Category Archives: International Relations

Forced Uighur Assimilation: Deja Vu?

OK, reader, let’s assume that you were forcibly taken from your family and home to a residential school by age 6. There, you would not be able to speak your native language or practice your native religion. You couldn’t wear your traditional clothing and would be thoroughly regimented. You would not be able to leave the school voluntarily. What actually took place in your new residence and school would be mostly kept from public view. The public would be told that you are being well taken care of and are learning useful vocational skills. You are not allowed to complain about what happens to you. The government is finding ways to settle people on the lands so long used by your families.

You are at a “reeducation” camp. You are being forced to assimilate; or, to put it another way, forced to participate in the genocide of your culture.

So, who are you and where are you?

Your choices are: (1) boarding schools for Native Americans; or, (2) boarding schools for Uighurs currently living in Xinjiang Province in China.

Actually, you could be at either one. Maybe that helps explain why there isn’t that much outrage over what is happening to the Uighurs in China? Whenever the U.S. complains, which it seldom does, about what China is doing to its Uighurs, the Chinese government will bring up what the U.S. did with its Native Americans. V.P. Pence and Sec. of State Pompeo have condemned Chinese policies towards the Uighurs. But, has President Trump applied sanctions on China for these policies?

No. He has several times expressed praise for China’s strongman Xi Jinping without expressing reservations about Xi’s human rights abuses which have become worse over time.

The Chinese will cite that there have been terrorist activities carried out by Uighurs. And, there have been as part of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM), a group that uses violence to set up an independent East Turkistan. That movement is considered by the U.N. Security Council and by the U.S. government, post 9/11, as a terrorist organization. One could argue that the U.S. and the U.N. have provided the Chinese government with a rationale for their above described policy though, in fact, there have been but a few Uighurs who have conducted terrorist attacks.

Well, how about the “hostiles” among our Native Americans who resisted, by force, being placed on reservations on land that no white man wanted?

Are there significant differences between the two choices noted above? Yes, (1) the Chinese have implanted a thorough going surveillance system to track residents wherever they go using facial recognition cameras and DNA samples tied to a database. But, those kinds of technology were unknown in the later 19th century in the U.S. (2) The Native Americans were NOT U.S. citizens whereas the Uighurs are Chinese citizens. But, does Chinese citizenship entitle the Uighurs to anything like our Bill of Rights? Only in theory. (3) the Uighurs are Muslims while the Native Americans had their own religions. (4) The ETIM is tied to terrorist groups outside of China including the Taliban and Al Qaeda whereas the Native Americans had no such support.

Given our own history with Native Americans and more recently with those detained near our border, what should President Trump do about the human rights abuses carried out against the Uighurs?


China’s Belt and Road Initiative: Far More Than the Old Silk Road

Suzanne, my wife, and I have been on the old silk road in Kazakhstan.  If there is a “middle of nowhere” this had to be it!  The photo below is a caravansary which was a welcome place to stay on the way to and from China to the Middle East on the old silk road.  Its origins dated to the second century BCE and was an important trade route until the end of the 14th century.  While it was known for the transport of silk, it had other purposes as well.

As important and exotic it may have been, China’s Belt and Road Initiative is much more sweeping in its purposes and connections.  As the map here shows, its Belts (actually the roads) and the Roads (actually the sea routes) connect multiple cultures and nations, 71 by recent count.  It encompasses over half of the world’s population and a quarter of the global BDP.  It meets China’s needs for markets to its excess capacity while open for trade from many nations.  China has already invested $210 billion in it, chiefly construction of infrastructure and will amount to at least $340 billion for those purposes.

Art and Suzanne Pitz on a Caravansari on the Old Silk Road

It has proved controversial since a number of the impacted nations now owe half of their foreign debt to China.  The list includes Djibouti, Kyrgystan, Laos, the Maldives, Mongolia, Montenegro, Pakistan, and Tajikistan.  This “debt trap diplomacy” understandably worries many about Chinese economic imperialism.  In response, China has forgiven substantial amounts of that debt perhaps to curry favor.  There have also been concerns that the belts for trade could also be belts for the Chinese military though China has yet to exhibit much interest in doing so outside of developing a port/base at Djibouti.

