Archive for November, 2009


Views on President Obama’s approach to relations with China continue to clash. Arguments over his aggressiveness aside, the Obama administration actually discussed every relevant issue except for one: cyber warfare.

This was purposeful. China repeatedly denies their growing capacity for cyber attacks. A complicated system of changing devoted followers allows the Chinese Government to dispute any responsibility. Dialogues on cyber war consequently go nowhere. New Zealand and Belgium openly broadcasting accusations of China’s “cyberinfiltration“ produced no results. A Chinese military expert commented, “They now have a major advantage, a weapon like no other that allows them to reach out and touch right into the continental United States.”

According to the 2008 U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) report, 43,880 Chinese cyber attacks in 2007 reached roughly five million U.S. computers. These incidents involve “malicious activity” or the extraction of information. This USCC report also read, “China is intent on expanding its sphere of control even at the expense of its Asian neighbors and the United States.” U.S. retaliation allegedly seems ineffective. Kylin, the U.S. Government’s latest operating system, failed to breach China’s less secure construction. While the U.S. Government may condemn this behavior, jealousy appears to drive this anger.

China’s command over the cyber world additionally compels major Internet and computer companies to fall in line with their demands. For some time, Yahoo! has supplied the Chinese Government with e-mail content. Most recently, Microsoft’s latest search engine, Bing, decided to censor certain subjects. For searches in English on controversial topics related to China, Bing provides diverse results with conflicting opinions. Traditional, complicated Chinese characters yield a similar range of attitudes. An identical search in simplified Chinese characters generates a list of websites that paint a different picture. These results do not challenge Chinese authorities; some even deny the occurrence of divisive movements. Searches on 法轮功 (Fulun Gong), for example, depict a rebellious organization with goals of terrorism. Links to neutral descriptions and the group’s official website are not available. Bing additionally offers translations of every webpage, yet atop each interpretation it reads “Microsoft® is not responsible for the content below.”

China’s control over cyberspace intimidates the world’s most dominant governmental and industrial authorities. During their rise to power, other countries have raised issues with monetary policy, trade, human rights, and climate change. These assertions stem from a hope that China acts fairly as it attains a world leader stature. Incremental progress is necessary for these matters. China’s Government does not hastily commit to drastic policy changes. Contrary to less charitable analyses, they take the time to listen, discuss, and consider every ramification. Cyber warfare, however, remains an arena where China refuses to budge. Maintaining authority and secrecy over their capabilities surpasses all other elements of international relations. It is China’s trump card.


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Chairman Obama


Barack Obama’s celebrity expanded into several new markets since his election. “ObaMao” or “Maobama” t-shirts hit stands in China last year, but disappeared prior to President Obama’s visit to Asia. With an interest in Chairman Mao combines and an appreciation for President Obama’s intentions, I felt compelled to buy one of these shirts. Initially, the designs seemed comical. They are satirical. Outside of national popularity, these two leaders share no similarities.

Perceptions of the “ObaMao” clothing line differ across countries. A variety of shirts (Shirt #1, Shirt #2, Shirt #3) are advertised on the Internet as “Buy Anti Obama Funny Obamao” shirts. In China, Chairman Mao survives as a positive icon. Comparing him with Obama thus appears complimentary.

The image to the right reads, “为人民服务,” meaning “Serving the people.” This famous Mao Zedong quote does not reference Communism, and actually aligns with the U.S. ideal of a President for the people.

Right before President Obama’s visit to China, Liu Mingjie, who designed and marketed these ObaMao images, was abruptly out of stock. Mr. Liu declined to comment. Nearby stores with president Obama action figures in a superman uniform continued business as usual.

Evaluations of Mao in the U.S. remain a bit more mixed. While President Obama visited China, these shirts were allegedly taken off the market only to not offend his administration. The U.S. market for this clothing is likely comprised of the uninformed population that likens President Obama’s initiatives to Communism. This association is not flattering. Unfortunately, to ensure that I do not appear supportive of this stance, my wish list for this holiday season will not include these shirts.

