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The Debate Over Confucius Institutes

The Debate Over Confucius Institutes

A ChinaFile Conversation

Last week, the American Association of University Professors joined a growing chorus of voices calling on North American universities to rethink their relationship with Confucius Institutes, the state-sponsored Chinese-language programs whose policies critics say are anathema to academic freedom. We asked contributors to discuss the debate. Specifically: the costs and benefits of having a Confucius Institute on a university campus; the economic forces at play; and the role of China in university life more broadly. 

Update: Several readers have noted with dismay that this Conversation does not include an entry by someone who works for or with a Confucius Institute. We share this concern. We have solicited responses to our original question—and to the discussion as it has developed—from numerous employees of universities that have Confucius Institutes as well as from people who teach at Confucius Institutes, and people who work with and for Hanban. So far, none of the people in the above categories whom we have approached has been willing or able to contribute. We welcome such contributions. 

Update: Due to the length of this thread, we are continuing the conversation on a second page. Please visit: “The Debate Over Confucius Institutes Part II” to read more. —The Editors

Responses

Beijing’s Confucius Institute effort on American campuses has its ancestry in Republic of China, Republic of Korea, and perhaps other countries’ efforts to “do well by doing good” in American academia. It should not be viewed as uniquely insidious, in spite of China’s exceptionally rapid economic and strategic ascent in recent years. To view the CIs through the prism of a looming Chinese threat to the core elements of American national life, material, military, or moral, is a mistake.

Nowadays, Big China is indeed on a roll, publicly entertaining a “Chinese Dream” of national “rejuvenation,” but at the same time pondering how to be received by others as something more attractive than a gate crasher. The leadership’s steady concern, for the past decade or more, with Public Diplomacy—combined with its bulging coffers and the never-ending reminders of America’s Wow Factor on the world stage (LeBron James, “Transformers,” Starbucks)—are leading Official China to grapple with the problem of what defines China for its own inhabitants and what defines China for everyone else on earth.

Lest we forget, China has a gigantic, marvelous cultural repertoire, worthy of world interest and respect. From the first Archaeological Exhibition to visit the U.S. in the 1970s, through the “China: Seven Thousand Years of Discovery” show that dazzled Americans in the 1980s, and ever since, China has quite properly found Americans eager to see and learn more about a wondrous civilization so different from their own.

Moreover,as Big China has gotten bigger on the world stage, learning about China has become a pressing goal for widening swathes of American students, teachers, and administrators.

At the core of that growing interest is the Chinese language itself. Happily for the U.S., there is a big market now for Chinese language study. Anyone who gets into it quickly realizes that Chinese language and Chinese culture are inseparable. We owe it to ourselves to start with the language when we can.

The problem is that, in any educational institution, language instruction costs money and competes for scarce resources. China’s willingness to finance a Chinese language instruction worldwide, speaks to that financial need, at least at many less prestigious schools.

On its face, I would argue that expansion of Chinese language instruction in America is a good thing, and that it should be welcomed. If a school can’t do it alone, the language-instruction resources made available by a CI should be utilized, assuming that the instructors are competent to teach American students and willing to adhere to a set of commitments to ethically responsible classroom behavior.

These requirements should include a stated commitment to tolerate diverse viewpoints, and a signed commitment not to use any academic threats or pressures against those of divergent political or ethical opinions.

Such clear affirmations of academic freedom should be specified in each school’s agreement with Hanban, the Chinese agency sponsoring Confucius Institutes. If Hanban cannot accept such stipulations, then there should be no agreement. The responsibility for determining that these commitments are being upheld should reside solely in the hands of the host institution.

That said, I favor giving CIs the benefit of the doubt, until specific problems arise at individual institutions. If serious (not spurious or frivolous) complaintsabout the behavior of a CI teacher should arise, the matter should be investigated and handled by the host institution, whose sovereignty should be stipulated and agreed to with the Hanban. Ideally, Hanban would not try to derail such investigations; any threats to pull support would have to be rejected.

I have long felt that a formless fear of a nameless “China Tide” lurks below the surface of the American discourse on China. Noxious emanations from China seem to threaten Americans in their daily lives and in their homes, or to offend their sensibilities: contaminated pet food or doctored medicines; fear of growing throngs of Gucci-gobbling tourists; fear of Chinese workers making what we once made for ourselves; legions of geeky, malevolent cyber-invaders.

For most Americans, China’s political system is not a pretty sight, and we would not want it established, or propagated, in our own environment. Should an individual Confucius Institute pursue those goals in the U.S., we would rightly and urgently tell the CI’s to go elsewhere.

But that, if I understand it correctly, is not what the CIs are doing. If the CIs are teaching Chinese language effectively to legions of young Americans who would otherwise not have an opportunity to experience that language and to begin to touch China’s cultural environment through language, I say good on them. If a CI, or a CI instructor, oversteps the line, host schools should step in, address the problem and push the “reset” button without erasing the whole CI file. To treat the whole CI phenomenon as another alarming surge of the nameless China Tide strikes me as itself an implicit denial, not a defense, of American liberal traditions Eternal vigilance is indeed the price of liberty, but summary or pre-emptive administrative action is something else again.

Finally, for the sake of discussion, I hope others, including working academics, might comment on how subjects involving deeply (but not universally) held religious or poltical beliefs, at any number of American educational institutions operated and funded by religious organizations or religio-political organizations, are treated. The issues raised in this discussion, paradoxically, may turn out not to be solely about China after all.

I have misgivings about Confucius Institutes (hereafter CIs) and hope U.C. Irvine never gets one.  But I may not have much say in this.  Administrators don’t always consult with China studies scholars when trying to decide whether to sign on the dotted line—nor consult with us about terms, which can vary widely.  Moreover, when picking an American director for a CI to share leadership duties with a Beijing-appointed counterpart, U.S. administrators don’t necessarily choose China specialists. Along with more frequently noted worries (that a CI might lobby to prevent a visit by the Dalai Lama or the holding of a workshop on a taboo topic, etc.), these things make me uncomfortable about the CI phenomenon.

Let me be clear, though: there are China specialists I know and respect who had a say in the deals struck to bring CIs to their campuses.  I have friends in the field who are local directors and who assert—and I believe them—that they’ve seen no evidence of ham-handed or even subtle efforts by their Chinese counterpart to interfere with routine or even envelope-pushing activities. Their experiences suggest that visions of CIs as one-size-fits-all entities that are part of a carefully orchestrated nefarious conspiracy are problematic.

An anecdote of my own has similar implications. Some time ago, I found out, but not until just before giving a talk, that the local CI was my visit’s sponsor.  I was annoyed and tweaked my planned lecture to show it. In my new opening, I said that since a CI was sponsoring the event, a few words on Confucius were in order. I found it odd, I said, that China’s ruling party had excoriated Confucius when Mao Zedong headed the country, yet now named institutes in his honor.  The official line on history was still that Mao was better than his anti-Communist rival Chiang Kai-shek, I continued, but the present veneration of Confucius as a national saint fit better with Chiang’s worldview than with Mao’s.

Was the Beijing-appointed head of the CI outraged? No, she wasn’t even miffed.  She said she loved the talk and I’d be welcome to come back and speak again any time.

So, CIs need not be problematic, if the right terms are struck and held to.  But remember: good terms only lead to good things if both sides make good on their promises. And institutions have to be ready to sever all ties with a CI that interferes with core academic values, even if doing so means losing CI funds and risking the flow of other revenue streams with ties to Beijing.

Is this important? Yes. It’s easy to get addicted to any sort of funding in tough budgetary times. And two words remind us that Beijing sometimes pretends that old promises were never made or if made don’t need to be honored: “Hong” and “Kong.”  The recent White Paper on the city should be mandatory reading for anyone considering saying “yes” to a CI.

  

Bob Kapp is right that China has a “marvelous cultural repertoire,” that Americans should learn more about it, that Chinese culture is best learned through Chinese language, that Chinese-language programs in North America need more resources, and that it would be nice if China pitched in.

None of that is the point, of course. What the AAUP objects to, rightly, is the problem of “unacceptable concessions to the political aims and practices of the government of China.”

A few months ago Steven Levine, at the University of Montana, as part of his Tiananmen Initiative Project, wrote to about 200 Confucius Institutes around the world asking what plans they had for marking the twenty-fifth anniversary of June 4, 1989—by any account an important day in modern Chinese history, one that people interested in China should know about. Levine received no responses. Not one. He did hear, informally, that his letter caused consternation on some campuses.

Bob Kapp’s answer to dangers of political interference is that there be “stated commitments” and that if someone “oversteps a line” we fix the problem, “push the reset button,” and move on.

My goodness. Are we still this naïve in our understanding of how self-censorship works? (The view, not the person, is naive.) Do we think it is as open and mechanical as stating commitments, observing lines, and pushing reset buttons?

