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 Peter Lee BlogviewTeasers

Readers of China Matters may have noticed there hasn’t been too much to read lately. That’s because since the beginning of the year I’ve been doing a weekly video reports for Newsbud, an online indy media outfit run by Sibel Edmonds.

It started with China Watch, a weekly newsprogram that covers key China-related international affairs. It’s quite good, if I do say so myself, thanks in large part to the skilled and enthusiastic efforts of the Newsbud production team.

China Watch can be viewed on the Newsbud website, and also on Youtube. For free.

Here’s my two most recent episodes of China Watch.

This one is, in my biased opinion, the best objective take on the US strategy for North Korea currently available. FP practitioners—who were largely blackballed from the Trump administration for signing those “Trump is unfit to be president” public letters—and their media friends appear unwilling to take an objective and informed look at Trump’s Korea play. It’s not a Trump in his bathrobe yelling at clouds; there’s a legitimate effort with a good amount of institutional buy-in, albeit none from Obama era pivoteers, who are embarrassingly avid to see the initiative fail.

If Trump gets a win, he not only gets to vaunt over the Obama administration and its failed “strategic patience” policy; the idea that genuine US interests cannot be promoted through “transactional diplomacy” also takes a knock.

So I’ve got the NK policy corner pretty much to myself. And you can join the fun by watching my vid!

My current video follows up on developments in North Korea, Admiral Harry Harris, and the current international man of mystery, Miles Kwok. All good stuff, as I think you’ll see when you watch the video.

In addition, for Newsbud community members, i.e. people behind the paywall, I’m now doing a second weekly feature covering backstory and context on Asian stories. It’s called Asia Brief, and it focuses on formative events and key history in Asian affairs, like my reporting on the notorious failure of the George W. Bush administration to execute a financial sanctions strategy on North Korea in 2006-7.

Between China Watch and Asia Brief, I’ve basically tripled my workload so I haven’t had that much time and fresh material to put on China Matters or write up for outlets like Asia Times. Sorry!

However, I’m keeping China Matters active because I try to write for it as much as I can and, who knows, maybe text will become king again.

Newsbud needs subscribers and supporters for its current kickstarter campaign. So, if you appreciate my work and you’ve always said to yourself, gosh, China Hand has never asked for support & I’ve always felt guilty reading his stuff for free for ten years, now’s your chance to make amends!

Here’s a link to the Newsbud subscriber page. By joining Newsbud, you get not just me but access to an entire stable of knowledgable and personable analysts like Filip Kovacevich, Kurt Nimmo, and John Whitehead dishing out indy news in professional-quality video.

Also, the kickstarter, which is to support expansion of news operations to build the subscriber base. Newsbud doesn’t run ads or solicit institutional support or investment and is making a go of it as a community-based subscriber-supported outfit.

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, North Korea 

How do you sell elite rule to a 99% electorate? Well, don’t run somebody like Hillary Clinton, a lackluster campaigner with more 1% baggage than the Louis Vuitton stock room.

There aren’t many politicians who can look you in the eye and say “I work for the bankers…but I care about you” and get away with it.

Obama could. Clinton couldn’t. Now that Obama’s termed out, the search is on for the telegenic candidate who checks the intersectional boxes but knows on what side the world’s bread is buttered.

My bets are on Kamala Harris as the intersectional box-checking, globalist friendly, appealing candidate now being groomed for a presidential run. Sooner rather than later, I’d think.

Judging by Emmanuel Macron, a handsome youngster can be transformed into a president even with a slim resume. Best thing is to get ‘em out in front of the voters while they’re young and fresh, and before they’ve had to accumulate too much of a track record of 1% accommodation.

That’s the Obama lesson. He came from nowhere and became President. Hillary came from somewhere and went nowhere.

It’s an interesting data point in the evolution of American politics that the Democrats doing what the Republicans used to do: find a charismatic front person who is also a tabula rasa to generate electoral mass appeal for elitist policies.

The key task, and one I’m guessing Democratic strategists have devoted a lot of effort to cracking, is how to convert the perceptual framing from “99% v. 1%” to “degraded lumpen v. the quintessence of America”.

Democratic Party liberalism pretty relies on meritocratic technocratic model to make the elite rule pill easier to swallow: the best and the brightest are recognized by an enlightened electorate and handed the keys to the America-mobile.

The people who don’t vote for Team Demlib are *ahem* unenlightened: low information voters, bigots, oh, what’s a good word? How about…Deplorables!

So what should we call Demlibs? The wise? The The woke? How about…the Adorables?

This framing lets Demlibs dodge the slam that they are venal politicians feasting on the nutritious swill slopped in front of their snouts by globalist billionaires; or, for the Marxy-inclined critic, that they callow bourgeoisie sucking up to the capitalist class for profit and protection.

Sweeping issues of political interest or class interest under the rug does raise some awkward questions, though!

Dems are pretty much in the situation of saying, we’re out here absorbing billions in campaign funding and promoting globalist centrist polices because…

…because…

Um, because we care so much about humanity we can’t bear to do otherwise!

We’re not creatures of class, ambition, or interest!

That must be it! Noblesse oblige!

This is an indispensable piece of framing for a political movement that might otherwise be convincingly portrayed as tools of the 1%.

It’s an easier line to sell with a young, sexy, and savvy candidate.

Obama played that role quite well as president, but not, in my opinion, so well since then, with the whole fracasso of sabotaging the Trump presidency with the anti-Russia horcruxes and then signing a $60 million book deal and shouldering up to the public speaking trough with the Clintons with a $400,000 gig and for that matter helping out with “Hillary a la Francais” centrist Emmanuel Macron’s presidential campaign.

Takeaway: get the pretty people in front of the voters before they turn ugly.

The future belongs to the young!

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Ideology • Tags: Donald Trump, Emmanuel Macron 

I expect the PRC government has a team of spooks and doctors whose main job is to monitor the Dalai Lama’s public appearances for indications concerning his health. The Dalai Lama’s April 8 visit to Tawang probably gave them something to chew on, because he didn’t look that good to me.

