficult for China to feed itself.

China was then on the cusp of an extraordinary economic takeoff, just beginning to lift itself out of a thousand years of abject poverty, and along comes this foreign devil telling everyone that if China continued along this course it would, to quote one newspaper headline, “starve the world.”

The last thing China’s rulers wanted at that time was for some foreigner, worse some American, suggesting that their people could not aspire to an American standard of living. Brown was seen as a kind of modern imperialist, wanting to hold China back from its rightful place in the world.

Ten years later and China, if anything, has developed an even greater appetite for the world’s resources. Among the five basic food, energy and industrial commodities -- grain, meat, oil, steel and coal -- China already consumes more of everything than the United States, except oil. In terms of consumer goods, television sets, mobile phones, there is no contest except in automobiles.

Brown outlines these developments in two new studies released earlier this year by his Earth Policy Institute. The first report details how China is replacing the U.S. as the world’s leading consumer. The second and even more provocative report postulates what would happen to the world if China’s 1.5 billion people achieved an American style of living. The details are here and here.

That China might achieve an American level of consumption is not far fetched. Brown calculates that if China’s economy continues to grow at a rate of 8 percent a year (present expansion more like 9.5), it will reach today’s US level by 2031. If one uses a more conservative figure of merely 6 percent growth, China would achieve parity in 2040, He calculates current per capita income at $5,300 in China and $38,000 in the US.

What would that mean? Just to use two examples: If Chinese used petroleum products at the same rate as Americans do now, by 2031 China would need 99 million barrels of oil a day, nearly five times America’s current consumption and more than the 79 million barrels produced per day in the entire world, he calculates.

And what about cars? If automobile ownership reached American levels (three cars for every four people), China would have a fleet of 1.1 billion cars. That’s more than the world’s total car “population” of about 795 million vehicles. The paving over of land for highways and parking lots for such a fleet would approach that now planted in rice.

Little wonder that China’s recent diplomacy has been aimed primarily at securing needed resources. A prime example was China’s President Hu Jintao’s 12-day visit to Latin America last November, where he signed long-term contracts for commodities ranging from agricultural products to minerals.

China’s rulers are not oblivious to the consequences of their headlong rush towards modernization. Beijing tried to slow the growth of the economy in several ways this past year, which was manifested in slower automobile sales. And it is studying a variety of new taxes, including “carbon taxes,” which would constrain the growth in energy consumption.

Strangely, considering their reaction to Brown’s earlier report, Beijing has taken his new findings in stride. In fact, Brown was recently awarded an honorary professorship by the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the mainland’s top scientific research institute. In Chinese terms he has been “rehabilitated.”

“They’ve been sobered by the way things are unfolding,” Brown said. “They’ve begun to realize how big their environmental problems are and can be.” As an example, he points to coal consumption. If China’s coal burning in China were to reach the American rate of two tons or person, China’s carbon emissions would rival those of the entire world today.

“Much of what we predicted in the earlier report has turned out to be true. We predicted a decline in grain production, and, lo, it peaked in 1998 at 392 million tons then fell sharply.” China has taken steps to boost farm production and the figure has begun to climb again. “But I doubt they will ever see 392 million tons again.”

Did the Chinese take away his honorary professorship after reading the latest reports? “No,” he laughed. “I just got it in the mail the other week.”

Thursday, April 21, 2005

The Sons of Korematsu

One day in early 1942 a California newspaper reported, “Jap Spy Arrested in San Leandro.” But Fred Korematsu was no spy. He wasn’t even charged with espionage. He was nabbed for refusing to join other Japanese-Americans forcibly resettled in bleak “internment” camps in the nervous months after Pearl Harbor.

Korematsu, who died recently at 86, fought his imprisonment without trial all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In doing so he became a hero to many Asian-Americans and a potent symbol of civil rights for all Americans. Initially, he was unsuccessful in the courts. It took him nearly 30 years, but in 1983 a federal court judge overturned his conviction.