Let’s do a thought experiment: You are the American director of a Confucius Institute. You have not received any letter from Steven Levine. On your own, it occurs to you that the twenty-fifth anniversary of the June Fourth massacre is approaching. You know that it was indeed a massacre, because you are old enough to remember seeing the videotapes that showed the fire and the blood. So what now? Do you propose a Confucius Institute event to remember the massacre? Of course not. The notion is out of place, indeed far-fetched. So June Fourth passes silently at your CI. Now let’s ask these questions: did anyone overstep a line in prohibiting you from doing something? No. Was any “stated commitment” violated? No. Did you yourself do anything wrong? No. (You may have omitted a moral act but you committed no immoral one.) Can you honestly tell your friend Jeff Wasserstrom that no Chinese counterpart has interfered with you? Yes. Does any re-set button need pushing? No. Everything is normal. “Everything” is “normal.”

In the end, were the AAUP’s worries about “the political aims and practices of the government of China” vindicated? Quite.

I will not be persuaded by an objection that says the June Fourth example is an extreme, and therefore negligible, case, and that there are plenty of other things to talk about in bustling Big China. I will not be persuaded because, if we rule out not just June Fourth but all the other “sensitive” issues—Xinjiang, Tibet, Taiwan, Falun Gong, Occupy Central, the Nobel Peace Prize, the spectacular private wealth of leaders’ families, the cynical arrests of rights advocates and sometimes their deaths in prisons, and more—we are left with a picture of China that is not only smaller than the whole but crucially different in nature.

Is it the main goal of CIs to spread abroad an overly rosy portrait of Chinese society, misleading in crucial ways, or is the main goal, as Bob Kapp suggests, to help foreigners learn Chinese? Let’s try another thought experiment. What if the Chinese Language Teachers Association, a U.S. group, wrote a letter to the Hanban saying yes, we badly need teachers, textbooks, and equipment; why don’t you set up a foundation, something like the Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation, to which we can apply for needed funds? Would the Hanban agree? The AAUP statement calls the Hanban an “an arm of the Chinese state.” Would that arm be ready to reach out with funds alone—in support of language-learning alone?

So far, the Hanban has sent people along with the funds. The purpose of this choice, clearly, is to spread official government views and to give those views a human face. Even massacres can be forgotten behind a winning smile. Are CI teachers selected for their readiness to represent the government? Yes, of course. But it is important to understand that an even stronger dynamic is at work: CI teachers themselves face the same wordless intimidation that you experienced if you did my thought experiment in paragraph six. How much these teachers may or may not agree with their government about massacres, Tibetans, the justifiability of huge fortunes for top leaders, etc. are questions they cannot speak about in public inside China and still more must never utter in front of foreigners while abroad. For them, the penalties for infraction are much steeper than anything an American CI director has to face. Accordingly, for American students in a CI classroom, the difference between a teacher who, inside, completely agrees with government views and one who, inside, might not agree, is almost always invisible. On the surface it appears that all Chinese support their government’s views.

About five years ago the U.S. government made a “pivot” toward Asia whose main point, even if unacknowledged, was to counter aggressive winds from Beijing. The U.S. shift was primarily military even though the visible threat (at the time, anyway) was not especially military. Might the pivot have done more with soft power—the arena in which Beijing was, in fact, already active? For example, can the U.S. not afford its own Chinese-language programs? Do schools need to reach out to Beijing and say yes, we will accept your language teaching and will swallow hard to accept in addition your program to make the world save for autocrats, even if it means misleading our young? One B-2 Spirit Bomber costs about $2.4 billion, and there are about 72 Confucius Institutes in the U.S. What will do more to protect our future? One more B-52 or a few million dollars to every campus that wants an honest Chinese language program?

I am unrestrained in my enthusiasm for Perry Link’s destruction of Bob Kapp’s entry. (Sorry,Bob.) 

Indeed, self-censorship on China is becoming a massive problem, ranging from Bloomberg to Hong Kong to visa-seeking academics to contract-seeking business executives, to just about anyone who attends think tank conferences which include Chinese.

On this aspect and all others, Perry’s rebuttal is so eloquent and devastating that I have nothing to add.

Reluctantly, I find Perry’s arguments entirely persuasive. To make full disclosure, I say that as one who, several years ago, received an award from the CI of the University of Hawaii, which, I  believe, prided itself on being the first in our country! To its credit it made the award to recognize the importance of political and civil rights for China and welcomed my talk on the subject.

China, of course, has a rich and remarkable cultural heritage, though not one that has always been treated kindly in the modern era. And of course it is a good thing if more people learn Chinese. But many national cultural institutions teach their native languages and propagandize their cultures (in the non-perjorative sense) without occupying places within academic institutions. The Institut Francais, the British Council and the Goethe Institute manage to fulfill their remits outside the walls of the academy, and play their soft power roles, therefore, without raising fears of any conflict with academic freedoms or traditions.

This is a key difference and takes us to the financial condition, certainly of British universities. These now depend heavily on overseas students, of whom the Chinese students are a large cohort. They are welcome. What are not welcome, and there are many examples from around the world, are attempts by Chinese officials to condition intellectual life in the host institutions – be it by discouraging a visit by the Dalai Lama or Rebiya Kadeer, or, as happened in one case, vetting the invitation list to a conference on the sage himself – through threats to discourage future Chinese students from enrolling in the university. Such cases are not answered by CI MOUs, since the dependency is real.

I am pleased to hear that Jeff Wasserstrom’s experience was positive. Mine was not. I contributed to a short book for 6th Formers (12th graders) on China, without knowing that it was sponsored by a CI. The chapter was to the length requested, and it was not until I saw a copy at the launch event that I discovered that an entire passage about the work and subsequent arrest of the Lake Tai campaigner Wu Lihong had been excised. I wish I could believe that it was just coincidence.

Why does Columbia University have a Confucius Institute? It is well-staffed with departments and programs on China, including language, where I studied it in the mid-1950s. Here in London, at the London School of Economics, where the director has evaded proper debate on its CI, for years students interested in China have walked down the road to the School of Oriental and African studies to learn Chinese. Whether Chinese has a magnificent culture or not is neither here nor there. What is both here and there is that Beijing threatens, usually sucessfully, those who disobey its commands. Even the Norwegians agreed to snub, or “sacrifice,” an official visit from the Dalai Lama to keep on some sort of unexplained good terms.

As Perry Link notes in his contribution to this forum, as part of the Tiananmen Initiative Project I launched last fall to encourage commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the massacre, I wrote to over 200 Confucius Institute directors. “On behalf of an international group of China scholars and others, I am writing to ask that your Confucius Institute mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of liu si with a public event such as a lecture, a teach-in, a roundtable discussion or the like that addresses the relevant historical and contemporary issues. In The Analects (2:24) Confucius himself said, “Not to act when justice commands, that is cowardice.” We appeal to your conscience and sense of justice to act with courage.” With the exception of one positive message, the lack of any other response suggests that expediency and cowardice rather than conscience and justice are the hallmarks of the CIs. Not surprising in view of their provenance and the role they play in China’s cultural diplomacy.

A confession. In 2007, without having given the matter sufficient thought, I myself, then an associate director of the Mansfield Center at the University of Montana, shared responsibility for a successful application to the Hanban to establish a Confucius Institute at my university, a typically underfunded state university with a woefully inadequate Asian Studies program. Our institutional poverty rather than our greed motivated us. We pledged to ourselves to brook no interference from Beijing in what we did. As far as I am aware, there has been none except, of course, in terms of the recruitment criteria for teachers in China itself that preclude any who would function as anything other than mouthpieces of the Chinese state.

What I failed to consider at the time, though I should have known better, was what might be called the side effects of the seemingly benign CI medicine that Beijing prescribed for the financial deficiency disease from which my institution suffered. Of course, as others have noted, there is the inherent danger of self-censorship, which may or may not even operate at a conscious level. Just as important is that the CIs function to conceal the ugly features of a repressive regime whose relentless depredations against its own people as well as its increasingly truculent international behavior require no recitation to readers of this website.

Chinese culture and language are undoubtedly magnificent contributions to world culture. Yet there are surely other ways than accepting handouts from Beijing to bring them to our students and our fellow citizens. Russia, too, has a great culture and language. Yet would we have blithely accepted Pushkin Institutes on our campuses funded by the murderous Stalinist autocracy? King Sejong of the Joseon Dynasty was a great figure in Korean history and culture. Would we accept King Sejong Institutes on our campuses funded by the tyrannical regime in Pyongyang?

There are better ways to partake of China’s cultural heritage than to sacrifice our integrity.

I have not had any first-hand experience with Confucius Institutes, but I have been on what some might call the other side of the relationship. From summer 2001 to April 2003, I was a Peace Corps Volunteer who taught English and Western culture at a small teachers’ college in Fuling, a small industrial city in Southern China.

