Monthly Archives: September 2011

Austerity backlash: Gary Locke has too much integrity

If you’re already familiar with The Locke Affair,* you can skip down to this quote I dug up from Richard McGregor’s The Party about Wang Xiaofang’s Director of the Beijing Office (also known as The Chief of the Beijing Office Liaison and a couple other names).

With all the recent to-do about the Chinese media backlash against new U.S. ambassador to China, Gary Locke–he of buyer-of-own-coffee, carrier-of-own-luggage, wanderer-of-hutongs, rider-of-(gasp)-economy-class fame–most of the U.S. stories seem to direct reader’s ire at the easily manipulated Chinese news industry (Chinese media take aim at ‘showy’ U.S. ambassador”). Which is interesting when one thinks about who China is attacking here (besides Locke for being a show-off of course and for America for nefariously planting him here): that’s right, an easily manipulated Chinese news media. From notorious CCTV host Rui Chengang’s Weibo:

“His public behaviors, from using a backpack to buying coffee, from taking a van (instead of a car) to taking economy class, are all accurately received, photographed, spread and discussed. He knows how the media works because he used to run for governor.” (in Chinese)

And from the Global Times editorial, which along with the Guangming Daily editorial(were those really the only two sources of criticism?!) caused the firestorm:

Media that actively sensationalize Locke should show restraint. There are too many occasions and angles to criticize the corruption and bureaucracy in Chinese official circles. It is not suitable to overly praise a foreign ambassador, particularly when his task in China is rather complicated. Chinese media should be calm and rational when discussing the private lives of people like Locke.

But what’s actually at play here is more than just Gary Locke playing the media like a fiddle (or just being himself as the case may be) and the Chinese media/netizenry lapping it up, but also, like most things, about politics (which is hinted at in the Global Times editorial with the reference to Chinese corruption). CSM and others astutely pointed out that:

The attention Locke has garnered is freighted with political significance, says Mr. Yao. “None of the things written about him are really about him at all,” explains Yao. “They are just painting a picture to contrast with Chinese officials; it is all meant as ironic commentary.”

Indeed, this is a common tack, to criticize the ills of Chinese society by highlighting success elsewhere. And in fact, there’s even a recent precedent of this same exact story: an official full of integrity making his fellow colleagues look bad and the backlash against him–except in fiction. Here are some quotes from Richard McGregor’s fascinating book about the CCP, The Party, which has a brief passage on Wang Xiaofang’s bestselling 2007 novel, Director of the Beijing Office.

The belief that you cannot be successful without being corrupt is commonplace enough to have been the theme of a best-selling novel in 2007, called Director of the Beijing Representative Office. The book, part of a series about the Beijing-based lobbyist for an unnamed city government in north-eastern China, pits a clean official against a corrupt one. . . In Wang’s novel, the first official, Li Weimin, is an upright and principled cadre who cares deeply about the community he is serving. Parachuted into the municipal government, he bristles with integrity and makes sure his family members do not exploit his position for personal gain. Far from endearing himself to his colleagues, Li’s austere lifestyle infuriates them. Drivers and secretaries do not like working for him, colleagues feel embarrassed by his decision to live in an old residential building instead of moving into the gleaming new official compound where they are housed, rightly sending that he has made them look bad in front of ordinary people. And he spurns sumptuous government banquets, opting instead for a simple meal at his desk [BIDEN NOODLES!–ed], forcing his colleagues to follow suit. His behavior, the narrator says, makes him seem ‘an unreasonable man who has no sympathies for his colleagues.’ (pg 95)

The NYTimes had a pretty good rundown of the cultural issues at play in the development of Locke’s hero status and CFR has a quick summary of The Locke Affair.

