Thursday 16 December 2010

The One Where I Fisk Shaun Rein

Forbes not being a magazine I read much of, I first found out about Shaun Rein's Forbes column about a year or so ago via this post on (veteran Sinoblogger) Richard Burger's excellent Peking Duck blog. At that time Shaun's pieces were laden with pro-CCP rhetoric, factual inaccuracies ("real poverty in China is pretty much gone"), and shameless plugs for his marketing company.

Nowadays, thankfully, most of the plugs have gone, but the error-laden hackery continues, Shaun's latest piece being a prime example.

First Shaun sets the scene:

"Tension between China and the West has been inching up over the past year. There have been disputes over everything from Google's stand against censorship and protectionism to China's trade surplus, the valuation of the yuan and the problem of North Korea's thuggery. Bad relations do not help anyone, and they certainly don't solve any of the very real economic problems the world faces. We need to have the West and China working together. Otherwise we could collapse into another Cold War."

Here he introduces something you see throughout this piece: the lazy use of the words "the west" to basically refer to the United States - home of Google, critic of the valuation of the Yuan, and chief ally of South Korea. His characterisation of Google as standing against "censorship and protectionism" is an odd one though. Let's see what he previously said about Google's decision to exit the China market:

"Has Google really thought through the implications of its actions, beyond just giving up the world’s fastest growing digital advertising market and the welfare of its employees and legal representatives in China? Or is this the impulsive move of an arrogant and immature leadership team used to getting its way?

Looking beyond the implications of what is, in effect, a new mode of statecraft, we should ask whether Google isn’t using censorship and cyber terrorism as an excuse to get out of China because of business failings there. If Google were making more money in China, would it necessarily have taken this stand?"

What was, in Rein's view "impulsive and arrogant" and an "act of war" is now a stand for freedom of speech, but I guess time heals all. Or perhaps Rein found the severe criticism he received for his Google hit-piece just a little to hot to handle.

We then get on to Rein's central premise - that "the west" should "fix" relations with China by awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Deng Xiaoping and Mohandas K. Gandhi:

"I have an idea that could help get Western-Chinese relations back on track, improve human rights in China and make the Chinese government and people less suspicious about Western intentions. Next year the Nobel Prize committee should confer a special one-time-only double posthumous Nobel Peace Prize, on both Deng Xiaoping, the former Chinese paramount leader, and Mohandas Gandhi. Doing so would properly give due respect to Deng and Gandhi, both of whom helped billions of people, would right the wrong that Gandhi never won the Nobel and would rally Chinese support for continued reform."

This suffers from a definite problem - both Deng and Gandhi are dead, have been for a long time, and the Nobel Peace Prize can only be awarded posthumously. Shaun probably noticed this a bit too late and so put in the caveat that this would be "a special one-time-only double posthumous Nobel Peace Prize", but the problem still exists and is not properly recognised. However, even with this you are still left with a conceptual problem - "the west" does not award the Nobel Peace Prize, a small committee of Norwegians does. Rein seems to be following the line of Chinese government propaganda - that the Nobel Peace Prize is an instrument of "western" (i.e., US) foreign policy, rather than a prize selected by a few elderly Norwegians.

Put simply, the idea that giving the Nobel Prize, an award that the Chinese Communist Party and it's various organs, apologists, and paid-for shills have spent months now castigating, to Deng Xiaoping would "...rally Chinese support for continued reform." is simply laughable. Shaun's protests to the contrary aside, no meaningful political reform has been introduced for at least ten years, but this is not where his real error lies, for that you should look to the next paragraph:

"Many Westerners see Deng as someone who ushered in economic reforms and got companies like Coca-Cola, Nike and Motorola to invest in China, but he did far more that gets scant attention in the West. If the Tiananmen incident in 1989 hadn't happened, Deng probably would have won the Nobel and would be viewed in the West with the kind of respect and love Gandhi enjoys around the world. That's how much he is appreciated in China."

Let me break this one down for you:

1) Deng is known in "the west" for his definitely praise-worthy "Reform and Opening" policies.

2) Deng did more, but his other achievements get scant attention in "the west".

3) If the Tiananmen "incident" hadn't "happened" (translation from apologistese: if thousands of innocent pro-democracy demonstrators hadn't been shot to death on the streets of Beijing on Deng's orders) Deng would have won the Nobel prize and would be as popular as Gandhi.

The logical fallacies here are so stark, so obvious, and so numerous as to be almost mind-boggling:

- Deng's greatest achievement was reform and opening - if he did not win the prize for this, then nothing else he did would have won the prize.