I was one of approximately 80 new Volunteers in China that year. My training, conducted in the Sichuanese city of Leshan by a team mostly comprising current or former Volunteers and Chinese nationals, did not dwell much on political questions. When it did, I recall it focusing on how to avoid offending our Chinese hosts. That included being extremely cautious when discussing the “three T’s”: Tibet, Tiananmen, and Taiwan. (I remember being told nothing about how we were to speak of the United States, although we were encouraged generally to comport ourselves in a way that didn’t bring shame on our country.)

The advice about Chinese sensibilities was almost certainly well-meaning, and practical, at least in a narrow sense. A clumsy, premature lurch into such sensitive topics by a new Volunteer (one after all sent by U.S. authorities) would only have alienated our hosts. One colleague told me how he had attempted to discuss the 2001 Hainan spy plane incident in an earlier semester by highlighting how well the downed Americans seemed to be getting on with their Chinese minders. He said the atmosphere in the classroom quickly turned toxic; some students began to cry, others stood to denounce him, and still others walked out. They thought he was depicting China as weak. He told me he never taught that group again. It was hard to put that anecdote out of my mind as I planned my own lessons.

Authorities in Fuling also seemed aware of what might go “wrong.” Peace Corps trainers told us to assume we were monitored. I formed some warm friendships with some of my students, who were scarcely younger than I, and in my second year they told me the Communist Party Secretary at the school had warned students to stay away from the foreign teachers, advice many of them cheerfully ignored. Near the end of our stay, the dean of our English department introduced me and my fellow Volunteers to a friendly, portly man from the local Public Security Bureau, who the dean said had been keeping tabs on us. This wasn’t an effort to intimidate; odd as it sounds, I think it was meant to showcase the pains our hosts had taken to handle us carefully and to keep us safe.

I don’t know what specific instructions CI instructors receive before they touch down in the United States, but I would not be surprised if it were couched in similar terms. I would bet they are asked to focus on keeping dialogue “constructive” and “positive” and to avoid letting students or colleagues be “disrespectful.” As we debate the relative value of Confucius institutes, one acute question is at what point laudable cross-cultural sensitivity becomes a self-serving acceptance (or promotion) of a particular political status quo. If there is simply no room at all for respectful criticism or even friendly discussion of a certain question, that indicates the topic has been too severely ring-fenced. In such a case, American educators do no service by observing existing boundaries. They may tell themselves they are being sensitive, or practical, but they’re really just caving in. And their students—Americans, Chinese, and everyone else—probably notice.

Right now, the most important relationship in the world is between the U.S. and China. Like any relationship, it won’t blossom if both parties play it entirely “safe.” I think people respect tough questions, at least coming from those with an awareness of the other’s culture and life experience. Since we are playing host to Confucius Institutes, and not the other way around, I think it’s fair to ask staff members there to engage topics that are important to the students whom they purportedly serve. If a CI instructor happens to hold a view in line with Beijing’s, the instructor should at least advance an argument. (I note the absence of anyone from a CI in this particular thread.) I told my students in China they were free to ask me any question at all, and they often asked very pointed questions about American life. Confucius Institutes should be held to the same standard.

From time to time, we should be able to tell our friends what they don’t want to hear. If we can’t, perhaps they’re not our friends after all.

First, any increase in the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in schools is a positive. And we all benefit from greater understanding of Chinese culture and history (as long as the bad is taught with the good).

The questions for our schools and our society are whether Confucius Institutes (CI) are the only vehicle available to achieve these goals, and whether the price a school pays to accept a CI is too high.

The anecdotal evidence suggests that there can be a negative effect on free and open academic discourse, as evidenced by the American Association of University Professors’ letter. CIs may overtly suppress discussion of topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese Communist government, such as Tibet, Taiwan and Tiananmen: the contract of a Toronto college instructor barred her from discussing the Falun Gong, for instance. CIs may exert undue influence on university decisions: in 2009, North Carolina State disinvited the Dalai Lama after the school’s CI complained. The presence of CIs may result in self-censorship by the school.

In our own investigation, in 2011 the International Campaign for Tibet (while not identifying our Tibet connection) requested resource materials on Tibet from a Confucius Institute at a university in the Washington, D.C. region. Instead of scholarly materials published by credible American authors (not to speak of Tibetan writers) what we received were books and DVDs giving the Chinese narrative on Tibet published by China Intercontinental Press, which is described by a Chinese government-run website as operating “under the authority of the State Council Information Office…whose main function is to produce propaganda products.”

Academic freedom is a cherished value in democratic and scientifically productive societies. Given the stakes involved, investigation into the effect of CIs on such freedom is warranted.

Robert Kapp and Jeffrey Wasserstrom are right on the need for requirements on CI operations. They should be clear and uniform across the nation. The associations representing the university presidents and university professors, with relevant stakeholder input from other academic, policy and advocacy communities, should collaborate to create CI standards.

But since universities are self-interested entities who have made themselves financially dependent on CIs, it is appropriate to apply the oversight lever of Congress. Relevant committees should investigate whether the terms of CIs’ agreements with universities result in reduced academic discourse and freedom of speech on topics such as Tibet, and whether such agreements or practices violate any laws in relation to publicly-funded universities.

But the problem with Confucius Institutes cannot be remedied by transparency and good governance. No democratic country can ignore their insidiousness, active or potential. CIs should respect the universal value of freedom of expression. If universities instead degrade these values to suit the CI, then they should be forced to find another way to teach Chinese language and culture.

The arguments against the Confucius Institutes are eloquent and impassioned. But let’s try a thought experiment in a different direction.

Let’s cast our minds back some 60 years to the United States in the mid-50s: Senator McCarthy was rampant and Professor Napthali Lewis had his Fulbright grant yanked because his wife—yes, his wife, not even he himself—refused to say if she were a Communist. Senator Fulbright himself said Communists should not be grant holders!

Today, most of us view Fulbright grants as “soft power” of the softest and most benign kind. Freedom from pressure is supposedly assured by an independent presidentially-appointed commission (though one might wonder how truly free from political pressure any commission appointed by a president, whether Chinese or American, can be). Sixty years ago, that freedom from pressure was not in any way assured, and, in fact, in some cases the pressure was overt and bowed to.

Should the Fulbrights have been killed off or shunned in 1954 because of that? Should universities and faculties have refused to participate?

Or should they have worked steadily to change society and the Fulbrights until they became what they are today—which is, one hopes, still just a way-station to further improvement in both.

America’s road from 1954 to 2014 has been long and sometimes fraught. China’s changes too in those 60 years have been breathtaking, of course, and yet Chinese society is still not yet where some of us might want or expect it to be.

By all means, universities must be completely transparent and vocal about the Institutes’ funding agreements and any pressures, subtle or overt. Universities must encourage vigorous debate and teach-ins about Tiananmen and Tibet and Falun Gong even if these aren’t held at the Institutes themselves. The debates will resonate; the transparency will have an effect. It just might not be tomorrow.

I wasn’t alive to experience the America of 1954; I won’t be alive to see the China of 2074. But I want to have some small influence on that journey, and I believe active, moral, transparent engagement is much preferable to punitive shunning.

We may find China’s early acts of soft power to be clumsy or even abhorrent, but we should remember that these are early steps, and with engagement will come change and understanding on all sides.

In the interests of my own transparency I should say that I advise CCTV News Content, the news agency arm of China’s state broadcaster. While some might see this as compromising my objectivity, I see it as practicing what I preach: my advice, whether taken or not, is always consonant with my personal values around freedom of expression and freedom of the press. And, in time, I hope it will have an effect.

The simplest solution: take the Confucius Institutes out of the universities, or take the government out of the Confucius Institutes.

These are nothing like the Goethe Institute or Alliance Francaise or the Cervantes Institute. Those are standalone organizations. They stand or fall on their own merit.

Confucius Institutes borrow the legitimacy of their partner universities. They cloak what they do—whether it’s propaganda or not—in the camouflage of their host university. To a typical student, they appear like just another branch of American academia.

Make no mistake, these are organs of the government and therefore organs of the Communist Party, answerable to the dictates of the party. Why pretend they’re anything else?

[Editor’s note: The following comment first appeared on a private listserv and is reprinted with the author’s permission] CIs come in many forms. For smaller colleges with no budget for teaching the Chinese language, a CI seems a good trade-off with the purpose of serving one’s students and their future career opportunities. For some elite institutions, they feel they can make a deal in which the PRC will not dare to interfere because the CCP wants the prestige of the association. For my university, which turned down a CI, it was (a) inconceivable that our faculty be hired by any entity other than our own faculty acting on a merit basis and (b) it was undesirable for a university with serious programs in Taiwan studies and in Tibetan studies to give the CCP government, whose representatives have often intervened to get universities to be anti Dalai Lama and which claims that the nation of Taiwan is part of the PRC, leverage over academic programs. Besides, why would we want amateurs hired by the CCP to teach our students Chinese language and culture when our own faculty already does a great job?

