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Myanmar on a Nonproliferation Roll

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On September 30, Myanmar’s parliament approved the government’s proposal to accede to the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). The proposal to accede to this convention, which bans the development, production, and stockpiling of biological weapons and which Myanmar had signed the year of its inception, was submitted to parliament by Thant Kyaw, deputy minister for foreign affairs, who stated that “Over 170 countries have already ratified the BWC. All ASEAN countries have except us.” Later, he added that Myanmar’s accession would demonstrate its commitment to abide by nonproliferation rules.

BWC endorsement is Myanmar’s latest nonproliferation achievement. It follows a series of important nonproliferation actions that Myanmar has taken since the government’s decision in early 2011 to break away from the junta’s traditional authoritarianism and to implement sweeping reforms and open the country to the world. In June 2011, Myanmar announced that it had abandoned its nuclear research program to allay international concerns about its nuclear capabilities and intentions, which had been brewing since the early 2000s. Ahead of US President Barack Obama’s historic visit to the country in November 2012, Myanmar then stated that it would sign an Additional Protocol (AP) and submit a modified Small Quantities Protocol (SQP), both of which would allow international inspectors to verify that its nuclear activities are strictly for peaceful purposes. Less than a year later, on September 17, 2013, Myanmar signed an AP and has since been working relentlessly toward its entry into force and the submission of a modified SQP.

In addition to burnishing its nonproliferation credentials in the nuclear realm, Myanmar stressed in December 2013 that it was making preparations to endorse the conventions banning biological and chemical weapons. Now that it has acceded to the BWC, next on the list is the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which it signed in 1993, the year it was concluded. In recent months, Myanmar has beenworking with the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (the CWC’s verification body) and other entities to prepare implementation of CWC requirements when it accedes to the convention, which Myanmar officials and experts now say is “imminent.” CWC accession is particularly important given past accusations by armed rebel groups that the Myanmar military had used chemical weapons in their war in the country’s borderlands and, as recently as this year, the allegations made by the Unity Journal that the military had built a chemical-weapon production facility in central Magway district. These allegations, which the government flatly denied, led to the arrest of several journalists and raised important concerns in the nonproliferation community that only CWC accession will be able to resolve: the CWC includes an intrusive verification regime that will allow international inspectors to ensure that no chemical weapons are produced – or have been used – in Myanmar.

In its efforts to become a nonproliferation role model, Myanmar will also need to demonstrate commitment in other areas. At present, for instance, it does not subscribe to the Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). Endorsement of the HCOC, which politically binds its members to curb the proliferation of ballistic-missile technology, exercise maximum restraint in developing, testing, and deploying such missiles, be transparent regarding missile inventory, and issue pre-launch notifications, would be a positive development. Thorough implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, which calls for the adoption of appropriate and effective legal and regulatory measures against the proliferation of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and their means of delivery, would be another important move. This should begin with the drafting of a national action plan that maps out implementation priorities and plans, thereby enabling donor states to provide Myanmar with the assistance it needs. Adoption of stringent strategic trade controls and endorsement of the Proliferation Security Initiative (a multilateral effort that commits participating countries to interdict shipments of nuclear, biological, chemical, and missile technology and materials) would also considerably raise Myanmar’s nonproliferation profile. Finally, Myanmar needs to comprehensively implement United Nations sanctions resolutions imposed on North Korea and, if it wants an unblemished nonproliferation record, it will have to cease military trade with Pyongyang, which continues to this day. Avoiding all military trade with North Korea is critically important. The United Nations Security Council bans weapons sales from North Korea as part of its efforts to prevent funds from going to its nuclear and missiles programs, which the Council deems a threat to international peace and security.

Myanmar is committed to nonproliferation. During the First Myanmar-US/UK Nonproliferation Dialogue run by the Pacific Forum CSIS in partnership with the Myanmar Institute of Strategic and International Studies (the ministry of foreign affairs’ think tank), and held in Yangon in February 2014, one Myanmar participant stressed that “All these [nonproliferation] conventions are on our radar; we’re working hard to adopt them.” Throughout the dialogue, Myanmar participants made clear that they want their country to be “in full compliance” with the nonproliferation regime. But they also pointed out that Myanmar has limited resources and multiple priorities as it opens to the world and transitions toward democracy. In other words, while it is willing to endorse nonproliferation rules and norms, it lacks the capacity to do so.

This means that efforts should be made to build nonproliferation capacity in Myanmar. Building technical expertise is particularly essential because as Myanmar endorses nonproliferation instruments, it will need a critical mass of highly specialized people to implement them. Endorsement of a nonproliferation instrument, after all, is only the beginning of a long and often complex implementation process. Myanmar, for instance, is still working toward the adoption and entry into force of the AP it signed in September 2013. Now that it has acceded to the BWC, Myanmar will need to put in much work to implement it in its national laws and regulations and, after it accedes to the CWC, turn its attention to implement this convention as well. These processes are time-consuming, resource-intensive, and demand a solid pool of experts, and Myanmar only has so many.

The Pacific Forum CSIS, with the support of the US Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration and the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, has initiated an ambitious nonproliferation capacity-building initiative, which includes a biannual training course taught in Yangon (the first round of which took place last month) and fellowship opportunities for Myanmar nationals. Several governments, international organizations, and non-governmental organization (notably the Verification Research, Training, and Information Centre, known as VERTIC) are also providing Myanmar with important forms of capacity. This is encouraging, but more efforts are needed to help Myanmar’s quest for nonproliferation excellence.

David Santoro is a senior fellow at the Pacific Forum CSIS where this was first published.

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr. 

TopicsNonproliferation RegionsMyanmar

A Trilateral Whose Time Has Come: US-Japan-India Cooperation

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The Asia-Pacific region is witnessing the increasing convergence of economic and security interests of the United States, Japan and India, and their burgeoning trilateral cooperation. Washington has leveraged its strong ties with Tokyo of nearly 70 years to deepen economic ties and to remain a net provider of security across Asia. Since returning to power in 2013, Prime Minister Abe Shinzo has explicitly articulated his vision for an enhanced role of Japan in the Asia-Pacific region. Similarly, India's Look East Policy has seen it expand its economic and security engagement across Asia over the past decade, and the spring 2014 electoral triumph of Narendra Modi has injected a new level of dynamism and foreign policy activism from New Delhi.

In many ways, the three countries are natural partners. They are three of the world's largest countries by population (India is # 2, the US # 3, and Japan # 10), three of the largest democracies, and three of the largest economies (the US is # 1, Japan # three, and India # 10). They are linked by the Indo-Pacific strategic construct that makes explicit the geographical connections and overlaps that each of them shares. All three are part of a dynamic and growing region, with each government eager to find new partners, or old partners with new capabilities, to raise its profile and extend its reach. Each eyes the other two as economic and strategic partners, possessing assets and resources that it values.