- Why would awarding the prize to Deng make him as popular as Gandhi when Gandhi himself never won the prize? Surely it was Gandhi's actions that made him so revered, and if Deng is not a hero on a par with Gandhi it is because he did not do the great works for peace that Gandhi did? Why then would further debasing the prize (if this is still possible) by awarding it to Deng make Deng more popular?

- Given the people who have won the prize (Begin, Arafat, Kissinger, Le Duc Tho etc.) why is Rein so sure that it was the Tiananmen "incident" which stopped Deng from winning the prize? What about Deng's unsuccessful 1979 strafexpedition against Vietnam? What about his surely justified, but certainly violent crushing of the Gang of Four and their supporters?

- If Deng really had done other things which made him deserving of the prize and these were not recognised in the west in the eight or so years during which Deng ruled China before Tiananmen, then why does he think that they would have been recognised had Tiananmen not "happened"?

And just what were these things that Deng did, other than "Reform and Opening" that, in Rein's opinion, make him so deserving of the prize?

"Here are reasons why Deng deserves to win next year's Nobel Prize, despite what happened in 1989.

First, by the time Deng passed away in 1997, he had a total grip on power--not in the manic way of Mao Zedong, but rather from the respect he commanded because he had restored calm to the country."

So Deng should receive the prize because he wasn't Mao and "restored calm" through things like the Tiananmen "incident" and his suppression of the Gang of Four? Strict standards indeed.

"I remember walking the streets when he died and seeing shopkeepers put out small empty bottles in their windows in mourning (in Chinese, Deng's name sounds like" little bottle.") Instead of hoarding power for himself and his family, like the Kims in North Korea, Deng had the great foresight to push through policies to prevent the offspring of cadres of the highest-ranking from rising above a certain level in government. The offspring of the most influential members of the Standing Committee of the Politburo may be influential, but they have never made it onto that Standing Committee."

Oh, I get it, so Deng should also receive the award for not being Kim Il Sung. Of course, there is the alternate interpretation that the Crown Prince Party clique of apparatchik offspring lost out to the Shanghai Clique in the behind-the-scenes power struggle at the 1997 National Congress, but why let facts like that get in the way? Especially now that Xi Jinping, son of first-generation leadership member Xi Zhongxun, is so close to becoming president, with Deng Xiaoping's son Deng Pufang, vice chair of the CPPCC national committee, in tow.

"How many times have you seen anyone with such absolute power put into law that his children could not maintain a generational grip on power?"

Answer: never. I have searched the internet and read every bio of Deng Xiaoping I could find, but as far as I can see, he did not enact any such law. Maybe someone can correct me on this?

"Deng effectively created a healthy diffusion of power throughout the country. There may still be too much cronyism in China, but the situation is far better than if he had pushed his children into leadership positions. Today most offspring of government leaders go into business. Few grandchildren of the most powerful leaders from the late 1970s and '80s are in government service."

Strangely enough this "healthy diffusion of power" is not obvious to anybody outside the communist party, and, as pointed out above, the children of the first generation CCP leadership are staging a come-back.

"Deng's foresight also brought about China's first peaceful transitions of power in the past century, from himself to Jiang Zemin and on to Hu Jintao and most likely next to Xi Jinping. Such peaceful transfers of power were unthinkable not very long before, when President Liu Shaoqi was tortured and died in prison, or when Mao's heir apparent, Lin Biao, died in a mysterious plane crash."

Once again, Deng's main accomplishment in Rein's eyes appears to be "not being Mao", whose Red Guards murdered Liu Shaoqi and who was probably behind Lin Biao's death as well. Moreover, the 20th century did see a peaceful transition of power within the territories claimed by China's rulers - the democratisation of Taiwan after decades of KMT dictatorship, but perhaps Rein doesn't think this is worthy of recognition.

"Finally, Deng pushed for greater academic exchange and economic interdependence. In so doing he not only created a more stable and vibrant economy and way of life for ordinary Chinese ..."

This appears in the main to be just another way of referring to Deng's greatest achievement - the "Reform and Opening" policy.

"... but also diminished the threat of military disputes spiraling out of control ..."

Whilst Deng also deserves credit for his "Don't claim the leadership" policy of reducing China's assertiveness on the world stage, this is hardly Nobel-worthy stuff.

"... More than a million Chinese have studied in the West in the last three decades. When they come back to China they bring back positive feelings for America..."

Actually, according to the latest figures available (i.e., those from 1978 to the end of 2008) the total number of Chinese students who went to any country is about 1.2 million, of whom a large proportion went to 'non-western' countries like Japan, South Korea, and Russia, and fewer than 400,000 of whom returned to China. The total of students who studied in 'the west' is therefore probably less than 1 million, and the number of people currently living in the PRC who have studied in "the west" much less.

