Twofish's Blog

July 11, 2009

More comments about how the National Endowment for Democracy is run by idiots

Filed under: china — Tags: , — twofish @ 3:47 pm

I do have some sympathy for ethnic minorities being one myself.  The reason that I work on Wall Street is rooted in large part in my effort to “be Chinese.”  What I figured out is that unless you are part of the majority power structure, then you don’t have any voice. Also it’s important to make it clear that you *are* part of the national community.  I pledge allegiance to the flag, and love the flag and the Constitution, and I do anything I can to make the United States a better country.  If I started waving signs saying “AMERICA STINKS, LET’S SECEDE” I’m not going to get anything done.

One thing that should make you think a bit is that the percentage of the United States that is Chinese-American is roughly the same fraction of the population of China that is Uighur.  If I got up and started calling for help from the Chinese government to establish a Chinese-American homeland or even for help to resolve ethnic problems in the US, I’d get a very *BAD* reaction.  Sort of the same reaction that Kadeer is getting.  If I say something bad about the United States, it is always from the point of view of a “loyal American” and I wave the US flag any chance that I get.

So one thing I find interesting about these democracy groups is how few US-based minorities there are in them.  Most of the people I’ve seen in them are white suburban types.  The kind of well-meaning person that joins the Peace Corps.

So I find articles like these, shocking……

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/09/AR2009070902425.html

This is sort of the brain-dead strategy that has destroyed a lot of Chinese democracy groups.  The more support you get from the US government, the less effective you are in China.  Also it seems *amazingly paternalistic and condescending*. Ah yes, those poor defenseless Uighurs, we Americans need to teach them to be civilized.  This probably sounds to the typical Uighur like the same sort of message from the Chinese government that they are so mad about.

One thing that is rather obvious looking at the pictures is that Uighurs *don’t* seem to want an identity based on secularism.  (Look at the women, they are all wearing headscarves), and I don’t know if they care about democracy in the way that the US defines it.  Also something that the US can do that would be more useful is to provide funding for preserving Uighur culture in the United States.  What I think the real danger for Kadeer is is that she’ll end up in the United States for decades, and all her kids will end up growing speaking English.  Or….

Maybe I should stop talking.  I think I have a lot of ideas on how to make the World Uighur Congress a more effective organization, but I’m not going to share any of those as long as she keeps waving the East Turkestani flag.  Start waving the right flag, and we can talk……

More comments on the NED

———

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/08/AR2009070804141_Comments.html

Also I’m quite upset at the National Endowment for Democracy. Kadeer is a political novice, but she gets advice from the NED and they should know better. It’s not that the NED is a secret arm of the CIA, it’s that the NED is run by well-meaning but native people that cause dissident groups to act in ways that completely destroy their ability to operate. I’ve seen the NED absolutely destroy Chinese democracy groups, and I’m really upset at this.

One problem is that most overseas groups are not very well funded. The Uighur World Congress probably has a few offices here and there. So when the NED offers them money and the promise of US official support. People go crazy and do and say whatever they think will make the NED happy, but usually this is *exactly* what will cause them to self-destruct.

The US is just not going to go to war over Xinjiang or provide and real aid to Tibetan or Uighur separatists movements. Getting your picture on the front page of the Washington Post and New York Times is intoxicating, but it’s dangerous because it makes you think that you may be more important than you are. What Kadeer has to realize that is that in three weeks, no one in the United States will remember who she is. She has fifteen minutes of fame, and she should have used that to build bridges with “liberal Chinese” rather than to make her diaspora supporters happy or count on support from the US government which may not happen. Without any popular support among the general Chinese population, she is not going to get anything done.

The other thing is that I think that someone made a *huge* tactical mistake. People in the NED seem to have as their image, a peaceful demonstration that will bring freedom and justice. The problem is that without understanding the local politics, you can cause more harm than good.

What I don’t think the NED understood was 1) after what is going on in Iran, the Chinese security forces would not allow any major demonstration and would crack down and 2) I think that they vastly underestimated the amount of ethnic tension in Xinjiang.

