In the weeks that led up to Chinese President Hu Jintao's first, and likely last, official state visit to Washington today, numerous pensées on the world's most important bilateral relationship splashed across various media. They've included senior statesmen and well-known China hands like Brzezinski and Kissinger (also see Shambaugh and Hachigian and CSIS video). Of course, U.S. officials have also taken turns discussing what's at stake, notably from Tim Geithner, Hillary Clinton, and Bob Gates. Much of the official-speak contrasts with a mainstream U.S. media that seems to have run away with the "China Story" (OK, did Glenn Beck really dedicate an entire show to China?), breathlessly proclaiming Chinese economic superiority -- "our banker, so much money and technology!" -- and lately military prowess -- "oh no, they tested a single stealth fighter!" I would echo my colleague James Fallows that it may not be the best idea to persistently refract our own self-doubts about the state of America through the "Chinese juggernaut" prism.
For China's part, President Hu answered a Wall Street JournalQ&A from the Chinese perspective, while Vice Premier Li Keqiang recently penned an op-ed for the Financial Times. And, importantly, State Councilor Dai Bingguo, who basically runs China's foreign policy, published a piece that seems to reinforce Beijing's collective toning-down of rhetoric on the eve of Hu's visit. The reassertion of the concept of "peaceful development," which has been the guiding principle of Chinese foreign policy for at least a decade or more, indicates mainstream moderate voices may be wresting control again. All in all, the message from Beijing is pretty clear: Do not be afraid of a growing China.
Well it sure sounds like many are invested in what is expected to be a crucial meeting. Indeed, on protocol alone, it is important. While both sides have touted the fact that Obama and Hu have already met one-on-one on seven or eight different occasions, those were far different from a state visit. Even when Hu visited in 2006 under the Bush administration, it was a "semi-official" state visit, with the Chinese president only getting a state lunch. This time, the White House is pulling all the stops, with the requisite pomp, 21-gun salute on the White House lawn, and a lavish state dinner. Word has it that Hu will also visit with key congressional members as well as travel to Chicago to meet with business leaders.
For the Chinese officials -- who are ever so meticulous about each and every detail of the event protocol -- this kind of treatment immediately telegraphs to Beijing the importance of the bilateral relationship. Their particular care on how events proceed is not without reason. Unlike Obama's China visit in 2009, where China could stage-manage and control media, Hu and his delegation realize that they are powerless in the hands of U.S. media and the freedom of protesters. I suspect the memory of that Chinese Falun Gong heckler in front of the White House during Hu's 2006 speech has not been completely erased. Perhaps this is why China plans to run ads that portray the country in a positive light during the visit. Hooray soft power?
But what will be expected of the substance of the meeting, now that it has been imbued with such significance? Without rehashing what many have said, one recurring item on the U.S.-China "wish-list" is the idea of drafting a new joint communique/blueprint that shapes the next 20-30 years of the bilateral relationship. It would aim to recognize that the dynamics between the two major powers and in the global environment have changed and shape how to re-calibrate that relationship appropriately for the 21st century. This isn't going to be a "G2," largely because the Chinese won't go for it. Rather, the aim may be to set some new parameters to guide the behavior of the two largest economies in the world, not only toward each other but their respective roles in the world order.
Whether such an aspirational document materializes is impossible to say at this point. But even without it, an instructive model to follow is the 2009 U.S.-China joint statement. Many may have forgotten that far-ranging document, agreed on by the two presidents, so I would urge you to refer to it again. Much of the substance or "deliverables" of this meeting could potentially emanate from executing on the type of issues raised in that older statement. Certainly, on lower-hanging fruit like clean energy collaboration, investment, and joint research, the chances for deliverables are good. In fact, Hu and his delegation will almost certainly engage in a buying mission as a way to show that China supports US export strategy. Recall that in 2006, Hu visited Seattle first, during which Chinese computer maker Lenovo pledged to buy $1.2 billion worth of legitimate copies of Windows for its machines. On security issues like North Korea, it is difficult to envision significant breakthroughs over a mere four days. Even if progress is made, it will remain behind closed doors and will only be known through a series of actions after the fact.
This brings up a larger point about the current state of the bilateral relationship. It has simply become so multifaceted and pluralistic, with each country's interests extending globally, that friction over diverging interests are unavoidable. But nor are they unmanageable. Tension and common interests are proliferating across virtually every dimension, and depending on which end of the spectrum is chosen for emphasis, a different view of the relationship emerges. It might seem a fairly prosaic observation, but it is ever more pressing to not allow the pendulum to reside at either end of the spectrum (the Chinese are guilty of the same); instead, to inject the necessary nuance required of a more sophisticated and interconnected relationship. Fundamentally, each seems to abide by the notion that neither can afford NOT to get the relationship right.
In fact, citizens in both countries seem to agree. A recent Pew poll showed that nearly 60 percent of respondents believe that it is "very important" to strengthen the US-China relationship. Similarly, a Chinese poll conducted by respected Horizon Research Consultancy jointly with China Daily found that about 55 percent of respondents believe the bilateral relationship is very important (90% say it is "important").
I, too, remain cautiously optimistic. Stay tuned for a wrap-up of Hu's visit.
Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.
The man who made computers personal was a genius and a jerk. A new documentary wonders whether his legacy can accommodate both realities.
