A new empire?

Review of China’s Second Continent: How a Million New Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, by Howard W. French. Knopf. 2014.


For the past decade, the West has been obsessed with the narrative of Africa as a continent subject to exploitation by a rising and resource-hungry China. According to Western convention, China, in its rush for resources and wealth, has exerted a corrupting influence upon Africa’s fragile governments. A new book provides the most richly reported and, perhaps, the fairest look yet at how China’s presence is reshaping Africa.

Howard French, a professor at Columbia University and former international correspondent for the Washington Post and New York Times in Africa, China and a host of other locales, is the author of China’s Second Continent. French’s reporting takes him to a dozen African countries and into the lives of a colorful cast of Chinese who, either on their own or as part of state-directed efforts, have found their way to Africa.

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The inevitable vote: the United Nations, Taiwan, and the People’s Republic

After twenty-two years of debate, the United Nations on October 25, 1971 voted to expel Chiang Kaishek’s Republic of China and seat Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic. That vote, made only months before Richard Nixon became the first American president to visit China, would close one chapter of world history and affirm the beginning of China’s reopening to the world. As the first and only decision to effectively expel a member of the United Nations, the vote also marked an important coming of age for the United Nations as a body willing to act independently of the United States.

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Modern family

Review of The Lius of Shanghai, by Sherman Cochran and Andrew Hsieh. Harvard University Press. 2013.


They were the Chinese Rockefellers. At their head stood Liu Hongsheng, head of a Shanghai industrial empire whose family lived through China’s tumultuous war years beginning with the Japanese invasion and ending with the Communist triumph in 1949. Thanks to a unique trove of thousands of letters, in the Lius of Shanghai, it is his role as a father of nine sons and three daughters (and one of each by two mistresses) that is the center of this captivating piece of Chinese history.

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Watch this space: a day at CCTV America

If one were to explore the upper reaches of the cable television universe between the hours of 7 and 9pm Eastern, they might be mistaken for thinking they had stumbled upon a public television broadcast of BBC World News. They would see the same modern, red graphics; an international ensemble of anchors and guests; and a stately presentation free of soundbites and focused on the hard news that never quite make American nightly newscasts at all or with any real appreciation of their complexity. But it wouldn’t be the BBC’s logo that one would see, but that of CCTV: China Central Television, live, in English, broadcasting from Washington, and with every intention of not only superficially modeling the BBC, but ultimately rivaling its influence in every corner of the globe.

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The limits to Obama and Xi’s smiles

Earlier this year, the New York Times reported on a heated exchange between a group of American officials and their foreign counterparts. The Americans, the paper reported, denounced the other side as “deceitful, disrespectful and arrogant… The fact that you ask for ‘mutual respect’ is nothing short of laughable.” Surprisingly, the target of such strong criticism was not, say, China, but Canada, to whom New York State officials were expressing their frustrations over the ironically titled Peace Bridge that connects the two countries. Such negative language belies the very strong affinity Americans and Canadians have for the other, despite a host of trade, environmental, and other disagreements. But it is exactly this strong affinity that counterintuitively allows for direct, even heated, engagement that ultimately facilitates agreement.

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Does America need a stronger China lobby?

Since the normalization of relations between the People’s Republic of China and the United States, China, consistent with the normal practice of international relations, has traditionally engaged the US political system through the executive branch. In the past decade, however, China has initiated efforts to significantly deepen its relationship with Congress. The intensification of Chinese engagement with Congress is driven in part by a shift in the nature of economic relations between the two nations as Chinese entities seek to enter the US market, but is also attributable to a moderation in support from US corporations which have historically lobbied on China’s behalf. Despite China’s heightened engagement with Congress, its influence remains modest. Going forward, the risk of more volatile bilateral relations driven by hostile congressional actions would suggest the need for further cultivation of Sino-Congressional relations – not simply for China’s sake – but for that of the US as well.

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Finding true north in a nonpolar world

The most popular narrative of how the global balance of power is shifting emphasizes the end of the United States’ “unipolar moment” and the return of a multipolar order in which rising powers vie for influence alongside the European Union and the United States. Such a reversion depends upon the assumption that the traditional role of the nation-state will remain unchanged. This is not likely to be the case. As Richard Haass, former president of the Council on Foreign Relations notes, the state is increasingly challenged from all sides: above from global organizations, below from militias and empowered citizens, and from the side from nongovernmental organizations and corporations.

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China and the New Revisionism

Late last month, China’s new president, Xi Jinping, undertook his first trip abroad as head of state. With the country’s once in a decade leadership transition now complete and the Obama administration several months into its second term, it is an appropriate moment to reflect on the evolving U.S.-Sino balance of power.

The past few months have been a banner one for China hawks. Its tit-for-tat complaints at the WTO; its territorial disputes with its Pacific neighbors; the fall boycott of the IMF meeting in Tokyo; and the successful first-ever landing on China’s newly acquired aircraft carrier: all reinforced the impression of a rising China that will challenge the liberal democratic order. Continue reading “China and the New Revisionism”

Chinese soft power: on the shores of West Lake

It has been called the “Kung Fu Panda problem,” or, more recently, the “Gangnam Style question.” Why, China’s leaders and intelligentsia ask, is it American studio Dreamworks which scores a global blockbuster with the film Kung Fu Panda, two of China’s most globally resonant symbols, and not a Chinese studio? And, on the heels of South Korean rapper Psy’s achievement of the most watched video on YouTube, they are also asking, and not without some jealousy, why it is Korean pop playing on iPods worldwide and not Chinese?

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