India seeks US and Japanese investment and knowhow to accelerate its economic development. With each government working to create more business-friendly policies and regulations, there has been a substantial growth in cross-border investments, joint ventures, mergers & acquisitions, technology transfers, and other corporate activities. India is actively modernizing its military, and the United States has rapidly become its top defense supplier. Delhi and Tokyo have expanded the scope of their joint naval exercises and have elevated their defense dialogue to focus more attention on maritime security and anti-terrorism measures.

For the United States and Japan, India is becoming increasingly central to their economic and security calculations. India can emerge as a low-cost manufacturing hub for American and Japanese companies to sell to the large and rapidly growing Indian market, but also for exports to emerging markets across Asia, Middle East, and Africa. On the security front, an India with robust military capabilities can provide much-needed stability in South Asia and the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). South Asia is home to a large and growing population but also beset with protracted security challenges. India can also be a vital partner across the IOR in safeguarding and promoting US and Japanese interests, especially in ensuring freedom of navigation and other maritime security objectives. Conversely, Japan and India look at the United States as a potential energy supplier as the shale gas revolution turns the US into a major gas exporter.

The alignment of interests and ambitions is facilitated by the energy of the new governments in Tokyo and Delhi. Abe and Modi see each other as kindred spirits and both are eager to seize the moment. They are proving to be indefatigable diplomats and have reached out to each other to consolidate relations between their two countries. Meanwhile, in the Joint Statement released during Modi's visit to the US last month, the United States and India "committed to work more closely with other Asia Pacific countries through consultations, dialogues, and joint exercises." The statement highlighted trilateral dialogue with Japan, with the three agreeing to elevate the existing Trilateral to a minister-level dialogue. All the while, the US and Japan are modernizing and updating their alliance as well.

There is a lot the three countries can do together. The starting point, and a focal point of each country's engagement, is helping India develop faster. Its economic potential remains under-realized, and while the major causes of that underperformance are be found within India, businesses in both Japan and the US see great opportunities. Prime Minister Modi is initially focused on creating a stronger industrial base to complement India's world-class service sector.  To meet this objective, Modi is putting much effort into upgrading India's infrastructure, with a focus on establishing multiple industrial corridors. Japan has committed substantial funds to upgrade the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor while the United States has outlined specific ways that it can contribute its expertise and resources to this massive Indian endeavor.  

Beyond the economic domain, the three governments can advance a diplomatic agenda that emphasizes the rule of law, peaceful resolution of disputes, and adherence to international norms and legal standards. The US and India primarily, but increasingly even Japan, have a stake in a peaceful Afghanistan and stability throughout Central Asia. The three governments can work concertedly to promote democracy, peace, and prosperity across South and Central Asia. India has made notable contributions to UN peacekeeping missions over the decades, but can increasingly deploy resources to become a net provider of security across Asia.

The three governments have demonstrated prowess in civilian applications of space technologies, and can cooperate to create rules that ensure that outer space remains peaceful and not used for offensive or disruptive purposes. The US and Japan are also seeking to initiate civilian nuclear power cooperation with India. While such cooperation has important commercial benefits, the most striking aspect of sharing such sensitive technology is the level of trust that their cooperative endeavors engender.

Cyberspace is another area suitable for closer cooperation. All three nations face regular cyber-attacks from state and nonstate actors, and the intensity of such attacks is likely to increase. Sharing information on the sources of these attacks, targets, and methods of deterrence can help all three nations safeguard their defense and commercial interests.

To be sure, there are obstacles to deeper cooperation between India, Japan, and the United States. Deeply entrenched domestic constituencies in each country can, and often do, block progress toward reform and the reciprocal measures that are a prerequisite to diplomatic engagement. Fueling those economic and political fires are powerful nationalist impulses in each country. On occasion, that nationalism surfaces as anti-Americanism in both India and Japan. The persistence of such beliefs makes trilateral engagement even more compelling, since the presence of a third party dispels the false image of a heavy-handed United States bending another nation to its will. Finally, one must not lose sight of the plain fact that for all the convergence, the US, Japan and India are three distinct countries, at different stages of economic development with variations in their strategic orientation on some issues, and so at times their interests are bound to diverge.

Analysts sometimes paint this trilateral arrangement as a "counterweight to China." All three countries have complex relationships with China that are a mix of cooperation and competition. All three see China as a vital partner: it ranks among the top trade partners of each country and all reach out to Beijing to build confidence and cooperation on security issues. This summer, China joined the US-led Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) maritime exercise for the first time.

Yet each also has significant areas of contention with Beijing. Japan and India both face claims to their territory by China, and the US regularly squares off against China over a range of security concerns. In addition, all three nations are attempting to moderate their large trade deficits with China.

Nevertheless, the prospect of a formal alliance or even an alignment of the three that targets China or explicitly identifies China as a focus of concern is very low. India zealously protects its sovereignty and independence and will never be part of an initiative that could be portrayed as jeopardizing its foreign policy autonomy. Delhi and Beijing are founding members of the BRICS group and both seek a multipolar world that gives emerging countries a greater say over international governance. China and India are neighbors, and seeking a good relationship will be a mainstay of any Indian government's diplomacy. And while the US and Japan both have issues with China, they also insist that good relations are preferred - it is up to Beijing to pick which relationship prevails.

In other words, an anti-China coalition cannot drive US-Japan-India cooperation. But then, it should not have to. The three countries have many shared interests and reasons to cooperate. Pragmatic pursuit of shared interests, undergirded by realistic expectations of what their trilateral cooperation can accomplish, is the most effective approach to ensure that it realizes that potential.

Managing a trilateral relationship will be a complex and sometimes frustrating process.  There will rarely be total uniformity of interests on any issue amongst all three partners, and this holds true for the US-Japan-India trilateral.  But all three share a vision for security and prosperity for Asia and beyond.  There are tangible steps the three countries can take to make this vision a reality. Doing so would not only advance their enlightened national interests but also lead to positive outcomes for all nations in Asia.

Richard Rossow is the Wadhwani Chair in U.S. India Policy Studies at CSIS. Dr. Toru Ito is an associate professor at Japan's National Defense Academy specializing in South Asia. Dr. Anupam Srivastava is a Senior Fellow at the Center for International Trade and Security, University of Georgia and former Managing Director of Invest India, the official investment facilitation agency. Brad Glosserman is executive director of Pacific Forum CSIS. This paper is drawn from a US Embassy sponsored tour of Japan that the four authors recently joined.  All views expressed are personal opinions. This article is drawn from a US Embassy sponsored tour of Japan that the four authors recently joined. It was originally published by CSIS: PACNET newsletter here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Are Americans Overreacting to the Ebola Virus?

