The dark side of China’s national renewal

The race-based ideas of the country’s leaders have unwelcome historical echoes

by: Jamil Anderlini.


Examples of the west ceding global leadership seem to have become a weekly occurrence. In the vacuum left behind it is natural to look for a replacement and for many, including the mandarins in Beijing, China appears to be the most credible.

But how much do we know about the kind of global leader China wants to be? The best place to start is with the stated intentions of the country’s leaders. On assuming the mantle of the ruling Communist party’s paramount leader in 2012, President Xi Jinping declared it his mission to realise the “China Dream”, which he defined as the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”, according to official translations.

This phrase has been repeated ad nauseam since then and has come to underpin and justify everything China does. Building a new silk road to Europe, rapid expansion of the People’s Liberation Army and militarising artificial islands in disputed waters in the South China Sea — all are part of the glorious task of rejuvenation.
To an English-speaking ear, rejuvenation has positive connotations and all nations have the right to rejuvenate themselves through peaceful efforts.

But the official translation of this crucial slogan is deeply misleading. In Chinese it is “Zhonghua minzu weida fuxing” and the important part of the phrase is “Zhonghua minzu” — the “Chinese nation” according to party propaganda. A more accurate, although not perfect, translation would be the “Chinese race”.

That is certainly how it is interpreted in China. The concept technically includes all 56 official ethnicities, including Tibetans, Muslim Uighurs and ethnic Koreans, but is almost universally understood to mean the majority Han ethnic group, who make up more than 90 per cent of the population.

The most interesting thing about Zhonghua minzu is that it very deliberately and specifically incorporates anyone with Chinese blood anywhere in the world, no matter how long ago their ancestors left the Chinese mainland.

“The Chinese race is a big family and feelings of love for the motherland, passion for the homeland, are infused in the blood of every single person with Chinese ancestry,” asserted Chinese premier Li Keqiang in a recent speech.

This concept is reflected in Hong Kong where any recent arrival who can convince the authorities they are at least part “Chinese” can get citizenship. Meanwhile, people of Indian or white British descent whose families have lived in the territory for over a century will never be granted full citizenship rights.

Some theoreticians in Beijing even argue the modern idea of the sovereign nation state is an illegitimate western invention that contradicts the traditional Chinese notion of “all under heaven”, with the Chinese emperor at the centre and power radiating out from the Forbidden City to every corner of the earth.

Race-based ideas of national rejuvenation and manifest destiny have deep and uncomfortable echoes in 20th-century history and earlier European colonial expansion. That is why Communist party translators have opted for the misleading official translation of “nation” rather than “race”.

For many in the Chinese diaspora this linguistic trick does nothing to ease their discomfort as they are increasingly called on to contribute to the “great rejuvenation” regardless of their nationality or attitudes towards the ruling Communist party. Mr Li said it was the duty of all people of Chinese descent to help achieve the investment, technological development and trade goals of the People’s Republic of China.

He said they are also required to promote traditional Chinese culture (as defined by the Communist party) all over the world and to unwaveringly oppose Taiwan’s independence.

In exchange for compliance, the party offers the prospect of belonging to the “great family” of the Chinese race as well as a chance to participate in the country’s continued economic boom.

But those who reject their filial duty to the Communist party risk being labelled “race traitors”, vilified within expatriate communities and banned from visiting mainland China.

For countries in China’s own neighbourhood the rhetoric of rejuvenation has starker implications.

Under past dynasties and emperors large swaths of their current territory were conquered and controlled by China.

The logic of China’s great rejuvenation is essentially revanchist and assumes the country is still a long way from regaining its rightful level of power, influence and even territory.

The dangerous question for the rest of the world is at what point China will feel it has reached peak rejuvenation and what that will look like for everyone who is not included in the great family of the Chinese race.

An IMF Bridge to Somewhere for Greece?