 

[Editor’s note: The following comment first appeared on a private listserv and is reprinted with the author’s permission]

After ten years and now 70 plus Confucius Institutes in the U.S. there seem to be no hard facts that any CI has interfered with the academic freedom at the university where it is located. Perry Link then introduces the notion of “self-censorship” – looking at what CIs didn’t do, could have done and takes this “no-action” as evidence of interfering with academic freedom.

Many universities in the U.S.—more than in Europe—are sponsored by private foundations, all with a mission, a profile or a background. This is normal and seldom interferes with academic freedom or halts planned academic activities. I am sure, though, that if you looked at one arbitrary foundation and its background and then listed all academic activities disapproving the values of the foundation that the university – supported by that foundation – could have launched, but didn’t launch, examples would be numerous.

In this context, “self-censorship” is no analysis. It is about attitudes, not about facts.

After serving many years in the Danish foreign service and the EU Commission on Chinese affairs, recently I became director of a Confucius Institute. Like many other Denmark-China and EU-China projects I have been involved in, I see the Confucius Institute as another co-operation project. It is funded and managed 1:1 by the two partners. Following the agreement between the two partners our institute is located in Denmark, follows Danish laws and Danish traditions, including the tradition in Denmark for open debate on any subject. And this is what we are doing on record.

In all co-operation projects—and when you receive funds from donors—you have to be prudent. Attitudes have a sweet taste. Hard facts are hard facts.

 

Overall, the CI issue looks much less serious (and much less ideologically charged) from a European perspective. CIs appear rather marginal even in language training and even more so in public debate about China. Strikingly, the profile of their activities and events tends to vary strongly from place to place: from very stale or passive to surprisingly open-minded and colorful.

Through a former colleague who advised Hanban, I was told how chaotic their internal set-up is and how dissatisfied political leaders are with the CIs’ lack of positive impact abroad. There even was talk that the whole Hanban and CI set-up will have to be overhauled since some decision-makers now perceive CIs as a misguided initiative of the previous Hu-Wen administration (2002-2012). I cannot verify all this inside talk. But a serious internal debate seems to have started around Hanban’s functions and efforts.

As to Germany (which pursues rather broad-based economic, diplomatic, scientific and cultural relations with China) CIs cannot be seen as a success here since they create only an extremely limited public impact and are seen with quite some general distrust within most universities and also in society (educational and cultural circles, the media) at large. However, the overtones of great power rivalry with China (or cold war allusions) that appear to drive parts of the U.S. debate about CIs, are mostly missing in Europe and Germany.

Due to the length of this thread, we are continuing the conversation on a second page. Please visit: “The Debate Over Confucius Institutes Part II” to read more.

Robert Kapp began his working career as an historian of twentieth century China at Rice University and the University of Washington. However, his main career contributions have been to the building...
Jeffrey Wasserstrom is Chancellor’s Professor of Chinese History at the University of California Irvine, the author of books such as China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know (Oxford,...
Perry Link is Professor Emeritus of East Asian Studies at Princeton University and Chancellorial Chair for Teaching Across Disciplines at the University of California at Riverside. He has published...
Winston Lord was U.S. Ambassador to China from 1985 to 1989. He was sworn in as Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in 1993. Before assuming his duties, Ambassador Lord...
Jerome A. Cohen, a professor at New York University School of Law since 1990 and co-director of its U.S.-Asia Law Institute, is a leading American expert on Chinese law and government. A pioneer in...
Isabel Hilton is a London-based international journalist and broadcaster. She studied at the Beijing Foreign Language and Culture University and at Fudan University in Shanghai before taking up a...
Jonathan Mirsky was born in New York in 1932 and educated at Columbia University, Cambridge University, and the University of Pennsylvania. He has taught Chinese and Vietnamese history, Comparative...
Steven I. Levine is a retired professor of Chinese politics and history. His recent books include Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam (University of North...
David Wertime is the co-founder of Tea Leaf Nation, an English-language web site that analyzes Chinese media. Founded in December 2011, Tea Leaf Nation was acquired in September 2013 by the Foreign...
Matteo Mecacci served as a member of the Italian Chamber of Deputies (on its Foreign Affairs Committee) as well as an elected official of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (...
Before founding Tripod Advisors, David Schlesinger was Chairman of Thomson Reuters China and was the global information services group’s senior representative in the region. He was responsible for...
Shai Oster is an award-winning Hong Kong-based Reporter-at-Large for Bloomberg News. Over nearly two decades as a journalist in China, Europe, and the U.S., he has covered a broad range of economic,...
Edward Friedman is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Political Science at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He has worked in rural China, co-authoring Chinese Village, Socialist State (Yale...
Carsten Boyer Thøgersen is the Director of Copenhagen Business Confucius Institute at Copenhagen Business School and a former diplomat with Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark and the European...
Sebastian Heilmann is the founding director of the Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), a large new China think tank in Berlin, and professor of Chinese political economy at the University...

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12.19.14

Just How Successful Is Xi Jinping...

IAN JOHNSON & TREY MENEFEE

Last week, Arthur Kroeber, Editor of the China Economic Quarterly opined that “…the Chinese state is not fragile. The regime is strong, increasingly self-confident, and without organized opposition.” His essay, which drew strong, if divided, attention, cautioned in its...

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12.03.14

Can China Conquer the Internet...

DAVID BANDURSKI, JEREMY GOLDKORN & more

Lu Wei, China’s new Internet Czar, recently tried to get the world to agree to a model of information control designed by the Chinese Communist Party. Regular contributors comment below and we encourage readers to share their views on our Facebook page.  —The Editors

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11.19.14

Was the U.S.-China Climate Deal Worth the Wait...

DEBORAH SELIGSOHN, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Last week, Ann Carlson and Alex Wang, environmental experts at UCLA Law School, called the November 12 U.S.-China Joint Announcement on Climate Change "monumental." "No two countries are more important to tackling the problem than the largest carbon emitter over the past two...

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11.12.14

Xi Jinping’s Culture Wars

STANLEY ROSEN, MICHAEL BERRY & more

Given China’s tightening restrictions on film, TV, art, writing, and journalism, and the reverberations from President Xi Jinping’s recent speech on culture, we asked contributors why they think Beijing has decided to ramp up its involvement in the business of culture, what...

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10.31.14

What Should Obama and Xi Say to Each Other at APEC...

CHEN WEIHUA, HUGH WHITE & more

Next week's Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Beijing (November 5-11) between Presidents Xi Jinping, Barack Obama, and other leaders from around the world, is billed as the Chinese capital's highest-profile international event since the 2008 Olympics. Local law...

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10.23.14

Are China’s Economic Reforms Coming Fast Enough...

DANIEL H. ROSEN, DAVID HOFFMAN & more

Economic data show a slowdown in China. At least two opposing views of what’s next for the world’s largest economy have just been published: one skeptical, from David Hoffman at The Conference Board, and one cautiously optimistic, from Dan Rosen and the Asia Society Policy...

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10.17.14

Rule of Law—Why Now...

IRA BELKIN, DONALD CLARKE & more

In a recent essay, “How China’s Leaders Will Rule on the Law,” Carl Minzner looks at the question of why China’s leaders have announced they will emphasize rule of law at the upcoming Chinese Communist Party plenum slated to take place in Beijing October 20-23. Why have...

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10.14.14

Will Asia Bank on China...

ZHA DAOJIONG, DAMIEN MA & more

Last week The New York Times reported U.S. opposition to China's plans to launch a regional development bank to rival the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank. If, as some say, the the launch is a fait accompli, should Washington focus instead on figuring how how best to...

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10.01.14

Is This the End of Hong Kong As We Know It...

NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, SEBASTIAN VEG & more

Over the past week, tens of thousands of Hong Kong people have occupied the streets of their semi-autonomous city to advocate for the democratic elections slated to launch in 2017. The pro-democracy protestors have blocked major roads in the downtown area and police fired teargas...

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09.26.14

Should the U.S. Cooperate with China on Terrorism...

RICHARD BERNSTEIN, ELY RATNER & more

Richard Bernstein: Of course, they should.  But can they?  Since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 in the United States, China has defined almost any dissent from its policies there as examples of international terrorism.  It has also consistently tried to win western...

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09.19.14

China and Climate Change: What’s Next...

ANGEL HSU & BARBARA A. FINAMORE

Climate Week at the United Nations General Assembly is upon us and we asked a group of experts to bring us up-to-date about the areas where progress on climate change looks most possible for China, now the world's largest emitter of greenhouse gases.

Conversation

09.12.14

Is a Trade War with China Looming...

ARTHUR R. KROEBER & DONALD CLARKE

As Alibaba gets ready to sell shares on Wall Street, U.S. investors will be focused on Chinese companies getting a fair shake here in America even as some big U.S. brand names (Microsoft, Chrysler, et al) are being shaken down by China's newly tough antitrust law. What with...

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09.02.14

Hong Kong—Now What...