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Compared with the havoc wreaked by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, the virus thus far has only led to three confirmed cases in the United States. The fear and anxiety however has spread much faster. Earlier this month, seventy-five airplane-cabin cleaners at LaGuardia Airport walked off their jobs partly due to concerns about the risk of exposure to the virus. Last week, a woman who vomitted in the Pentagon parking lot triggered a health scare that forced the temporary shutdown of the building entrance and the setup of a quarantine and decontamination tent in front of the hospital where she was admitted—and later found not to have Ebola. Also last week, a Texas health worker who was suspected of being exposed to the first Ebola case in the United States was isolated on a cruise ship for nineteen days despite showing no symptoms of the disease. Ultimately, her blood test came back negative. In a bizarre move, parents pulled their kids out of a Mississippi school because of a concern that the principal who recently visited Zambia (which is 3,000 miles away from the affected West African countries) might spread the virus. U.S. President Barack Obama spoke against the “hysteria or fear” associated with the virus, and yet indicated his willingness to implement a travel ban from Africa and appoint an anti-Ebola czar.

The American response to the looming Ebola outbreak is reminiscent of the Chinese response to the 2003 SARS outbreak. In the Chinese case, amidst the governmental information clampdown and a fatal period of hesitation, there was widespread speculation and rumor-mongering. Residents in Guangdong province (the SARS ground zero) cleared pharmacy shelves of antibiotics and flu medication. In some cities, even vinegar, believed to be a disinfectant, was sold out. The panic spread quickly to other provinces. Farmers set off firecrackers in the belief that it would frighten off SARS. At the height of the epidemic in Beijing, a sea of people in white masks—most of them scared migrant workers and university students—flocked to train and bus stations and airports in an effort to flee the city. By late April, an estimated one million people (around 10 percent of the population), had fled the city for other parts of China. They would soon find themselves persona non grata even in their hometowns. In the countryside, worried villagers set up roadblocks to keep away people from Beijing. A series of riots against quarantine centers were also reported in May.

But Ebola is not SARS. For one thing, Ebola is not as contagious as SARS. The average number of people that a sick person will infect is one to two for Ebola, compared to two to five for SARS. While SARS can spread through infected droplets, Ebola is transmitted only through direct contact with the blood or bodily fluids of someone who is sick. Unlike SARS, which enables an asymptomatic person to transmit the virus, Ebola only becomes contagious when infected people are experiencing symptoms. These key differences increase the possibility of effectively implementing restrictive interventions such as social distancing, travel restrictions, quarantine, and case isolation for Ebola.

That being said, Ebola is more virulent than SARS. The average case fatality rate for Ebola is around 50 percent, much higher than SARS (9.6 percent). Ebola was first reported as early as 1976 but, as my colleague Laurie Garrett noted, there are still myths surrounding the virus, including its very nature, the risk it poses, and the effective means of preventing transmission. A new study released last week suggests that Ebola patients could still be contagious after three-week quarantine (the period recommended by the World Health Organization). The mishandling of the Ebola crisis by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (which has been consistently ranked the most trusted federal agency) further erodes public confidence in the U.S. disease surveillance and response capacity. Indeed, the widespread witnessing of healthcare workers who were unable to protect themselves from infection perpetuated a highly exaggerated sense of public risk. In the words of Jessica Stern, an expert on terrorism and weapons of mass destruction at Harvard University, when dealing with an unfamiliar disease, “We respond to the likelihood of death in the event the disease is contracted, rather than the compound probability of contracting the disease and succumbing to its effects.”

Such “dreaded risks” generate fear and panic at a level that is disproportionate to the disease-caused morbidity and mortality. Indeed, major epidemics have historically produced significant worry, anxiety, fear, panic, and even mass hysteria in the affected countries. The fear and panic could place further constraints on government capacity to tackle the public health emergency. Worse, the associated social distancing measures, in conjunction with the government anti-Ebola interventions, could have substantial negative economic impacts in the United States. It is estimated that adverse demand shock caused by SARS cost China 0.5 percent of its GDP in 2003. Americans may be overreacting to the threat of Ebola, but that overreaction is understandable. When planning further Ebola control measures, the Obama administration has to seriously take this fear factor into account.

The following article first appeared in CFR’s blog Asia Unbound here.

TopicsEbola RegionsUnited States

The Complexity of Russia

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 “Putin is not Russia and Russia is not Putin.”

Those words, often articulated to me by Russians during a very recent trip across Russia on the Trans- Siberian railroad, underscore a more nuanced perspective on the Russian president than might be expected given his current high popularity ratings. Support for the annexation of Crimea is virtually universal with little understanding or appreciation that in so doing, Russia has violated international commitments and undone post- Cold War security structures in Europe. There is, however, no support for open warfare with Ukraine and young people are uneasy the current sanctions will jeopardize future career and job prospects.

My public opinion sampling on this trip was neither scientific nor comprehensive but it was geographically broad (the cities of Ulan Ude, Irkutsk, Novosibirsk, Yekatarinburg, Kazan and Moscow) and included varied age groups and backgrounds. For someone with two previous assignments to the US Embassy in Moscow, the openness of my interlocutors and the absence of anti-US sentiment despite the official propaganda were striking.

Russia clearly remains a land of contradictions. All the cities visited seemed to be thriving with new buildings and construction, traffic jams on the order of Washington DC, and elegant shops and broad pedestrian malls. People were well dressed and the activity level was high. Being a major stopping point on the Trans -Siberian clearly has advantages.

Evidence of more independent thinking was also evident. Yekatarinburg, which straddles Europe and Asia, has a monument to some 40,000 victims of NKVD repression in 1937-38 and a striking statue of a soldier grieving over his lost comrades in the Afghanistan war. This monument supposedly was forced on city leaders by Afghan vets who would not be deterred.  A huge Lenin statue in the middle of the city is referred to by young people as the guy pointing to the pedestrian shopping street. In Kazan, a young waitress vehemently expressed her opposition to Putin’s “muscular” steps and the annexation of Crimea, which she said was shared by friends. And church leaders in a small town near Ulan Ude made a point of thanking our group for coming to Russia “despite the political difficulties.”

The vast countryside is a different story. The unending vista from the train of small villages consisting of wooden huts without paved roads, no running water and toilets but with electricity presents almost a timeless image of Russia. Huge piles of chopped wood and the harvesting of cabbages, potatoes and carrots reminded that Siberian winter was very close.  It looked as if most young people had deserted the villages and indeed we were told that the countryside is rapidly losing young people.

All interlocutors expressed great pride in their cities and many criticized Moscow for being aloof. Several complained that Siberian assets are enriching Moscow with not enough being returned to Siberia and that wages in Siberian cities are 30 percent lower than in Moscow.  Oligarchs were criticized for sending their children abroad to be educated.

Perhaps of most interest were viewpoints expressed about Putin, Crimea and Ukraine. The annexation of Crimea was almost universally supported. A resident of Irkutsk said Putin had redressed the stupidity and mistakes of the Bolsheviks which explains his popularity. A resident of Novosibirsk said that 3000 refugees from Donetsk were being resettled there and given Russian passports. We “must help our own” she emphasized.

