Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trouble in the East Asian Seas

There has been a lot of drama in East Asia in the past few months, shifting international attention from environmental and economic concerns to fears of deepening tensions between rivals and military confrontation.

First North Korea torpedoes a South Korean ship off its coast and kills forty-something sailors. This incident is one of the worst military provocations on the Korean peninsula since the Korean War. Obviously, this significantly sours the North-South relationship, and South Korea threatened to stop trade with its neighbor. China was put into a quandary. After all, it traditionally has been one of North Korea's only allies. However, with the U.S.'s and the U.N's strong support of South Korea, China could not easily defend the rogue nation. Therefore, it remained "on the fence," trying to ameliorate the situation with no success.

The situation took an almost childish turn in which South Korea stating that it would re-designate North Korea as its "archenemy." China, on the other hand, faced mounting pressure to make Kim Jung Il face responsibility for the events. Trying to be objective, the Prime Minister of China offered his condolences to South Korea while cautiously not directly accusing any actor for the sinking of the ship.

Meanwhile, North Korea fervently denied any involvement with the sinking and threatened military action if it received a U.N. condemnation. The North Korean ambassador to the U.S. stated, "our people and army will smash our aggressors." I don't underestimate North Korea's ability to take rash actions, but it's not like they have never faced U.N. pressures before.

The U.S. and South Korea began naval drills on the coast of the Korean peninsula. These drills involved over 8,000 personnel and 200 aircraft. Then the two sides go back and forth, with North Korea threatening retaliatory action. It seized a South Korean ship and fired rounds into a disputed sea border. It seemed like direct military confrontation was inevitable.

Then, in a sudden turn of events, North Korea freed the detained ship and South Korea suggested a reunification of families that were separated by the Korean War. It also agreed to send flood relief aid to the North. North Korea then proposed military talks to settle some border disagreements. It seems like tensions are cooling. However, as this one incident wraps up, another one begins.

China and Japan, two other rivals in the region, have begun a spat over the detention of a Chinese captain who had sailed into a disputed area between the two countries. The island in question is called Senkaku by the Japanese and Diaoyu by the Chinese. China is arguing that Japanese officials do not have jurisdiction to prosecute the man. Now China is refusing to talk to Japan during the U.N. meeting. I don't think there has been conflict on this level between the two countries since the controversy a few years ago over the publication of Japanese textbooks that did not fully explain Japan's part in the atrocities of World War II.

Wow, so there are still a lot of problems in the region. China and Korea have deep-rooted anger towards Japan for historical reasons. The two Koreas struggle to find a way to coexist. The U.S. backs South Korea and Japan militarily. China tries to balance its alliances but has to keep supporting North Korea. North Korea, meanwhile, is trying to sort out the succession of Kim Jong Il's son. The world waits with bated breath to see the conclusion of this power transition. Each country tries to become the regional hegemon. In a way, it kind of sounds like some kind of soap opera, doesn't it?

It's also really difficult because of the range of political and economic systems in the region. South Korea and Japan are both capitalist and democratic. North Korea is an enclosed communist nation in which a dictator rules with an iron fist. China economically, is teetering between its past socialist roots and its capitalist future, while remaining essentially a totalitarian state.

Any predictions as to what will happen? I really don't see any military conflict happening in the near future, thank goodness. I also don't see reunification happening between the Koreas for at least a decade. The succession in North Korea will probably occur smoothly and I doubt the new leader will make any visible changes to foreign policy. Japan and China will get over this incident because they are big trading partners and sometimes economics trumps politics. So, in my opinion the region will remain in this standstill for now.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Controversy Over Cheap Clean Energy

The short story is that the Chinese government has been subsidizing the development and production of these technologies for its domestic companies. Then these companies have been able to sell its products at a lower cost and still make a profit. Apparently, the Chinese companies have begun to sell the products such as wind turbines and solar panels at below cost to U.S. companies. The argument is that this action is hurting certain U.S. industries.

So I can understand how certain sectors of the U.S. economy would lose out due to the low prices of the Chinese companies, such as the manufacturing industry. However, it is hard to wrap my brain around the fact that people would rather have the Chinese selling at higher prices. It's not as if clean energy is bad for anyone. In fact, it seems like other sectors of the U.S. economy would be greatly benefited from a cheap source of clean energy. Becoming less dependent on fossil fuels and foreign suppliers of oil seems like a win-win situation because it helps ease pollution and lower dependency on oil.