He was mentally acute and spirited, but whenever he walked he was supported by two monks.

Watching him struggle after he got up from the platform after two hours of religious teaching at Tawang makes me think there’s more going on than religious deference with the monk escort.

At the 2:33:00 minute point in this video you can see the Dalai Lama wrap up his talk, tuck his meds away in his little carry bag, and exit with some effort.

Last year the Dalai Lama received treatment at the Mayo Clinic for a month, presumably related to his prostate condition which I’m guessing is more like prostate cancer. It looks to me like his physical condition had deteriorated.

Talking about the Dalai Lama’s health is an unwelcome subject for the Tibetan diaspora and government in exile, since the CCP strategy is clearly to drag out any engagement until the Dalai Lama passes on, and deal with a position of strength in any talks with his successor.

The Dalai Lama has declared he’s going to live to 90 (he’s now 82), when he’ll finalize the succession issue. Maybe he’s got some supernatural insight, but you have to wonder.

The Dalai Lama’s successor looks to be an “emanation” chosen during the Dalai Lama’s lifetime to pre-empt Chinese meddling. Although there’s a possibility of an upgrade to “reincarnation” after the current Dalai Lama’s death, I doubt the successor will carry anywhere near the current Dalai Lama’s prestige and authority.

If, as is bruited about, the Dalai Lama chooses the Karmapa of the Karma Kagyu lineage as his successor, the new Dalai Lama’s clout will also be undercut by the fact that he’s not of the Gelugpa lineage that has dominated Tibetan Buddhist religion and politics for generations. The Karmapa had some of the sheen taken off him by an ugly controversy in which it was claimed he was a pretender and a Chinese Communist mole.

The rough edges have been smoothed off the Karmapa controversy by the death of the alternate claimant’s main champion, Shamar Rinpoche, and a change in attitude by the previously suspicious Indian government and intelligence service. On a broader stage, there’s a move to redefine Tibetan Buddhism as an ecumenical movement, rather than a congeries of independent-minded and ferociously contentious and occasionally murderous monasteries and religious leaders.

One sign of this was the festooning of Tawang with Buddhist flags for the Dalai Lama’s visit. The Buddhist flag I am referring to is not the traditional prayer flag but the colorful stripy thing, which is actually a relatively recent innovation. It was announced in Sri Lanka in 1885 with input from an American Buddhist (and Blavatsky Theosophist) enthusiast, Colonel Henry Steele Olcott and is supposed to symbolize the shared essential beliefs and potential for unity for a global Buddhist movement that transcends different traditions and teachings.

As a visual aid:

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags at Tawang:

“Buddhist flag” at Tawang:

Buddhist, Tibetan, and Indian flags festooning the exterior of the Tawang monastery on the occasion of the Dalai Lama’s visit, which presumably hacked off the PRC no end:

A sign that the “all Buddhists are brothers and sisters” approach is working is the flourishing of the ecumenically oriented Tibetan Buddhist academy at Larung Gar in Sichuan inside the PRC.

Larung Gar was founded in 1980 by a rinpoche of the Nyingma lineage, but its curriculum also incorporates Gelugpa and other teachings. Perhaps its promise as a unifying, trans-lineage institution for Tibetan Buddhists—and one less susceptible to the divide-and-conquer strategy China has employed for centuries, most conspicuously in the case of its promotion of the Panchen Lama– is why the PRC government restricts Larung Gar operations and is now tearing down parts of the immense favela of student housing that has grown up around the academy.

Here’s my most recent video for Newsbud, where I discuss the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang (and Xi Jinping’s visit to Mar a Lago!) and conclude that the next Dalai Lama will probably turn out to be more of brand ambassador for Tibetan Buddhism, a Dalai Lama Lite, rather than a galvanizing figure like the 14th Dalai Lama.

In my video, I mis-state the dessert that witnessed Donald Trump’s announcement to Xi Jinping that he was pasting Syria with cruise missiles as “chocolate sorbet”. It was actually “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake.”

Apologies!

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Dalai Lama, Larung Gar, Tawang 

I try to keep a certain distance from the anti-Trump circus. But I do want to put some thoughts on record, given the obsession with Trump’s Russia connection and what I see is a determined effort to minimize the British/NATO angle in the attack on Trump.

My personal feeling is that there are significant swaths of the European establishment that derive their mission and meaning from serving as allies to the United States in an anti-Trump effort: the British government and intelligence services, NATO, various right-leaning European governments, their think tanks, in other words, the Atlanticists.

They didn’t like Trump because he was more interested in dealing directly and positively with Russia on matters of US strategic concern in the Middle East and Asia and much less interested in perfecting the Atlanticist Euro-centric anti-Russian containment/deterrence apparatus and backing crazy EU/NATO expansion stunts like the Ukraine operation.

Perhaps similar to Trump’s interest in dealing with China instead of doing pivot. Difference is, Atlanticist lobby is much more entrenched in Washington, the NATO alliance is miles ahead of the “box of sand” Asian containment network, and Great Britain is America’s primary intelligence partner.

So I think people over the pond, particularly in Europe, were interested in feeding documentation on Trump’s murky Russia connections to his opponents, and especially on behalf of Hillary Clinton, who is very much an Atlanticist fave. Effort was pretty low key at first because nobody expected Trump to get anywhere, but things picked up when he got the nomination, and then shifted into apesh*t crazytime when he got the presidency.

The British link is there for all to see in the notorious Steele dossier. What people don’t want to see is the inference that Steele was either getting dirt from MI5/GCHQ or is simply a cut-out for a British effort.

I should say the possibility that the UK intelligence service may have been deeply involved in preparing the brief against Trump does not elicit an urge from me to spontaneously genuflect concerning the accuracy of the evidence. I daresay psyops—packaging and releasing selective intel and innuendo at opportune times through deniable channels for maximum effect–is a core mission of British spookdom, as is making up utter crap, like the notorious “dodgy dossier” on Saddam Hussein.