*I am guaranteeing that something will happen during the next year and this’ll get coined [currently, only 28 hits on Google for it]–it’s just sounds too good not to be used. And of course, there will be the requisite movie starring Matt Damon as Locke, the first Asian American ambassador to the dictatorial empire of Shyna, who battles evil doers with impeccable integrity and an AK. There’ll also be a dramatic sequence in the middle where he buys a cup of coffee at the Starbucks in Pundong airport. The shop vendor hands him the coffee and Damon walks away without paying, casually tossing his backpack over his shoulder, his back muscles rippling, practically escaping from his tasteful (but not designer!) suit. He takes three steps, then slowly turns. “You know why I didn’t pay for this cup? [beat] Because freedom is priceless.” The puzzled shop vendor stares at Damon and then he is enlightened. He begins a slow clap as Damon strides out the sliding doors to board a private, single-engine Cessna.

As he takes off, the airport explodes below him. We see him grimace and sip from his coffee. “Too weak,” he says. “Shoulda made it myself.” THE END.

Buddy Roemer and Death by China

I don’t watch much TV these days,* but when I do, it’s C-SPAN…2.

Well, not by choice, but I got home the other day and was in the mood for distraction. We don’t have many channels here over the air, but C-SPAN is one of the few that doesn’t make me feel like I’m purposely churning my brain into mush, but I might have to question that assumption after watching about forty minutes of Buddy Roemer rant about China, the sleeping bear that has come to steal our American honey.

As you know (jk), Buddy Roemer is a fringe presidential candidate whose claim to fame (according to him) is that he served as both a governor and as a Congressman. He’s also pushing hard for campaign finance reform, a laudable goal surely, and has promised to limit all contributions to $100–something easier said and done when you don’t have donors banging down your door to give you money.

That said, he seems like a decent guy with a modicum of integrity, even if he plays the usual GOP-blame-the-prez-populist shtick though. He’s no wacko, but he sure as hell isn’t electable at all–he’s just too small town. But more interestingly, he confronts straight on the contradiction that is China–for a Republican, what is one to do? Wave the American flag and decry the baddies across the ocean for stealing our jobs? Or be the Good Friedmanite and applaud free market for doing what they’re supposed to. What to do?!?!

Roemer goes for door number 2 and it is not pretty. The arguments are specious to say the least, but rather than outline them, you can watch them below in the full, edited 2 hour speech and Q&A session he provides in front of a few reporters (wow, New Zealand, you guys have some kind of foreign reporting corps!) and a Falun Gong protester.

Ha, just kidding, you’re not going to actually watch it, it’s a 2 hour rant by a politician who has less name recognition than most celebrities’ pets. But some quick notes:

  • including Japan with China and India as places that exploit workers with unfair wages? I hope that was a brain fart and not actually something he believes, because if not, then we have some serious questioning of what kind of ethical standards he expects from nations.
  • Fair trade adjustment… uh, what’s the difference between that and a tariff?
  • He kinda ducks that question about labor practices in the US pretty well huh?

And finally, while doing this googling for the past hour, stumbled on the provocatively named Death By China, a blog that is all over the place with regards to indicting China for unfair trade (leading to impending world doom). After reading the over-the-top book description, let’s just say I was a bit surprised to realize that the authors of the book (though not the blog, that’s written by the co-author) is a seemingly well-respected Econ and busines school professor at that neoconservative hotbed (joke) UC Irvine. Though I do admit the description of the book on his personal website is tempered down quite a bit, so maybe the book is less of a polemic than it appears to be. But then again, there’s this hilariously un-nuanced video by the other co-author:

Our trading partner is preparing to kill us!

Hai Death by China gaiz, vid needs more slow zoom in on nukes! And blood. K, thx!

*Because of this stack of books that I have sitting here on my nightstand. I can hear them accusing me each night before I sleep, “You don’t know anything yet you dolt. You haven’t even read me!” And then I sleep fitfully, their voices growing louder and louder until I wake up in a panicked start, crack open one at random, and glaze over the words before drifting off again.

I should just burn them. That’d shut them up.