DAVID SCHLESINGER, MEI FONG & more

David Schlesinger:Hong Kong’s tragedy is that its political consciousness began to awaken precisely at the time when its leverage with China was at its lowest ebb.Where once China needed Hong Kong as an entrepôt, legal center, financial center, talent center, and education...

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08.11.14

Simon Leys Remembered

ISABEL HILTON, PERRY LINK & more

Isabel Hilton: When I heard the news of the death of Pierre Ryckmans, better known by his pen name, Simon Leys, I began to hunt in my bookshelves for the now yellowing and grimy copies of Chinese Shadows and The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, both...

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07.31.14

Zhou Yongkang’s Downfall

SEBASTIAN VEG, RODERICK MACFARQUHAR & more

On July 29, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection of the Chinese Communisty Party announced it was investigating ex-security czar Zhou Yongkang “on suspicion of grave violations of discipline.” Zhou, who retired from the Politburo Standing Committee in 2012, is the...

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07.24.14

Alibaba: How Big a Deal Is It...

DAVID WOLF, DUNCAN CLARK & more

When Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba goes public some time after Labor Day it is expected be one the largest initial public offerings in history. This week, a story in The New York Times shed light on ties between Alibaba and the sons and grandsons of some of the highest ranking...

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07.17.14

How to Read China’s New Press Restrictions

DAVID SCHLESINGER, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

On June 30, China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film, and Television posted a statement on its website warning Chinese journalists not to share information with their counterparts in the foreign press corps. Most major non-Chinese news organizations rely...

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07.09.14

The U.S. and China Are At the Table: What’s At Stake...

WILLIAM ADAMS & ZHA DAOJIONG

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Treasury Secretary Jack Lew are in Beijing this week for the sixth session of the high level bilateral diplomatic exchange known as the Strategic and Economic Dialogue. We asked contributors what's likely to happen and what's at stake.—The...

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07.01.14

The Debate Over Confucius Institutes PART II

GREGORY B. LEE, MICHAEL HILL & more

Last week, ChinaFile published a discussion on the debate over Confucius Institutes–Chinese language and culture programs affiliated with China’s Ministry of Education—and their role on university campuses. The topic, and several of the responses we posted, resulted in...

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06.11.14

Is a Declining U.S. Good for China...

ZHA DAOJIONG, GORDON G. CHANG & more

Zha Daojiong:Talk of a U.S. decline is back in vogue. This time, China features more (if not most) prominently in a natural follow-up question: Which country is going to benefit? My answer: certainly not China.Arguably, the first round of “U.S.-in-decline” sentiment emerged...

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06.02.14

25 Years On, Can China Move Past Tiananmen...

XU ZHIYUAN, ARTHUR WALDRON & more

Xu Zhiyuan:Whenever the massacre at Tiananmen Square twenty-five years ago comes up in conversation, I think of Faulkner’s famous line: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”Some believe that China’s economic growth and rise to international prominence have lent...

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05.19.14

Is This the Best Response to China’s Cyber-Attacks...

ROBERT DALY, CHEN WEIHUA & more

On Monday, the United States Attorney General Eric Holder accused China of hacking American industrial giants such as U.S. Steel and Westinghouse Electric, making unprecedented criminal charges of cyper-espionage against Chinese military officials. Almost immediately,...

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05.09.14

The China-Vietnam Standoff: How Will It End...

DANIEL KLIMAN, ELY RATNER & more

Daniel Kliman:Five thousand miles from Ukraine, off the coast of Vietnam, China is taking a page from Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s playbook. Beijing’s recent placement of a huge oil drilling rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea leverages a similar set of tactics....

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05.07.14

How is China Doing in Africa...

TENDAI MUSAKWA, KATHLEEN MCLAUGHLIN & more

On his current weeklong tour of Ethiopia, Nigeria, Angola, and Kenya, Premier Li Keqiang announced a new $12 billion aid package intended to address China’s “growing pains” in Africa. China is by turns lauded for bringing development to the continent and chastized for what...

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04.30.14

Will China’s Economy Be #1 by Dec. 31? (And Does it Matter...

WILLIAM ADAMS, DAMIEN MA & more

On April 30, data released by the United Nations International Comparison Program showed China’s estimated 2011 purchasing power parity (PPP) exchange rate was twenty percent higher than was estimated in 2005. What does this mean? China's economy could become the largest in the...

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04.22.14

What Obama Should Say About China in Japan

YUKI TATSUMI, ELY RATNER & more

On Wednesday, Barack Obama will land in Tokyo beginning a week-long trip to four of China's neighbors—but not to China itself.In Obama’s stops in Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, and Kuala Lampur, the specter of China will loom large. This will be especially pronounced in Tokyo, where...

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04.12.14

China, Japan, and the U.S.—Will Cooler Heads Prevail...

ELY RATNER, HUGH WHITE & more

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel's whirlwind tour of China this week saw a tense exchange with his Chinese counterpart, Chang Wanquan, over the intention behind America's "pivot" to Asia, followed by a more measured back-and-forth with President Xi Jinping. Reactions to the...

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04.06.14

Spy Vs. Spy: When is Cyberhacking Crossing the Line...

VINCENT NI, CHEN WEIHUA & more

Vincent Ni: For a long time, Huawei has been accused by some American politicians of “spying on Americans for the Chinese government,” but their evidence has always been sketchy. They played on fear and possibility. I don’t agree or disagree with them, but when Chinese...

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03.26.14

The Bloomberg Fallout: Where Does Journalism in China Go from Here...

CHEN WEIHUA, DORINDA ELLIOTT & more

On Monday, March 24, a thirteen-year veteran of Bloomberg News, Ben Richardson, news editor at large for Asia, resigned. A few days earlier, company Chairman Peter Grauer said that the news and financial information services company founded in 1981 by Michael Bloomberg "had" to...

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03.19.14

What Should Michelle Obama Accomplish on Her Trip to China...

ORVILLE SCHELL, VINCENT NI & more

Orville Schell:  Looking at the challenges of rectifying U.S.-China relations and building some semblance of the "new kind of a big power relationship" alluded to by presidents Obama and Xi at Sunnylands last year, will most certainly require a multi-stage ongoing effort....

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03.10.14

Should China Support Russia in the Ukraine...

ALEXANDER V. PANTSOV, ALEXANDER LUKIN & more

Alexander V. Pantsov: The Chinese Communist Party leadership has always maintained: “China believes in non-interference in internal affairs.” In the current Ukrainian situation it is the most we can expect from the P.R.C. because it is not able to lean to either the Western...

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03.02.14

A Racist Farewell to Outgoing U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke

KAISER KUO, HYEON-JU RHO & more

Reacting to departing U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke’s February 27 farewell news conference in Beijing, the state-run China News Service published a critique by Wang Ping that called Ambassador Locke a “banana.” —The EditorsKaiser Kuo: Banana or Twinkie for “white-on-...

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02.27.14

How Responsible Are Americans for China’s Pollution Problem...

DAVID VANCE WAGNER, ALEX WANG & more

David Vance Wagner: China’s latest “airpocalypse” has again sent air pollution in Beijing soaring to hazardous levels for days straight. Though the Chinese government has made admirable progress recently at confronting the long-term air pollution crisis, it will be years...

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02.22.14

What Can the Dalai Lama’s White House Visit Actually Accomplish...

ISABEL HILTON, DONALD CLARKE & more

On February 21, the Dalai Lama visited United States President Barack Obama in the White House over the objections of the Chinese government. Beijing labels the exiled spiritual leader a "wolf in sheep's clothing" who seeks to use violence to free Tibet from Chinese rule. The...

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02.19.14

China in ‘House of Cards...

STEVEN JIANG, DONALD CLARKE & more

China figures heavily in the second season of the Netflix series House of Cards, but how accurately does the show portray U.S.-China relations? Steven Jiang, a journalist for CNN in Beijing, binged-watched all thirteen recently-released web-only episodes over the weekend. Donald...

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02.13.14

Are Ethnic Tensions on the Rise in China...

ENZE HAN, JAMES PALMER & more

On December 31, President Xi Jinping appeared on CCTV and extended his “New Year’s wishes to Chinese of all ethnic groups.” On January 15, Beijing officials detained Ilham Tohti, a leading Uighur economist and subsequently accused him of “separtist offenses”; a fresh...

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02.05.14

What Should the U.S. Do about China’s Barring Foreign Reporters...

NICHOLAS LEMANN, MICHEL HOCKX & more

Last week, the White House said it was “very disappointed” in China for denying a visa to another journalist working for The New York Times in Beijing, forcing him to leave the country after eight years. What else should the U.S. government do? How should Americans...

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01.27.14

China’s Offshore Leaks: So What...

PAUL GILLIS & ROBERT KAPP

Two recent stories by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists detailed China’s elite funneling money out of China to tax havens in the Caribbean. We asked contributors to weigh the impact of the revelations.—The Editors

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01.21.14

Time to Escalate? Should the U.S. Make China Uncomfortable...