An interesting datapoint is the Guardian leg-humping a story about Michael Flynn having conversations with a Russian-English historian causing “concern” to “US and UK officials”. The only useful conclusion from this farrago, as far as I can tell, is that a) investigating Things Flynn was an official US-UK joint and not just Christopher Steele lunching Russian emigres in Grosvenor Square and b) the UK press is doing a similar tag teaming with US media to sell Trump/Russia like it pitched in with the US to sell Saddam/Iraq.

And the Guardian is doing it this time! You’ve come a long way, baby!

The mega-uproar over the “GCHQ tapped Trump” story was, to me, quite interesting, for the massive full-court pushback it elicited and the grudging backdown from the Trump administration.

If the story proved out true, it would be a disaster for the UK.

On the institutional level, confirmation that US investigatory and intel outfits resorted to GCHQ to, shall we say, supplement collection related to US citizens and *ahem* circumvent US laws would lead to demands for that bane of all spook prerogatives, oversight and perhaps a committee to review requests for intel exchange between the US and GCHQ before they happened (I recall reading that currently the NSA can reach into Five Eyes servers and pull out whatever it wants whenever it wants; it would be fun to find out in open testimony if that actually happens!).

On the political level, it would be hard to escape the imputation that Great Britain was conducting politically-motivated collection/querying/handover of intel concerning disfavored US politicians and officials, and that the English bulldog was INTERFERING IN AMERICA’S SACRED ELECTIONS, you know, like a certain country, name begins with R ends with A led by a guy name begins with P ends with N is allegedly doing.

It would be interesting to see how the public relations fracas on terms of “Putin trolls pushed fake news on Facebook” vs. “GCHQ pushed fake news into the FBI” would play.

GCHQ/MI5’s powerful capabilities and their slavish eagerness to put them at the service of the US are the glittering jewels in the tattered collar of the British poodle. If GCHQ becomes a “normal” intelligence interlocutor of the US—with the added stigma of having engaged in politicized active measures on behalf of US factions—then the UK risks dropping to parity with *gasp* Germany as another arm’s length partner.

Fox’s alacrity in yanking some guy called “Judge Nap” for publicizing the GCHQ surveillance allegations was interesting. You might expect Fox would be keen to push this rather provocative and open-ended talking point to provide some aid and comfort to Trump and ride a ratings-boosting angle. But Fox shut Nap down!

Wonder if Rupert Murdoch got the call from the UK government that any encouragement of this kind of tittle-tattle would call down the wrath of the British government on Rupert’s extensive media holdings in Britain.

Well, with Judge Nap in the cooler, I doubt any other Fox commentators will be too interested in pursuing that allegation.

And maybe the US intel community told Trump he’d be gone in a heartbeat if he threatened to compromise the US-GB special spook relationship to save his skin. So he backed off.

If Trump falls on his ass I expect that will provide the political cover for some discrete “now it can be told” bragging about how the Atlanticist band of brothers joined hands to defeat the Russian menace. If Trump hangs on, it just goes into the secret museum of US-UK ratf*cking operations.

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Donald Trump, GCHQ, Judge Nap 

Here are embeds to my two most recent videos for Newsbud. They pair together nicely as they track the evolving stories on Pakistan/Afghanistan and North Korea. Trump may be sucking all the oxygen out of the mediasphere, but the usual suspects are still out there conducting the usual business of murder and mayhem.

The most recent video, While America Freaks Out, Asia Quietly Goes Crazy, also covers a couple stories that will achieve a higher profile in the news as the year goes on: Xinjiang and the Philippines.

In the earlier video, Asian States Play the Murder Card; Is the War Card Next? I have some fun in the closing bit with Asian monster movies in general—Pulgasari should be part of every kaiju fan’s cinematic vocabulary–and China’s The Great Wall in particular.

The Great Wall got slagged in the US as a piece of Chinese cinematic presumption. Hollywood blockbusters are America’s soft power secret sauce, and woe to any Communist interloper that tries to steal the recipe. Chinese audiences weren’t quite nuts about it either, to be frank.

The interesting backstory to TGW is that China, via Wanda Group, has already mastered the exhibition end of the equation. Wanda is the biggest deal in Chinese cinema, controlling about half the screens. It’s also embarked on an acquisition binge in the US, Europe, and Asia and expects to control 20% of global box office in a few years.

Wanda wants to be able to extort favorable distribution deals from the major studios (smart!) and its supremo, Wang Jianlin, has also expressed the desire to own a studio (nonononoNO!). Apparently, in our brave new world of content creation and distribution this is not the anti-trust red flag it used to be.

The Great Wall was Wang’s first big-ticket foray into content creation, via Legendary Pictures, a Hollywood production outfit Wanda acquired a couple years ago. Despite an anemic $36 million and change at the US box office, TGW pulled in $300 globally.

When one considers that maybe Wanda through its cinema operation was on both sides of that take in maybe one-third of the theaters (as opposed the share of receipts it gets as simply the content creator), I’m thinking The Great Wall maybe didn’t earn back all of its rumored $150 million production budget plus its apparently supersized promotional budget, but it’s not a gigantic debacle for Wang.

The movie itself: not as bad as people say, in my opinion. Of course, my expectations were low since LA hated the film, and my generous impulses were also shaped by the wonder of an $8 movie ticket, which is the price of admission on Tuesdays at Regal Cinemas flagship cinemas down at Staples Center/LA Live. By Grabthar’s hammer, what a savings!

Anyway, the movie. Warning: SPOILERS!

The movie’s debt to World War Z is pretty unambiguous. Well, Max Brooks, the guy who wrote World War Z apparently cooked up The Great Wall with Legendary’s ex-jefe (now canned) Thomas Tull, and got story credit. The basic theme of hordes threatening civilization is quite World War Z esque, and the visuals of monsters climbing the Great Wall during the main attack is, shall I say, embarrassingly similar to that zombie assault on the Israeli wall in WWZ.

For what it’s worth, I liked TGW better. I once described the World War Z book as a masturbation aid for Carl Bildt, with its narrative that only the US, Israel, and NATO allies, with a spiritual assist from the Queen of England, have the sack to save the world from zombies while authoritarian countries (China, Russia and so on) are deservedly annihilated.