So, what is China up to?  Much of it is Xi’s vision for China. He has been heavily influenced by studies of the rise and fall of the Qing Dynasty.  Its crises came to a bloody height in the 1860s rather like the U.S. has been so influenced by its own Civil War.   That era included a series of “unequal” treaties begun with Great Britain’s successful efforts to force China to accept the importation of opium.  China had a huge army and a decent sized navy with cannon, but the British cannon outranged the Chinese.

Gunboat diplomacy worked and China paid the price.  Xi is not about to have China give in to any more unequal treaties.  Instead, his vision for China’s return to greatness is hinged on the Belt and Road Initiative.  It is more than about hard infrastructure.  It includes China setting up international courts to resolve commercial disputes relating to this Initiative based on models established by Dubai and Singapore that have been accepted.  Will those courts indeed be independent of Beijing?

As an example of its importance, the map makes clear that Iran is essential for the initiative’s success.  Hence, China has become Iran’s main weapons provider and co-conspirator in finding ways to evade Trump’s sanctions on Iran.  It does not appear that President Trump is sufficiently aware of Xi’s motivations and goals.  How should the U.S. deal with this Initiative in your view?

South China Sea: Overlapping Claims

Take a look at the map of the overlapping claims in the South China Sea.  Why should we pay attention?


For one, close to 30% of all of the world’s trade goes through it.  Most are aware of the importance of the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal, Gibraltar, and the Strait of Hormuz; however, not so many know about the strategic location of the Strait of Malacca which helps make Singapore a wealthy city state.

Secondly, it is the second most important choke point for the transport of oil, the first being the Strait of Hormuz; yet, it is first for two thirds of internationally traded LNG (liquified natural gas).  This Strait is VITAL for Japan, Korea, AND China as so much of their energy comes via that route.  It is the shortest sea route between Persian Gulf suppliers and key Asian markets. China has astoundingly built islands from scratch from the ocean floor with facilities such as air fields and port facilities potentially to control the sea routes.

Third, the U.S. Energy Information Agency estimates that the South China Sea holds about 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 11 billion barrels of oil in proved and probable reserves, most of which lie along the margins of the South China Sea rather than under disputed islets and reefs.  See the map provided to see the locations of the artificially made Paracel Islands and the Spratley Islands. An old principle of real estate ownership applies here: location, location, location. How does their location impact the region’s trade?

All of this highlights how important it is to have dominant sea power located there, thanks to the dictums set down by Alfred T. Mahan so many years ago. Thus far, that sea power is in the hands of the U.S. Navy though China is enhancing their’s with the apparent goal of surpassing the U.S. Navy in that region. China is not yet committed to building a world wide high seas navy, only to have a navy to protect their interests in the South China Sea and Djibouti in the Middle East.

Artificial Islands in the South China Sea (from Wikipedia)

Actually, as the second map discloses, some claims have been solved.  It is the rest that are problematic. In 2016, a South China Sea arbitration tribunal of the Hague attempted to resolve China’s claims to resources and ruled that their claims were incompatible with the UN Convention on the Sea’s ruling of that region’s high seas open to all.    China has yet to accept the results. How that is to be resolved is still unclear.

Finally, the Strait of Malacca IS essential for China’s Belt and Road Initiative to be carried out.  Will China attempt to control it?  And, if so, what can be done about that?  China may intend to control the South China Sea; but, the Strait of Malacca is probably out of its reach for some time.  At the very least, we can expect growing tensions within the South China Sea between the various nations, especially China, laying claim to substantial portions of it. 

It is a potential flash point. What do you think can be done about their claims?

China: Quo Vadis?

Our relations with China have become increasingly complicated since Xi has acquired more power. He has instituted more of a regulatory state, BUT there has also been a significant growth in entrepreneurship. Their small businesses on the whole are doing better than what ours have experienced in the Covid-19 crisis. It is a countervailing power to Xi’s power acquisition. There is an inbuilt tension between the two.

Trump’s main interest has been in trade but that distracts from much larger trends at work. His efforts to blame China for the covid-19 breakout are unlikely to bear fruit. And, even if those efforts proved China was somehow responsible for causing the breakout were successful, the U.S. option are limited.

