Posts tagged: Susan Shirk

Running on Empty? A Missing Assistant Secretary of State

By , April 8, 2013

Is anyone else confused as to why the position of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs remains empty?  Especially as North Korea all but prepares for war?  Two months after its former occupant – Kurt Campbell – stepped down on February 8, 2013, Secretary Kerry – who was sworn in on February 1 – has yet to fill the position.  True former Deputy Assistant Secretary Joseph Yun has capably stepped in, but the question remains – what signal are you giving to the region, especially North Korea, when you don’t officially fill the position?

Hopefully Secretary Kerry is feeling the pressure.  But who will fill the spot?  Here are some names that have been mentioned by others:

  • Joseph Yun – the current Acting secretary and former Deputy Assistant Secretary, of Korean descent and familiar with the issues on the Korean peninsula.
  • Daniel Russel – currently the National Security Council (NSC) Director for Asian Affairs.  While he started his career as a Japan guy, arguably you can’t be NSC Director for Asian Affairs without knowing alot about the Korean peninsula and problems with China.
  • Frank Jannuzi – currently head of Amnesty International’s Washington office, but has decades of experience in DC policy circles, serving close to ten years in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and then 15 years as the policy director of East Asia and Pacific Affairs on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Out of these three names, Jannuzi would likely be the best pick.  And not just because China Law & Policy is partial to policy makers who are North Korea's increasingly belligerent behavior China hands (and speak Mandarin).  China will always be the big issue in the region, and Jannuzi likely has the most intimate knowledge of the country.  But he has also long served as an important and knowledgeable resource on North Korea.  Not to mention, that he served as a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Kerry was a Senator on the Committee (and eventually Ranking member).  To the extent that Kerry is looking for someone he already knows and can trust, that would be Jannuzi.

Jannuzi would be also be an exciting pick because of what the choice would signal to China’s new leadership.  Jannuzi would come back to government after serving at Amnesty International, a very active human rights group that has long been a thorn in China’s side.  Such a choice would  subtly indicate to China that human rights will continue to be on the agenda.

But in looking at the possible nominees and the current senior officials of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, a truly inspiring pick would be a woman.  Out of the eleven senior officials listed on the Bureau’s website, only one currently is a woman.

Prof. Susan Shirk

And that’s why we think there is a good possibility that Susan Shirk – even though she is in academia – is in the running.  Shirk is a professor of political science out at UC-San Diego.  She has also long been an influential thinker on China.  China: Fragile Superpower altered the way that many policymakers viewed China.  Similar to Jannuzi, her knowledge of China comes from a longstanding relationship with the country and its people.  She has had an important part in US-North Korea relations – she all but founded and continues to lead the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a high-level official dialogue between the two countries.  Finally,  she has experience at State, serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and in seeing her speak on multiple occasions, she has command of a room that is astounding.  The question is – will she want to leave beautiful San Diego for DC?

The one person  we are not putting our money on – Dennis RodmanHis trip in March to North Korea was just plain bizarre.  Hanging out with Kim Jong Un without even acknowledge the suffering of millions of North Koreans at the regime’s hands was also extremely offensive.  That alone would put Rodman out of the running.  But more than anything, do we really want an Assistant Secretary that can’t win at Celebrity Apprentice for a second time?

Changing Media, Changing China…Changing Me!

By , January 7, 2011

After following China for most of my adult life and intently analyzing its development these past three years, I find many China events to be rather staid affairs; it’s usually obvious where the conversation will go and most speakers hedge their bets on China’s future, committing to neither its success nor its failure.  But not Susan Shirk.  Last night, at an Asia Society event to promote her new book, Changing Media, Changing China, Susan Shirk was able to educate, entertain, and at times stun the audience on one of the least understood aspects of Chinese society: the media’s role in changing domestic politics in China.  But one would expect nothing less of a woman who dared to wear a fabulous red suit to the affair.

Shirk, who edits Changing Media, Changing China was joined by one of the contributors to the book, Prof. Benjamin Liebman of Columbia Law School, as well as sociologist Yang Guobin of Barnard College whose recent scholarship focuses on online activism in China.  Shirk began the night’s discussion by putting the role of the media into a historical context.  Comparing access to information in today’s China to the China of the 1980s, Shirk highlighted the fact that Chinese people today have much more access to information; during the 1980s the Chinese leadership had the monopoly on such access, but today, with a commercialized press and and the internet, there is a narrowing of this gap in access to information, putting the people’s access on par with their leaders’.  Shirk noted that it is this new style of media – with newspapers competing with each other for a story that sells papers and blogs spreading stories like wild-fire across China – that improves the Chinese government’s responsiveness to its people.  Although the central government is still ambivalent about the role of the media, it recognizes the media’s “watchdog” potential – through local newspapers, blogs and internet chat rooms, the central government is able to monitor and police the bad behavior of local officials.