Once this movie got into the hands of Zhang Yimou, I think he visualized it as a wuxia spectacle. Wuxia (martial hero movies) often involve badass bravos doing awesome sh*t in the riverlands, marshes, and mountains beyond the stultifying reach of Chinese state and society.

And in The Great World we are introduced into a wuxia environment of a secret martial order dedicated to garrisoning the Great Wall and, every sixty years, fighting off a herd of ravenous lizard monsters that basically just want to eat the world.

The Great Wall resists subtext, thereby frustrating cineastes, film buffs, and guys who post their opinions on the Internet. Don’t try looking for metaphors of the Mongol threat or the Russian menace, in my opinion. The monsters are there and the wall is there mainly so this band of brothers and sisters can do cool, crazy-heroic stuff together. And they do it pretty nicely, in my opinion.

I didn’t have too much of a “Matt Damon white savior” problem, especially in what film people call “the second act” i.e. after everybody’s introduced and it’s time to demonstrate character through action. Damon’s character is appealing, he meshes pretty well with the Chinese cast and, thankfully, there is no “older white guy getting it on with Asian ingénue” action between him and female lead Jing Tian.

I suspect, however, that nobody getting it on with Jing Tian i.e. Matt Damon diverting the narrative from thumping-hearts kids-in-peril romantic exploration and emotional fulfillment for Jing and the other main characters might have been part of the problem in the Chinese market.

My main difficulty with the film is the “third act” the “resolution” which I now call, in homage to the New Yorker’s David Denby (who first coined the phrase in describing the ending of the Edward Norton Hulk movie), “the CGI pukefest”.

Bowing to Hollywood’s need to up the stakes for the finale, The Great Wall leaves “The Great Wall” and shifts the action to Beijing.

The film’s most amusing, Chinese-y sequence occurs there, when the emperor is introduced to a captured lizard-monster by the usual crowd of sycophantic advisors. But otherwise, the vibe is “we’ve just spent 80 minutes at the Great Wall and got to know it and like it now why do we have to move to Beijing??” Well because, spoiler here, the lizards simply spent the entire second act tunneling through the Great Wall while mounting diversionary attacks, so all the cool heroic sacrifice stuff at the wall was useless bullsh*t.

So the gigantic lizard army is done in and the world saved by Matt Damon improvising doofus greenscreen crap at some rando location at the end. But it would have been just as big a drag if some Chinese actor had done it. The heroes and heroines of the borderlands should have been given the honor of ending the movie at the Great Wall with their mad skillz, courage, sacrifice, and devotion.

One last note: a fumbled grace note in the movie was the name given to the monsters: Tao Tei.

In Chinese, the name is spoken taotie, a kinda cool reference to the ubiquitous taotie monster masks incised on the most ancient of Chinese bronzes.

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 

My latest Newsbud video looks at signals from Secretary of Defense Mattis’ trip to Asia and what it means for the South China Sea, East China Sea, and North Korea flashpoints.

For now, Trump Asia policy looks pretty mainstream.

One point I make in the piece is that Trump isn’t necessarily eschewing bloody American military mischief; he’s just keeping its focus on the Middle East, rejecting the Obama promise to “pivot” militarily out of the Middle East and into Asia.

And it looks like he’s decided that the politically most advantageous US security play is 1) anti-radical Islam (pleases his base) and 2) anti-Iran (pleases Saudi Arabia and Israel and freezes the Democrats).

What seems to be on the horizon is a “whack Iran” anti- radical Islam strategy that avoids tussling with Saudi Arabia and the other GCC countries, and will fund and enable and empower Sunni militants in the Iran side of the patch even as JSOC tries to whack Sunni militants elsewhere in the Middle East.

I don’t think that is going to solve the radical Islam problem, but I guess that’s not the point of this geopolitical and political exercise.

Anti-Iran strategy inevitably raises the China sanctions conundrum and Trump and China will both be walking a tightrope when the Iran situation heats up.

Watch my piece for an interesting discussion on the MEK Iranian emigre group as, it seems to me, a stalking horse for KSA and Israeli agitation to derail the Iran agreement.

The MEK has lavishly rewarded US political and military figures across the political spectrum, and I wonder if their largess—and the willingness of US political figures to affiliate themselves with a rather fringe group—is related to Saudi and/or Israeli sponsorship.

US supporters of the MEK who wrote a public letter to Trump urging renegotiating the Iran deal includee General James Jones (previously Marine Corps commandant and National Security Advisory), Robert Joseph (the neocons’ neocon), two ex-governors of Pennsylvania (Rendell and Ridge), Joseph Liebermann (Israel’s reliable defender in Congress), Louis Freeh (ex-FBI director), Michael Mukasey (ex-Attorney General), and so on.

Given the support that Iran can muster from Europe, Russia, and China, it seems unlikely that Trump will take a military swing directly at Iran. And I think Trump, who had the good sense to avoid a land war in Asia in his youth and has excoriated the US blunder into Iraq, is less than interested in trying to take down Iran with a military attack right now.

That means more bad times for Yemen, I think, as a weak and vulnerable opponent for an American president looking to make a geopolitical statement–and pump up his Commander in Chief credential.

Yemen is a war crime that should be shut down, in my opinion.

But it doesn’t look like it will happen.

The extent to which Yemen’s Houthis are now characterized as Iranian proxies, not just by the White House team but also by the Beltway security establishment, is a sorry sign that the US will probably continue to enable and abet Saudi Arabia’s brutal and futile Yemen war, perhaps as a placeholder and justification for more direct anti-Iran military action later.

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Donald Trump, Iran, Iran Sanctions, MEK 

Afghanistan, as a crossroads of empire and a key stage in the Silk Road, is dotted with important archaeological sites that go back 5000 years and can provide insights into the evolution of civilizations across Asia and, in fact, civilization itself.