EDWARD FRIEDMAN, GEOFF DYER & more

How should the United States respond to China’s new level of assertiveness in the Asia Pacific? In the past few months as Beijing has stepped up territorial claims around China's maritime borders—and in the skies above them—the Obama administration has moved to soothe...

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01.06.14

Will Xi Jinping Bring a Positive New Day to China...

PAUL MOONEY, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

Chinese President Xi Jinping, just over a year in office, recently made a rare appearance in public in a Beijing restaurant, buying a cheap lunch and paying for it himself. Shortly thereafter, President Xi delivered a brief televised New Year message from what appeared to be his...

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12.17.13

Why Is China Purging Its Former Top Security Chief, Zhou Yongkang...

PIN HO & RICHARD MCGREGOR

Pin Ho:[Zhou Yongkang’s downfall] is the second chapter of the “Bo Xilai Drama”—a drama begun at the 18th Party Congress. The Party’s power transition has been secret and has lacked convincing procedure. This [lack of transparency] has triggered unimaginably huge...

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12.07.13

Will China Shut Out the Foreign Press...

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & more

Some two dozen journalists employed by The New York Times and Bloomberg News have not yet received the visas they need to continue to report and live in China after the end of this year. Without them, they will effectively be expelled from the country. Visiting Beijing earlier...

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12.03.13

What Posture Should Joe Biden Adopt Toward A Newly Muscular China...

SUSAN SHIRK

Susan Shirk:United States Vice President Joseph Biden is the American political figure who has spent the most time with Xi Jinping and has the deepest understanding of Xi as an individual. Before Xi’s selection as P.R.C. president and C.C.P. general secretary he served as vice...

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11.27.13

Why’s the U.S. Flying Bombers Over the East China Sea...

CHEN WEIHUA, JAMES FALLOWS & more

Chen Weihua:The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) is not a Chinese invention. The United States, Japan and some 20 other countries declared such zones in their airspace long time ago.China’s announcement of its first ADIZ in the East China Sea reflects its frustration with...

Conversation

11.24.13

What Should the Next U.S. Ambassador to China Tackle First...

MARY KAY MAGISTAD & ROBERT KAPP

Mary Kay Magistad: Gary Locke succeeded in a way that few U.S. ambassadors to China have—in improving public perceptions of U.S. culture.  Locke’s down-to-earth approachability and lack of ostentation certainly helped. So did the initiatives of shortening waits for U.S....

Conversation

11.19.13

What Will the Beginning of the End of the One-Child Policy Bring...

LETA HONG FINCHER, VINCENT NI & more

Leta Hong Fincher:The Communist Party’s announcement that it will loosen the one-child policy is, of course, welcome news. Married couples will be allowed to have two children if only one of the spouses is an only child, meaning that millions more couples will now be exempted...

Conversation

11.12.13

Spiked in China...

JOHN GARNAUT, SIDNEY RITTENBERG & more

Last weekend, The New York Times and later, The Financial Times reported that, according to Bloomberg News employees, Bloomberg editor in chief Matthew Winkler informed reporters by telephone on October 29 that Bloomberg would not publish their...

Conversation

10.30.13

Trial By TV: What Does a Reporter’s Arrest and Confession Tell Us About Chinese Media...

THE EDITORS, WANG FENG & more

The Editors: The latest ChinaFile Conversation focuses on the case of Chen Yongzhou, the Guangzhou New Express journalist whose series of investigative reports exposed fraud at the Changsha, Hunan-based heavy machinery maker Zoomlion. Chen later was arrested and then, last...

Conversation

10.25.13

Can State-Run Capitalism Absorb the Shocks of ‘Creative Destruction...

THE EDITORS, BARRY NAUGHTON & more

The Editors: Following are ChinaFile Conversation participants’ reactions to “China: Superpower or Superbust?” in the November-December issue of The National Interest in which author Ian Bremmer says that China’s state-capitalism is ill-equipped to absorb the shocks to...

Conversation

10.22.13

Why’s China’s Smog Crisis Still Burning So Hot...

ALEX WANG, ISABEL HILTON & more

Alex Wang:On Sunday, the start of the winter heating season in northern China brought the “airpocalypse” back with a vengeance.Harbin, the capital of Heilongjiang Province and home to 11 million people, registered fine particulate (PM2.5) pollution levels beyond 500, the top...

Conversation

10.16.13

Uncomfortable Bedfellows: How Much Does China Need America Now...

BILL BISHOP, DAVID SCHLESINGER & more

Bill Bishop:The D.C. dysfunction puts China in a difficult place. Any financial markets turmoil that occurs because of a failure of Congress to do its job could harm China’s economy, and especially its exports. The accumulation of massive foreign-exchange reserves, now at...

Conversation

10.08.13

Obama’s Canceled Trip to Asia: How Much Did It Matter...

WINSTON LORD, SUSAN SHIRK & more

Last week as the U.S. Federal Government shut down, President Obama canceled his planned trip to Indonesia and Brunei, where he was to have attended the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bali. Some foreign policy analysts have argued the canceled trip will inflict...

Conversation

10.07.13

Why Is Xi Jinping Promoting Self-Criticism...

STEPHEN C. ANGLE & TAISU ZHANG

Critics both within and without China have suggested that Xi Jinping’s promotion of self-criticism by Communist Party cadres has at least two motives: it promotes the appearance of concern with lax discipline while avoiding deeper reform, and it softens up potential targets of...

Conversation

09.27.13

Can China’s Leading Indie Film Director Cross Over in America...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, MICHAEL BERRY & more

Jonathan Landreth:Chinese writer and director Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin won the prize for the best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival in May. Though the dialogue and its fine translation and English subtitles by Tony Rayns are exemplary, I found that as the screening...

Conversation

09.24.13

A Shark Called Wanda—Will Hollywood Swallow the Chinese Dream Whole...

STANLEY ROSEN, JONATHAN LANDRETH & more

Stanley Rosen:Wang Jianlin, who personally doesn’t know much about film, made a splash when he purchased America’s No. 2 movie theater chain AMC at a price many thought far too high for what he was getting.  A number of knowledgeable people felt that the money could have...

Conversation

09.17.13

What’s Behind China’s Recent Internet Crackdown...

XIAO QIANG, JOHN GARNAUT & more

Last weekend, Charles Xue Manzi, a Chinese American multi-millionaire investor and opinion leader on one of China’s most popular microblogs, appeared in handcuffs in an interview aired on China Central Television (CCTV). Xue is just the most visible blogger to be snared by a...

Conversation

09.13.13

What Can China and Japan Do to Start Anew...

PAULA S. HARRELL & CHEN WEIHUA

Paula S. Harrell:While the media keeps its eye on the ongoing Diaoyu/Senkaku islands dispute, heating up yet again this week after Chinese naval ships and aircraft were spotted circling the area, a parallel, possibly game-changing development in China-Japan relations has gone...

Conversation

09.09.13

What Are Chinese Attitudes Toward a U.S. Strike in Syria...

CHEN WEIHUA, VINCENT NI & more

Chen Weihua:Chinese truly believe that there is no military solution to the Syrian crisis. On the contrary, a U.S. air strike would only worsen the situation there. Chinese have seen many failures of U.S. intervention in the Middle East in the past decade.The U.S. clearly is...

Conversation

09.05.13

To Reform or Not Reform?—Echoes of the Late Qing Dynasty

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & more

Orville Schell:It is true that China is no longer beset by threats of foreign incursion nor is it a laggard in the world of economic development and trade. But being there and being steeped in an atmosphere of seemingly endless political and economic tension where questions of...

Conversation

08.28.13

Beijing, Why So Tense...

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Andrew Nathan:I think of the Chinese leaders as holding a plant spritzer and dousing sparks that are jumping up all around them.  Mao made the famous remark, “A single spark can start a prairie fire.”  The leaders have seen that terrifying truth confirmed in the pro...

Conversation

08.21.13

Is Xi Jinping Redder Than Bo Xilai Or Vice Versa...

MICHAEL ANTI & SHAI OSTER

Michael Anti:Competing for Redness: The Scarlet Bo vs the Vermilion Xi?Bo Xilai, the fallen Chinese princeling famous for leading a “Red Songs” communist campaign in southwest China's megacity Chongqing, is on trial today, live-Twittered from Jinan in Shandong province, east...

Conversation

08.15.13

What Should China Do to Reverse its Tourism Deficit...

LEAH THOMPSON, DAMIEN MA & more

Recent news stories and industry studies show that fewer international visitors are choosing China as their destination. January-June arrivals in Beijing are down 15% from the same period in 2012 and more Chinese than ever before are spending their money to travel abroad, “...

Conversation

08.07.13

What Will Come out of the Communist Party’s Polling the People Online...

DAVID WERTIME, DUNCAN CLARK & more

David Wertime:Simon Denyer’s recent article (“In China, Communist Party Takes Unprecedented Step: It Is Listening,” The Washington Post, August 2, 2013) provides a valuable look at some of the ways that Chinese authority mines domestic micro-blogging platforms like Weibo...