Many American think that the mass internment of approximately 120,000 Japanese-Americans during World War II is a settled issue. Everyone agrees that it was a dark episode in American history, a black mark on an otherwise beloved president, who had signed the infamous Executive Order 9066 authorizing the internment.

In 1988 President Ronald Reagan formally apologized to the Japanese-American community, and Congress authorized that reparations of $20,000 each be paid to surviving internees. Korematsu himself was honored in 1998 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award. A happy conclusion to one of the unhappier episodes of American history.

But history does not always stay settled. Ever since the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on America by Islamic terrorists from abroad, an event often compared to Pearl Harbor, the issue of ethnic and racial profiling and detention without trial has returned with a vengeance. Just another headline appeared in The New York Times, “Five Muslims to Sue U.S. Over Border Detentions”

The five Muslim men and women, all of them American citizens, had been detained for six hours at the U.S. border because they had attended a conference on “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” in Canada. None of those detained was ever charged with a crime. But for a while, they were herded into a detention room that one described as looking like an “Arab café.”

The inconvenience and humiliation that they suffered at the hands of the authorities may not compare with the more than two years that Korematsu and other Japanese-Americans spent at their internment camp in the far west, but there are other examples of more egregious violations of civil rights in the War on Terrorism.

As recently a year ago the Korematsu case was cited before the Supreme Court as it reviewed legal challenges to the incarceration of mostly Afghan prisoners held at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station in Cuba. Korematsu filed a friend-of-the-court brief arguing, “the extreme nature of the government’s position is all too familiar.”

And not unlike some of Japanese nationalists trying to rewrite history, some conservatives are taking a more benign look at the internment. Michelle Malkin argues in her book "In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror" that the actions were motivated not by racism but out of genuine military necessity.

Echoing what some of the nationalists on the right in Japan say about their past, she argues that the lingering guilt over the mass internment is misguided and possibly deters needed vigilance. Her book was meant to be provocative, and it still represents very much a minority view. The established view is that the internment was unnecessary and a legal travesty.

Last year Korematsu spoke out in an article entitled: “Do We Really Need to Relearn the Lessons of Japanese-American Internment:” “Fears and prejudices directed against minority communities are too easy to evoke and exaggerate to serve the political agendas of those who promote those fears. I know what it is like to be at the end of such scape-goating, and how difficult it is to clear one’s name after unjustified suspicions are endorsed as fact by the government.”

That there has been no mass internment Arab or Muslim Americans in the wake of the Sept. 11 2001 attacks may be due, in no small part, to the memory of what was done to Japanese-Americans almost 60 years ago. The five people detained near the Canadian border probably never heard of him, but they are all the sons and daughters of Fred Korematsu.

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Lessons of History

The victors write the history books. You’ve probably heard that many times. Yet the Japanese, defeated in World War II, have been writing and re-writing the history of their version of the Great Pacific War for the past twenty-five years. The latest revisions to history texts to be used in Japan’s public schools have added one more element to an increasingly volatile situation in Northeast Asia, one that was punctuated by anti-Japanese disturbances in major Chinese cities last week.

In the 1990s Japan seemed ready to confront its past. Textbooks were franker in discussing the atrocities and abuses of the Imperial Japanese Army. The government adopted screening guidelines for new texts that obligated writers to take into account sensibilities of Japan’s neighbors.

Since then, however, Japan seems to have regressed. For example, all seven junior high school history textbooks authorized in 1996 used the term “military comfort women,” referring to women, mostly Korean but also women from other occupied countries, who were pressed into serving Japanese troops.

Not one of the eight textbooks approved this month even mentions the term “comfort women.” Moreover, some of the new civics texts that originally had referred to such contested islands as the Senkaku as being “disputed” now describe them as indisputable Japanese territory.

It should be noted that no single textbook is taught uniformly throughout Japan. The Ministry of Education, through its Textbook Authorization Research Council, reviews a number of books submitted by textbook publishers as meeting basic academic guidelines, and provincial education boards are free to choose or reject them. Some teachers simply ignore the texts, just as they sometimes refuse to stand for the national anthem or the flag.