Most of these sites are beyond the reach of the Afghan government’s woefully underfunded archaeology department, and within the grasp of the Taliban and other banditti, who either destroy or loot and sell the precious pre-Islamic artifacts depending on their iconoclastic or economic priorities.

Fortunately, an important Afghan archaeological site, Mes Aynak, resides within a compound defended by 1500 Afghan troops and administered by a prosperous and capable international entity.

Unfortunately, Mes Aynak also sits on one of the world’s largest copper deposits, one that the Afghan government has leased for 30 years in a contract with two major Chinese transnational companies, the Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) and Jiangxi Copper.

Development of the open-pit mine means that sooner or later the archaeological site at Mes Aynak will disappear into the maw of MCC’s bulldozers and buckets.

A film by a Northwestern University professor and documentarian, Brent Huffman, “Saving Mes Aynak” has gone a long way into alerting international opinion as to the urgency and importance of preserving the site. It’s available for streaming at Netflix. The link is here.

Unfortunately, saving Mes Aynak appears to be a daunting task, one that involves taking on the Afghan government and even the United States, as well as China.

The Mes Aynak copper bonanza is seen by the Afghan government as a vital source of revenue. Per the announced contract, the Chinese side will pay a bonus of over half a billion dollars when the mine commences commercial operations, a big chunk considering Afghanistan’s total GDP is only $7 billion. The United States sees income from the mine as an important step in weaning the Afghan government off its reliance on foreign aid (like Southern Sudan, the Kabul government is a foreign-aid state, with 72% of its budget coming from overseas sources).

The Afghan government is unambiguously eager to see construction at the mine begin. It appears the collection of several hundred photogenic artifacts that survived the looters (the site was discovered in the 1960s and only secured in 2008 when the Chinese perimeter went up) for preservation and display at the national museum has exhausted the government’s interest in Mes Aynak’s archaeological angle.

The United States government, which provided a million dollars of military funding for the archaeology work, now also maintains a studied indifference to Mes Aynak. Brent Huffman told me he contacted the US embassy in Kabul repeatedly for interviews, but was rebuffed.

The Chinese are usually cast as the heavies in these sorts of scenarios and saving Mes Aynak from destruction “by a Chinese copper mining company chasing corporate profits” is the hook for the Indiegogo fundraising campaign. MCC and Jiangxi Copper also receive a certain amount of stick in Huffman’s documentary as corrupt, indifferent, and not too good at running a copper mine, which occasioned some resentful pushback in Global Times.

However, the Chinese seem to be the ones dragging their feet on digging up the site.

China’s reticence about ripping up Mes Aynak perhaps has less to do with its love of archaeology than the fact that the copper project is more of a geostrategic placeholder for PRC rather than an economic opportunity. Copper prices have collapsed since the deal was signed in 2007, and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to transform Mes Aynak from a windswept waste into a world class industrial and export center is probably not the highest priority for MCC and Jiangxi Copper.

Add to the practical difficulties of the site the fact that the area, although only forty kilometers outside of Kabul, is controlled by the Taliban. Recently the Taliban, much to the resentment of the Afghan government and, perhaps, in response to some financial outreach from China, announced they would “protect” Mas Aynak instead of shelling it and occasionally murdering people on the road leading to the site. Huffman views the Taliban statement as an ominous sign that a significant obstacle to active development of the mine by MCC has been removed.

The Chinese government, as opposed to MCC and Jiangxi, can regard Mes Aynak primarily as control over an economic lifeline of the Afghan government—and a pre-emptive move blocking other interested parties, like the United States and India—that provides effective leverage for China in Afghanistan and reach in Central Asia, a region seen as key to the PRC’s national security.

The PRC allegedly paid a $30 million bribe to Afghan officials to secure the concession and dribbles out “signing bonuses” progress payments, so the lease agreement remains valid—and the expectation of a $500 million payday at the start of commercial operation, realistic or not, might be enough to keep the Afghan government on the hook even as the deal drags on. At the same time, China is demanding a renegotiation of royalty terms and faults the overwhelmed Afghan government for failure to execute its population relocation, infrastructure, landmine removal, and matching resource commitments.

It is a point of interest whether MCC resents the furor over the archaeological site, or welcomes it as another excuse to let the project and renegotiations drag on to the frustration of an increasingly anxious Afghan government.

So Mes Aynak sits there, with a contingent of MCC engineers residing and working or not working in neatly built blue and white portable structures.

The construction hiatus should provide a golden opportunity for archaeologists to excavate and document the site but it isn’t happening.

For Afghan archaeologists, their work at Mes Aynak is hampered by government disinterest, lack of funding, and mortal peril from the Taliban. As Huffman’s film documents, the World Bank, for whom Mes Aynak is a key Afghan project, allocated millions of dollars for archaeological work, but virtually none of that money has found its way into the hands of the people actually doing the work.

Archaeological work started in 2010, was supposed to be finished by 2013, wasn’t, and limps along amid widespread indifference by the copper-centric interests. In 2013, the Afghan government claimed 75% of the excavation work was complete, which doesn’t quite jibe with the estimate in Huffman’s film that 90% of the site remained to be excavated as of 2014.

Today, only a skeleton crew works Mes Aynak when the weather permits.

It seems rather absurd that this well-protected, accessible, and important site should not be the object of intensive archaeological efforts. And based on his information from Afghanistan, Huffman tells me he fears that the archaeological site is at imminent risk of destruction now that the Taliban has shifted from threatening the copper project to—supposedly—protecting it and MCC may have sufficient incentive to proceed with demolition.

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Afghanistan, China, Mes Aynak 

Over the last month, I’ve been busy making videos for Newsbud, the indie news outfit run by Sibel Edmonds. Don’t be a free media leech! Go to newsbud.com, view my stuff, retweet it, and pay a few bucks and become a member!

My most recent Newsbud video keyed off the CCTV New Year’s Gala to make some points about CCP ideology and strategy. Watch it! Don’t make me ask again!