An iPhone is a machine much like any other: motherboard, modem, microphone, microchip, battery, wires of gold and silver and copper twisting and snaking, the whole assembly arranged under a piece of glass whose surface—coated with an oxide of indium and tin to make it electrically conductive—sparks to life at the touch of a warm-blooded finger. But an iPhone, too, is much more than a machine. The neat ecosystem that hums under its heat-activated glass holds grocery lists and photos and games and jokes and news and books and music and secrets and the voices of loved ones and, quite possibly, every text you’ve ever exchanged with your best friend. Thought, memory, empathy, the stuff we sometimes shorthand as “the soul”: There it all is, zapping through metal whose curves and coils were designed to be held in a human hand.
In continuing to tinker with the universe she built eight years after it ended, J.K. Rowling might be falling into the same trap as Star Wars’s George Lucas.
September 1st, 2015 marked a curious footnote in Harry Potter marginalia: According to the series’s elaborate timeline, rarely referenced in the books themselves, it was the day James S. Potter, Harry’s eldest son, started school at Hogwarts. It’s not an event directly written about in the books, nor one of particular importance, but their creator, J.K. Rowling, dutifully took to Twitter to announce what amounts to footnote details: that James was sorted into House Gryffindor, just like his father, to the disappointment of Teddy Lupin, Harry’s godson, apparently a Hufflepuff.
It’s not earth-shattering information that Harry’s kid would end up in the same house his father was in, and the Harry Potter series’s insistence on sorting all of its characters into four broad personality quadrants largely based on their family names has always struggled to stand up to scrutiny. Still, Rowling’s tweet prompted much garment-rending among the books’ devoted fans. Can a tweet really amount to a piece of canonical information for a book? There isn’t much harm in Rowling providing these little embellishments years after her books were published, but even idle tinkering can be a dangerous path to take, with the obvious example being the insistent tweaks wrought by George Lucas on his Star Wars series.
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
When Kenneth Jarecke photographed an Iraqi man burned alive, he thought it would change the way Americans saw the Gulf War. But the media wouldn’t run the picture.
The Iraqi soldier died attempting to pull himself up over the dashboard of his truck. The flames engulfed his vehicle and incinerated his body, turning him to dusty ash and blackened bone. In a photograph taken soon afterward, the soldier’s hand reaches out of the shattered windshield, which frames his face and chest. The colors and textures of his hand and shoulders look like those of the scorched and rusted metal around him. Fire has destroyed most of his features, leaving behind a skeletal face, fixed in a final rictus. He stares without eyes.
On February 28, 1991, Kenneth Jarecke stood in front of the charred man, parked amid the carbonized bodies of his fellow soldiers, and photographed him. At one point, before he died this dramatic mid-retreat death, the soldier had had a name. He’d fought in Saddam Hussein’s army and had a rank and an assignment and a unit. He might have been devoted to the dictator who sent him to occupy Kuwait and fight the Americans. Or he might have been an unlucky young man with no prospects, recruited off the streets of Baghdad.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
According to Franklin, what mattered in business was humility, restraint, and discipline. But today’s Type-A MBAs would find him qualified for little more than a career in middle management.
When he retired from the printing business at the age of 42, Benjamin Franklin set his sights on becoming what he called a “Man of Leisure.” To modern ears, that title might suggest Franklin aimed to spend his autumn years sleeping in or stopping by the tavern, but to colonial contemporaries, it would have intimated aristocratic pretension. A “Man of Leisure” was typically a member of the landed elite, someone who spent his days fox hunting and affecting boredom. He didn’t have to work for a living, and, frankly, he wouldn’t dream of doing so.
Having worked as a successful shopkeeper with a keen eye for investments, Franklin had earned his leisure, but rather than cultivate the fine arts of indolence, retirement, he said, was “time for doing something useful.” Hence, the many activities of Franklin’s retirement: scientist, statesman, and sage, as well as one-man civic society for the city of Philadelphia. His post-employment accomplishments earned him the sobriquet of “The First American” in his own lifetime, and yet, for succeeding generations, the endeavor that was considered his most “useful” was the working life he left behind when he embarked on a life of leisure.
Some people see threats even when none are present. Strangely, it can make them more creative.
For much of his life, Isaac Newton seemed like he was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. In 1693, the collapse finally arrived: After not sleeping for five days straight, Newton sent letters accusing his friends of conspiring against him. He was refraining from publishing books, he said at one point that year, “for fear that disputes and controversies may be raised against me by ignoramuses.”
Newton was, by many accounts, highly neurotic. Brilliant, but neurotic nonetheless. He was prone to depressive jags, mistrust, and angry outbursts.
Unfortunately, his genius might have been rooted in his maladjustments. His mental state led him to brood over past mistakes, and eventually, a breakthrough would dawn. “I keep the subject constantly before me,” he once said, “and wait till the first dawnings open slowly, by little and little, into a full and clear light.”
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
First, he was tweeting about peas and guacamole. Then he was making playlists on Spotify. Now, he’s commenting on Facebook posts.
President Obama left a message on the above post by Humans of New York, a popular photo blog run by Brandon Stanton, whose content oscillates between heartwarming and heartbreaking. Here’s the post, with the signature “-bo” signoff the president uses on social media to tell users it’s the real deal.
The post comes a day after the Obama administration secured enough Senate support to guarantee Congress cannot block the nuclear deal brokered with Iran in June. And if you choose to read into its meaning, the post is the latest move by Obama to interact with Iran in ways that other recent U.S. presidents have not. In 2013, Obama spoke with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani by phone, marking the first conversation between U.S. and Iranian heads of state in 30 years.