Conversation

08.01.13

How Dangerous Are Sino-Japanese Tensions...

JEROME A. COHEN

Sino-Japanese relations do not look promising at the moment. Obviously, the Diaoyu-Senkaku dispute is not the only factor in play but it does focus nationalist passions on both sides. Yet both countries are capable of wiser conduct if their leaders can manage to rise above the...

Conversation

07.30.13

Is Business in China Getting Riskier, Or Are Multinationals Taking More Risks...

ARTHUR R. KROEBER , DAVID SCHLESINGER & more

Arthur Kroeber:The environment for foreign companies in China has been getting steadily tougher since 2006, when the nation came to the end of a five-year schedule of market-opening measures it pledged as the price of admission to the World Trade Organization. Soon after the WTO-...

Conversation

07.25.13

The Bo Xilai Trial: What’s It Really About...

JEROME A. COHEN, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

China has charged disgraced senior politician Bo Xilai with bribery, abuse of power and corruption, paving the way for a potentially divisive trial. But what’s at stake goes beyond the fate of one allegedly corrupt official: Is it really a fight between factions in the...

Conversation

07.23.13

What Would a Hard Landing in China Mean for the World...

BARRY NAUGHTON, JAMES MCGREGOR & more

Barry Naughton:Paul Krugman in a recent post (“How Much Should We Worry About a China Shock?” The New York Times, July 20, 2013) tells us NOT to worry about the impact of a slowing China on global exports, but to be worried, very worried about the indirect and unanticipated...

Conversation

07.18.13

Xu Zhiyong Arrested: How Serious Can Beijing Be About Political Reform...

DONALD CLARKE, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

Donald Clarke:When I heard that Xu Zhiyong had just been detained, my first thought was, “Again?” This seems to be something the authorities do every time they get nervous, a kind of political Alka Seltzer to settle an upset constitution. I searched the web site of The New...

Conversation

07.16.13

What’s the Senate’s Beef with China’s Play for American Pork...

ARTHUR R. KROEBER , STEVE DICKINSON & more

Last week the U.S. Senate held hearings to question the CEO of meat-producer Smithfield Farms, about the proposed $4.7 billion sale of the Virginia-based company to Shuanghui International, China’s largest pork producer. The sale is under review by the Committee on Foreign...

Conversation

07.09.13

What Is the “Chinese Dream” Really All About...

STEIN RINGEN, JEREMY GOLDKORN & more

Stein Ringen:I’m coming to the view that the ‘Chinese Dream’ is a signal from the leadership of great import that has much to say about the nature of the Chinese state. It is striking, in my opinion, how effectively and rapidly the system swung into action to interpret and...

Conversation

07.03.13

How Would Accepting Gay Culture Change China...

FEI WANG & STEVEN JIANG

Last week's U.S. Supreme Court decision to strike down the core provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act is not only “a stride toward greater equality in the United States, but also a shift that will reverberate far beyond our shores,” wrote novelist and University of...

Conversation

06.27.13

Is Xi Jinping’s Fight Against Corruption For Real...

RODERICK MACFARQUHAR, WINSTON LORD & more

Roderick MacFarquhar:Xi Jinping’s overriding aim is the preservation of Communist party rule in China, as he made clear in speeches shortly after his elevation to be China’s senior leader.  Like his predecessors, he is obsessed with the Gorbachev phenomenon and doesn't...

Conversation

06.25.13

How Badly Have Snowden’s Leaks Hurt U.S.-China Relations...

MATT SCHIAVENZA

Matt Schiavenza:In the understatement of the day, the United States is unhappy with the recent developments of the Edward Snowden situation. Just three days ago, Washington was in negotiations with Hong Kong to file a warrant for Snowden's arrest, a process which the U.S. hoped...

Conversation

06.21.13

How Should the World Prepare for a Slower China...

ARTHUR R. KROEBER & PATRICK CHOVANEC

Get Ready for a Slower ChinaThe recent gyrations on the Chinese interbank market underscore that the chief risk to global growth now comes from China. Make no mistake: credit policy will tighten substantially in the coming months, as the government tries to push loan growth from...

Conversation

06.18.13

What’s Right or Wrong with This Chinese Stance on Edward Snowden...

THE EDITORS, SHAI OSTER & more

The Editors: For today’s ChinaFile Conversation we asked contributors to react to the following excerpt from an op-ed published on Monday June 17 in the Global Times about Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old American contract intelligence analyst who last week in Hong Kong...

Conversation

06.13.13

Who’d You Rather Be Watched By: China or the U.S...

THE EDITORS, TAI MING CHEUNG & more

Editor’s note:Reports of U.S. gathering data on emails and phone calls have stoked fears of an over-reaching government spying on its citizens. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei worries that China will use the U.S. as an example to bolster its argument for surveillance on dissidents....

Conversation

06.11.13

What’s the Best Way to Advance Human Rights in the U.S.-China Relationship...

NICHOLAS BEQUELIN, SHARON HOM & more

Nicholas Bequelin:The best way to advance human rights in the U.S.-China relationship is first and foremost to recognize that the engine of human rights progress in China today is the Chinese citizenry itself. Such progress is neither the product of a gradual enlightenment of the...

Conversation

06.06.13

What Would the Best U.S.-China Joint Statement Say...

THE EDITORS, WINSTON LORD & more

As we approach the June 7-8 meeting in California of U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping we are holding a small contest. We have asked ChinaFile Conversation regulars and a few guests to envision their ideal Sunnylands summit and then write the joint...

Conversation

06.04.13

How Would Facing Its Past Change China’s Future...

DAVID WERTIME, ISABEL HILTON & more

David Wertime:The memory of the 1989 massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square remains neither alive nor dead, neither reckoned nor obliterated. Instead, it hangs spectre-like in the background, a muted but latently powerful symbol of resistance.There’s no question that an...

Conversation

05.29.13

What Should Obama and Xi Accomplish at Their California Summit...

SUSAN SHIRK, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Susan Shirk:It’s an excellent idea for President Obama and President Xi to spend two days of quality time together at a private retreat in Southern California. Past meetings between Chinese and American presidents have been too short, formal and scripted for them to develop a...

Conversation

05.23.13

China and the Other Asian Giant: Where are Relations with India Headed...

MICHAEL KULMA, MARK FRAZIER & more

Mike Kulma:Earlier this week at an Asia Society forum on U.S.-China economic relations, Dr. Henry Kissinger remarked that when the U.S. first started down the path of normalizing relations with China in the early 1970s, the economic relationship and trade between the two...

Conversation

05.21.13

U.S.-China Economic Relations—What Will the Next Decade Bring...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

On Monday, within hours of the announcement that Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet U.S. President Barack Obama on a visit to California on June 7-8, Tung Chee-hwa, the former Chief Executive and President of the Executive Council of Hong Kong, introduced former U.S....

Conversation

05.16.13

China: What’s Going Right...

MICHAEL ZHAO, JAMES FALLOWS & more

Michael Zhao:On a recent trip to China, meeting mostly with former colleagues at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I got a dose of optimism and hope for one aspect of the motherland. In terms of science, or laying down a solid foundation for better science to come, things are...

Conversation

05.14.13

Why Can’t China Make Its Food Safe?—Or Can It...

ALEX WANG, JOHN C. BALZANO & more

The month my wife and I moved to Beijing in 2004, I saw a bag of oatmeal at our local grocery store prominently labeled: “NOT POLLUTED!” How funny that this would be a selling point, we thought.But 7 years later as we prepared to return to the US, what was once a joke had...

Conversation

05.10.13

What’s China’s Game in the Middle East...

RACHEL BEITARIE, MASSOUD HAYOUN & more

Rachel Beitarie:Xi Jinping’s four point proposal for a Palestinian-Israeli peace agreement is interesting not so much for its content, as for its source. While China has maintained the appearance of being involved in Middle East politics for years, its top leaders, so far,...

Conversation

05.07.13

Why Is a 1995 Poisoning Case the Top Topic on Chinese Social Media...

RACHEL LU, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

With a population base of 1.3 billion people, China has no shortage of strange and gruesome crimes, but the attempted murder of Zhu Ling by thallium poisoning in 1995 is burning up China’s social media long after the trails have gone cold. Zhu, a brilliant and beautiful...

Conversation

05.02.13

Does Promoting “Core Interests” Do China More Harm Than Good...

THE EDITORS, STEPHANIE T. KLEINE-AHLBRANDT & more

On April 30, as tensions around China’s claims to territories in the South- and East China Seas continued to simmer, we began what proved to be a popular ChinaFile Conversation, asking the question, What's Really at the Core of China’s ‘Core Interests’? The participants...

Conversation

04.30.13

What’s Really at the Core of China’s “Core Interests...