Mohamed A. El-Erian

ZURICH – The International Monetary Fund has resurrected an old technique – commonly used in the 1980s during the Latin American debt crisis – that would allow Greece to avoid a payment default next month on debt owed to European creditors. The reprieve also gives the IMF and its European partners time to sort out their technical differences on the struggling country’s growth and budget outlook. But the Fund’s elegant compromise still leaves Greece under the shadow of an enormous debt overhang; reducing it requires that Europe find a way to set aside national politics and act on the basis of economic logic and necessity.
Europe and the IMF have been unable to reconcile two views of Greece’s debt sustainability, with the two sides’ differences spilling over into the public domain. Guided mainly by a cash-flow analysis, European authorities argue that low interest rates and long maturities have made the nation’s debt sustainable. But the Fund notes that, at almost 200% of GDP, Greece’s stock of debt deters investment and capital inflows. For the IMF, meaningful debt reduction is critical for generating the confidence and credibility needed to break Greece out of a prolonged period of impoverishment.
This is not the only area of disagreement between Greece’s two major creditors. They also differ on the realism of some key economic projections, including the important nexus between growth and the government budget, with Europe adopting a much more optimistic perspective.
For those of us who have been following the Greek economic tragedy for many years, much of the European view continues to defy economic logic – and for a simple reason: European politicians worry about the domestic political consequences of granting Greece debt relief, especially ahead of Germany’s federal election in September. Offering debt relief, it is feared, could undermine the credibility of governing parties and provide a boost to extremist movements.
To be sure, debt forgiveness is tricky, raising complicated issues of fairness and incentives. Yet, in some cases, there comes a time when refusal to forgive debt is more damaging. European officials know as well as the IMF does that Greece has long been at this stage, turning the country into a permanent “ward of the state” within a eurozone that does not accommodate this outcome well. But they seem unable to act.
With Europe and the IMF failing to agree, Greece has been robbed of the additional funding it needs to clear domestic arrears and meet its rather large external debt-service payments in July. Meanwhile, growth is languishing once again, despite the pickup in European economic performance as a whole.
To overcome this bottleneck, the IMF has compromised, by reviving the practice of approving a financing program “in principle.”
An approval in principle signals the Fund’s endorsement of a country’s economic policy intentions.
This can unlock other funding (in this case, from Europe). But the IMF refrains from actually disbursing its own loans, pending a more satisfactory outcome on overall financing assurances (in this case, proper debt relief for Greece).
It is a short-term compromise that acknowledges Europe’s political calendar and constraints, helps Greece avoid a summer default, and safeguards the IMF’s resources. The arrangement would shift more of the financing burden to Europe, where it properly belongs. And it even provides a signal of unity, despite the important disagreements that remain.
But this is nothing more than yet another temporary solution – or, to be less generous, the continuation of what has come to be known as the “extend and pretend” approach. While the immediate funding issue is indeed addressed, not enough is being done to put Greece on a realistic path of medium-term growth and financial viability. It also risks exposing the IMF to even heavier political pressure, accentuating legitimate questions about the uniformity of its treatment of member countries.
Having compromised, the IMF should now stick to its guns and refuse to make its arrangement for Greece operational until it is satisfied on both debt relief and technical assumptions. And, rather than declare victory, as they were inclined to do in a mid-June statement by eurozone finance ministers, European officials should treat this compromise as the next step in softening its increasingly untenable stance on Greek debt.
In the meantime, both sides would be well advised to undertake a careful analysis of previous experiences with programs that were approved in principle, rather than becoming immediately operational. When defined well, including by specifying a short period for the prospective shift to being fully operational, such programs can serve as a catalyst and conduit for relaxing a binding constraint on growth and financial viability. They need to be part of a constructive process. They do not work as standalone solutions.
Notwithstanding some bumps along the way, the succession of such programs in the 1980s helped avoid disruptive defaults, and culminated in meaningful reductions of debt and debt-service obligations, which helped several Latin American economies restore high growth and financial viability. A few years later, the process was repeated successfully in the debt-reduction programs for low-income countries under the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) initiative.
The grudging short-term compromise between the IMF and Europe comes after months of sometimes acrimonious discussions. For the sake of Greece, and for the credibility of their own future interactions, they should view it as a stepping-stone to the (long-delayed) definitive resolution of Greece’s economic and financial malaise. Greek citizens have waited, and suffered, long enough.

Calling China’s Bluff on North Korea

By Xander Snyder

The U.S. is pushing China deeper into a corner over the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. It wants the Chinese to persuade the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. The popular perception is that Beijing has substantial leverage over Pyongyang, partly because China is North Korea’s largest trading partner. China has also cultivated this impression by frequently offering to act as a mediator with North Korea in exchange for trade concessions from the United States.
Now, the U.S. is resorting to public pressure. The acting U.S. assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs recently urged China to continue to use its leverage over North Korea and said there will be consequences if China does not. More important, U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will hold the first of four planned security discussions on June 21, focusing on tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Casting an ominous cloud over these discussions, Trump tweeted on June 20 that China’s efforts at mediation appeared to have failed. Later that night, U.S. satellites reportedly detected modifications to an underground North Korean test site that may be preparing for the country’s sixth nuclear test.
This all raises the question: Does China have the power to deter the North Koreans, and how much influence does Beijing actually have over Pyongyang?

Steps Taken
China has already taken some steps to try to apply pressure on the North Koreans. In February, Beijing said it halted imports of North Korean coal, in accordance with U.N. sanctions. These sanctions limit North Korean coal exports – which were worth $1 billion in 2014 – to $400 million for the year.

Earlier this month, after North Korea conducted another round of missile tests, the U.N. expanded sanctions by freezing the assets of four North Korean companies and 14 members of the regime and imposing a travel ban on the same individuals. China supported this motion, although enforcing it will require the participation of its financial institutions.
China has also taken action with regard to migrant laborers from North Korea. In March 2016, the Chinese government informally told Chinese companies to stop hiring North Korean workers, according to the Nikkei Asian Review, which cited an anonymous source. North Koreans living abroad provide a vital source of hard currency to the regime, up to $2.3 billion annually according to some estimates.

