Twofish's Blog

February 21, 2008

Response to Why China should not fear open debate

Filed under: china, economics, human rights, politics — twofish @ 5:25 am

This is a very ironic piece.  The message of the piece seems to be let’s have a free and open debate in China so that I can prove to Chinese nationalists that I’m right and they are wrong.  Different viewpoints are good, and when you express different viewpoints, you’ll naturally find that mine are absolutely objectively correct and their’s are totally completely wrong.

I think the post wildly underestimates the degree to which people view the world in different ways, and how hard it is to be tolerant of other people’s beliefs once you find out what they really are.  The assumption seems to be that when different people are exposed to the “correct view of the world” that naturally they will see the world in the way that he does, and my experience suggests that this is not going to happen.  People’s beliefs about how the world works and how it should work are formed at a very early age, and they don’t change without enormous personal trauma.  Usually people take new facts and try to fit them into the picture of the world that they already have, and if you don’t share those beliefs, it can be quite shocking what those beliefs actually are.

Being exposed to wildly different beliefs usually doesn’t result in tolerance, it results in even more screaming.  What does cause tolerance is the knowledge that you have to deal with someone despite how much you disagree with them, and this is why e-mail produces so much flameage.  You scream at someone over e-mail and never see them again.  If it turns out that you actually have to live with someone, the dynamics changes.

Just letting opinions out in the open doesn’t necessarily produce better policy, it could easily lead to paralysis, people screaming at each other, or worse shooting at each other.  Good governance is at the thin line between anarchy and tyranny, and having things move into anarchy can produce as much suffering as having things move to tyranny.

November 20, 2006

Calming down

Filed under: china, human rights, wikipedia — twofish @ 7:05 pm

I’ve calm down a bit.  I’m still angry, but I’m rationally angry rather than flying off the wall angry.

The one thing that I’d like to see in some sort of blog or comment is what RSF thought the reaction to the press release would be.  If you post “nyyahh, nyyahhh, wikipedia proves that the Chinese government is too weak to stand up to pressure” what did you *think* that the official reaction would be.

And for a bunch of reporters, they’ve just got the internal politics of wikipedia wrong.  There is no wikipedia management, there are people in the discussion lists that I’ve been in that are trying to figure out how to create a sanitized encyclopedia.  There is no one wikipedia viewpoint, which is the beauty of the thing.  There are just a bunch of people sharing information.  No one I know of has had any official contact with the Chinese government, but I don’t know who most of the people on the e-mail list are.  For all I know the Hu Jintao might be listening in on our conversations as we discuss, this and that would be great.  Being part of an open conspiracy means that you don’t really care who is listening in.

To the idiots at Reporters Without Borders

Filed under: china, human rights, wikipedia — twofish @ 12:58 pm


Sorry for the strong language, but I just hate it when my views are misrepresented and when there is a total lack of understanding of what is going on….  Besides, it got your attention didn’t it????

Anyway there is this paragraph about what is going on that totally misrepresents my views…..

Reporters Without Borders again congratulates the managers of Wikipedia, who have always refused to go in for self-censorship and called on other Internet giants present in China to follow their example.

“While Yahoo!, Google and Microsoft harp on about how it is impossible to negotiate with the authorities and that if they refused to censor their search engines, they would be expelled from the country, the Wikipedia example proves the contrary,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.

OK, RSF, lets get this straight.  There are no *managers* at Wikipedia.  There are just a bunch of people each with their own agendas, about what to do.  I don’t speak for Wikipedia, I just speak for myself, and the nice thing about being able to speak for yourself is that you can say very strongly worded things, like the fact that I think you are a bunch of morons for issuing a press release like that.  No wonder the Chinese government reblocked.  HAHAHAHA, we forced to the Chinese government to give in, LET’S PUSH THEM HARDER.

I say and don’t say what I want on wikipedia, you say what you want, I’d like to see the Chinese government put someone say what they want.  There is no central authority at Wikipedia, just people talking for themselves, and my personal views are.


That’s freedom of speech.  You have the right to say what you think, and I have the right to say that I think you are idiots for saying it.