Also the NED vastly overestimates the power of demonstrations. Demonstrations work if you have a united people against a divided government. If the government is united or the people are divided, they will not work, and in this situation they led to a situation that I don’t think anyone wanted.

—–

Moving on to some analysis rather than personal attack….

One thing that I do find interesting is that there isn’t that much support among Han Chinese outside of Xinjiang for the actions of the local Xinjiang Han Chinese. Personally I see them as a lot of the Han Chinese mobs as thugs and anarchists, and I would hope that the police and government crack down on anyone that breaks the low regardless of ethnicity.

But one thing that is missing here is the issue of class and social position. People mention that the Uighurs are resentful of the fact that the good jobs are being held by Han Chinese. However, what people really don’t mention that much is that the Han Chinese that are beating people up are mostly poor migrants from neighboring provinces and *they* feel as oppressed as the Uighurs. To use a US analogy, it’s similar to the way a lot of poor whites feel about blacks getting what they see as “special treatment.” So simply saying, having the Chinese government give more rights and privileges to Uighurs doesn’t completely solve the problem because then the Han Chinese migrants in Xinjiang get *even* more angry.

A lot of the problem has to do with some unintended consequences of well-intentioned Chinese actions. First the Chinese government poured money into Xinjiang. If you look at the pictures, you see a big modern city. The second thing that the government did was to remove restrictions on travel. These were both good things, but what then happened is that you start having large numbers of poor Uighur and Han migrants moving into the big cities in recent years, and they are competing for the same jobs.

One thing that is interesting when you look at the interviews of people (of both Uighur and Han) in Urumiqi is that everyone seems to have moved there very recently. Also I think that the economic downturn was a *BIG* trigger for all of this. The initial rumor that started all of this in Guangdong was when a Han worker was angry at being fired from a toy factory.

It’s a big messy problem, and people that think that they have easy answers really don’t understand the problem. However, the same sorts of things happened in the US in the 1960’s, and it’s not out of the question that in a generation we’ll have the Chinese equivalent of Obama.

——

All this talk about how the Uighurs need more cultural and political autonomy is going to matter if you convince most Chinese that they have too much cultural and political autonomy already.

There are some basic facts. I think China does a better job at cultural and political autonomy than the United States. In Xinjiang there are Uighur language schools up the the university level. Try getting *any* local school system in the United States to do even bilingual or Spanish-only education. It’s weird to see the Uighur diaspora complain about how bad the Chinese government is at wiping out cultures since all their kids in the US are going to be speaking only English. By law, a certain fraction of party and jobs have to go to the local minority. By law, the mayor of Urumqi has to be Uighur and the governor of Xinjiang has to also be Uighur (the party secretary is usually Han).

In 2005, the Chinese government moved from a Uighur only system to a bilingual Uighur/Mandarin system for primary education because a Uighur only system was causing ethnic segregation. Part of the new policy was intended to encourage Uighurs to learn Mandarin but it was also intended to encourage Han Chinese migrants to learn Uighur, which a lot them do. Of course, then you get the same reaction as when you try to force Anglo-Americans to learn Spanish.

Now some people think that this is not enough, however there are a lot of Chinese that think that this is *too much* and that China should do what the United States has done and try to assimilate everyone. If you have people running around with East Turkestani flags talking about “self-determination” then it just convinces most people in China that the Chinese government is too soft and needs remove whatever cultural and political autonomy there is.

If you have 50000 colonial settlers against a 10 million native population then you can go for independence. If you are a minority of 2 million people in a nation of 1.2 billion, then if you get most of those non-Uighur people mad at you, you are going to lose and lose very badly.

The Dalai Lama has figured this out. In think in his heart, he wants Tibetan independence, but he knows in his mind that it just won’t happen, and he is trying to get as much as he can get.