This, however, is a minor quibble. Much more objectionable is Rein's seeming inability, noted above, to distinguish between 'the west' and the United States. Or does he think that Chinese students studying in, say, Germany come back much the wiser about the US?

"... Perhaps surprising to many Americans, most of China's leadership actually likes the American way of life. They are often exasperated at the way China, and they personally, are portrayed in the West.

A couple of years ago I went fishing with a very senior official who the Western press liked to attack for being evil and a thug. He seemed pained by the criticism, because he liked America and didn't understand why reporters jumped to conclusions about him as he tried to do what was best for the Chinese people. Many of China's up-and-coming leaders were educated in the U.S., for instance, Zhu Min, former vice governor of the People's Bank of China, who studied at Princeton and Johns Hopkins."

Here we get to Rein's real motives for writing this piece: his livelihood relies on his cosy relationship with the CCP leadership. Never mind that the 'western' media should not care a fig if the CCP leadership likes the US or not when reporting on CCP wrong-doing (especially if they are not US-based) - the important thing is that Shaun's friends in the CCP dictatorship have had their feelings hurt. Shaun then gets CCP kudos for firing back in his Forbes column, his business prospers, and everybody wins - right?

"Deng kept China from turning inward like North Korea or Myanmar and got it instead to push outward, to learn from the rest of the world and to minimize tensions and misunderstandings. Not only did he thereby create a more peaceful world, he also eroded some of the apprehension within China about the motives of the West."

Once again, Deng's main achievement, in Rein's eyes, is not having been a dictator in the vein of Kim Il Sung or Mao although he could have been - laudable, but not Nobel-worthy.

2010 should have been a great year for China's relations with the West ...

2010 was different from any other year how? This isn't a reference to the Expo is it?

"... but it has instead been marked with tension and misunderstanding. The Nobel Prize committee should step up to help diffuse the situation by giving Deng and Gandhi the recognition they both deserve for doing so much for the Chinese and Indian people. That is something that Chinese would rally behind, and it would be a fitting tribute to two great leaders who did more for peace than anyone else in the last century."

It's odd that Shaun should end on this note. Here's a quick question that maybe he should ask his CCP chums next time they go on a fishing trip together: just why is it that we do not see nearly the kind of tension between India and its fellow democratic nations that we see between China and the free world? Where does this tension come from? Just why does he believe that it's necessary for "the west" (which in Rein's mind clearly means America) to extend an olive branch? What has "the west" got to apologise for? A group of Norwegians awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo?


James said...

Can't believe this guy actually writes for a respectable mag.

Acerbic and informative as ever G., though a little loose in parts with your prose I felt. Still, Flaubert given Mr Rein's doggerel ...

Gilman Grundy said...

James, your disbelief is shared by more than a few. Myself, I put it down to the dearth of experts on China given the relatively small level of interest there was in the country until the last twenty years or so.

As for the writing, well, yeah, it was long - there was a lot to get through. There's still plenty I didn't touch on, particularly Rein's mendacious equivalence of Deng, an armed insurrectionist who oversaw show-trials and mass-murder, with the Mahatma - the man who invented non-violent struggle.

That said, it's not like there aren't praiseworthy things which Deng did - Reform and Opening being the most obvious example. It's just that none of it fits into the definition of 'peaceful'. Even Kissinger, Begin, Arafat etc. can at least claim to have received the award for concluding some kind of peace agreement - but Deng did no such thing.

Facts aren't exactly Shaun's friend either, in fact it's kind of hard to think what he actually got right. His assertion that Deng introduced policies to keep the Crown Prince party out of power is particularly laughable. Just what policies Rein is referring to is absolutely unclear to me, especially given that one of them (Xi Jinping) is pegged to become the new leader in 2012. I haven't been able to find any evidence of such policies - but perhaps this is something he was told on one of his fishing trips?

S.K. Cheung said...

Great post. Mr. Rein should read this and hang his head in shame, until the next time he writes something that will require another similar excoriation.

EyeInBeijing said...

There are many things Shaun writes that I disagree with, but I find this post confusing. For example, you quote Shaun as saying the Google incident was "act of war" when he clearly didn't write that (unless it's somewhere other than the chunk you posted here). That laziness undercuts legitimate criticism that you have.

You make many excellent points about problems in his logic, particularly surrounding his absurd idea to give Deng and Gandhi Nobels next year. However, there is a carelessness both in the citation of his inconsistencies and the tone (see title) that don't seem to add much of value to the discussion.

