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The Second Cold War?

“Do you believe that the US-Russian relations are now at Cold War levels?” CNN’s Candy Crowley asked Dianne Feinstein on Sunday. “Yes,” replied the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

During the same interview, on the State of the Union program, Feinstein hinted at the problems of imposing sanctions on Moscow, even in the aftermath of the murderous downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 last week with a missile almost certainly of Russian origin. “It’s difficult, because you need Russian help in so many things,” she said to Crowley. “The P5+1, Syria, and it goes on and on.”

The list was not always so long.

Russia and China Shun Iranian Nuclear Talks

The big story from Vienna is not that discussions this week with Iran over its enrichment of uranium are not going well. Such a failure was virtually inevitable. The big story is who is not in town for the ill-fated proceedings, an effort to stop what many suspect is a disguised nuclear weapons program. 

US Secretary of State John Kerry, British Foreign Secretary William Hague, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier are all in Vienna for talks with their Iranian counterpart. The top diplomats of the remaining two members of the P5+1, the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany, are no-shows, however. The foreign ministers of Russia and China, Sergey Lavrov and Wang Yi, are nowhere to be seen in the picturesque Austrian capital. Instead, Moscow and Beijing sent note-takers.

China’s Collision Course with Itself

Shi Yinhong, an international relations professor at Beijing’s Renmin University, has just issued a warning that Chinese leaders will not be deterred from engaging in increasingly provocative conduct. “There could be some tactical change in the direction of moderation but I cannot see any fundamental change in strategic orientation,” he told John Garnaut of the Sydney Morning Herald.

As Garnaut noted in messages to me this month, Beijing tells the world that “we will keep going and we will win.” Shi, however, has been saying that what the Chinese really mean is, in Garnaut’s words, that “we will keep going even though we cannot succeed.”

“How many times have you heard the Chinese described as pragmatists?” Arthur Waldron asked me this week. “They’re not.” At this moment, the University of Pennsylvania historian of China has put his finger on something especially distressing. Chinese policymakers work under a political system that now does not permit them to act pragmatically, cooperatively, or sensibly.

North Korea to Counter China’s Bold Play for Seoul

Xi Jinping arrived in Seoul today on a groundbreaking trip.

Analysts in Asia, where symbolism is closely watched, invest the visit with great significance. Xi, after all, is the first Chinese leader to travel to the South Korean capital before going to Pyongyang. “The message,” says John Delury of Yonsei University in Seoul, “is that if North Korea continues to keep Beijing at a distance and not work harder to keep China happy, then China will tilt towards South Korea.”

The oft-quoted Delury is undoubtedly correct, and his remark suggests that China thinks it can ultimately shape events to its liking. Most everyone outside the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North calls itself, agrees, believing Beijing to be the main actor on the Korean peninsula.

Study Finds Chinese Economy a Third Smaller Than Claimed

In a report released on June 20th, the business research organization Conference Board recalculates Chinese gross domestic product going back to 1952. Economist Harry Wu estimates that China from 1978 to 2012 grew an average of 7.2 percent a year. Beijing’s National Bureau of Statistics reports 9.8 percent average annual growth during that period.

Wu believes that official numbers for 1952 to 1977 are generally accurate, at least when considered over the period as a whole. China’s figures, therefore, have become less reliable over time.

The discrepancy in the 1978–2012 period, which roughly conforms to the so-called “reform” era, is largely the result of Beijing’s inadequate adjustment of nominal results to account for price changes. Recently, many economists, most notably Christopher Balding of Peking University, have come to similar conclusions, that Beijing underestimates inflation when it calculates what is known as “real”—i.e., price-adjusted—GDP.

Beijing Redefines Hong Kong's Autonomy

On June 10th, China’s State Council issued its first white paper on Hong Kong since the city was handed from Britain to Beijing on July 1, 1997. The document, titled “The Practice of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Policy in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” is a heavy-handed attempt to sway public opinion that is sure to backfire.

In the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, China promised Hong Kong, then a colony, a “high degree of autonomy.” At the time, Chinese officials sought to put the hearts of their Hong Kong compatriots “at ease,” as they said, by providing guarantees.

China's Unusual Outreach to India's New Leadership

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi paid a visit to the newly installed prime minister of India, Narendra Modi, at his official residence in New Delhi. On the day before, Wang met his Indian counterpart, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, in a session lasting more than three hours.

The meeting with Swaraj, perhaps the more important of the two, covered most topics of interest between the two giants. The discussions, according to External Affairs spokesman Syed Akbaruddin, were “productive and substantive.”

Chinese Generals Lash Out at America, Japan

Lieutenant General Wang Guanzhong, the deputy chief of general staff of China’s People’s Liberation Army, attacked the US and Japan on Sunday, charging them with conspiring against his country. Speaking on the final day of the Shangri-La Dialogue, the Asian regional security forum in Singapore, the general displayed, among other things, how out of touch the Chinese leadership has become.