Influential nationalists, such as Tokyo’s governor Shintaro Ishihara, still deny atrocities such as the Nanjing massacre and oppose anything that suggests that Japan’s motives in the war were less than pure. The latest books were compiled by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, which is an avowedly nationalistic organization.

The education ministry also seems to be, at present, a bastion of conservatives. Parliamentary vice-minister Hakubun Shimomura recently described a requirement that historical accounts take into consideration sensibilities of Japan’s neighbors as a form of “masochism.”

From an American point of view, these endless disputes over history seem pointless, and some of the complaints seem extraordinarily picayune. A decade ago relations with China and Korea were roiled over a single word -- “advance” – rather than “attack” or “invade” used to describe Japan’s invasion of China and Southeast Asia. One has to wonder what American parents of junior high school students would say if their children were forced to learn about sexual slavery. “What is a comfort woman, teacher?”

And it is not as if China is so frank about the darker elements of is own history. Try to find an accurate portrayal of the June 4, 1989, Tiananmen protests and bloody aftermath in any Chinese text. But, of course, that has to do with China’s own history. A different dynamic comes into play when history involves another country.

I wonder how many of the Chinese students who were chanting “whitewash,” as they threw stones at the Japanese embassy last week had any real idea of what was actually in the Japanese history texts, or cared. There is a subtext to the textbook issue. What is really behind the protests is China and Japan’s place in the new pecking order.

The balance of power in Asia is shifting with the rapid rise of China. Premier Wen Jiabao reflected China’s new assertiveness during his recent four-day visit to India, when he said, “Only a country that respects history, takes responsibility for post histories and wins over the trust of peoples in Asia and the world at large can take greater responsibilities in the international community.”

Note that he took it upon himself to speak for “Asia,” not just China. It is worth noting that there have been no anti-Japanese riots in Southeast Asia, which in the 1970s was the location of many such disturbances, many of them violent. But then no Southeast Asian country thinks of itself as being in competition to lead Asia.

Not so for China and Japan who have been rivals for the better part of the last thousand years. It should not be surprising that they are still jockeying for primacy in the region. The two countries are still influenced by their common Confucian culture. In Confucian terms, somebody has to be “big brother” and the other “little brother.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

China and the Catholic Church

Pope John Paul II visited some 129 countries during his papacy, as we have been reminded continuously over the past couple weeks. But there is one important country he conspicuously never visited -- China. He had often expressed some hope that he could visit China, but it was not to be.

In the next few weeks, the cardinals will elect a new Pope. One of his first missions should be to normalize relations with China. Of the estimated one billion Catholics in the world, only about 12 million are Chinese, and they are divided between the official China Patriotic Catholics Association and an underground church loyal to Rome.

But while they are few, they are incredibly steadfast, having endured and survived the anti-Christian pogroms during the Cultural Revolution (1967-1974). Many members of the underground church are still persecuted. With 20 per cent of the world’s population, China is certainly the single greatest “market” for souls.

The schism in the Chinese Catholic community is, like so much of modern Chinese history, a result of the Civil War between the Communist and Kuomintang. Just as the nationalists fled China for Taiwan after 1949, the Papal nuncio left Beijing and took up permanent residence in Taipei.

Today the main bone of contention is the fact that the Vatican City still maintains an embassy in Taiwan, the only European state that continues to do so. However, The church’s ambivalence is shown by that fact that it never replaced the last Papal nuncio after he departed in 1980. The embassy is staffed at a low level.

From time to time it is reported that the Vatican is ready to cut ties with Taiwan. Indeed, The Bishop of Hong Kong, Joseph Zen, said as much, speaking after a Requiem Mass to mourn the late Pope. “The Holy See has been thinking of giving up Taiwan. [But] there is no way it would do so before negotiations.”

The bottom line for Beijing would be for the Holy See to sever all diplomatic ties to Taiwan. The bottom line for the Vatican would be to regain the prerogative of appointing Chinese bishops, something now done by the China Catholic Bishops Association with approval from the state Religious Affairs Bureau.