As a reward for watching the video and reading this post, at the end I explain the mysterious reference to “the dragon”.*

The gala’s musical numbers are BigBIGBIG! With the exception of the feed from the Shanghai satellite which, quite frankly, was kinda lame. The centerpiece attraction for the Shanghai number was a reprise of the Ringling Brothers warhorse EIGHT MOTORCYCLISTS IN THE GLOBE OF DEATH!!

On the other hand, now that Ringling—a destination for dozens of Chinese acts over the decades—has shut down, I hope circus performers, not just Chinese but also foreigners—like the Ukrainian contortionist who popped up in the last hour of the telecast—will find rewarding employment at the Chinese New Year’s gala.

But I wondered if Jiang Zemin’s Shanghai gang wasn’t interested in putting its shoulder to the wheel bigly for Xi Jinping’s propaganda/softpower jamboree.

No such reticence at the satellite venue at Liangshan, in Sichuan, home of the PRC launch site at Xichang where those Chinese rockets go up and sometimes, unfortunately come down, with horrific consequences. (Interestingly, now the PRC considers Hainan secure enough to move its main geosynchronous launch operations down there and Xichang is shifting into a backup role).

I must say I had my kneesocks knocked off by this number. You might want to put this on the big screen TV and crank it. Full screen on the PC at the very least. Or, if you’re watching on a phone, put your eye real close, I guess.

Quite a few interesting matters illustrated by this video other than its over-the-top awesomeness.

First off, it showcases nationalities, specifically the Yi nationality of the Liangshan Autonomous Prefecture. As I point out in the video, a theme of the gala was the synergies between national harmony, strength, and prosperity, not a terribly unwelcome message as the United States descends into rancor and polarization that brings to mind the Cultural Revolution. As I see it, the message of the gala was that the best future for minorities lies in whole-hearted integration with big/strong/rich Mother China, and Hong Kong and Macau and Taiwan should weigh the advantages pursuing that same path instead of independence/autonomy/impotent resentful grumbling/whatnot.

Second, the singer, Jike Junyi. She’s ethnic Yi from Liangshan. It was not just a question of local girl makes good and gets to perform in a titanic musical spectacle in her home town that gets beamed to a global audience of close to one billion.

She’s a major pop star in China, not just because she has a good set of pipes, but she’s being groomed for the cross-cultural icon/diva role by China’s Mandopop industry.

I will confess, I didn’t know Mandopop was a thing until I started reading up on Jike Junyi, but apparently the corporate and cultural powers that be have decided that the PRC cannot rely on South Korean boybands and potentially subversive Hong Kong Cantopop to besot the nation’s youth.

By now there is a well-oiled international machine the devoted to the discovery, grooming, and promotion of global pop stars, exemplified by South Korea’s SM Entertainment musical agency (and profiled in John Seabrook’s book The Song Machine). In female diva-dom, the process is well represented by Rihanna, who couldn’t sing very well but blew them away at her audition with her devastatingly chic turnout (which she had spent half the night agonizing over) and regal demeanor.

Jike Junyi’s breakthrough moment came on The Voice of China, which is basically The Voice in China, a competitive audience-vote-driven talent show.

The song that won the audience’s heart was Jike Junyi’s rendition of a plaintive Yi folksong paired with…paired with…well, I’ll just show you:

Jike Junyi didn’t win the overall competition, placing third, but she did establish a strong, winning presence and a good look that, I’m guessing, like Rihanna’s, could serve as raw material for the diva machine. Interestingly, she wasn’t even the only Yi singer in the competition. Alu Azhuo, a successful Yi ethnicity singer who was more of an ingénue type, did well, but not as well as Jike Junyi.

Maybe a bakeoff to find a minority popstar was going on, and Jike Junyi was perceived as the coolsexysassy type who could wear the diva mantle…and also, interestingly, checked the “dusky” box for, not so much for minority exoticism as her ability to bestow cool transnational/transracial cred on her largely Han audience.

She is now in the hands of TH Entertainment and has the full retinue of career managers, songwriters, producers, stylists, and whatnot tasked with giving a diva’s career escape velocity.

Much has been made of Jike Junyi’s childhood struggles with her skin color, and her subsequent decision to set aside the whiteners and celebrate her ethnic heritage.

Her tanned skin color and passionate personality also made her a favorite of the fashion industry. She was featured on the cover of the Chinese edition of Vogue magazine soon after she won third place in The Voice of China.

Lucia Liu, one of China’s most prominent fashion stylists, who is the style director of Harper’s Bazaar China, has been working closely with Jike after she signed on with TH Entertainment in early 2013. Liu will also design the costumes for Jike’s upcoming concert, which, as she describes, will be eye-catching and cutting-edge.

“I am quite inspired by her skin color, which balances the clothes I chose for her,” says Liu, who works between Beijing and London. “We are also good friends. She really likes eating hotpot.”

In one of her hits, Colorful Black, Jike sings, “I have dark skin, an intuitive soul and I stick to my color. It doesn’t matter how you look at me. You will see my colorful black.”

“I used to hate my skin color,” giggles Jike, who, like many Chinese young women, was obsessed with white skin tone. She bought lots of whitening toners, but all failed to work.

“Now, I love my skin color because it makes me special. I guess that is my natural gift, like singing,” she says.

Her aspirations to post-racial vanguard status were announced by the adoption of an English-language handle, “Summer” and a trip to Los Angeles to record a duet paired with…paired with…well, I’ll just have to show you.

This video is, by the way, a G thing not as in G for gangsta, but G for General Audiences. There are obviously still limits to the lengths PRC popstars will go in their quest for global R&B cred.

The next what the actual f*ck moment in Jike Junyi’s career was appearance in a Western-Chinese movie coproduction entitled Outcast in which her role was, in the immortal words of her publicity machine, “starring as the dumb wife of Hollywood star Nicolas Cage”.

Ahem. “Mute” wife, please.

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: China, Jike Junyu, Mandopop, The East Is Red 

I’m doing some video and text work for Sibel Edmond’s Newsbud. Visit the site and support them. Please! And read my article about the TPP and NAFTA ! The TPP Is Now Deader Than Ever Thanks to Trump. Double please! Recommend it to your friends!