Sanctions were being only slightly felt with an increase in food prices and older individuals pointed to Russians’ ability to endure hardships and the availability of substitute products from Belarus and Argentina. Others pointed out the impact is yet to be felt as Russians were now benefitting from the fall harvest. The situation next spring would be different.

The support, however, was not without limits. No one wanted to see Russia in a war with Ukraine. Many were concerned that Russia was becoming isolated and younger people specifically were uneasy about their careers and job prospects if Russia continued to cut itself off.  Many said they recognized they were not being told the truth by their government and were reading between the lines as in Soviet days. Similar charges of non-reliability, however, were levelled against the Western press.

Most concerning was the lack of understanding and acknowledgment that Russia had violated international commitments by its actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. The viewpoint rather is that Crimea is “ours” and that a wrong had finally been redressed.

What then is the bottom line? Russia is an enormous and diverse country with individuals enjoying personal freedoms unprecedented in Russian history. It is not the USSR. Putin’s authoritarianism and Moscow, however, dominate the political landscape. Moscow has numerous security forces on display, many signs proclaiming the sanctions will be overcome, and we had a direct reminder of the current chilly atmosphere at a main gate to the Kremlin. A security guard noted that one member of our group was wearing a shirt from Alaska and asked him if he lived there. The American said no but that he had visited there.  The Russian officer then seriously  responded that “Alaska will soon be ours again.”

Putin currently enjoys broad popularity but this has limits as evidenced by the subterfuges employed in Ukraine to cover up direct Russian involvement. Sanctions may not force Putin’s hand over the short term but growing public awareness and understanding that Russia is becoming a pariah state as a result of its actions and not some Western plot against it could yet become a force to be reckoned with.

Kenneth S. Yalowitz is a former US Ambassador to Belarus and Georgia and currently a Global Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsRussia RegionsRussia

The GOP Must Stop Legal Birthright

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The Chicago Department of Public Health, like its counterparts in all major cities, is quite open about the availability of taxpayer-funded care for pregnant women who are in the country illegally. Hospitals cannot ask about a patient’s immigration status, or even for a social security number. Pregnant women are eligible for Medicaid, the State of Illinois will not report their presence to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and best of all, their newborn children are considered American citizens. For poor pregnant women from most of the world, this is like winning the lottery. For the children, birthright citizenship means a lifetime of publicly funded benefits, and at age eighteen, the right to sponsor their parents for lawful permanent residency.

It is estimated that up to 400,000 babies are born in this country each year to mothers here illegally. In some Texas hospitals, they account for 70 percent of births. This is the “birth tourism” industry—the result of our peculiar policy of “birthright citizenship.” Anyone born on U.S. soil (or abroad, if to parents who are citizens) is a citizen, regardless of the legal statuses of their parents. Many other countries have abandoned it, including the United Kingdom, Ireland and Australia. The most bizarre aspect of this law is that Congress has never passed it, and the country was never allowed to weigh in on the issue. It has simply evolved from an 1898 Supreme Court decision (U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark) concerning a lawful permanent resident. To this day, there has never been a statute or court decision providing for birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants, and here I hope to show we can and should pass a law to end it.

In the 1850s, the Supreme Court had maintained that blacks were not citizens (Dred Scott v. Sandford, 1857), which had to be addressed after the Civil War. Congress realized this could not simply be undone by a law. The Constitution had to be amended to overturn the decision. The amendment was written broadly: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” [Emphasis added]. But what did the italicized clause mean?

The congressional debate makes it quite clear that the Senate sponsor of the Amendment, Lyman Trumbull (R-IL), did not believe it would apply to foreigners, unless they had renounced their ties to their home nations. When asked what the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” meant, he answered, “not owing allegiance to anybody else.” He believed the amendment would grant citizenship to the children of Chinese immigrants living in California.

Did he mean to create birthright citizenship for illegal immigrants? I don’t think so, though the question was never brought up. There was no illegal-alien problem at the time. The Chinese Trumbull was referring to had come to the United States legally and settled in the West, particularly California. We had de facto open borders until 1875, and immigrants were welcome, especially if they would provide cheap labor in the mines and railroads. Trumbull was distinguishing legal permanent immigrants from visitors intending to return home. The latter group still owed allegiance to their native countries. So in his view, citizenship was a consensual act.      

The 1866 Civil Rights Act, passed at the same time to crack down on the Ku Klux Klan, provided that people born in the country “and not subject to any foreign power” rather than “subject to the jurisdiction thereof, ” were citizens. I do not know why that phrase, which plainly excludes illegal immigrants, was not used in the amendment. But no historian or court has ever concluded the amendment meant something different. If we accept that premise, that “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” means not “subject to any foreign power” then the Supreme Court made an historic blunder in its famous Wong Kim Ark decision. By a 5-2 vote, it decided that “subject to the jurisdiction” meant everyone on U.S. soil, except foreign troops and ambassadors. It did so in deciding whether the son of two Chinese immigrants, who had entered the country legally and whose child born in San Francisco, was a U.S. citizen. Under the original understanding of the Fourteenth Amendment, as enunciated by Trumbull, he was.

But if the Court had followed its two prior decisions interpreting the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof,” it would not have enunciated such a broad rule and would once again have recognized foreigners are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction, unless they are here legally and intend to remain here more or less forever (i.e. citizenship by consent, rather than by place of birth).

Now, more than a century later, are judges required to adhere to Wong Kim Ark’s interpretation of the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof”? The question basically answers itself. If the Court was free to change its interpretation from its earlier decisions in deciding Wong Kim Ark, then why can’t today’s justices do so again? The Supreme Court reverses itself in interpreting the Constitution, most recently in Citizens United three years ago (as to whether corporations have First Amendment rights).

The Court also consistently says the doctrine of stare decisis (following precedent) is at its weakest when interpreting the Constitution. Such errors can have grave and irremediable consequences, since they cannot be undone by Congress. So the Supreme Court should feel free to revisit them. Why not test Wong Kim Ark? The consequences of this decision are costing us billions of dollars a year, and what are its benefits?

And if the Court wanted to take an easier route to reconsidering Wong Kim Ark, it could just focus on the word “jurisdiction.” It has recognized that is one of the most overused and misused words in the legal lexicon. Definitions of jurisdiction in the current Black’s Law Dictionary spill over five pages, and none of them seems to apply to the concept of national power over foreigners as used in the amendment.

How should the Court interpret the phrase “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” today? An originalist Court would not be bound by a modern dictionary. It would look at original sources from the ratification period to discern what they intended. Trumbull's statement and that of his colleague Sen. Jacob Howard (who was credited with actually writing the amendment)—that jurisdiction “will not, of course, include foreigners”—would be given considerable weight. As Justice Antonin Scalia and his colleague Bryan A. Garner say in their new book on interpreting legal texts:

“Originalism is the only approach to text that is compatible with democracy. When government-adopted texts are given a new meaning, the law is changed; and changing law, like adopting written law in the first place, is the function of the first two branches of government—elected legislators.”