At present two churches exist in China side-by-side. One is the officially sanctioned China Patriotic Catholics Association with roughly 5 million members. It has its own priests, bishops, and seminaries. Then there is the “underground” church, loyal to Rome, which has its own priests, bishops, clandestine seminaries and possibly 8 million worshipers.

It is illegal for the underground church to celebrate Mass in public, and Beijing still arrests priests and bishops who do so and are caught. Three were arrested last year, including the 84-year-old Bishop of Xuanhua. Only days before the Pope’s death it was reported that two more elderly priests and one elderly bishop were apprehended.

Relations were seriously strained on Oct. 1, 2000. Beijing chose that day, its national day, to announce the elevation of five official bishops. That same day Pope John Paul II canonized 120 Chinese Catholic martyrs and missionaries, many of them killed in various anti-foreigner uprisings in the 19th century.

Pope John Paul II tried to make amends in 2001 by officially apologizing for past “errors” on the part of the church, especially those that might be seen as abetting imperialism. Beijing extended condolences over the Pope’s death and expressed a desire for better relations. But it did not send a delegation to the funeral, apparently because Taiwan’s President Chen Shui-bian attended.

During the week prior to John Paul II’s death Beijing hosted Cardinal Jodfried Dannelles, the archbishop of Malines-Brussels. He met with a vice premier, members of the China Patriotic Catholic Church, and its leader, Fu Tieshan, the Bishop of Beijing, which shows that the two sides do talk.

Indeed, there is probably more interchange between the two churches than appears on the surface. After all, if the two are ultimately to be amalgamated, some formula needs to be found to redistribute the dioceses. There are more than 100 official bishops in China and an estimated 60 unofficial underground bishops.

Only one Chinese Cardinal, Paul Shan, archbishop of Taipei, will be among those who gather in Rome to pick the new Pope, and being 83, he won’t be able to vote under the current rules. It was reported in 1998 that Pope John Paul II secretly elevated two other bishops to the rank of cardinal, who may or may not be part of the conclave.

Beijing was leery of Pope John Paul II due to his personal role in dismantling communism in Europe. China should welcome the opportunity for a fresh start. China wants to be seen and accepted in the world as a modern nation. It doesn’t do its image much good to go around arresting 80-year-old priests.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Guide to "Insignificant Islands"

The recent brouhaha between South Korea and Japan over a pair of tiny islands in the middle of the Sea of Japan known as the Tokdo islands is just the latest flare up over lingering territorial disputes in East Asia. Protestors took to the streets of Seoul after Shimane prefecture, the Japanese province closest to the disputed islands, took it into its head to celebrate the 100th anniversary of their incorporation into the prefecture by passing an ordinance naming Feb. 22, 2005 as “Takeshima Day.” But from the northern tip of Hokkaido to the South China Sea, the Asian coastline is dotted with these “insignificant rocks” (my quotes) that roil relations between Asian countries.

In some cases the dispute involves competition over resources, but nationalism is usually at the heart of things. Often there is a larger subtext. For example, the latest controversy harks back to 1905, a pregnant date in Japan’s colonization of Korea. This makes it seem, in Korean eyes, that the Japanese are still nostalgic about their imperial past. Add to that mix, the never-ending arguments over school history textbooks and even Prime Minister Koizumi’s insistence on making annual visits to the Yasukuni Shrine. Following is a guide to these disputed islands.


This dispute involves four islands in the southern chain of the Kuril islands. They include the islands of Etorofu, Kunishiri, Shikotan and the Habomai rocks, collectively known as the “Northern Territories” in Japan. These are actually more than mere rocks. The first two are fairly substantial islands, and the Russians maintained an air base on Etorofu until recently. Through a series of treaties both before and after the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Tokyo incorporated the entire Kuril chain and half of Sakhalin Island into the empire. Russian troops occupied all of these at the end of World War II and maintain that the Yalta agreements gave them control of the entire Kuril chain.