Anyway the logical thing for the Chinese government to do at this point is to block wikipedia for a few days just to let the world know that they can, then hopefully they’ll unblock, then reblock, then unblock and do it so often that it doesn’t make the New York Times and that RSF doesn’t gloat when they unblock.  The point that the Chinese government is making is that they are in control, and that’s fine with me since I think it’s really in their interest to unblock wikipedia.  They can just unblock it every now and then reblock it to show that they are in charge.  That doesn’t suit RSF’s agenda, but it suits mine.

It’s times like these that I realize how my agenda and those of NGO’s are so utterly different.

November 1, 2006

China and international responsibility

Filed under: china, human rights, politics — twofish @ 7:34 pm

It shows out totally out of touch people in Washington DC are that the Chinese Security Review Commission would attempt to lecture China on being a responsible international citizen.  After the utter contempt the US has shown the international community and after the total mess in Iraq, this is just funny.  It’s funny now rather than scary because unlike two years ago, I can’t see these people doing much damage.  Two years ago, I was worried that people like that would lead to a confrontation between the US and China over Taiwan.  That’s less and less likely to happen now.  (Thank you Chen Shui-Bian for being totally incompetent, completely self-destructing, and for not getting anyone killed in the process.  George W. Bush also deserves an incompetence prize, but since people have gotten killed, it’s sad rather than funny.)

Now as far as Chinese actions in Africa.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

It’s not clear to me that Chinese policies and activities in Africa is going to make the situation worse than some of the efforts of people with “good intentions.” In some ways, Chinese policy is refreshingly non-colonial (i.e. here’s the money for natural resources, you guys figure what to do with it). Given all of the bad things that have happened with well-intentioned foreign aid to Africa, it’s not clear to me that the Chinese approach is going to lead to a worse outcome.

This is particularly important since a lot of the people who want China to economically isolate the “bad guys” were the same people that wanted to economically isolate China, ten to fifteen years ago, and I don’t think the world would have been a better place if that had happened.  I don’t know anything about Zambian politics, but I know enough about the disconnect between news reports of China and facts on the ground that I’m not going to take up arms in response to a news article.
In Zimbabwe, China is dealing with a corrupt idiot. However, China would deal with them the same way if he were a democratic saint. China invests in Mynamar. It also invests in Canada. If China starts using its money and power to support the “good guys” and try to take out the “bad guys” what will happen is that this power will get mixed into domestic Chinese politics, and I’m not sure that you’ll get a better outcome.

My note about “crunchy granola types” not understanding power. Other people’s human rights are always low on people’s priorities and if you start using human rights as an excuse to play with domestic politics, what *will* happen is that you’ll find youself captured by more powerful interests.  If China starts trying to select which dictators and democrats in Africa it does business with, then it will end up with the same sorts of domestic constituencies that create weird US policy toward Nicaragua and Cuba.  If you are a human rights activist *you will be used* by people whose main interest isn’t human rights, and whose main interest is maximizing their own money and power.  Nothing wrong with that, as long as you do it with your eyes open.

Note that there is a NYT article about how Chinese money is turning Khartoum into a boom town.

August 26, 2006

Why I can’t cooperate with Human Rights Watch…..

Filed under: china, human rights — twofish @ 8:03 pm

Yesterday I posted an articles on Chen Guangchen and Zhao Yan. One would think that since I do think that China should be more liberal and have much more rule of law that I would be on the same side as Human Rights Watch, Reporters Sans Frontiere and other Western NGO’s, but unfortunately I find myself on the different side of the fence. Let me explain why.

The basic issue is that I am trying to do everything I can to keep the Communist Party in power and to prevent a revolution from happening, because I believe that the costs of a political collapse or of a revolution are far worse than the benefits. This might sound odd. If’ I’m trying to keep the Communist Party in power, then what am I doing trying to circumvent the Great Firewall with wikipedia or what am I doing supporting Chen Guangchen and Zhao Yan? The answer is simple. I’ve worked in large bureaucracies. You do not do anyone any good by being a “yes-man.” If you really want to help an organization, you must constantly challenge it, and push it to improve itself. Loyalty to an organization or cause means being a constant irritant, and it means constantly finding fault with it.

There is a tendency for Western groups to sensationize and mischaracterize what is going on. Chen Guangchen and Zhao Yan are important figures, but they are only one of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people that are putting pressure on the Chinese Communist Party to liberalize and institutionalize rule of law. The two of them have received far more attention in the Western press (because of Time Magazine article on Chen and because Zhao worked for the New York Times), but in the grand scheme of things what they are trying to do isn’t very unique. If you look at people that are involved in this, sometimes they lose, sometimes they win, but in all cases its helping to slowly create a society based on rule of law.