I also pay very close attention to how legal realists interpret text. Judge Richard Posner considers himself a realist, and he thinks birthright citizenship “makes no sense” and can be abolished by statute.

If the Senate flips to Republican control next month, and the party wants to try its hand at its version of “immigration reform,” then this should be very high on the agenda. It might also require hospitals to collect social security numbers of patients and report the admission of those who don’t have them to the DHS. Those two reforms would end the thriving “birth tourism” industry. It can’t come too soon.

Howard W. Foster is a lawyer specializing in civil RICO cases involving the employment of illegal immigrants.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Joe Ravi/CC by-sa 3.0

TopicsDomestic PoliticsImmigration RegionsUnited States

Kobani: A Metaphor For the Contradictions Facing The West

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Nestled on the Turkish border in northern Syria is the city of Kobani, once inhabited by some 50,000 Kurds. Its Syrian name Ayn al-Arab reflects the stateless nature of the Kurds in Assad’s Syria, where they are denied citizenship and any social rights. For the Kurds of Kobani are trapped in Syria, hemmed in by Turkey and under attack by the Islamic State.

Questioned as to why the IS assault was not being stopped, Admiral John Kirby responded,  “Airstrikes alone, are not going to . . . to save the town of Kobani.” However, the bravery and tenacity of its Kurdish fighters, combined with airstrikes have permitted it to hang on. It also proves that the IS is not omnipotent in the face of spirited resistance. Quite the contrary.

The Kurds will fight to the end--the examples of IS making prisoners dig their own graves give no reason for them to think that surrender is an option. The old, infirm or the young are left behind, unable to run; their fates predictable if the city falls.

The UN Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura has warned of an impending massacre. So desperate is the projected scenario for Kobani that Mistura has even asked Turkey to permit volunteers to cross the border to fight the IS and failing that, to assist the US-led coalition "through whatever means from their own territory".

Turkey however won’t act alone, and if it does it is only in the context of defeating Assad – an invitation for mission creep. Our goals are fundamentally different. Instead, thousands gather on hills on the Turkish side of the border, spectators to the carnage unfolding below.

The Obama plan, for which airstrikes are only the opening act, is seemingly unable to find regional actors to provide the ground forces on which the very success of his plan to degrade and destroy the IS rests. If Turkey with a 400 kilometer long border--now occupied by the IS--will not act, despite the recommendations of its own high command, there is little likelihood that other, smaller regional Arab nations will.

Whether Kobani falls or not it presents a series of contradictions for everyone--whichever camp they belong to.

Days of airstrikes have blunted the IS advance, thanks to Kurdish resistance, but the aerial campaign is under-resourced. It can degrade the IS, but it cannot provide for the persistent air coverage necessary to do more alone. Already choices are being made whether to direct resources towards Kobani, or to the ISIS danger around Bagdhad. Desert Storm was far better resourced.

Of all the nations contributing to the coalition, most will not fly over Syria; the niceties of international law rooted in the Westphalian notion of states’ rights standing in the way of any responsibility to protect (R2P). Under international law, Syria has not explicitly granted permission for coalition airstrikes against the IS but to seek that authority, would politically for some nations, be seen as siding with or abetting that regime. It is difficult to see how saving Kobani from falling and avoiding yet more thousands of refugees could in any way be argued as helping Assad. On the contrary, allowing the IS to destroy the Kurds physically, only does what Assad’s regime was doing materially.

The same Westphalian niceties prevent the direct arming of the Kurds with more sophisticated weaponry, instead directing arms to the so far invisible Iraqi Army.

And that in a nutshell is what the Kobani metaphor reveals. Airpower alone will not stop the IS without fierce resistance on the ground. And in not attacking the IS in its entirety, meaning both in Syria and in Iraq, by coordinated air and ground offensives, an incoherent piecemeal effect will be the result. The Kurds can hold, but are not large enough or well enough equipped to defeat the IS alone. The Iraqi Army seems to exist in name only. The longer we wait, the more difficult the task of destroying the IS will be.

Hope cannot supplant the glaringly obvious and despite US and western reluctance to intervene with ground forces, only with some western troops committed, will regional partners be enticed join us. If we insist on none of our boots on the ground, why would regional partners volunteer?

As in Gulf War One, aims limited to recapturing territory and destroying ISIS strongholds should be the limit of our military aspirations. We should not be drawn into reconstruction or the reconstitution of government and civil society by military means. Regional actors can do that and deal with wider issues like Syria’s Assad after we're gone.

If not, the goal of all this, the rapid destruction of the IS, will somehow be forgotten, as are the people we are trying to protect; bogged down in a lengthy air campaign and the interminable search for willing partners. We will undoubtedly face the spectre of more Kobanis and the thousands more dead and displaced that will impose.

George Petrolekas is on the Board of Directors of the CDA Institute and co-author of the 2013 and 2014 Strategic Outlook for Canada. Mr. Petrolekas served with NATO, and in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Cyprus and as an advisor to senior NATO commanders.

Howard Coombs is a graduate of the United States Army Command and General Staff College, as well as the US Army School of Advanced Military Studies. He is currently a professor of military history and war studies at the Royal Military College of Canada.

Image: U.S. Air Force Flickr. 

TopicsKobani RegionsMiddle East

China: Sharpening Swords for War?

The Buzz

From a realist’s geopolitical perspective, the United States needs to keep eyes on global hot spots with concentrations of power that could adversely affect American national interests.  Of the three geographic centers of global power today, two are engulfed in war while the third is on the war’s precipice.  In Europe, Russia has returned to its quest for global power with its steely paramilitary and military disembowelment of Ukraine.  Moscow’s aggression now looms over other states in Europe, especially the Baltic states and Poland.  In the Middle East, the Islamic State has lurched onto the international scene with a bloody rampage that has torn apart Syria and Iraq.  The Islamic State looks ready is to expand and spill more blood along the borders of Jordan and Turkey and in Kurdish areas in Iraq, notwithstanding the American and international coalition air campaign against the jihadists.

In Asia, China has not yet shed any blood in war.  But a read of Robert Haddick’s new book Fire on the Water: China, America, and the Future of the Pacific painstakingly shows through his level-headed, scholarly, and realist analysis that Beijing is sharpening its swords for war while Washington is distracted by chaos elsewhere.  Haddick rightly judges that the United States “acting as an outside balancer, has played the central role in East Asia’s security, a responsibility that has boosted the prosperity of all.  But just like Europe a century ago, it is doubtful that Asia, left on its own, could shape a stable balance of power in the face of China’s dramatic rise.”