Xi and his ruling party are highly influenced by their perceptions of the Qing’s dynasties serious problems that led to humiliation from the U.K. Americans tend to see free trade as a positive good. China’s leadership sees free trade as hypocritically advantageous for the U.S. We think of religious freedom as a main source for stability, but the PRC sees Christianity and Islam as destabilizing. Thus, their regime suppresses both. Hong Kong appears to Americans as an economic success story, but China is reminded of British imperialism. China sees Trump’s America First as but a new version of that.

Here are several areas where China is unlikely to relent: (1) China has made an irrevocable commitment to state controlled capitalism while allowing for individual entrepreneurship. (2) China is not wedded to a coherent, universal ideology. The Communist Party of China is no longer Communist, but the Party is committed to one party rule albeit with allowance for elections at the local levels. (3) China does not have nor is it likely to have an independent judiciary let alone a free press. (4) China is not going to quit exporting technology. (5) China is not likely to give up on requiring those who build plants in China to share their technology secrets with China. (6) China’s BRI (Belt and Road Initiative) is inextricably linked to their future though their ruling party sees that their implementation has evoked resistance and must be modified. China seeks to restore its greatness at the center of the world.

Perhaps most important of all, China’s long history and deeply imbedded extended village relationships have favored the collective over the individual. China has no experience with western style democracy in its own governance nor is it likely to. The issue really has been more how authoritarian will its government be. It has learned from the horrid excesses imposed by Mao that Xi is just not going to be a mass murderer. Strong centralized control, yes, but murderous on a large scale, no. Concentration camps for the Muslims in its West, yes, but mass murder no.

China has been remarkably stable since Deng’s reforms of 40 years ago, the longest period of stability in China’s modern life. The model he put in place has stood the test of time, but it will not lead to democracy any time soon. Those who want to see China today as simply a warmed-over version of Mao’s totalitarian, murderous regime are mistaken.

But, China has inbuilt issues that will be hard for it to resolve and continue to grow economically. It is aging especially thanks to the long-term deleterious effects of its previous one child policy. Its exam system to enter the best colleges is so strict and jobs so insufficient for those who pass them that it has yet to resolve this disconnect. Its BRI has engendered legitimate complaints of being too overbearing in imposing debts upon its recipients. For this initiative to achieve a genuine win/win status, China must adapt. The U.S. by itself is unable to take much advantage of these issues.

Cuba Si Yankee Si

We’ve been through a long history of “Cuba Si, Yankee No.” President Obama along with our Congressional Representative, Cheri Bustos, are in Cuba building on restored relationships, but our history with Cuba dates back to the Ostend Manifesto before the Civil War. After the Civil War, Cuba became a U.S. protectorate and we permanently acquired Guantanamo Bay. FDR’s “Good Neighbor Policy” changed that, but relations deteriorated when Castro came to power.  The economic embargo is still in place, but dilomatic relations have resumed and changes initiated by Pope Francis are taking place. For more background on Cuba, watch my Guantanamo series. I think it was time for change. What do you think?

How Did We React to Refugees in the Past?

Is there anything in our history comparable to our current refugee situation? Yes, the year was 1798.

A bit of necessary background first–The French Revolution which began in 1789 reached its most radical and horrid stage with its Reign of Terror from 1792-5 which unleashed an exodus, many to the U.S. and others to Canada. As a two party system began to develop in this era, most of these refugees gravitated to the party of Jefferson and Madison which will impact our story. Continue reading How Did We React to Refugees in the Past?

What Do the Iranian Election Results Mean?

Iranians are proud of their democratic elections, though we would hardly call them “democratic.” They’re rigged as much as possible against regime opponents. Still, moderates won a fairly decisive victory. It looks from early idications like Obama’s gamble is working. Don’t get me wrong, the levers of power are still in the hands of the hard-liners, but I’m not sure how long they can hang on. A good part of the youth of Iran is disaffected. Women are gaining ground.  If you look closely, you can see a parallel in our policies toward Cuba and Iran. That’s my opinion. What do you think? Please comment.

Why and How Do We Have Prisoners at Guantanamo?

Why and how do we have prisoners at Guantanamo? As part of the war on terrorism, President Bush issued an order that suspect terrorists are not entitled to the rights of the Geneva Convention. To try to get useful intelligence suspected terrorists were subject to renditions at black sites off the radar in places like Egypt. How much useful intelligence was gained is a matter of debate. The Gitmo prisoners end up in a “no man’s land” because of the lack of choices. What now? I’ll take that up next. What do you think?