The Northern Territories dispute has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty even though the end of World War II is now 60 years away in the distant past. In previous negotiations Moscow has shown some willingness to return the two southern-most islands, Shikotan and the Habomais, but Tokyo has consistently held out for all four, claiming that they peacefully became part Japan as a result of treaties that set formal boundaries with Imperial Russia after Japan’s re-opening to the world in the mid to late 19th century.

Who is in control? Russia

The last big flare up: There have not been any major clashes over the dispute islands, although from time to time Russian border guard boats will arrest Japanese fishing boats that stray into territorial waters. In April 2000, a Russian patrol boat fired on a Japanese fishing vessel and seized its crew. In July 1999, three Japanese vessels were seized near the islands and the crews were held for several months.

What’s at stake? (Besides national pride): The coastal waters have valuable fisheries. However, the islands are too close to Japan to bring into play economic exclusion zones (EEZs). The main irritant is that Japanese boats often are hassled by the Russians when they stray into Russian territorial waters.

Current status: Quiescent. Every now and then the two sides seem close to settling the dispute. The Russians would sign a treaty recognizing their border as being north of Etorofu; Japan would lavish billions on loans and development projects in Siberia. Then Russians seems to get cold feet over the prospect of surrendering even a centimeter of the motherland. The two sides seemed close to a deal in 1998 when the late Japanese PM Keizo Obuchi went to Moscow proposing that the two countries sign a peace treaty by 2000 and demark boundaries by having Russia concede sovereignty while still administering the islands under it own authority. A formula would be found to share the resources. Nothing much came of this initiative. Russian President Vladimir Putin is supposed to visit Japan this year, but arrangements are stalled, which suggests that the issue of the Northern Territories is still a sticking point. That’s a pity since 2005 would be an auspicious year to put aside differences since it is the 100th anniversary of the end of the Russo-Japanese War.


The Tokdo or “lonely islands” are comprised of two rocky islets in the middle of the Sea of Japan (which the Koreans call the East Sea) encompassing about a quarter of a square kilometer, or about the size of Hibiya Park in Tokyo. The Japanese call the group the Takeshima islands. The issue of who first discovered the islands is arcane but seems to favor Korea. They were formally incorporated into the Japanese Empire in 1905 and were then seen as being both beneficial for fishermen and having some military uses. Korea, then virtually a Japanese protectorate, was not in position to protest. At Japan’s surrender in 1945, the Allies proclaimed that Japanese sovereignty would be restricted to the four home islands: Honshu, Hokkaido; Kyushu and Shikoku and “such minor islands as we shall determine.” However they seem to have more or less forgotten the Tokdos during the Occupation and immediate post-Treaty years.

Who is in control? The Tokdos have been under South Korean protection since 1954. Seoul maintains a small garrison and lighthouse. It is equipped with a helicopter landing pad and a docking facility.

What’s at stake? Fertile fishing grounds, possible gas hydrates along the seabed.

Current status: Hot. The Tokdo issue is on the boil. It was sparked by the action of the Shimane prefectural assembly declared Feb. 22 as “Taleshima Day” honoring the 100th anniversary of its incorporation into the prefecture. Japan’s Ambassador to South Korea, Toshiyuki Takano poured oil on the fire by publicly proclaiming that the Tokdos belonged to Japan. Protestors marched on the embassy, burned Japanese flags. Sister cities cancelled their connections. The South Korean Foreign Minister Ban Ki-moon canceled a planned trip to Japan. Seoul recently announced that it would not support Japan’s bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council because it could not be trusted. Pyongyang also got in a few licks too. Korea-Japan “Friendship Year” isn’t getting off to a good start.


The Senkaku comprise another small group of uninhabited rocky islands in the East China Sea, claimed by Japan, Taiwan and China. The Chinese claim to have discovered what they call the Daioyu islands in the 14th century. But they passed into Japanese hands in 1895 after China ceded Taiwan to Japan. Beijing argues that they should have been returned to China along with Taiwan after the end of World War II. At the San Francisco peace conference in 1952 the Senkakus were considered part of Okinawa, which for the next 20 years was administered separately from Japan. In 1972 Okinawa and the rest of the Ryukus islands were formally incorporated into Japan. Shortly thereafter, Beijing made its first preliminary claim.