Part of the reason that I think you have clashes in Xinjiang that you didn’t in Tibet is that the Dalai Lama’s message of non-violence affects people, so Han Chinese in Tibet didn’t think that it would be a good idea to fight back. There are a lot of Buddhists in China, and there are enough so that if a Tibetan Lama hits you, you aren’t going to fight back. The Uighurs don’t have that sort of moral authority, and so if they hit, they get hit back. So I think that what Rebiya seems to be doing is very dangerous.

———

One other thing is that what happens next is going to be determined by a huge debate in China that is likely going to be similar to the debate about race in the United States. There are going to be people in China that think the problem is that Uighurs need more economic and political autonomy. However, there are going to be a lot of people that say “enough is enough” and that minorities already get too much from the government.

If you hear a lot of Han Chinese talk about Uighurs, its like hearing white Americans talk about African-Americans. Even the racial stereotypes are similar (i.e lazy welfare queens that just need to get a job and learn to speak proper English/Mandarin rather than black English/Uighur).

The problem with Rebiya’s strategy is that I think it’s actually going to strengthen people in China who want to be “tough on crime and terrorism” and thing “affirmative action is a bad thing and all Chinese need to learn the national language.”

—————————–

Rebiya Kadeer is getting lots of interviews because she and her organization are going out to the newspapers that getting interviews. That’s not a bad thing, that’s their job. If you talk to the NED folks that’s what they teach people do to.

However……

1) The overall strategy that she is using makes no sense to me. If she gets people in the West to love her, and Han Chinese in Chinese hate her, then the Uighurs lose. Much of the problem is that everyone in the United States is going to forget who she is in three weeks, but people in China are going to remember her, but not in ways that she probably would like.

2) The second thing is that the Chinese government is *much* better at media relations than at any time in the past. Ten years ago, China would have closed off Xinjiang, she would have been able to talk about massacres and heroic protests and the Western media would have eaten that stuff up, but and the Chinese government would have responded with some spokesman that doesn’t know what is going on, looks bad in front of reporters, etc. etc. etc.

This time, the Chinese government has been letting reporters into Xinjiang, and what they’ve been reporting involves Han and Uighurs that are fighting each other, a professional police and military that are doing their best to restore order, fighting hooligans and protecting law-abiding citizens.

The New York Times was reporting on a media tour that they said was a “disaster” for the Chinese government, but it really was a “disaster” for Rebiya. You had the police surrounded by very upset women, who the police let demonstrate peacefully for 90 minutes, and then only when the demonstrators started smashing police cars, they pulled in tear gas to disperse the demonstrators. Now I’m sure that any Western reporters who sees this will come to their own conclusions about whether the stuff that Rebiya is talking about is credible, and it doesn’t help that she gets her facts wrong about other things.

Because Western reporters are seeing Xinjiang with their own eyes, the coverage is far more favorable to the Chinese government than anything that I’ve seen in a long time, and this is because the government has learned more about how to handle demonstrations and the media.

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9 Comments »

  1. haha, “not that NED is run by the CIA”… hehehe

    Comment by Josh B — July 12, 2009 @ 3:17 am

  2. I don’t think that the NED is run by the CIA. The CIA would be somewhat more competent about these sorts of things.

    Comment by twofish — August 5, 2009 @ 2:42 pm

  3. Excellent sensible analysis.
    Kadeer fail to demonize the Chinese this time.
    Better luck next time.

    Comment by Lord Percy — July 12, 2009 @ 8:24 pm

  4. I’m very curious about your experiences with the NED, as I’ve heard highly critical reviews of their work before albeit mostly from Latin American specialists…which Chinese organizations do you have in mind specifically when you mention the NED’s unintentional sabotage? And what organizations do strike you as effective/ineffective? Human Rights Watch? Human Rights in China? China Human Rights defenders? Each organization puts out great research, but I suspect you might be thinking of domestic groups that don’t exclusively focus on human rights.