Chinese vendors sell North Korean and Chinese flags on the boardwalk next to the Yalu River in the border city of Dandong, Liaoning province, northern China, across from the city of Sinuiju, North Korea, on May 24, 2017. Kevin Frayer/Getty Images
Then there’s the question of what China can do that it hasn’t yet done. The answer is: not a whole lot. It could impose greater financial sanctions, from implementing additional asset freezes to a total ban on Chinese companies dealing with North Korean businesses. But it seems unlikely that financial sanctions could deter North Korea from pursuing a program that it considers core to its security interests, especially if pressure on its supply of hard currency and coal exports has not done so already.

That leaves Chinese crude oil exports as Beijing’s strongest remaining point of leverage. North Korea generates most of its electricity from coal, but its military would depend on crude oil if a conflict were to break out. Without it, Pyongyang’s ability to wage war would be significantly curtailed. Though China no longer discloses how much crude oil it exports to North Korea, some estimate that the figure is as high as 500,000 tons per year, or approximately 3.7 million barrels. North Korea is believed to have only minimal capacity to produce crude oil domestically, and its imports from Russia are not substantial. Fear of dwindling oil supplies may be why the regime reportedly restricted gas supplies to government agencies and diplomats about a month ago, turning away other residents.

But China may decide that it’s not in its interest to cut oil supplies to North Korea. If Beijing believes this move won’t actually persuade Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, it may want to avoid antagonizing the North ahead of a possible conflict. If war does break out and the regime survives, China won’t want to be on Pyongyang’s list of enemies.

Exploring All Options
Short of military action, there’s not much China can do. Given these limited options, there are two reasons the U.S. would continue to demand further action from China. First, the U.S. will explore all options within a certain window of time before resorting to force. In the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003, the international community tried to mediate a solution, and the U.S. declined the offer. This time, it will seek mediation from anyone willing to offer – even Dennis Rodman, who visited North Korea just last week.

If it decides that a strike is necessary, the U.S. wants to be able to point out that it tried every diplomatic solution, including using China as a mediator, before it resorted to force. And by pushing China to act as an intermediary, it can argue that it was China, in fact, that failed to prevent the war through its inaction.

The second reason the U.S. is demanding further action from China has less to do with North Korea and more to do with China. Since China has long used its supposed influence over North Korea as a way to gain concessions from the United States, the U.S. is now calling China’s bluff. If China can’t sway the North Koreans, then it will no longer be able to use them as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with the United States.

Statements by officials are often just hot air. In this case, however, by publicly demanding greater action from China, the U.S. is telling the Chinese that the time to act is now. Public posturing is providing the U.S. with real leverage in its private discussions with Beijing. But China’s window of opportunity is closing, and if Trump’s tweet is any indication, it may have already closed.

How Vacations Affect Your Happiness

By Tara Parker-Pope  

They may be relaxing, but can vacations make you happy?
Christie Johnston for The New York Times Do vacations make you happy?
Vacations are a chance to take a break from work, see the world and enjoy time with family.

But do they make you happier?
Researchers from the Netherlands set out to measure the effect that vacations have on overall happiness and how long it lasts. They studied happiness levels among 1,530 Dutch adults, 974 of whom took a vacation during the 32-week study period.
The study, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, showed that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.
After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people. How much stress or relaxation a traveler experienced on the trip appeared to influence post-vacation happiness. There was no post-trip happiness benefit for travelers who said the vacation was “neutral” or stressful.”
Surprisingly, even those travelers who described the trip as “relaxing” showed no additional jump in happiness after the trip. “They were no happier than people who had not been on holiday,” said the lead author, Jeroen Nawijn, tourism research lecturer at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands.
The only vacationers who experienced an increase in happiness after the trip were those who reported feeling “very relaxed” on their vacation. Among those people, the vacation happiness effect lasted for just two weeks after the trip before returning to baseline levels.
“Vacations do make people happy,” Mr. Nawijn said. “But we found people who are anticipating holiday trips show signs of increased happiness, and afterward there is hardly an effect.”
One reason vacations don’t boost happiness after the trip may have to do with the stress of returning to work. And for some travelers, the holiday itself was stressful.
“In comments from people, the thing they mentioned most referred to disagreements with a travel partner or being ill,” Mr. Nawijn said.
The research controlled for differences among the vacationers and those who hadn’t taken a trip, including income level, stress and education. However, Mr. Nawijn noted that questions remain about whether the time of year, type of trip and other factors may influence post-vacation happiness.
The study didn’t find any relationship between the length of the vacation and overall happiness. Since most of the happiness boost comes from planning and anticipating a vacation, the study suggests that people may get more out of several small trips a year than one big vacation, Mr. Nawijn said.
“The practical lesson for an individual is that you derive most of your happiness from anticipating the holiday trip,” he said. “What you can do is try to increase that by taking more trips per year. If you have a two week holiday you can split it up and have two one week holidays. You could try to increase the anticipation effect by talking about it more and maybe discussing it online.”
Mr. Nawijn said that while he expected the study results to show a prevacation happiness boost, he was surprised that the study showed that relaxed holidays didn’t affect post-trip happiness levels.
“People start working again,” he said. “They have to catch up. Usually there is a big pile of work for them when they get back from the holiday.”