The Chinese government is doing a good deed by granting these subsidies. Maybe the U.S. government should also subsidize its own companies so they won't be undercut by competition? Maybe it should move some of the tax dollars from inefficient agricultural subsidies? Really, there is no price too low for clean energy supplies. In the long run, the U.S. economy overall will benefit because other companies and consumers will have access to cheap clean energy.

The problem with switching to clean energy is the initial start-up cost of getting the equipment - afterwards, besides maintenance costs, there is basically a free flow of energy. From this angle, it definitely seems like Chinese manufacturers are helping U.S. companies get a hold of cheap supplies that will drastically lower their costs in the future, even if the Chinese companies only have economic motivations. I mean, hypothetically, what if the Chinese government just started giving us free wind turbines and solar panels? Would we still have the same reaction?

I don't know. I am definitely far from an expert in this field and there may be many issues that I am forgetting or don't understand. This is just my gut reaction to all the uproar over the incident. What do you think? Do I have a valid point or am I misunderstanding some fundamental principle?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Hello World

Sorry for not posting for so long! Even though I'm back at college and not in China anymore, I still want to keep writing about the effect of my experiences and about China in general. I hope you will still stick with me! If you read my last post about choosing classes, I finally decided to chose the seminar called the Chinese Diaspora in Fiction and Film. The material is so interesting; for example, here are some of the topics we are going to cover: Coolies and Slaves, Chinese Food, and the Chinese in Hollywood.

Still, the class is first and foremost about the dispersion and emigration of the Chinese people starting as early as the 15th century. I feel as if I've already learned so much about the history of Chinese Americans as well as the Chinese that immigrated to other parts of the world such as Southeast Asia and Africa. The homework for the first class was 800 pages of reading! Thankfully the subject matter was so engaging that it did not even feel like work.

If you are at all interested in Chinese American history, I strongly recommend Iris Chang's The Chinese in America. It takes you on a journey from the first Chinese immigrants working on the transcontinental railroad in California all the way up to the wave of Chinese intellectuals arriving in the 80s and 90s. I warn you: the narrative is extremely depressing and heart-wrenching as the author tries to sway the emotions of the reader. The book made me feel anger, disgust, and humiliation at the horrific way the Chinese were treated. It's definitely a part of American history that I never learned in school textbooks.

Did you know there was a period of time in which Chinese Americans were not allowed to testify against white Americans in court? When Chinese children could not attend the same schools as others? Did you know that opposite Ellis Island was an immigration station on the west coast called Angel Island, basically an interrogation and detention center for Chinese immigrants? Or that during the Cold War, prominent Chinese scientists were ousted after years of hard work for the U.S. government?

I feel lucky that my parents immigrated to the U.S. during the 1990s instead of the 1890s. Not to say there still isn't racism, but at least it is illegal! I personally do not recall ever encountering hatred or intentional discrimination. I grew up in fairly diverse college towns when my parents went to their respective graduate schools. I guess I never really felt that different from my friends, who were of all ethnicities (white, black, Asian, Hispanic).

I have encountered some ignorant but well-meaning remarks. For example, once I was in a Target store with my younger sister and a nice old white lady came up to us, smiled, bowed, and said "Konnichiwa!" (Means Hello in Japanese). When I worked at a grocery store, there were many elderly men and women who would smile at me benevolently and ask me, "Where are you from?" I never knew how to answer the question though I could guess at their intent. Technically I lived just in the next neighborhood, but before that I lived in Wisconsin, and before that, Indiana. Going even further back, I lived in Texas for two years. Before that, I lived in China.

Still, it seems like there is less ignorance and racism with each successive generation. The U.S. is turning ever more into a multicultural melting pot. Technically, we learned in school that our situation isn't really a melting pot, because immigrants keep parts of their own culture and traditions instead of everyone blending together. Therefore, it's more accurate to say that we are a chunky beef stew, with distinct chunks of different foods.

Well, I think that's enough rambling for now. I have much more to write about so I hope to "see" you soon. Question: what are your own experiences with race and culture?