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News of a U.S.–China plan for cooperation on environmental policy was exciting. It sets a constructive stage for actual progress down the road. Along side a mutual assertion for collective binding emissions targets, this may raise participation as well as reduction commitments for a new international climate protocol. While meaningfully symbolic, this alliance remains ideological for now. A thorough read clarifies the plan as a pact to work on making an agreement. More concrete progress grew out of a related U.S.-China collaboration to establish a greenhouse gas inventory system for China.

Objections to the U.S. accepting a binding emissions target commonly reference the uncertainty accompanying measurements of other country’s reductions. How can we tell data is not fabricated? Verifying the accuracy of these reports remains difficult.

A vast landscape and an expanding collection of coal mines complicate China’s ability to document emissions. Regardless, attempting to collect these figures is crucial. The Memorandum of Cooperation between the EPA and China’s National Development and Reform Commissions calls for, among other things, the development of a Chinese registry. Many countries already have these systems. Since 1990, the EPA has maintained a U.S. greenhouse gas inventory. The International Transaction Log, established by the UNFCCC to support the Kyoto Protocol’s carbon trading mechanisms, validates international projects and transactions. China’s inclusion in this group of registries suggests future participation these global dealings—activities that require acceptance of a binding emissions target.

The U.S. and China combine to contribute roughly 40% of global emissions. Legitimate reductions require this starting point, a uniform gauge of greenhouse gasses. To effectively modify their approach to the environment, these two world powers need to be on the same page.

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China’s mounting power stood out during Barack Obama’s time in Asia. A weakening U.S. only compliments their supremacy. Owning $800 billion of U.S debt along their assessment of a fragile dollar certainly helped China’s confidence.

Dick Cheney saw President Obama’s low bow to Japan’s Emperor Akihito as a cause for the U.S.’s position, exclaiming, “There is no reason for an American president to bow to anyone. Our friends and allies don’t expect it, and our enemies see it as a sign of weakness.” Many Americans echoed this discontent. The Obama administration’s approach of diplomacy and compromise do not appear aggressive, yet a variety of economic circumstances are out of the President’s hands. Attempting to control a rising superpower from this declining standpoint is complicated.

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Take a Closer Look


These pieces mimic traditional Chinese scrolls with a modern twist: every element of nature appears replaced by products of development. They were displayed on the Shanghai People’s Square metro station‘s advertisement screens, and were generated for the China Environmental Protection Foundation.

China Environmental Protection Foundation Website


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Earlier this week, President Obama delivered a speech and answered questions in Shanghai. Only one local television network broadcasted the event in China. The station’s website declined to stream the recording.

Portions of the dialogue on free speech and unrestricted Internet access likely compelled this censorship. The content of President Obama’s remarks was otherwise uncontroversial. Students at the town hall-style event were government-selected, and their questions pre-approved. One question in particular, however, appeared to challenge this control. After a few inquiries reminiscent of a gracious George W. Bush press conference, President Obama diverted to a duel-question “generated through the Web site of [the U.S.] embassy.” Chinese Ambassador John Huntsman, Jr. read, “In a country with 350 million Internet users and 60 million bloggers, do you know of the firewall?” continuing, “Should we be able to use Twitter freely?” The subsequent response expanded upon a section of Obama’s speech that cited “information freely accessible” as a “core principle.” His address affirmed a moderately firm stance on the U.S.’s position on human rights. President Obama’s answered this duel-question more boldly, advocating for open Internet usage and non-censorship. This was not to the Chinese Government’s liking.

CBS reported that several major Chinese websites instantly wrote headlines documenting the content of this assertion. Only an hour later, these stories disappeared. This is not the first censorship of President Obama’s remarks. Chinese translations of his inaugural address omitted Obama’s usage of the word “Communism” and a portion on dissent.