We’re now in the “Murrow moment” phase of liberal journalism i.e. journos thirsting to take down Trump, you know, just like Ed Murrow took down big bad Joe McCarthy back in the day.

There is a certain desperate energy to do a Murrow moment on Trump. Now that Trump got elected, it seems the #NeverTrump media is kicking itself for not doing more to turn the juicy but dubious Steele dossier on Trump’s Russia links into a pre-election firestorm.

Time to make amends! And make up for the lost time!

The strategy pretty much boils down to Accentuate the negative / Eliminate the positive / Don’t mess with Mister In-Between all day every day.

Warning: Winning the news cycle against Trump each and every day may cause some regrettable slippage in journo standards.

Like making a complete hash out of the history of NAFTA in order to employ it as a Trump-bashing weapon. That’s what I cover in my Newsbud piece on Trump and TPP, and journos getting history on rewrite to whitewash the political and economic catastrophes NAFTA inflicted on Mexico in the 1990s.

I’m a fan of leaks and investigative journalism. I’m not a fan of skewed reporting designed to take down a public figure, a.k.a. advocacy journalism an exercise which, when not conducted by the parfait knights of the American Fourth Estate is known as agitprop/infowar/*gulp* fake news. Or ratf*cking.

I’ve lived long enough to fart through silk by Mencius’ standard, and I’ve seen enough ratf*cking to be skeptical of the process by which journos demagogue a demagogue. Didn’t see McCarthy, but I saw Nixon. And Khomeini and Gaddafi and Saddam and Kim Jong Il and Kim Jong Un and Putin and Assad and Chavez and, of course, Trump.

“Burn the witch!” reporting seems better suited to generating moral panics and stampeding public opinion toward a pre-ordained outcome, rather than generating that reasoned focus and debate that, you know, might keep us out of a trillion dollar war in Iraq.

My skepticism is also grounded on the backstory behind the original “Murrow moment”. The takedown of McCarthy is celebrated as the ultimate journo righteous kill—and the model and justification for subsequent exercises in advocacy journalism– but it wasn’t quite a clean hit.

Long story short, journos did not speak truth to power in 1954; they piped agitprop to the people on behalf of a systematic campaign to 86 McCarthy orchestrated by President Eisenhower.

I did a deep dive on Murrow/McCarthy back in December 2015, when the anti-Trump norm-setters in journo-land started trying to police coverage of Trump : Yes, the Press Might Do a Joe McCarthy on Trump; Just Not the Way You Think.

If your preferred method for studying history is George Clooney movies, you might find something new here.

The ethical issues involved in overtly going after a pol with one-sided reporting because he was “a threat to the republic” did receive an airing at the time of the Murrow telecast.

Fred Friendly, Murrow’s associate, was quite frank about the fact that to get McCarthy, they needed to do a hit piece on him, as described in this excerpt from Friendlyvision: Fred Friendly and the Rise and Fall of Television Journalism by Ralph Engelman (Columbia University Press, 2011). Friendly is not at all frank about the key role Eisenhower played in the campaign against McCarthy, perhaps out of solicitude to Ike, who became a significant CBS news partner after leaving the presidency. Ah, journoism!:

Engelman writes:

“A Report on Senator Joseph R. McCarthy” is a sophisticated hybrid of two genres: objective reportage and public argument. The opening suggest the conventions of journalistic objectivity…Murrow “trails the Senator like a Greek chorus”…linking and interpreting the sequences…Visual clues reinforce the underlying message…In a departure from normal documentary technique, the camera lingers beyond the conventional edit at the end of the statement to reveal awkward or unsavory imagery…some commentators…criticized the program as a dangerous precedent for the use of the powerful visual medium of television for advocacy journalism…Friendly did not dispute the one-sidedness of the program, recalling that he and Murrow were aware that they had “crossed the line into editorial comment”…Reflecting upon the McCarthy program two decades later, Friendly characterized it as an exception to the general rule that broadcast journalists should avoid taking sides. Under extraordinary extenuating circumstances, “where the future of the republic is involved,” an exception can and should be made…Friendly argued that See It Now could legitimately present for public consideration a critique of a senator who had skillfully used for his own ends a press—print and electronic—that reflexively reported his charges without routinely examining their veracity:

And in the final analysis, what if we hadn’t done the broadcast? And supposing McCarthy had triumphed, as he might well have, then where would…those who criticized the broadcast be?…I think we were balancing how what we knew how to do well against what he did superbly well, which is to be a demagogue. And I’m sorry we had to do it that way. But it was the challenge of a lifetime, a desperate moment for the country, and not to have used it because of a series of rules that we would apply to ourselves and that Senator McCarthy would abuse to the ultimate would have made history judge us very harshly.

The legendary See It Now episode is embedded in my 2015 McCarthy/Trump post, so viewers can judge for themselves.

Subsequently, according to Engelman, CBS jefe Bill Paley sidestepped the whole advocacy issue by saying the news programs don’t editorialize but feature or documentary programs did and in those cases CBS delegated responsibility for content and opinon to those “in whose integrity and devotion to democratic principles CBS reposes complete confidence…” and who are “bound by the overriding policies of fairness and balance”.

So you can see where this is heading. The criteria is “where the future of the republic is involved” and the decisionmakers are journos with “integrity and devotion to democratic principles” and “bound by the overriding policies of fairness and balance”.

Who will police the journos blah blah blah. Especially now that Eisenhower’s dead and can’t share his moral compass.

I imagine there are whole courses at J-schools to teach aspiring journos how to recognize the magic moment when it’s time to engage in a righteous ratf*cking of a dangerous pol. Maybe in the case of Trump critical mass was reached when angry and worried journos received the 10,000th gut-churning anti-Semitic or racist tweet from Trump supporters.

If so, can’t blame them too much. It’s easy to advocate for dispassion and objectivity when you’re puttering along on your little blog and not receiving a torrent of abuse, threats, and explicit targeting.