Haddick is deliberate and measured and “calls it as he sees it,” which is a tone to be welcomed in the often ideological debates on China’s future in international security.  Nevertheless, with his formidable political-military expertise Haddick makes a damning case that China is wielding astute diplomacy and building-up its military forces to exploit weaknesses in American military force projection capabilities into the Asian theater.  China has diplomatically labored to settle numerous land disputes with neighbors.  As Haddick tallies the diplomatic score, “Since 1998 China settled eleven lingering land border disputes with six of its neighbors, steps that removed security friction from potential overland threats.”  China’s $400 billion deal to buy gas from Russia signed in May 2014 and its economic development agreements signed with India in September 2014 bolster Haddick’s assessment that Beijing is shoring-up relations with land border states.

Settling border disputes allows Beijing to turn and focus its geopolitical attention to the sea.  China is using a paramilitary maritime force to place footholds on disputed islands and assert hegemony in the East and South China Seas.  Haddick observes a disturbing contrast in behavior.  While China has settled land disputes, “it has accelerated its demands for its maritime claims in the East and South China Seas.” China is playing a shrewd “salami tactics” game with assertive actions that taken in isolation fall short of cause for war, but collectively and over time significantly expand Chinese influence and coercion in Asia.

China couples its paramilitary maritime operations with a substantial build-up of military power for deterring and attacking American carrier battle groups.  Haddick’s book details that the Chinese are growing land-based and space-based systems for detecting and targeting American battle groups, as well as building surface ships and attack submarines for firing anti-ship cruise missiles.  All of these Chinese naval capabilities are designed to push American naval access beyond some 2,000 km from China’s coastline.  

Chinese military capabilities to deny the United States the ability to operate fixed-wing aircraft add to the formidable threats to American forces in the region.  As Haddick judges, “China’s Flanker fighter-bombers present a particular challenge to the United States and its allies because of their relatively long combat radius.  The Flanker variants have an unrefueled combat radius of at least 1,500 kilometers.  Five of the six U.S. air bases in the western Pacific (two in South Korea, three in Japan) lie within the combat radius of China’s Flankers.”  China’s increasingly sophisticated and thickening air defenses, moreover, significantly increases the potential costs for American aircraft to hold at risk military assets on the Chinese mainland.

The Chinese are unconstrained in building-up their ballistic and cruise missile capabilities as the United States is by the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.  Washington and Moscow signed the INF Treaty that bans land-based missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 km.  China is churning out ballistic missiles and cruise missiles to increasingly hold at risk regional airbases that host American short-range fighters.  This is a particularly unnerving situation for the United States because Russia has been violating the terms of the INF Treaty by testing prohibited cruise missiles.

On top of conventional military capabilities to deny American military access, the Chinese are fielding unconventional capabilities to deter American military intervention.  They are broadening their anti-satellite and cyber warfare capabilities that could be harnessed to disable American command, control, communications, and intelligence.  The Chinese too are modernizing their strategic nuclear forces to include mobile land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles—the likes of which the United States does not have in its nuclear triad—and submarine-based nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles.  

The Chinese are resolved to never again be intimidated by American conventional and strategic forces as they were during the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis.  While that crisis in the minds of American—if they even know about it—was a mere footnote in American security policy history, it was a watershed event for the Chinese.  Haddick judges that “China’s military modernization program, begun in earnest after PLA planners carefully studied the results of the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait crisis, has been specifically designed to exploit vulnerabilities in U.S. force structure, doctrine, and planning.  Assumptions that U.S. commanders had long taken for granted will no longer be operative by the end of the decade.”  Americans—with our sweeping demands to watch the globe to protect interests—are at a distinct disadvantage in the competition with Chinese who have a tighter basket of security interests upon which they can focus their strategic energies.   

Haddick persuasively rejects an “offshore balancing” strategy for the United States in the Pacific and strenuously argues for a “forward presence.”  In his analysis, “Offshore balancing would not only increase the likelihood that the United States would have to return during a conflict to restore stability (because without a U.S. forward presence, the likelihood of major power conflict rises), the strategy ensures that the U.S. would have to do so under very unfavorable circumstances.”  Haddick hastens to add that “The U.S. forward presence strategy in the Asia-Pacific region is not charity work.  The United States has performed this task for seven decades in order to protect U.S. security, to avert more costly great-power wars that would inevitably involve the United States, and to bolster America’s standard of living by promoting the security and growth of its trading partners in the region.”

Haddick’s assessment of how the American military would fare in battle against this tsunami of growing Chinese military capabilities is devastating.  His analysis should break all the china (pun intended) of American military services whose procurement priorities focus on fighting the last wars.  As Haddick captures the problem, “Simply put, military doctrine, long-ingrained service cultures, and defense acquisition practices have resulted in U.S. military forces that are far too heavily weighted toward short-range weapons systems unsuited for the vast operational distances in East Asia.”  The navy is fixated on increasingly vulnerable aircraft carriers.  The air force is preoccupied with short-range and exorbitantly expensive short-range fighters.  The marines are struggling to find the means to mount amphibious assaults in an era in which cruise missiles can sink marines afloat long before they get anywhere close to a beach.  And the army is largely AWOL in thinking about the future of warfare in Asia.

American policymakers and military planners need to rapidly and drastically rethink strategy for Asia, as well as the national means needed to fulfill it.  Haddick calls for “a broad range of persuasive and dissuasive capabilities—diplomatic, economic, and military (irregular and conventional)—designed to convince China’s leaders that they will achieve no gains in the region from coercion.  The strategy will do this by threatening to impose costs, creating resistance to coercive Chinese gains, and holding at risk assets and conditions valued by China’s leaders.” Haddick stresses that his recommended strategy relies on a hefty mix of long-range striking platforms and differs markedly from the navy-air force “Air-Sea Battle” concept because his does not call for first-strikes on China’s reconnaissance and command systems.  Nor does Haddick expect American forward bases to be useful after war breaks out or American surface ships to operate for sustained periods within Chinese ballistic missile ranges.

Fire on the War provides superb political-military analysis unencumbered by the interests of the armed services, national security bureaucracies, and defense industries.  It is an insightful and constructive contribution to better inform American decision-making, policy, military procurement, and, yes indeed, war planning for China.  This book should be placed on the top of the reading stacks for anyone, from informed citizens, to students, faculty, military commanders, and policy makers, who want to get smart fast on the acute challenges for American security policy in Asia.  Above all, Robert Haddick provides a great public and national service by warning those of us distracted by global crises in Europe and the Middle East of China’s strategically impressive and ominous sharpening of political and military swords in Asia.

Richard L. Russell is Non-Resident Senior Fellow for Strategic Studies at the Center for the National Interest.

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The Real Ebola Threat

The Buzz

West Africa may be at the center of the ongoing Ebola crisis, but the fear of the virus is pan-African. Much of the world sees Ebola as an African problem and Africans are beginning to internalize this perception as well. The continent’s response to the virus is seen domestically and internationally as a litmus test of the capacity and abilities of national governments which are using the crisis as a means to assure their citizens and international partners of their newfound capacities and crisis response potential.