The mischaracterization happens because one of the principles of rights defense is the legitimacy of both the law and the Communist Party’s legitimacy to rule. Both principles, that I have accepted (for lack of another alternatives).
People in rights defense are not basically interested in overthrowing the Communist Party. People are merely trying to defend their rights under Chinese law. This is important because the law provides a balance between freedom and anarchy, and without that balance, you end up in the state of nature which resembles Iraq. The Chinese government is worried that if it relaxes these too far, it will end up in a situation like Russia, the EDSA or Color Revolutions. So am I. People power revolutions look great on television, but depressingly little happens afterwards.

The key to prevent this collapse is strict observance to “rule of law.” There is a law on the books that outlaws “state subversion, “threatening national unity” and “releasing state secrets.” Zhao Yan and Chen Guangchen were doing none of these things, and the things that they were convicted of had enough procedural irregularities that the convictions need to be reexamined on appeal. In the case of Chen Guangchen, his “crime” was to basically to insist that local officials act according to national directives.
The thing HRW talks about sanctions by the US government. This is bad for a number of reasons:

First, it makes the actions of the US government relevant. Frankly, in discussing the human rights situation in China, the human rights situation in the United States should be irrelevant. Encouraging the United States to try to influence China through state action just makes things more complex since we get into a “your human rights abuses are worse than my human rights abuses” argument. Overall, the human rights situation in the United States is better than China, but it’s nowhere good enough so that the US can expect to lecture people on how to run their countries.

Second, whenever you organize political action, you have to build coalitions, and some people in those coalitions may have agendas that are different than yours. Western human rights groups always has very little political power, and to do anything useful they have to cooperate with people with much more power and different agendas. In the case of China these include labor unions in support of protectionism and “dragon slayers” who want to maintain US power in East Asia. Even at a smaller level, my views are simply irreconcilable with those of the Tibetan government-in-exile or Falugong, and I simply cannot cooperate with these people.

One thing that you see in “people power” demonstrations is that you have the loud demonstrations in front, and then you have the power brokers in back. In the case of the 1911 Chinese revolution, the power brokers were New Army militarists. In the case of EDSA revolution, they were the Philiphines military. It’s very important to understand who the power brokers are, because after the revolution, they will be in charge, and the power brokers behind some of the measures on Chinese sanctions are people that I just don’t like.

Something that has to be recognized is that over time, the PRC government is getting more and more powerful, and is less and less subject to external pressure. I think this is a good thing, but that means that what happens to the government will be more and more determined by people within the PRC with the rest of the world standing merely as bystanders.

And I think that is the way it should be.

August 25, 2006

Notes on Chen Guangchen – Two steps forward – One and a half step back

Filed under: china, human rights, wikipedia — twofish @ 12:16 pm

A few notes on the cases of Chen Guangchen and Zhao Yan.

First of all, I don’t think that this marks the start of a “crackdown” against rights defenders.  Chen Guangchen and Zhao Yan’s cases have been pending for some time, and this does mark an effort to get those cases resolved in some way.  What will be significant is to see how much jail time Chen and Zhao actually serve, and its been a pattern for the Chinese government to convict someone of a crime, and then find some excuse to release them early.

Second there is a silver lining on all of this.  Even with the deck stacked against the defendants, the prosecutors couldn’t get them on “state crimes” (i.e. subverting public order, undermining national security, and releasing state secrets).  In both cases, they had to get some sort of bogus public order charge.  This is significant in two ways.  First the penalties for the public order crimes (i.e. blocking traffic) are a lot less, and we are looking at three to four years rather than a life sentence.  Second, this sets the boundaries of “state crimes” for other actions.  If they couldn’t get Chen and Zhao on “subverting public order” then it is highly unlikely that they will be able to get anyone else for doing stuff like reading wikipedia or circumventing the Great Firewall.

Just one note.  I’ve gotten in trouble in the past for showing insufficient moral outrage when stuff like this happens.  There’s a reason I don’t show too much moral outrage, and that this is going to be a very, very long fight (i.e. decades).  If you constantly get emotional over each headline, and don’t look for small victories, then you aren’t going to have the energy to sustain this fight over a very long period of time.

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