    As a Chinese-American, I think most of your analysis of ethnic tensions in China vs race relations in the U.S. is spot-on (i.e. welfare queens stereotype of blacks and Uighurs alike). However, I do think it’s crucial to note that Uighurs have been promised autonomy under Chinese law but have largely been denied freedom of religion, association, etc far more than the vast majority of Han Chinese in the PRC. The fact that many officials are ethnic Uighurs doesn’t change the fact that a) these officials adopt the same repressive policies as their Han counterparts, b) these officials answer to someone higher in the party hierarchy who is invariably Han and at the very least, insensitive toward demands of cultural autonomy (i.e. Wang lequan), c) the overall power structure inside China is such that Uighurs who seek to gain power in politics have no choice but to be as militant or even more militant than other Han Chinese party officials.

    I think there’s a definite strain of pragmatism in your argument about being more sensitive to Chinese perspectives, which is pretty welcoming for a change. I think it’s a damn shame that people in the human rights community are invariably white, upper-middle class, well-meaning folk who are largely blind to the reality of race as it impacts societies in the world. incidentally, the woman who wrote that article is the daughter of Robert Bork, the ultraconservative justice, and she herself is a neoconservative who pushed aggressively for the Iraq War. I think human rights activists need to be careful about who they keep in their company/employ–just because someone is eager and willing to condemn Iran/China for abuses doesn’t mean that they actually give a damn about human rights or that they don’t have ulterior motives (i.e. U.S. hegemony) for doing so. Frankly, I think there should be a litmus test for people looking to speak on behalf of human rights–would they be willing to give the same hard-hitting critiques if the country in question were the U.S. or Israel? Do they repudiate torture, detention without charges, Guantanamo/Bagram, unrestricted Predator drone strikes?

    Comment by Hungryman792 — July 15, 2009 @ 5:19 pm

  5. I’m very curious about your experiences with the NED, as I’ve heard highly critical reviews of their work before albeit mostly from Latin American specialists…which Chinese organizations do you have in mind specifically when you mention the NED’s unintentional sabotage? And what organizations do strike you as effective/ineffective? Human Rights Watch? Human Rights in China? China Human Rights defenders? Each organization puts out great research, but I suspect you might be thinking of domestic groups that don’t exclusively focus on human rights.

    As a Chinese-American, I think most of your analysis of ethnic tensions in China vs race relations in the U.S. is spot-on (i.e. welfare queens stereotype of blacks and Uighurs alike). However, I do think it’s crucial to note that Uighurs have been promised autonomy under Chinese law but have largely been denied freedom of religion, association, etc far more than the vast majority of Han Chinese in the PRC. The fact that many officials are ethnic Uighurs doesn’t change the fact that a) these officials adopt the same repressive policies as their Han counterparts, b) these officials answer to someone higher in the party hierarchy who is invariably Han and at the very least, insensitive toward demands of cultural autonomy (i.e. Wang lequan), c) the overall power structure inside China is such that Uighurs who seek to gain power in politics have no choice but to be as militant or even more militant than other Han Chinese party officials.

    I think there’s a definite strain of pragmatism in your argument about being more sensitive to Chinese perspectives, which is pretty welcoming for a change. I think it’s a damn shame that people in the human rights community are invariably white, upper-middle class, well-meaning folk who are largely blind to the reality of race as it impacts societies in the world. incidentally, the woman who wrote that article is the daughter of Robert Bork, the ultraconservative justice, and she herself is a neoconservative who pushed aggressively for the Iraq War. I think human rights activists need to be careful about who they keep in their company/employ–just because someone is eager and willing to condemn Iran/China for abuses doesn’t mean that they actually give a damn about human rights or that they don’t have ulterior motives (i.e. U.S. hegemony) for doing so. Frankly, I think there should be a litmus test for people looking to speak on behalf of human rights–would they be willing to give the same hard-hitting critiques if the country in question were the U.S. or Israel? Do they repudiate torture, detention without charges, Guantanamo/Bagram, unrestricted Predator drone strikes?