SHAI OSTER, ANDREW J. NATHAN & more

Shai Oster:It’s Pilates diplomacy—work on your core. China’s diplomats keep talking about China’s core interests and it’s a growing list. In 2011, China included its political system and social stability as core interests. This year, it has added a vast chunk of the...

Conversation

04.25.13

Hollywood in China—What’s the Price of Admission...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, YING ZHU & more

Last week, DreamWorks Animation (DWA), the Hollywood studio behind the worldwide blockbuster Kung Fu Panda films, announced that it will cooperate with the China Film Group (CFG) on an animated feature called Tibet Code, an adventure story based on a series of recent Chinese...

Conversation

04.23.13

How Would You Spend (the Next) $300 Million on U.S.-China Relations...

ORVILLE SCHELL & MICHAEL KULMA

Orville Schell:When Stephen A. Schwarzman announced his new $300 million program aimed at sending foreign scholars to Tsinghua University in Beijing the way Rhodes Scholarship, set up by the businessman and statesman Cecil Rhodes in 1902 began sending American scholars to Oxford...

Conversation

04.18.13

How Fast Is China’s Slowdown Coming, and What Should Beijing Do About It...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, BARRY NAUGHTON & more

Slower Chinese GDP growth is not a bad thing if it’s happening for the right reasons. But it’s not happening for the right reasons.Instead of reining in credit to try to curb over-investment, Chinese authorities have allowed a renewed explosion in credit in an effort to fuel...

Conversation

04.16.13

Why is China Still Messing with the Foreign Press...

ANDREW J. NATHAN, ISABEL HILTON & more

To those raised in the Marxist tradition, nothing in the media happens by accident.  In China, the flagship newspapers are still the “throat and tongue” of the ruling party, and their work is directed by the Party’s Propaganda Department.  That’s the first...

Conversation

04.11.13

Why Is Chinese Soft Power Such a Hard Sell...

JEREMY GOLDKORN, DONALD CLARKE & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:Chairman Mao Zedong said that power comes out of the barrel of a gun, and he knew a thing or two about power, both hard and soft. If you have enough guns, you have respect. Money is the same: if you have enough cash, you can buy guns, and respect.Israel and Saudi...

Conversation

04.03.13

Bird Flu Fears: Should We Trust Beijing This Time...

DAVID WERTIME, YANZHONG HUANG & more

David Wertime:A new strain of avian flu called H7N9 has infected at least seven humans and killed three in provinces near the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai, with the first death occurring on March 4. Meanwhile, in the last month, about 16,000 pigs, 1,000 ducks, and a few swans...

Conversation

04.02.13

Why Did Apple Apologize to Chinese Consumers and What Does It Mean...

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:On March 22, before the foreign media or Apple themselves seemed to have grasped the seriousness of the CCTV attacks on the Californian behemoth, I wrote a post on Danwei.com that concluded:“The signs are clear that regulators and establishment media would both...

Conversation

03.28.13

Will China’s Renminbi Replace the Dollar as the World’s Top Currency...

PATRICK CHOVANEC, DAMIEN MA & more

Patrick Chovanec:This week’s news that Brazil and China have signed a $30 billion currency swap agreement gave a renewed boost to excited chatter over the rising influence of China’s currency, the renminbi (RMB). The belief, in many quarters, is that the renminbi is well on...

Conversation

03.26.13

Can China Transform Africa...

JEREMY GOLDKORN, ISABEL HILTON & more

Jeremy Goldkorn:The question is all wrong. China is already transforming Africa, the question is how China is transforming Africa, not whether it can. From the “China shops”—small stores selling cheap clothing, bags, and kitchenware—that have become ubiquitous in Southern...

Conversation

03.19.13

China’s New Leaders Say They Want to Fight Corruption. Can They? Will They...

ANDREW J. NATHAN & OUYANG BIN

In his first press conference after taking office as China's new premier, Li Keqiang declared that one of his top priorities would be to fight corruption, because “Corruption and the reputation of our government are as incompatible as fire and water.” This put Li on message...

Conversation

03.15.13

Is the One Child Policy Finished—And Was It a Failure...

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ALEXA OLESEN & more

Dorinda Elliott:China’s recent decision to phase out the agency that oversees the one-child policy has raised questions about whether the policy itself will be dropped—and whether it was a success or a failure.Aside from the burdens only children feel when it comes...

Conversation

03.13.13

China’s Post 1980’s Generation—Are the Kids All Right...

SUN YUNFAN, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

This week, the ChinaFile Conversation is a call for reactions to an article about China's current generation gap, written by James Palmer, a Beijing-based historian, author, and Global Times editor. The article, first published by Aeon in the U.K., “The Balinghou: Chinese...

Conversation

03.08.13

Will China’s Property Market Crash, and So What If It Does...

DORINDA ELLIOTT & BILL BISHOP

Dorinda Elliott:At this week’s National People’s Congress, outgoing Premier Wen Jiabao proclaimed that the government kept housing prices from rising too fast. Really? I wonder what my 28-year-old Shanghainese friend Robert thinks about that. He and his fiancée could never...

Conversation

03.06.13

Are Proposed Sanctions on North Korea a Hopeful Sign for U.S.-China Relations...

ORVILLE SCHELL, SUSAN SHIRK & more

Orville Schell:What may end up being most significant about the new draft resolution in the U.N. Security Council to impose stricter sanctions on North Korea, which China seems willing to sign, may not be what it amounts to in terms of denuclearizing the DPRK, but what it...

Conversation

03.01.13

Is America’s Door Really Open to China’s Investment...

DANIEL H. ROSEN, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Daniel Rosen:There have not been many new topics in U.S.-China economic relations over the past decade: the trade balance, offshoring of jobs, Chinese holding of U.S. government debt, whether China’s currency is undervalued and intellectual property protection problems have...

Conversation

02.27.13

How Long Can China Keep Pollution Data a State Secret...

ELIZABETH ECONOMY, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

Elizabeth Economy:The environment is center stage once again in China. A Chinese lawyer has requested the findings of a national survey on soil pollution from the Ministry of Environmental Protection and been denied on the grounds that the information is a state secret. (The...

Conversation

02.22.13

Will Investment in China Grow or Shrink...

DONALD CLARKE & DAVID SCHLESINGER

Donald Clarke:I don’t have the answer as to whether investment in China will grow or shrink, but I do have a few suggestions for how to think about the question. First, we have to clarify why we want to know the answer to this question: what do we think it will tell us? This...

Conversation

02.20.13

Cyber Attacks—What’s the Best Response...

JONATHAN LANDRETH, JAMES FALLOWS & more

Jonathan Landreth:With regular ChinaFile Conversation contributor Elizabeth Economy on the road, I turned to her colleague Adam Segal, Maurice R. Greenberg Senior Fellow for China Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. Segal said that “the time for naming and...

Conversation

02.15.13

U.S.-China Tensions: What Must Kerry Do...

DORINDA ELLIOTT, ELIZABETH ECONOMY & more

Dorinda Elliott:On a recent trip to China, I heard a lot of scary talk of potential war over the disputed Diaoyu Islands—this from both senior intellectual types and also just regular people, from an elderly calligraphy expert to a middle-aged history professor. People seemed...

Conversation

02.13.13

North Korea: How Much More Will China Take and How Should the U.S. Respond...

WINSTON LORD, TAI MING CHEUNG & more

China is increasingly frustrated with North Korea and may even see more clearly that its actions only serve to increase allied unity, stimulate Japanese militarism and accelerate missile defense. For all these reasons the U.S. should lean on Beijing to—at last—not only help...

Conversation

02.08.13

Rich, Poor and Chinese—Does Anyone Trust Beijing to Bust the Corrupt...

ANDREW J. NATHAN, SUSAN SHIRK & more

Andrew Nathan:The new Chinese leadership under Xi Jinping seems to be making some bold opening moves with its attacks on corruption and the announcement on February 5 of plans to reduce the polarization of incomes.  Does this mean Xi is leading China in new directions? ...

Conversation

02.06.13

Airpocalypse Now: China’s Tipping Point...

ALEX WANG, ORVILLE SCHELL & more

The recent run of air pollution in China, we now know, has been worse than the air quality in airport smoking lounges. At its worst, Beijing air quality has approached levels only seen in the United States during wildfires.All of the comparisons to London, Los Angeles, and New...

Conversation

02.01.13

China’s Cyberattacks — At What Cost...

JAMES FALLOWS, DONALD CLARKE & more

James Fallows: Here are some initial reactions on the latest hacking news.We call this the “latest” news because I don’t think anyone, in China or outside, is actually surprised. In my own experience in China, which is limited compared with many of yours, I’ve seen the...

Conversation

01.30.13

China, Japan and the Islands: What Do the Tensions Mean...

ORVILLE SCHELL, JOHN DELURY & more

How did the Diaoyu, Spratly, and Paracel islands come to replace Taiwan as the main source of tension for maritime Asia? And how are we to explain the fact that China’s foreign policy toward its Asian neighbors has now morphed from such slogans as: “Keep our heads down, and...