In southern Africa, Zambia was one of the first countries to announce restrictions on travel from the Ebola affected countries in early August. Shortly thereafter, Kenya Airways halted flights to countries at the center of the Ebola epidemic.* South Africa, a major destination of travelers from West Africa, blocked visitors from the affected countries a few weeks later despite advice to the contrary from the World Health Organization. Namibia and Botswana followed suit soon after.

More recently, the continued spread of the virus has started to impact travel within Africa even outside of the Ebola hotspots. In late September, Namibia’s health minister advised Namibian nationals not to visit Zimbabwe due to Ebola fears. Zimbabwean officials in turn have encouraged their citizens to avoid all of West Africa, explicitly requesting that they cancel visits to popular Nigerian preachers.

Delving further into the Zimbabwe example, the Ebola crisis regularly makes headlines in the national press there. The country has adopted stringent Ebola prevention measures; including placing nearly one hundred travelers from West Africa under close observation for twenty-one days. Doctors and nurses have received Ebola training and a forty-bed Ebola treatment center has been established in Harare. Ebola has severely disrupted customary cultural greetings in West Africa and Zimbabwe’s minister of health has similarly advised Zimbabweans to avoid handshakes and other intimate greetings. From HIV testing centers in the high-density township of Chitungwiza, to Africa University near the border with Mozambique, Ebola awareness posters are common across the country, indicating that both the state and its citizens take the disease very seriously.

Despite the precautionary measures, rumors of Ebola deaths at several Zimbabwean hospitals have gained traction. As a result of these fears, there have been major cancellations of reservations in resort towns like Victoria Falls and postponement of public events. Opponents of the governing party have used the disease as a political tool, leveraging that with Zimbabwe’s decaying health infrastructure and susceptibility to diseases like cholera, Ebola is positioned to devastate the country.

Following successful containment efforts in Nigeria and Senegal, Ebola now appears to be confined to the countries of the Mano River Basin. However, the inadequate conditions that allowed the disease to spread in those countries can be found across the continent. Citizens of countries like Zimbabwe, vividly remember similar failings of their governments to contain impending disasters, such as the initial voices of dissent from war veterans that culminated in the violent appropriation of farmland and hyperinflation. For much of the world, Africa is seen as a monolithic block, and Ebola perceptions will tarnish the whole continent, not only the countries where people are suffering from the virus.

Despite previous failings, authorities in Zimbabwe are demonstrating a significant commitment to ensure that the virus does not penetrate their borders. As the embarrassing American response to a case of Ebola in Texas shows, response to the unprecedented outbreak is not easy. While Ebola has sparked panic across Africa, its states are engaged in major efforts to limit the impact of the virus. Some countries are better equipped to respond to the crisis than others – these efforts, combined with international assistance, are critical to ensure that the virus is defeated and that the destruction it causes, both physical and reputational, is minimal.

* There have been recent indications that many regional flights to the countries most severely impacted by the Ebola crisis in West Africa will soon resume.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s Africa in Transition blog here.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/cdcglobal/14723720857/sizes/lImage: Flickr. 

TopicsEbola RegionsAfrica

Land-Based Anti-Ship Missiles: A New Weapon for America and its Allies in Asia?

The Buzz

The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has developed an impressive array of land-based anti-ship missile systems, which are part of a robust sea-denial capability. That growing capability is forcing the United States (US) and Australia to rethink Pacific strategy. Some are now asking why the US, and Australia for that matter, have no land-based anti-ship missile systems in their inventory. After all, we want to be able to do sea denial in Asia as well. So, should we be developing our own?

Both the US and Australia have other anti-ship systems in their arsenal of air and sea-launched weapons. But there’s a real prospect that land-based systems would pay operational and strategic dividends. That’s a view that has also been recently expressed by members of the US Congress, think tanks, and scholars.

Some definitions are helpful here: sea denial is the ability to deny or prevent an adversary from operating in an area of the sea. On the other hand, sea control is the ability to operate freely in a maritime area while preventing adversaries from doing the same. Sea control requires that you have sea denial, but also that you can prevent an adversary from exercising effective sea denial over the same area. For years, sea control has required the integration of air and sea power. Though land-based systems alone can provide only sea denial and not sea control, the joint integration of land-, sea-, and air-based systems would be a powerful tool in gaining and maintaining sea control, especially in littoral regions.

The development of China’s maritime-denial missile capabilities puts enormous pressure on the US and its allies in the Western Pacific. Gone are the days of having the capability to impose sea control just about anywhere. Furthermore, China’s carrier, aircraft, and submarine programs suggest a desire in Beijing for some measure of sea control and power projection in the future—in the current context of strategic rivalry, which indicates a serious challenge to the US in the Asia-Pacific region. Whether this challenge manifests itself peacefully or violently will depend in part on how the US and its allies employ military power across all domains.

The three strongest arguments for land-based systems can be categorized as lower escalation risk, strategic flexibility, and mitigation of platform vulnerability.

Land-based systems, especially if they are mobile, deployable and of limited range, (like Japan’s type 88s) will provide leaders with a denial option that is less threatening and so less prone to escalation. That point is made effectively by naval strategists Toshi Yoshihara and James R. Holmes. Simply put, deploying a carrier group or air assets in response to actions involving territorial disputes may threaten the sovereign territory and vital interests of an adversary. Using anti-ship missiles to impose only sea-denial in a disputed area of operations is inherently defensive and less threatening, which gives leaders the option to demonstrate resolve in protecting economic exclusion zones and littoral regions without directly threatening undisputed sovereign territory. Choosing land-based anti-ship systems as a flexible deterrent option increases opportunities for peaceful resolution.

Deployable and non-deployable (fixed) land-based systems also would allow the US and Australia to maximize the power of their existing sea-control assets in a conflict by providing strategic and operational flexibility. By using deployable land-based systems in littoral regions and fixed systems at key choke points along sea lines of communication, allied leaders could then surge air and sea power to more critical and decisive regions.

Perhaps the most compelling argument is that it’s becoming harder to ensure the survivability of platforms (with the relative exception of submarines) against a capable adversary. Air-Sea Battle, with all the risks that it entails, appears in part intended to provide an environment where US carriers can survive in a conflict in the Western Pacific. The high cost per unit of fifth-generation aircraft (the F-22 and to a lesser extent the F-35) is also a result of the great challenge of keeping them flying till they can successfully launch their weapons, and hopefully return home. By contrast, hardening fixed missile sites is likely to provide inexpensive survivability for land-based systems.

There are still many questions ahead in the research concerning ground-based systems. For example, developing those weapons may require withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. That treaty limits ground-based missile systems to a range of less than 499km, or more than 5,500. But the US alleges Russia has already violated the treaty. And, of course China was never a signatory, so its current systems are unhindered by the treaty’s provisions. Additionally, the defense community must weigh the advantages of hardened and fixed systems versus mobile and deployable ones. Finally, other characteristics, including speed, range, and targeting systems, require consideration and analysis.