    Comment by Hungryman792 — July 17, 2009 @ 3:43 pm

  6. Most of my experiences are with how the US government ultimately destroyed the exile Chinese student democracy movement in the 1990’s. Also I’ve heard people from the NED talk at conferences, and they’ve struck me as well-meaning but dangerously uninformed. I remember at one conference I asked Dr. Gershman, “So what do we do if China does democratize?” and he hadn’t even thought of the question.

    As far as effectiveness, personally, I think that human rights groups are only a small part of advancing democracy.

    As far as who human rights groups associate with. The fact is that human rights has very little lobbying power in the United States, and that human rights groups have to work with people with other agendas to get anything done. You just have to realize that is happening and make careful decisions about who to ally with.

    Also, I don’t like litmus tests, and one of the things I dislike are “rules” about who can speak and what arguments are justified and not. If someone wants to make self-serving arguments fine. One reason to just let people talk is that you learn what they really think. For example, neoconservatives are both “pro-human rights’ and “pro-American hegemony” because most of the honestly believe that it’s the US’s duty and obligation to make the world safe for freedom and democracy.. However the Iraq War has so totally discredited them, that no one is going to listen to anything they say for the next 20 years.

    Comment by twofish — August 5, 2009 @ 1:45 am

  7. One other thing, people tend to assume that Uighur officials in Xinjiang don’t have any real power, and I’m somewhat skeptical about this because the CCP basically copied Soviet minorities policies, and it turned out that after the fall of the Soviet Union that the minority officials in central Asian republics really did have a great deal of power. One thing that isn’t appreciated is that the head of the province or autonomous region is usually a “local” person whereas the communist party secretary is invariably an “outsider”. This becomes noticable in minority areas, but it’s the standard practice in all PRC regions. Because the head of a province is a “local” person, they usually have deeper roots into the local bureaucracy than the party secretary. What happened in Soviet central Asia is that once the party collapsed, the party secretary left leaving the local leader the new head of an independent country.

    It’s also not clear what Wang Zequan thinks about cultural autonomy, since I’ve never read any interviews of him talking about it. One thing that I do sense in listening to Uighurs is what they mean by cultural autonomy is the practice of Islam, which also is a complex issue in post-Soviet states in Central Asia.

    Comment by twofish — August 5, 2009 @ 1:58 am

  8. Sorry for the late reply. I don’t remember the groups that the NED has destroyed, but if you take a look who they fund. One problem with NED is that the amount of money that they give is really too small to make any real difference, but the way that the give means that they end up discrediting anyone that takes the money.

    One problem with talking about ethnic conflict is that it’s usually far more complex than it first seems. One thing that is non-trivial in Xinjiang, is the question of “Who is a Uighur?” Also the notion that it’s simply a majority oppressing a minority runs into the problem that “Han Chinese” are not unified (personally I don’t see anyone outside of Xinjiang really defending the thugs) and neither are minority groups. If it was a simple issue of religion, then why do the Muslim Hui in Xinjiang and Tibet generally side with Han? I don’t know much about ethnic relations in Xinjiang. I do know about ethnic relations in New York City and Central Texas to know that anyone who comes in with the idea that it’s just “group A oppressing group B” is likely to get things seriously wrong.

    Comment by twofish — November 17, 2009 @ 10:59 am

  9. I think that the biggest problem is when the overseas democracy groups accept both NED’s money and their guidance, all of which is enhanced by the naivite and poor structure within the Chinese democracy movement itself. (Ever notice how so many of the groups are small, with lots of in-fighting??)

    That said, Kadeer and her family have been treated pretty horridly by her own country. Considering her stature before her political fall, I could not blame any bitterness that she may feel towards her motherland.

    When people were saying that she was spouting “lies” during and following those awful riots, perhaps they were untrue — how could they confirm them, after all? — but they certainly were not spoken maliciously, as many netizens seem to paint them to be. I don’t think that it was wise of her to speak so suddenly (I don’t like the way that she does many things), though. aie.

    Comment by Oilin — August 14, 2009 @ 8:05 am


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