Gilman Grundy said...

Eve - It was in his original article, just click through the link provided to see - that's what it's there for.

Not exactly sure what 'discussion' it is you think I should be 'adding' to. My entire point was that, when it comes to awarding a Nobel Peace Prize to Deng Xiaoping, there really is no discussion to be had.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Eye - Also have to say, I'm a bit confused as to what you find objectionable about the title. Perhaps you could explain?

gregory said...

unfollowed him on twitter, ignore everything he writes. not the first limited mind with a column in a "major" mag. won't be the last.

Anonymous said...

Rein gives new meaning to the term sophmoric. I suppose it would help, if he didn't walk around Beijing wearing his Harvard College sweatshirt...

justrecently said...

Beautiful - Rein's "proposal" is as funny to punch over as is a snowman. The nice thing is that it's Rein himself who needs to build it first.

The man writes as if everything that exists in this world had been founded to flatter the CCP, or China at large. China-centeredness is what is really wrong with his activities.

Gilman Grundy said...

@justrecently - I personally have no problem with 'Sinocentric' opinions so long as they have kosher evidence to back them up. This is most emphatically not the case here - Rein's "facts" are actually a tissue of inaccuracies and straight-up wrong information:

Fact - Deng didn't "put into law that his children could not maintain a generational grip on power".

Fact - Deng didn't "push through policies to prevent the offspring of cadres of the highest-ranking from rising above a certain level in government".

Fact - Fewer than "a million Chinese have studied in the West", and fewer than 400,000 people living in China have.

Fact - The '97 and '02 power transfers were not "China's first peaceful transitions of power in the past century" - Jiang Jingguo's was, at least according to the definition of 'China' that his CCP pals liked to use (or Jiang Jingguo himself, for that matter).

Fact - "The West" does not award the Nobel Peace Prize. A group of Norwegians does. This is not semantics - it's crucial to his argument. Logically speaking, this awrd can only "fix" the relationship between the Nobel peace Prize committee and China, not "the west".

Fact - "The West" does not mean the United States, even though this is how Shaun uses the term. Once again, presuming that the "tensions" (which are all US-related) identified in his opening paragraph are what this prize is designed to "fix", then the prize should be awarded by the US - but this is not possible.

And this guy's line of business is research? Really, this is not an exercise in nit-picking, it shows that his argument is vacuous, apparently chosen just for the affect - making it look like he is on the CCP's side on the Liu Xiaobo affair without actually saying so.

It's an almost Blair-like attempt at triangulation, except (I hope) Tony would have at least used cherry-picked facts that were at least, to some degree, true rather than 'facts' which are demonstrably false.

Anonymous said...

I am your loyal fan, FOARP. More "outings" of such sycophants as Rein is necessary to show the world that cute, cuddly panda bears are not what this evil empire is truly about.

It is only and absolutely ever was about maintaining power to continually enrich those well enough connected, though allowing bits n pieces to trickle down to the masses to placate them (hmm... sounds like Reaganomics).

Rein is a sellout scum who should turn in his passport at the nearest consulate and swear fealty to the thugs in Zhongnanhai...

b. cheng said...

He also completely ignores the fact that its Deng Pufang took over the Disabled People's Federation and ruled it as if it was his personal, completely corrupt fiefdom for 20 years. When the movement started to get him out of the position, he went kicking and screaming and only after being guaranteed he'd still control it behind the scenes and he'd get a bump in his CPPCC status. So much for the Deng family and corruption...

Rein's writing is that of a basement dwelling blogger writing crackpot theories, unfortunately thanks to Forbes his writing is getting a far greater audience than he deserves.

Anonymous said...

Precise take down and there are more like him.
King Tubby

Patrick St-Amand said...

Great read as usual. It's amazing how some people can go from "deserving of some measure of sympathy" to "deserving of the Nobel". Though to be fair, last year Nobel Peace prize didn't do much to improve that committee's credibility.

Keep 'em coming!

Ryan said...

Great post. Nothing really to add other than very well put. I always seem to come across Shaun's column when he's being torn a new one by folks much smarter than me.

The Western Burbs Blogger said...

I can barely believe that so many column inches have been devoted to dismantling the various arguments of an individual who clearly has the intellect of an amoeba (with apologies to amoebas).
The really worrying aspect surrounding this gentleman is not so much his shameless brown-nosing and worrying absence of logic but the fact that Forbes is prepared to publish him - and what it says about the credibility of that magazine.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Arch Stanton - Thanks for the support. I'm not so sure that Rein is actually all that dumb though - instead I get the picture that some fairly un-subtle triangulation is going on.