Although President Clinton’s popularity in China added to his media coverage, he delivered a speech in Beijing that emphasized human rights even more than President Obama’s speech. President Clinton’s address aired live and uncensored on CCTV. He gave this speech at a very different time.

The U.S. and China have a different relationship now. George W. Bush seemed to neglect this shift in power during his presidency, so Obama appears especially sensitive. To achieve his agenda on climate change and improve the U.S.’s economic situation, President Obama must act according to a reality that many Americans do not want to accept: the United States is not the world’s lone superpower anymore. The U.S. does not hold the upper hand it used to yield.

While it is easy to criticize the Chinese Government’s control over the media, it maintains their authority. This power remains unfortunately necessary to enact sweeping changes, like their evolving approach to environmental policy. Internet freedom is, in reality, not conducive to every type of societal and governmental order.

Transcript of President Obama’s address and question session in Shanghai


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Yesterday’s U.S.-China plan for cooperation on clean energy and climate change signified progress towards improving the global environmental agenda. Both countries outlined joint ideological measures to achieve a more stable environment, and hope to accept emissions reduction targets. Reviewing either country’s previous stance on binding targets, this change appears to be ideal, yet oddly radical. At the same time, this agreement was not the most romanticized objective. Components to the plan, like the “Electric Vehicles Initiative,” seemingly extended idealistic aspirations to ground binding reductions as feasible.

Just one day earlier, world leaders decided to abandon achieving comprehensive international climate change legislation in Copenhagen next month. Presidents Hu Jintao and Barack Obama fueled this verdict.  World leaders looked to U.S.–China negotiations to indicate outcomes of the Copenhagen Convention. I will consequently continue to cling tight to my optimism that this new dynamic duo of superpowers will lead a crusade against activities contributing to global warming. Solar and wind power sectors have emerged in both nations, but decreasing emissions necessitates a more diverse approach. Despite a mix of overzealous support and pessimism masquerading as “being realistic,” algae–based technologies will surface as a crucial tool to achieve this evolving agenda.

Algae represent third generation biofuels as well as a carbon sequestration mechanism. It feeds off of carbon. With enough absorption, oil can be extracted from the green sludge. Residual substances are then used for fertilizer or animal feed. The most compelling aspect of this process is the rapid speed at which it occurs.

Over a year ago, an Oregon coal fired power plant began its pilot program to utilize algae to not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also to generate fuel. Development of similar projects has begun in the U.S. as well as many other countries. Considerable investments from Bill Gates and more recently Exxon Mobil Corp suggest a bright future for algae technologies.

China has already jumped on this train. While their environmental progress in the energy sector remains understated, coal’s cheap price lingers as a formidable barrier. Algae biodiesel currently costs substantially more than other forms of fuel. The hope is that research will discover the algae species that optimizes fuel production. With a fast growth rate, algae technology will become especially inexpensive over time.

Despite some false headlines last year, major Chinese firms are now pursuing this agenda. ENN, an energy pioneer in China, continues to thoroughly explore different algae species to determine how each absorbs carbon. Easing coal combustion emissions stands as the objective since a widespread transition away from coal usage is not economically feasible. Fuel production is the subsequent step, but cutting back China’s release of carbon into the atmosphere would have major implications for their projected carbon emissions. The immense amount of current research and preliminary models like PetroSun’s U.S. biofuel plant make the future of algae usage rather optimistic.

The goal is widespread use of technology, like algae-fueled vehicles. Right now, research is the top priority. Hopefully, the alleged joint efforts for the “U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center” in yesterday’s agreement will compel new finding on algae. While they are not alone in this exploration of algae, China’s energy policy evolves out of necessity. They thrive when objectives are clear. Constructive reductions to their emissions rates will require algae technology. Advantages to this development are two-fold: reduce carbon emissions and provide fuel. Solar and wind power are presently more economically viable, but Algae will be the next sector that China will likely lead.

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