Liebman on the other hand, offered a more cautionary view of the media, at least with respect to its role in the legal system.  When a case is picked up by the media – be it by blogs or newspapers – judges are under pressure, usually directly from Party officials, to decide the case in ways that will cool public passion, even if it means deciding the case irrespective of legal precepts.  Liebman went on to note that media coverage of a case only serves to reinforce the Party-State’s oversight of the courts; to guarantee a harmonious society, officials will demand that judges look to social stability as their primary goal, not the actual law.  But Liebman went on to note, it is not a one-sided game.  As the media has become more active in legal cases, the courts have fought back by liberally applying defamation laws.  Liebman noted that not only are plaintiffs overwhelmingly the victors in defamation cases in China (making media the losers), but in the past few years, Liebman has also noticed a surge in the number of criminal defamation cases.  Likely initiated by local officials after bad press coverage from the local media, the courts are caught in between this power struggle, making the establishment of a rule of law a more difficult task.

Yang had a more positive view.  Focusing on the internet and microblogging in China (microblogging is  a longer form of texting, allowing for conversations to develop), Yang has been amazed and impressed by the persistence of online activism in China.  While the Chinese government still maintains strategic control of the internet, Yang noted that there is only so much it can control.  People in China are communicating constantly over the internet, making it difficult for the government to monitor all conversations.  While many conversations are social, some eventually veer to the political, and the government is unaware to stop them.  Yang also noted that the number of online protests in the past year or so has increased substantially.  But Yang noted that the internet is still controlled; the government will erase postings and flood certain message boards with government-sanctioned comments.  Corporations have begun to steal a page from the government’s playbook.  Corporations also hire people to write positive reviews of their products, or negative ones of their competitors’.  Known as “water armies,” these hired guns make it more difficult to trust online information.  Similarly, the government’s control of chatrooms makes it difficult to use the internet in China as a barometer of public opinion.

Unfortunately each speaker was only given six to seven minutes to speak on such a huge topic.  The last hour of the program was dedicated to audience questions.  While the panel discussion offered a fascinating and thought-provoking analysis of arguably the most influential factor in China today, the audience’s questions veered off topic, with one woman – a self-proclaimed netizen – asking what the U.S. government can learn from the Chinese government’s promotion of the internet.  Fortunately Shirk felt no need to entertain the question, cutting it short with a resolute “nothing.”  Few of the questions were as nuanced as the initial discussion; Google’s “moral stance in China” was repeatedly referred to (making me realize that the Asia Society-set is not reading China Law & Policy’s Google analysis) and the ability of the internet to bring down the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

In regards to the question of CCP downfall, Shirk offered a refreshingly frank answer: even without censorship or the propaganda department, Shirk believes the CCP would still be able to maintain its power.  For Shirk, the fact that the CCP can: (1) point to huge improvements in the people’s living standards, (2) perpetuate the belief amongst most Chinese that without the CCP, China would descend into chaos, and (3) highlight the fact that China is now an important international power, would likely mean that many CCP candidates could easily win elections if China ever had any.  Even if China was to have an economic setback, Shirk still believes that it could maintain the sincere support of the Chinese people.  Shirk suspects that censorship is allowed to continue not because the Chinese government as a whole wants to suppress freedom of information; likely many government officials realize that by having a way to gauge public anger and a means to respond to it, their legitimacy could ultimately be bolstered.  Instead, Shirk speculated that it could be the powerful Propaganda Department that doesn’t want to budge from its culture of censorship, perhaps causing a split in the upper echelons of the Chinese leadership.

Asia Society’s “China’s New Media Landscape” only scratched the surface of the role of the media in China.  The discussion left one wondering – who wags the dog here.  While I’m usually the quintessential free-rider at these events, for this one, I was so intrigued by the discussion that I did buy the book. 

Changing Media, Changing China, edited by Susan Shirk (Oxford University Press, December 14, 2010), 288 pages.

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