Who is in control? Japan does not garrison the islands, which have no permanent inhabitants, but its coast guard will apprehend anyone who approaches the islands closely or attempts to land.

The last big flare up. In 1996 a group of right-wing students called the Japan Youth Association erected a makeshift lighthouse on one of the islands. That was the spark for a huge confrontation, as hundreds of Chinese activists set out from Hong Kong and Taiwan in boats to stake their claim to the islands. It was the occasion for an enormous burst of jingoism in the Hong Kong press. When activists snuck past the Japanese Coast Guard and planted, side by side, the flags of China and Taiwan, the picture took up the entire front page of the South China Morning Post. You would have thought it was the biggest landing since the Invasion of Normandy. Activist David Chan became an instant martyr when he drowned after jumping into waters off the islands.

Subtext. In Hong Kong democrats seized on the Diaoyu issue to burnish their credentials as patriots in the months leading up to the handover of Hong Kong to China. Beijing tended to play down the matter so not to inflame relations with Japan.

What is at stake? A lot. The East China Sea is one of the last, great unexplored sources of resources located near large markets. It is thought to contain billions of barrels of oil, but exploration has been stymied by the boundary dispute. Until recently Tokyo refused to allow exploration in the disputed areas since it believed it might affect any future resolution of the boundary dispute or an agreement to divvy up the resources. But China has begun drilling near the disputed boundary, and Japan in April announced that it too would grant exploratory drilling rights in the disputed waters. Tokyo claims that Beijing had shown no interest in the islands until the first geological surveys in the 1970s indicated the region’s petroleum producing potential

Current status. Simmering. In February this year the family that had owned the largest island, where the lighthouse is located, quietly transferred the title to Japan. On Feb. 9 Tokyo formally notified The Chinese embassy that the islands would be administered directly by the coast guard. Meanwhile, a Chinese submarine was detected in Senkaku waters late last year in apparent violation of the agreement reached in 2001 that the two sides would notify each other of any incursions into areas in which the other side “takes and interest.” The Senkaku/Daioyu dispute is one of those problems “left over from history” that the Chinese would like to put off resolving until sometime in the future. Unfortunately, the imperative of finding more energy to feed growing economies may make that impossible.


The Spatlys is a collective name for hundreds of atolls and tiny islands dotted throughout the South China Sea. They cluster in two main groups: the northern one is called the Paracels. These islands are claimed either in total or in part by six nations. China asserts “indisputable sovereignty” over all of the islands, indeed by some reckoning over all of the South China Sea, which it claims has been Chinese territory “since ancient times.” Chinese maps show the national boundary looping in a giant U around the South China Sea, stretching almost as far as Indonesian waters. Beijing has never seriously pressed a claim to the waters themselves and such a claim would never be recognized.

Who is in control? Of the 150 or so atolls in the southern Spratly group, 44 are occupied as follows:

Vietnam 25
Philippines 8
China 7
Malaysia 3
Taiwan 1
Brunei 0

Taiwan occupies the largest island in the group. Itu Abu is 1.4 km long and 400 meters wide.

The last big flare up. China and Vietnam clashed in 1988 in the “Battle of Fiery Cross Reef.” The engagement left about 75 Vietnamese killed and three of their patrol boats burning. In 1996 the Spratlys again made news when China built what it called a “fisherman’s shelter” on Mischief Reef claimed by the Philippines. Manila took no action other than to complain. But the issue roiled Southeast Asia for several months before fading out of the headlines.

What’s at stake? The Spratlys are often described as being potentially oil rich, although there are some experts who think the deposits, if they are there, are not very promising. Also important are questions of navigation through this key international sea-lane.

Current status. Quiescent. Not much is heard about the Spratlys these days. China, which is bent on extending its commercial and political influence throughout the region, including establishing forming a free trade zone with ASEAN, doesn’t seem in the mood to make any provocative moves. Everyone else is standing pat.