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 

If by fascist, you mean “adherent of a movement determined to seize state power with the help of violence committed by a disciplined and armed auxiliary, if necessary, to reorder society to achieve extra-constitutional, self-defined racial or ethnic objectives embodied by a charismatic leader”, that is.

Narendra Modi and his BJP party, in my reading, plays the democrat for advantage in the electoral game, but acts the fascist through deniable cutouts—the RSS Hindu nationalist movement and its constellation of affiliates, known collectively as the Sangh Parivar.

The BJP has a membership of about 100 million. Members of Sangh Parivar organizations number in the tens of millions. The VHP, which does the heavy lifting for the Sangh as far as virulent Hindu nationalism goes, reportedly has a membership of almost 3 million.

So if you’re eager to punch fascists in India, better bring some friends…maybe bring a chopper…well, maybe bring a gun…maybe bring a lot of guns.

Fascists play for keeps in India.

Reasonable people can disagree. But before you disagree with me, please read my piece on Modi Is Narendra Modi the Leader of the World’s Largest Democracy…Or the World’s Most Successful Fascist?—and the horror of the pogrom he allegedly orchestrated in Gujarat in 2002–first.

And read this, about the battle to come out on top in the Uttar Pradesh state assembly election, which will be held in stages between February 11 and March 8 in seven phases.

Uttar Pradesh, a.k.a. UP, in addition to being an immense electoral prize in India’s heartland—if independent, its population of 200 million would make it the sixth largest country in the world—is 20% Muslim.

The BJP views that percentage as a challenge, a threat…and an opportunity to display its core competence in the science of communal polarization, intimidation, and worse.

One of the less savory expressions of the philosophy of Hindu nationalism, or Hindutva, that prevails among followers of Modi, the BJP, and the RSS, is the sentiment that Muslims are an affliction, a contamination and, especially via Pakistan, a threat to the purity and vigor of the Hindu polity.

“Reconverting” Indian Muslims back to Hinduism—on the grounds that the vast majority of Hindu Muslims are that way only because of forcible conversion to Islam back in the day and should be helped to return to their true religion—is a big deal for the BJP.

The movement is called “ghar wapsi”—“homecoming” and it’s run by cadet outfits of the RSS.

“Our target is to make India a Hindu Rashtra by 2021. The Muslims and Christians don’t have any right to stay here.”

“So they would either be converted to Hinduism or forced to run away from here,” Uttar Pradesh DJS head Rajeshwar Sing said.

In case you’re laboring under the mis-impression that this is just the frothing of a bunch of marginalized extremist goombahs, for Rajeshwar Sing, the guy quoted above, running Hindu reconversion circuses in UP was his ticket to the big show.

The next year, Sing got promoted to the RSS, the organization Narendra Modi serves as a pracharak, or lifetime cadre, and whose political arm is the BJP.

In 2015, the Times of India reported on Singh’s new responsibilities. Singh obligingly schooled the Times on the hierarchy/deniable cutout arrangement that informs the relationship between the RSS, its multitude of affiliates, and the BJP:

Dharam Jagran Samaj’s Rajeshwar Singh, the force behind the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh’s high-octane ghar wapsi programme in western Uttar Pradesh last year, who was quietly sent on a three-month leave by the RSS later, is back with an elevation. From the fringe body, Singh has now been promoted to the parent organization. According to regional RSS leaders, this is indeed a shot in the arm for Singh.

Singh, who will now be shifting base to Meerut from Agra on April 7, told TOI over phone, “According to our internal hierarchy, RSS is at the top, followed by VHP and others, while DJS is at the bottom of the rung.

Talking about his new role, Singh said, “I have continuously worked for the Sangh’s campaigns and programmes. I will wait for the orders. Even earlier, there were orders to conduct ghar wapsi [“Homecoming” ceremonies for Muslims converting “back” to Hinduism], which I followed.”
“My hard work and struggles have paid off as I am now associated (directly) with RSS.”

To appreciate the tactical coordination between the RSS and the BJP and the endless PR games played by the BJP while it preserves political deniability as it exploits the communal polarization strategy executed by the RSS, it was elsewhere explained that Singh had been sent on vacay for a few months before his promotion not because he was doing a bad job, but because he was doing too good a job. Muslim conversion started to generate too much political heat for the BJP & it was deemed necessary to cool things down:

In December 2014, the RSS leadership had relieved senior pracharak Rajeshwar Singh of his duties in its Dharm Jagran wing for creating an embarrassment for the BJP government through his reconversion drive in Uttar Pradesh, something that he had been doing with RSS’ blessings since 1998.

“There is an understanding where every issue is allowed to be raised with the government, but there is an understanding also that it should not be taken to a stage to create an embarrassment for the government — our government,” said a person privy to the larger understanding in the leadership of the Sangh Parivar.

Uttar Pradesh is historical ground zero for BJP’s politics of Hindutva nationalism and anti-Muslim agitation.

The signature piece of BJP incitement in its career in India–and perhaps the key inflection point in modern Indian history– was the successful campaign to tear down the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya in eastern UP in 1993, on the pretext that it had been sacrilegiously built there by the Moghuls 400 years ago on top of the actual birthplace of Lord Ram.

Here’s a capsule video report. Kar sewaks are religious volunteers, in this case mobilized by the BJP and other Hindu nationalist parties; a lakh = 100,000, so 200,000 people participated in storming the mosque. A puja is a routine religious ritual that was used as a pretext for assembling the 200,000 kar sewaks.

As to consequences, thousands have died in communal violence directly related to the conflict ginned up over the Ayodhya mosque by the BJP. The 2002 pogrom that stains Modi’s tenure in Gujarat was sparked by the deaths of BJP kar sewaks on a train returning from a ceremony at Ayodhya.

Ayodhya defined and affirmed the BJP as a dominating national party and the intimidating voice of Hindu chauvinism.

(Reprinted from China Matters by permission of author or representative)
 
PastClassics
The major media overlooked Communist spies and Madoff’s fraud. What are they missing today?
Which superpower is more threatened by its “extractive elites”?
The “war hero” candidate buried information about POWs left behind in Vietnam.