The dialogue occurred at a time of tensions off China’s coast. In the South China Sea, China and Vietnam remained locked in an escalating dispute over the placement of a Chinese oil drilling platform near Vietnam’s shoreline and in waters surely within Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zone. Beijing, with its infamous nine-dash line on official maps, claims 90 percent of the South China Sea as its own. Over the East China Sea, Chinese jets dangerously buzzed Japanese reconnaissance planes operating in international airspace.

Chinese Fighter Jet in Near Miss With Japanese Recon Planes

On Monday, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters that his government had lodged a protest with Beijing for Chinese jets closing within meters of Japanese reconnaissance planes over the East China Sea. Tokyo has every right to be upset. Beijing, from all indications, looks like it was trying to create incidents by flying too close for safety.

On Saturday, Chinese Su-27 jets flew within 50 meters of a Japanese OP-3C and within 30 meters of a Japanese YS-11EB, both propeller-driven reconnaissance craft. “This is a close encounter that is outright over the top,” said Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Sunday. At no other time since World War II have Chinese and Japanese military planes come into such close proximity.

US Indicts Chinese Military Officers for Cyber Spying

On Monday, US Attorney General Eric Holder announced the indictments of five officers of China’s People’s Liberation Army for “serious cybersecurity breaches against six American victim entities.” The significance? “These represent the first ever charges against known state actors for infiltrating US commercial targets by cyber means,” the attorney general said at a press conference.

Every nation spies, but China, as a matter of state policy, collects information and passes it on to state enterprises to help them compete in the international marketplace. Washington has continually complained but gotten nowhere with Beijing. Exasperated, Holder on Monday said “enough is enough.” Hence the criminal charges.

Why Is the Pentagon Honoring a Chinese General?

General Fang Fenghui, China’s chief of general staff, is now in the US on a five-day tour of American military facilities, including the naval air station in San Diego, where he inspected the USS Ronald Reagan, one of America’s 10 active aircraft carriers. Most notably, he will receive a “full-military-honors arrival ceremony” at the Pentagon on Thursday.

The visit comes as a fleet of about 80 Chinese vessels, both military and civilian, are protecting a drilling rig that China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, positioned just off Vietnam’s coast at the beginning of this month. China’s ships rammed and collided with Vietnamese craft defending waters that Hanoi believes to be within its exclusive economic zone. The rig’s location is near the Paracel Islands in the South China Sea.

China Demolishes Megachurch

Local officials in the Chinese city of Wenzhou, in coastal Zhejiang Province, are denying that the demolition of the Sanjiang Church late last month was the result of religious persecution.

They maintain that the building, big enough for 3,000 worshippers, was “illegal,” far exceeding its permitted size of 1,881 square meters. Jin Leibo, a propaganda department spokesperson for the county where the towering structure was located, told CNN that church leaders had built 7,928 square meters without authorization. They then had failed to “self-rectify” by April 22nd, so a convoy of bulldozers and excavators, backed by armed police, destroyed the building by April 28th, leaving an enormous pile of rubble. The red-spired Protestant church, built over 12 years and costing 30 million yuan (about $4.7 million) to construct, took only a few days to tear down.

China’s Campaign Against Foreign Words

Twice in late April, People’s Daily railed against the incorporation of acronyms and English words in written Chinese. “How much have foreign languages damaged the purity and vitality of the Chinese language?” the Communist Party’s flagship publication asked as it complained of the “zero-translation phenomenon.”

So if you write in the world’s most exquisite language—in my opinion, anyway—don’t even think of jotting down “WiFi,” “MBA,” or “VIP.” If you’re a fan of Apple products, please do not use “iPhone” or “iPad.” And never ever scribble “PM2.5,” a scientific term that has become popular in China due to the air pollution crisis, or “e-mail.”

China’s communist culture caretakers are cheesed, perhaps by the unfairness of the situation. They note that when English absorbs Chinese words, such as “kung fu,” the terms are romanized. When China copies English terms, however, they are often adopted without change, dropped into Chinese text as is.

Skipping China, Obama Seeks to Reassure Asian Allies

President Obama is “wheels up” Tuesday, beginning an eight-day, four-nation visit to East Asia. The most notable aspect of the trip is not where he is going but where he is not. He is not going to China.

That’s a good thing because Washington in recent years has been paying far too much attention to Chinese autocrats and not enough to America’s five democratic allies and many friends in the region.

The president will meet three of the allies—Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines—and one friend—Malaysia—yet the week in Asia is all about a country that is neither, China. An expansionist China covets territories of all four nations, and it has been attempting to close off international waters, bringing itself into contention with an America that has defended freedom of navigation for more than two centuries.

Mysterious Suicides in China's Leadership

A spate of suicides among officials in China has caught the country’s attention. Beijing’s censors have quickly moved to end speculation about the deaths, indicating the Communist Party’s sensitivity, but everyday people remain suspicious.

The body of Xu Yean, 58, of the State Bureau for Letters and Calls, was discovered on April 8th in his Beijing office. He was the fourth high-ranking official to take his own life in recent months. 

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