While there are challenges, any capability which preserves or enhances allied capacity to deny the Western Pacific and reduces the risks to (and our dependence on) carrier-based air-power would have to be extremely expensive not to merit further investigation. (ASPI has initiated research on the subject so watch this space for further publications and analysis.) Land-based anti-ship missiles could easily have a larger role in underpinning America’s position in Asia, and that means they’re important to Australia’s strategists and policymakers.

Lieutenant Colonel Jan K. Gleiman is an active duty US Army officer and a visiting fellow at ASPI from United States Pacific Command. The views expressed in this post are his own. Harry White is an analyst at ASPI where this piece first appeared

Image: Creative Commons License. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

Ten Fascinating Facts About China's President Xi Jinping

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A friend recently dropped off a hot-off-the-press copy of Xi Jinping: The Goverance of China. It is a compilation of speeches, main points of speeches, pictures, interviews, and a biographical sketch of Chinese President Xi Jinping. Several different parts of the Chinese government bureaucracy participated in producing the book, which runs more than 500 pages. While I can’t do justice to all the material presented, here are some things I learned from reading through Xi’s musings and the musings of others about him.

Xi loves the classics:

Although many of Xi’s speeches suffer from the same tedious socialist rhetoric that characterized those of his predecessors, Xi often enlivens his remarks with sayings from Chinese philosophers. When discussing the development of Chinese youth, for example, he reflects, “Learning is the bow, while competence is the arrow” and “Virtue uplifts, while vice debases” (55-57). Indeed, in a speech before professors and students at Peking University, Xi relates at least forty different quotations from ancient Chinese thinkers (185-199). No one says it better than an ancient Chinese philosopher.

 

Xi is a true believer—but only in the Communist Party:

Indeed, the Chinese president has no kind words for officials who “worship Buddha”; seek “god’s advice for solving their problems”; “perform their duties in a muddle-headed manner”; “yearn for Western social systems and values”; “lose their confidence in the future of socialism”; or “adopt an equivocal attitude towards political provocations against the leadership of the CPC” (463-464). He may have a revelation later in life, but for now there is no room at the Inn.

Xi never lets you see him sweat:

Xi does not whine. Although he states that he spends all his private time on his work, he doesn’t complain. Instead he simply says: “Since the people have put me in the position of head of state, I must put them above everything else, bear in mind my responsibilities that are as weighty as Mount Tai, always worry about the people’s security and well-being, and work conscientiously day and night; share the same feelings with the people, share both good and bad times with them, and work in concerted efforts with them” (114). Xi’s life in pictures similarly suggests someone who is calm, in control, and generally enjoying serving as president. Either he is constitutionally better suited to being president of a large power than most recent U.S. presidents or he just has a better public relations team.

Xi plays to win:

Xi has the soul of a competitor. In discussing his desire for China to become an innovation nation, Xi clearly is unhappy with China’s second-tier status, stating: “We cannot always decorate our tomorrow with others’ yesterdays. We cannot always rely on others’ scientific and technological achievements for our own progress.” The answer for him rests overwhelmingly in indigenous innovation: “Most importantly, we should unswervingly follow an independent innovation path featuring Chinese characteristics…. Only by holding key technology in our own hands can we really take the initiative in competition and development, and ensure our economic security, national security, and security in other areas.” He concludes: “Scientific and technological competition is like short-track speed skating. When we speed up, so will others. Those who can skate faster and maintain a high speed longer will win the title” (135-136).

How did I get here anyway?:

While Xi may enjoy being president of China, he may not quite understand how he got there, claiming “Since the people have put me in the position of head of state…” (114).

What you see is what you get:

While it is possible that there is an alternative Xi Jinping lurking beyond these 500 pages, there is remarkable consistency in the ideas and values that he espouses through his speeches and his actions. Morality, virtue, and responsibility to the people, for example, emerge as consistent themes in his discussions of the necessary qualities for Chinese officials. His efforts to streamline the bureaucracy, understand the needs of the people, and ensure proper oversight of Party officials are also hallmarks of Xi’s long tenure as a Communist Party official.

Almost there but not quite…:

Xi’s musings on soft power suggest some remaining confusion about how it all works. While he calls for bringing back to life “relics sleeping in closed palaces, legacies of the vast land of China and records in ancient books”—all of which would serve Chinese soft power desires—he nonetheless holds fast to the CCP’s traditional—if misguided—approach to soft power: “To strengthen our cultural soft power, we should intensify our international right of speech, enhance our capability of international communication, and spare no efforts in establishing a system for international speech to tell, in the right way, the true story of our country…. we should also enhance education in patriotism, collectivism and socialism through school, film, and television to help our people build up and persist in a correct concept of history, national viewpoint, state outlook and cultural perspective, so as to fortify the will of the Chinese people, who should be prouder of being Chinese” (180).

Lei Feng lives:

No biographical sketch of a senior Chinese official can ignore the opportunity to honor the (possibly apocryphal) model communist citizen Lei Feng by embracing his superhuman work ethic and devotion to the ideals of the Communist Party. Xi Jinping is no exception. When as a teenager Xi was sent down to a small village in Shaanxi Province during the Cultural Revolution, for example, he was “able to walk for 5 km on a mountainous path with two dangling baskets filled with almost one hundred kg of wheat on a shoulder-pole.” He also exchanged a motorized tricycle he won after being named a model educated youth for a “walking tractor, a flour milling machine, a wheat winnowing machine, and a water pump to benefit the villagers” (480).

A man of letters:

Xi talks about reading as one of his favorite pastimes—in fact the only one for which he still has time—and he is apparently a fan of Russian literature. Impressively, he can reel off more than ten different favorite Russian authors, including Gogol—whose writings must resonate with him as he tries to clean up corruption in the Chinese bureaucracy. Of course, he expressed his affection for Russian literature in an interview with a Russian television, so he may have been simply playing to the home crowd (114). Still in the village to which he was sent during the Cultural Revolution (note: the Cultural Revolution is not actually identified as such in the book), the local people remember him as “reading books as thick as bricks while herding sheep on mountain slopes or under a kerosene lamp at night” (480).

I have a dream:

Xi Jinping’s China dream looks set to become one of the defining elements of his tenure as Chinese president. It represents patriotism, innovation, and unity. “One can do well only when one’s country and nation do well.” For Xi, Chinese everywhere should contribute to realizing the China dream: “For Chinese people both at home and abroad, a united Chinese nation is our shared root, the profound Chinese culture is our shared soul, and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is our shared dream” (p. 69). And Taiwan should get ready as well. As Xi says, “Sooner or later we will have to resolve the political disputes that have long existed in cross-Straits relations rather than leave them to later generations” (254).

This piece first appeared in CFR’s Asia Unbound blog here.

TopicsDomestic Politics RegionsChina

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